We have seriously missed having friends who are always down for a hike. In Seoul, there weren’t as many opportunities to go outside, enjoy nature, and take a hike. After moving to Yeosu, we were beyond excited to find a group of friends who love getting outdoors as much as we do! Ryan has been on a few backpacking trips before, but I have not, so when we got the invite to tag along on the Dolsan trek, we quickly jumped at the opportunity.
Let me just start by saying that this hike was incredible. Maybe it was the wonderful company or the ocean breezes on hot summer days, but hiking Dolsan was one of the most pleasurable hiking experiences of our lives. Dolsan is a very long island which hosts a coastal trail that takes approximately 4 days to finish. It took us two weekends to finish this hike. The first weekend we completed the first two days, starting on the northern coast and ending on Bangjukpo Beach. The hike follows the coast which offers spectacular views and easy trails. The second half of the hike was shorter and we ended at the southern tip of the island near the Hyangiram Hermitage.
The hike is a manageable 4 day slog from Dolsan Bridge to the famous Hyangiram Temple following the coastal trail. We completed the length of the trail in three days, but I will explain that in the coming description of day two.
We started this trail on a beautiful, early Saturday morning with the friends I mentioned earlier. We set off down the path with great anticipation for the trails ahead. From the start we encountered overgrown paths laced with vines and weeds that lashed our ankles. While accumulating cuts and rashes from the vegetation, we bounced happily down the trail, in absolute bliss. The island of Dolsan has an incredible coast line and some spectacularly fun hiking. The abrasions on our ankles added up but none of us seemed to notice. The rocky shore, peaceful woods, views across the water of Koerea’s “Treasure Island” – Namhae, and stellar company made it easy to press on. After a day of hiking, following the eastern coast almost exclusively, we made it to Museulmok Beach where we camped.
The next day we were joined by more friends for the second leg of our 2-day hike. More great people added to our foreigner caravan, and the hike was just as fabulous as the first day. The trail on the second day was much clearer. We continued to wind along the coast, but found ourselves on much higher ridges and stone cliffs than the first. The climbs were substantially steeper on this day as well. Although the trek was considerably more difficult, the views proved to be as rewarding as the first day. We marched on, sporting sweaty smiles. The finger-like peninsulas along the coast mean a lot of out-and-back backtracking. These can seem arduous (and we admittedly skipped a few where the two directions shared one path) but we were so happy to be on such a beautiful trail that we didn’t mind at all. It was worth every step. In total, we went somewhere between 35 and 40km in those two days at a relaxed pace.
The halfway point for this coastal hike, and the end of out weekend trek, was Bangjukpo Beach where we all took off our hiking boots and jumped into the cold Korean water with full clothes. After a short swim, a beer or two, and some laughs on the beach while our muscles were allowed to rest, we headed up the road to the bus stop. Half of the trail had been completed, but we all needed to get home and rest before returning to work the following day. Before we parted ways with our friends we made plans to finish our beautiful island the coming weekend.
A week later we were primed and ready to finish hiking the length of Dolsan Island, but we were faced with a problem. On one hand, we were wanting to do the full 4 day hike marked as the Coastal Trail but the second half that lay ahead has not been mapped on the internet so planning for camping and food was difficult. On the other hand, some of our friends told us about a trail from Bangjukpo to Hyangiram Temple that followed ridges and mountain tops instead of the coastline that only took one day to complete. With limited time, we abandoned the coast and headed into the mountains.
I’m tiring from attempting to accurately describe how beautiful each part of this hike really was, so you’ll just have to trust me and hike it yourself if you’re adventurous. Anyhow, it was equally pretty on this portion of our trip from North to South. The views and the feel of the hike, however, was quite different. Many of our friends were unable to join in on the hike, so only four of us finished this leg as a group. And although we had fewer members in our party, the hike seemed more crowded. On the coastal hike we didn’t encounter more than maybe one or two Koreans on our two-day hike, but this day included a good number of hikers sharing the trail. We weren’t crowded by any means, it was just different in that we were sometimes being passed, or passing others. People aside, this final hike was gorgeous, the mountain views of the coast from above were as stunning as standing on the shore and being a part of it. Great views and light breezes on the peaks made for a very enjoyable day with good friends.
The culmination of this 3 day journey was found in one of Korea’s most famous prayer temples. Famous for its sunrises and sunsets, Hyangiram sits on a steep rocky coast in such a location that you cannot help but imagine the sea crashing against the rocks directly below your feet. With the sound of waves enshrouding every statue and each monument, the peaceful air of a Buddhist temple is set to the tempo of the same water below. With the exhaustion of the hike still fresh in our lungs and muscles, we relaxed for a while at Hyangiram and reflected on how great of a trip these three combined days had been.
It wouldn’t have been the same without our great group of friends, but this hike stands as one of our most enjoyable in Korea and in life. We are thankful to be surrounded by good friends and beautiful nature. I’d like to encourage everyone to get out and experience something fantastic with people you care about. On this hike we did- and we are so much better for it.