Bukhansan National Park: The Complete Guide

Birds' eye view of Bukhansan National Park in Seoul, South Korea

 Noel Drevermann / EyeEm / Getty Images

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Bukhansan National Park Jeongneung Visitor Center

Address
215 Bogukmun-ro, Jeongneung 4(sa)-dong, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul 136-104, South Korea
Phone +82 2-909-0497

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, and is home to 1,300 different plant and animal species. 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.

Bukhansan National Park is named for Bukhan 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 second century to protect against 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.

Things to Do

Bukhansan National Park is brimming with granite peaks, flowing streams, and wild forests. Nature lovers flock to the park to hike, watch for local birds, and take in the pristine beauty. Apart from the abundant nature, the park also has many cultural and historical attractions, from temples to fortresses.

First built in the 11th century, Jingwansa Temple is one of the 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 original 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.

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.

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 second 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.

Best Hikes & Trails

Hiking is the main activity in Bukhansan Nation Park and there are plenty of trails to explore throughout the area. However, because Bukhansan receives so many visitors, trails are often closed on a rotating basis to protect them from overuse. As you enter the park, make a stop at the visitor center to find out which trails are open on the day you're visiting.

  • Daenammun Course: This trail passes through some of the most scenic parts of the park and is perfect for seeing a mix of attractions. Even though it's long and takes about two and a half hours, the trail's gentle slopes are ideal for beginner hikers or families.
  • Obong Course: This especially scenic hike passes underneath Dobongsan Mountain and brings visitors to the Songchu Waterfall. The hike takes about two hours and has some slopes, but it isn't considered a strenuous trail.
  • 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 toward 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.

Where to Stay in the Park

Camping isn't allowed in the park, so staying within the park is only allowed by participating in temple stay programs at one of the Buddhist temples. 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 reasonably priced and the experience is priceless.

  • Geumsunsa Temple: This 600-year-old temple is easy to reach from downtown Seoul, but you'll feel like you're a world away. Monastic life at the temple is very traditional Buddhist, adding a unique cultural experience to your nature getaway.
  • Hwagyesa Temple: Hwagyesa is famous with Buddhists around the world because of the monk Ven. SoongSahn, who lived at the temple until his death in 2004. The temple hosts the 3,000 Bows ceremony on the last Saturday of each month, which is a particularly special time to stay there.
  • Jinkwansa Temple: People generally choose a temple stay for the serenity or the spiritual experience, but Jinkwansa has been renowned for its "temple food" for over 1,000 years. Add to your cultural immersion with this culinary experience for a well-rounded temple stay.

Where to Stay Nearby

There are countless options of hotels to stay in Seoul, from homey guesthouses to international hotel chains. Even though the national park isn't within walking distance from the city center, it is accessible by public transit so you can stay anywhere in the city and choose your favorite neighborhood.

  • Love Motels: For a close and cheap option, 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 conservative views on dating but have since become popular with tourists as a cheap overnight option.
  • Hotel28 Myeongdong: This boutique hotel in the Myeong-dong area of the city offers luxurious amenities like yoga mats in the rooms. It's in the city center for easy sightseeing and just 40 minutes from the national park by public transit.
  • Supia Guesthouse: This traditional Korean home has been converted into a guesthouse, offering a more authentic stay than a standard hotel. It's located in the northern part of the city in the less-touristy Mapo-Gu district, about 40 minutes from the national park by public transit.

For even more options in the city, check out a roundup of the best Seoul hotels.

How to Get There

The multiple entrances to Bukhansan National Park are easily accessible from anywhere in Seoul via subway and bus. 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. If you have a car, there’s plenty of parking if you opt to drive but you'll need to pay a parking fee.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Entrance to the national park is free, as is entrance into the temples and the Bukhansanseong Fortress.
  • The park is open year-round, but summer and winter can be very hot and very cold, respectively. Spring and fall provide ideal hiking temperatures, not to mention gorgeous spring blooms and fall foliage.
  • Stop by the Bukhansan National Park Office for a trail map and information in English.
  • 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).
  • If you want to pick up some hiking gear, 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.
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Bukhansan National Park: The Complete Guide