A vast national park is rarely located within a major city's borders, but such is the case in Seoul with Bukhansan National Park. The mountainous expanse covers 31 square miles in northern Seoul, contains over 100 temples, is home to 1,300 different plant and animal species, and was designated as Korea’s 15th national park in 1983. Because over 20 million people live near easy transportation links to the park, Bukhansan holds the title of “most-visited national park per unit area” by the Guinness Book of World Records. Read on for more information and tips on visiting this popular national park.
History of Bukhansan National Park
Bukhansan National Park is named for Bukhansan mountain, which features three main peaks and means “mountain north of Han River.” Bukhansan is the highest mountain in Seoul and is visible from many areas of the city. Since the area formed the northern border, a fortress was built here in the 2nd century to protect from foreign invasions.
The national park was formed in 1983, and it has become one of the most visited national parks in the world. The heavy foot traffic has led to a series of environmental policies and restrictions to preserve the park for generations to come.
What to See and Do
Bukhansan National Park is brimming with granite peaks, flowing streams, and wild forests. Nature lovers flock to the park to hike, bird watch, and take in the pristine beauty. Check out these highlights to make the most of your time in the park.
- Baegundae Peak: The highest point in Bukhansan National Park is Baegundae Peak, which rises 2,744 feet above sea level. Most people begin the hike from the park’s west entrance, where a climb to the top involves a combination of dirt paths, stairs, and occasionally scrambling over massive granite boulders. The hike is fairly difficult towards the end, with pre-anchored ropes in place to help you pull yourself up the mountain. Once atop, the incredible view of Seoul sprawling out in every direction is worth the effort.
- Jingwansa Temple: First built in the 11th century, Jingwansa Temple is one of the four major temples dotted around Seoul. It’s famed as a center for education, and contained an impressive library built to educate Confucian scholars. Sadly, the temple was burned down during the Korean War, but has since been restored to its former glory. The temple still maintains a dedication to higher learning. It’s now a training facility for female monks, and offers temple stay programs for visitors curious about monastic life.
- Bukhansanseong Fortress: As the northern border of the ancient city, Bukhansan Mountain was a natural barrier to foreign invasion. But to make the city even more secure, Bukhansanseong Fortress was constructed in the 2nd century. The impressive stone fortress is still standing (the original fortress was destroyed, but the current version dates from 1711), and is an impressive example of Joseon Dynasty period architecture. Entry is free, and there are also parking lots and bathrooms available.
- Hwagyesa Temple: Photographers will love the colorful architecture, vast gardens, and Buddhist statuary at Hwagyesa Temple, perhaps the prettiest temple in Bukhansan National Park. Founded as a hermitage in 1522 and nestled in at the foothills of Samgak Mountain, it’s now known as “the temple of 3,000 bows” due to the practice of 3,000 bows that are undertaken by residents on the last Saturday of every month. Temple stay programs are also available here.
Where to Stay
While there are no campsites or shelters within the park itself (it’s not permitted to stay in the park overnight), there are countless love motels within walking distance of the park’s various entrances. These quirky motels sprang up as a way for young couples to be together in a country with puritanical views on dating but have since become popular with tourists as a cheap (generally between $50 and $100) overnight option.
Staying within the park is only allowed by participating in temple stay programs at one of the handful of Buddhist temples in the national park. These Korean temple stay programs provide visitors with an inside look at temple life through programs focused on meditation and Buddhist culture and tradition. Participants eat simple, vegetarian fare and sleep on the floor in shared rooms, but the cost is reasonable between $40 and $60.
The multiple entrances to Bukhansan National Park are easily accessible from anywhere in Seoul via subway and bus and cost as little as $2 depending on your departure location. To enter on the west side of Bukhansan National Park, take subway line three (the orange line) to Gupabal Station, choose exit one, and then ride a bus to the Bukhansan Mountain Entrance bus stop. To enter on the east side of the park, take subway line four (the light blue line) to Suyu Station, followed by a quick walk, taxi, or bus ride to the park entrance.
Taxis from Seoul Station to the nearest entry point cost only about $15. There’s plenty of parking if you opt to drive, and it costs anywhere from $2 to $7.
Tips for Visiting
- Entrance to the national park is free.
- The park is open year-round, but summer and winter can be very hot and cold, respectively. Spring and fall provide ideal hiking temperatures, not to mention gorgeous foliage.
- Stop by the Bukhansan National Park Office for a trail map and information in English.
- There’s no camping allowed in the park boundaries, and it’s not allowed to stay in the park overnight.
- Korea is well known for its organized and well-maintained public spaces, and Bukhansan National Park is no exception. The park has numerous facilities, including ample parking, clean restrooms, benches, picnic tables, and miles of well-kept trails (many of which are set on wooden boardwalks).
- Forgot your hiking gear? Never fear, there are vendors at the foot of the mountains selling hiking poles, gloves, bandanas, coolers, and other hiking equipment to make your trek more enjoyable.