Korea is blessed with many magnificent national parks for such a small country. The sheer number of mountains and amount of coastline in South Korea, coupled with the large population necessitating the preservation of natural spaces, has amounted to 17 national parks. Each park is unique in its own way and we enjoy discovering each park’s special features whenever we get the chance. Some parks encompass hundreds of islands with astounding rock formations, while others cover massive mountain ranges. Although you’d expect the parks to become redundant or too similar to warrant a visit, you’d be wrong. We have not once visited Park A and thought “man, this one is a whole lot like Park B.” While we have hiked through and visited quite a few of these parks, one always beckoned to us with its dramatic mountain top and incredible beauty in the northern province of Gangwon-do: Seoraksan National Park.
Far away from any major city, Seoraksan sits in the northeastern-most province of South Korea. Covering almost 400 square kilometers, this parks contains some of the msot dramatic peaks in the Taebaek Mountain Range. We’ve long dreamed of this park and recently, on a roadtrip up the east coast, we finally found time to visit.
Arriving during the last few weeks of winter was a mistake. Upon seeing the incredible mountain peaks through the lightly falling snow, we knew that we’d need to make another trip. Not ten minutes after stepping foot inside the park’s gate we felt an energetic longing to come back at a different time. We were excited to finally be seeing this beautiful park, but it was clear that hiking to the top and being able to see all the way to North Korea was not going to be possible. Looking to make the best of our hindered (although still very excited) Seoraksan experience, we walked the grounds looking for winter activities.
One of our main experiences inside Seoraksan was the gondola (cable car, if you ask Stephanie) ride up one of the lesser peaks, Jipseonbong (Jipseon Peak). Last year, having not yet been to Seoraksan, we had been outraged by the prospect of building a gondola to haul lazy people up a beautiful mountain so that they could enjoy the spoils of hiking without the effort. With the pangs of preservation and conservation in our sides, we even signed a petition to block the construction, but- as with many things in Asia- when the money is already there, you’d better get out of the way. Great amounts of regret and feeling of hypocrisy washed over us as we slowly became more and more excited to be able to experience the mountains in a season that would have normally prevented us from getting off the main grounds. We (again, with tears flowing down our stupid blubbering faces and feeling peer pressured into doing so) paid, boarded, and rode the gondola we had once opposed up to Jipseon.
Time for excuses and optimism, so bear with us: The thing is already built. And while it is absolutely unnecessary and tragic for the view of that raw and beautiful mountain, the gondola will maintain Seoraksan National Park’s legitimacy as a destination during the winter months. With this extra year-round revenue, we can only hope that the park uses the fund from the gondola to maintain the size and natural beauty of the park for as long as it can. Unfortunately, money is pretty important and we are hopeful that riding the gondola not only feeds SNP’s financial stability well into the future, but also introduces more people to the amazing heights that can be experienced through natural exploration, hiking, and climbing. Since Jipseonbong is not one of the biggest, there are still more incredible sights that we haven’t seen, and probably many others haven’t. There is still the incentive to go forward; go higher. There is still more to see. The top was amazing, also, and offered spectacular views of the valley at the center of Seoraksan. You can see the temples, welcome building, and the far off (and much higher) peaks in the distance.
So, after exploiting nature by going on the gondola, we returned to earth and explored the rest of the main grounds accessible in winter without climbing gear. Even covered in snow, SNP has some amazing sights to behold at the most basic level. The valley contains temples, restored old villages, and some of the best coffee shops in Gangwondo. The Buddha statue that we had seen from Jipseonbong as a massive homage to Korean Buddhism was now much closer and much larger than before. Suddenly, this seated Buddha was massive and perfectly enshrined by masiffs on all sides. We said prayers of thanks and gazed for some time at the Seoraksan Buddha’s tranquil face. He looks upon the beauty of those mountains daily in way that we all should all approach our own surroundings.
We continued on and visited the small folk village beyond the temple before indulging in a fine drip coffee that was worth every thousands of pennies. It really was good, right at the bottom of the temple grounds, overlooking the stream.
16 thoughts on “Let’s go to… Seoraksan National Park!”
