We spent an afternoon of our weekend in Sokcho at Seoraksan National Park. We did some unexpected hiking and climbed to new heights.
Seoraksan National Park (설악산국립공원) is a tentative UNESCO World Heritage site. It was easy to get to the park entrance from Sokcho; we took the 7–1 bus to the end of the line. (For anyone visiting from Seoul, T-Money cards do not work on Sokcho buses. Bus fare costs ₩1,200 per person.) Park entrance cost ₩7,000 per person. The entrance gate was crowded with people visiting over the Chuseok holiday.
The bronze Jwabul Buddha Statue sits near the entrance at over 14 meters high:
The park was beautiful. The weather still felt like summer, so it was a perfect day for a hike. First, we bought tickets for the cable cars. We scheduled our tickets for the 5:00 pm ride. (Tickets cost ₩10,000 per person. Buy ahead – they do sell out!) We vaguely heard about and decided to take the Ulsanbawi (울산바위) trail. It was around 4 kilometers long, and we figured that’d be a good distance to cover and make it back in time for the cable car.
Our hike started out easy. We wandered by pretty mountain views and Buddhist temples:
We saw a lot of Koreans in hiking gear, which we thought was silly. The beginning of the path was paved and flat. There were even bathrooms along the way. After a while, the trail changed to a rocky path and our ascent really began. We understood the walking sticks after that.
In the distance, we saw the granite peaks of our destination. And then it hit me. We were hiking all the way to the TOP of Ulsanbawi. Afterwards, we found out it has an elevation of 867 m.
The Gyejoam Temple (게조암) is a good halfway marker. There were some food vendors there, but we just topped off our water bottles from a spring. Also near temple is Heundeulbawi, the “rocking rock.” No matter how hard people push it, it can never be knocked over. If you have enough force, the rock does shift a bit:
Then, we hit the stairs. The 800+ stairs that are strapped to the mountain and take you up the top. This one was of the steepest climbs I’d ever done. It didn’t help that we hadn’t eaten anything but half a muffin. Thankfully, we had some granola bars and nuts.
After about 2.5 hours (the last hour was torture), we FINALLY made it! We were surprised to find a small souvenir shop at the top. There were men selling Korean iced tea for ₩5,000. At that point, it could have cost three times that price and I would have paid it. It was the best iced tea I’d ever tasted. It was a hard climb, but the views at the top – wow!
The climb back down the mountain took only 1.5 hours. We were booking it to make it in time for our cable car ride. Funny enough, we ran into some people who worked at the school we worked at in Turkey. Our time hadn’t overlapped, but we heard about them living in Korea from mutual friends. It’s crazy we had to hike a mountain in order to meet them!
I don’t know how accurate it is, but my phone said we climbed 140 stories to get to the top. Here are the death stairs:
After we finished the trail, we had some time to spare. We climbed down to the stream and soaked our feet in the cold running water. It felt SO GOOD! A Korean man saw us, thought we were funny, and had to get a photo with us. (Us probably meaning David and his red beard.)
We (finally) got some lunch at one of the many restaurants near the entrance. And then we took the cable car up to the Gwongeumseong peak (elevation 670 m). There was a cafe at the top and we snacked on hotteok and enjoyed the view.
It’s probably for the best that we didn’t do much research on the trail before we got to the park. If you do the hike, don’t be like us and eat a meal beforehand. There are several other trails in the park that we didn’t have time to do including one that takes you to a waterfall.
I’m not sure if we’ll be able to, but I’d love to make it back to Seoraksan to see the fall colors!