Seoraksan National Park: The Complete Guide

Seoraksan National Park, South Korea

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Seoraksan National Park Seorak District

Address
Seorak-dong, Sokcho-si, Gangwon-do 217-120, South Korea
Phone +82 33-636-7700

In the northeast corner of South Korea lies Seoraksan National Park. One of the country’s most visited national parks, Seoraksan is known for pristine mountain views, crystal clear streams, and fall foliage worthy of countless Instagram photos. But while autumn may be the most overtly alluring time to visit, each season provides visitors with unique experiences and a bountiful beauty all its own.

Originally designated as a nature preserve in 1965, Seoraksan became South Korea’s fifth national park in 1970. A diverse collection of over 2,000 animal species (including the rare Korean musk deer and Korean goral) and 1,400 plant species call this national park home, which led UNESCO to designate the park a Biosphere Preservation District in 1982.

Things to Do

As with national parks the world over, hiking and camping are the most popular activities at Seoraksan National Park. And while the park boasts excellent trails and climbing opportunities, you don’t have to be a hard-core outdoor enthusiast to enjoy the natural beauty of Seoraksan. The park also offers day hikes, easy walks, and picturesque temples to explore.

Sinheungsa Temple is thought to be the oldest surviving Zen Buddhist temple in the world, first built in the seventh century. It’s famed for a bronze, 48-foot tall statue of a seated Buddha, known as Tongil Daebul (Great Unification Buddha). It has become a representation of the future reunification between North and South Korea. The temple is also the head temple in the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism.

If huffing and puffing up a mountain aren’t for you, you can pay a few dollars for the cable car up the side of Seoraksan Mountain. Take in the spectacular peaks and plunging valleys from the air-conditioned car without having to break a sweat, and explore the ruins of the 10th century Gwonggeumseong Fortress at the top.

Best Hikes & Trails

Visitors come from around Korea and the world to hike the alpine trails at Seoraksan. Depending on which trail—or trails—you want to embark on, you can climb to the highest summit in the park, step inside a sacred Buddhist cave, or get splashed by a waterfall.

  • Daecheongbong Peak: The highest point on Seoraksan Mountain is Daecheongbong Peak, its craggy tip rising 5,604 feet above sea level. The third-highest mountain in South Korea and a favorite of climbers, Daecheongbong Peak can be reached from the Osaek Ranger Station in one very long day—about 12 hours to get up and down. Serious hikers can start at a lower elevation for a three-day hike to the summit, as well.
  • Geumganggul Cave: Hike 2,000 feet up Seoraksan Mountain from Sinheungsa Temple to reach the jagged Geumganggul Cave. The snug grotto was once used as a worship place and still contains Buddha statues and colorful prayer lanterns. It’s also an ideal place to make a pit stop, as it offers weary hikers a bench and stunning valley views. It takes about an hour and a half to reach the cave.
  • Biryong Falls: The largest waterfall in the national park is Biryong Falls, which plunges 53 feet into a translucent natural pool (unfortunately, swimming is not allowed). Biryong means “flying dragon,” and the waterfall was named after a legend that long ago, a dragon was sitting on the waterfall, causing the nearby village to suffer a drought. The villagers decided to sacrifice a young woman to the dragon and the creature was so grateful that he flew up to the sky in thanks, thus unblocking the flow of water. The hike to the falls is easy and takes less than two hours roundtrip.
  • Ulsanbawi Rock: One of the most popular sights in Seoraksan National Park is Ulsanbawi Rock. This striking rock formation is comprised of six granite peaks that stretch out like a giant folding screen. The hike to the Ulsanbawi peak takes roughly four hours roundtrip and it's considered one of the more challenging day hikes in the park.

Where to Camp

There's one campground in the national park, the Seorakdong Campground, with spaces for tent campers and RVs. There are bathrooms with running water and hot showers and also electricity hookups available. Seorakdong is open year-round but campsites are a few dollars more expensive if you book during the peak season, which lasts from May 1 to November 30. If you plan to camp out, you should make your reservations online before arrival to confirm you have a site.

A few of the multi-day hiking trails have simple shelters for trekkers along the route, which are basically cabins with bunk beds that provide basic overnight shelter. A bed in a shelter is inexpensive and reservations can be made at the ranger stations or visitors’ center when you arrive.

Where to Stay Nearby

While some people choose to visit the national park on a day trip, the various valleys, streams, and peaks are worthy of longer stays. Plenty of hotels and restaurants are available inside the park's boundaries, allowing visitors to make the most of their time on the trails.

If camping isn’t for you but you're on a budget, try a love motel. 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. There are also a few three- and four-star hotels around the park, most of which offer restaurants, bars, swimming pools, and other amenities.

  • Kensington Seorak Hotel: For one of the most luxurious options within the park, this four-star hotel comes with a view from the Sky Lounge restaurant overlooking the mountains that are worth the extra cost alone. Named after the British Kensington Palace, it gives you an idea of the lavishness you can expect at this alpine lodge.
  • Seorak Pension: This traditional Korean bed and breakfast is right at the entrance to the national park for easy access. The rooms are minimalist with lots of open space and big windows looking out at the forest for unbeatable views.
  • The House Hostel: Budget travelers will find more options in the nearby city of Sokcho, the gateway to the national park. This hostel is on the coast with beaches and lots of nearby nightlife, and you can book a shared room or a private room. The city's main bus terminal is just a few minutes away with direct connections to the national park.

Getting There

Seoraksan National Park is approximately three hours by car from Seoul. But never fear if you don’t have a vehicle. Public transportation in South Korea is a travelers’ dream, with myriad options easily accessible and signs often posted in English. To get to Seoraksan National park from Seoul, take a bus from Seoul Express Bus Terminal to Sokcho city, which takes approximately four hours. From Sokcho, local buses frequently run to and from the main park entrance and the journey takes about 30 minutes.

Accessibility

Most of the trails require at least some hiking on steep or uneven terrain, although there are sections near the parking lot built on wooden boardwalks that are accessible to visitors with wheelchairs or strollers. The cable car up the mountain allows visitors with limited mobility to get to one of the summits, but the cable car is not accessible to wheelchairs.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The entrance fee to Seoraksan National Park includes a trail map, which is available in English.
  • South Korea is well known for its organized and well-maintained public spaces, and Seoraksan National Park is no exception. The park has numerous facilities, including ample parking, clean restrooms, benches, hiking shelters, picnic tables, rest areas, and miles of well-kept trails (many of which are set on wooden boardwalks).
  • The park is split into two regions: Oe-Seorak (Outer Seorak) and Nae-Seorak (Inner Seorak). If it's your first time visiting, Oe-Seorak is considered the more scenic option and it's also the most accessible from Sokcho.
  • The best time to visit is in spring to see the blooming cherry blossoms or autumn when the mountains are covered in breathtaking fall foliage.
  • No matter how hot the temperature, it’s illegal to swim or play in the streams, waterfalls, and natural pools to protect the water quality and environment. It’s also not allowed to remove any natural objects, even rocks, from the national park.
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Seoraksan National Park: The Complete Guide