Tips for Conquering Mt. Bukhansan in Seoul
Few people associate a wired city like Seoul with nature, but South Korea’s capital is nestled among 37 accessible mountains. Escaping to the great outdoors is only a subway or bus ride away. Seoul’s highest peak, Baegundae, is a fun day hike. It’s located in Bukhansan National Park which holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest number of visitors per square foot. The park’s famous trails lead not only to bird’s eye views of the sprawling metropolis, but also past temples, fortress walls, and golden Buddha statues. My friends and I tackled the popular Bukhansanseong Course to Baegundae peak, here are some tips we learned on our adventure:
Watch our autumn hike in Bukhansan
- Take Subway line 3 to Gupabal Station and get out at Exit 1. Take Bus #704 bound for Bukhansanseong Fortress (북한산성) to the Bukhansan Mountain entrance bus stop.
- If you decide to return on the shorter trail down the other side of the mountain, you can catch Bus #1 to Suyu metro station on line 4.
- The bus lines can get ridiculously long during nice weather. If there are a few of you, it may be faster and just as economical to take a cab to the entrance.
When to Go
- Bukhansan National Park can be enjoyed throughout the year. However, spring and fall offer the most comfortable weather and and prettiest scenery.
- Hiking is a very popular pastime, especially among ajummas and ajeoshis (middle to senior aged women and men). If possible, avoid visiting on nice weekends and opt to trek on a weekday – never expect to have the place to yourself.
- Start in the morning as early as possible.
Missing gear? Find it from the many vendors at the base of the mountain.Steel cables assist hikers with steep, rocky inclines.
- Duration: Allow 4-5 hours to complete the full hike to Baegundae, the park’s highest peak.
- Admission: There is no park entrance fee – it’s free! If you choose to drive, expect a parking fee that may range from₩2,000-7,500 (approximately $2-7 USD).
- Difficulty: This is a moderate hike with some strenuous moments. The last segment of the trail gets quite steep and requires a lot of stair climbing and rocky terrain that requires support from steel cables.
- Clothing: Dress in layers as it gets windier as the elevation rises. Sturdy shoes are needed for tackling rocky terrain and stairs. Shade gets scarce near the summit, so wear a hat or sunscreen as well. Gloves are imperative during cold weather for gripping the icy and chaffing steel cables. There are tons of vendors and stores at the base of the mountain selling gear if you forget anything.
- Food and Drink: Bring plenty of water to stay hydrated. I don’t recommend it, but Koreans seem to find shots of soju and makgeolli (rice liquors) invigorating during hikes. What I do recommend is copying the locals and packing a Korean picnic feast for when you arrive at the top. My peanut butter sandwich looked pathetic next to stacked boxes full of hot dumplings, gimbap (Korean sushi), kimchi, noodles, and rice dishes that were being consumed. There are some food vendors near the entrance to the park as well as a lodge serving basic fare that we passed on our descent.
- Culture: Hiking in Korea is different than Western culture. It’s a social group activity comprised of members who may be swigging soju and blasting K-pop music. Hikers also love decking out in bright, state-of-the-art gear, topped off with accessories like walking sticks and wide brimmed hats. There’s a different sense of personal space so don’t be surprised if people seem pushy or come up on your heels with their walking sticks. My advice is to let them through if they’re rushing to the top and take your time appreciating the beautiful scenery.
A Buddhist temple on the trail.
Views from Baegundae peak, the highest one in Seoul.
Do you have tips for hiking in Korea? Leave your comments and questions below for other travelers.
Lara was instilled with the travel bug at an early age and has visited over 25 countries. Her mother’s job as a flight attendant enabled a childhood of discovering the world. She recently relocated to Seoul, South Korea, where she hopes to explore some of Asia for the next few years. In addition to being the founding editor of En Route Traveler, Lara also works as a freelance graphic designer. In her spare time, she contributes as a Local Expert to AFAR, is an ambassador for FIG Clothing, enjoys vegetarian cuisine, instructs Zumba, practices yoga, dabbles in photography and, of course, travels as much as possible.