I love getting back to nature and welcome any new place I can visit away from the busy cities of Korea. Nice way to get around by gandola, I will have to do the same if we make it down there.
It is one of the most scenic and famous national parks in Korea, so hopefully you find time to make the trek! Totally worth it whether you hike or take the easy route like we did 😉
I hate winter. I come from two Southeast Asian countries that have no winter, and so I can’t imagine going up a mountain in the winter time, even though I love hiking (or used to, anyway). So though I would have probably also signed the petition against the construction of the gondola, I would also probably be one of those who, if I happened to be there on a wintery day, would have said: “now that wasn’t such a bad idea after all.”
This mountain seems to be calling to me as well. Last time we went to SNP was in 2010, when my family was visiting me here in Korea. The trip was part of a tour and so we didn’t really get to hike up the mountain or anything. I vowed to return, but have yet to keep that promise. How interesting though that my husband and his teammates just hiked up said mountain and even watched the sunrise from the peak last week and now I’m reading a post about it. Hmm…
Looking forward to when you guys post about your return to SNP. I can imagine that being a very memorable experience here in Korea. 🙂
Yes! Hopefully we both get a chance of a return visit for the hike up!
Ahhh, this is one of my favorite spots in Korea! I’m glad you two made it there 🙂 Your pictures are amazing! I’ve only been in the spring/summer, but I’d love to make it back in the fall/winter. It looks like a different place. What other Korean national parks have you been to?
We haven’t been to many of the national parks yet. We live on the southern tip of Korea and it is always a long trek to get to any of the parks. We have been to Seoraksan, Jirisan, Bukhansan, and Juwangsan. There are quite a few provincial parks and marine national parks we have made it to as well though!
I totally agree with you. I was extremely disappointed by all the artificiality that had gone into the national park. Pavements, restaurants, made paths and a gondola?! I thought I would find an actual national park, not a tourist trap. On top of that, the actual hiking trails were closed due to forest fires so I had to stick to where the tourists were crowding the place. Not the best hiking experience. This beautiful park deserved more.
Yes, it is an unfortunate reality in Korea. So many people packed into such a small peninsula leads to the trampling of nature. Going there ourselves was also contributing to the problem T_T We have heard that Bukhansan National Park in Seoul is the most visited national park per unit area. When we hiked it during our first year in Korea in the fall, it was so overrun. There was a line to the top and we had to just wait for our turn to get to the peak.
Also, great video! I was cracking up over the cable car vs. gondola debate. Thanks for the entertainment.
So, what do you think?! Cable car or gondola?? 😉
I always heard that Seoraksan was most beautiful in the autumn when I went, and it surely was gorgeous, but I never dreamed of how pretty it would be in the winter! Sometimes I really take for granted the beautiful country I’ve been blessed to live in… Great photos!
Korea really is spectacular in all seasons. We get bored and frustrated in winter, but getting out and exploring reminds us that: even in winter, a bit of adventurous spirit goes a long way. So much to see in all seasons, we look forward to the next winter and just hope that we have the energy to explore more amazing places!
I loved this blog post as well as the video. The photographs look like the most perfect winter wonderland. I hiked Hallasan in January 2014 which was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly difficult and I definitely wouldn’t advise it, so I think it’s fine you took a cable car, even if it didn’t feel as authentic. I visited/hiked Seoraksan this past fall but am interested in hiking it again. Regardless of the fact that it’s a touristy spot, it is still one of the most gorgeous places to hike in Korea I would say. Thank you for inspiring me to get back into nature!
Thanks for commenting! It’s easy to turn away in winter, due to danger and ice, but Seoraksan seems to have taken care of that by allowing people to visit and explore peaks during winter! I know that many mountains are more strenuous in the winter, and I can’t imagine hiking Hallasan in the snow and ice, but we certainly took the easy way out, huh?
Those pics, as well as the video, really brought out Seoraksan in Winter. I loved it all, especially your sum up of the place. Good that you got to visit, and see it at probably it’s most beautiful time. It’s too bad that it’s so far away, or else I’d be there every weekend. The hikes are nice and the potato pancakes are solid as well. We spent a Chuseok there and I have to say that winter looks cooler. Thanks for sharing. It was a great read and wonderful to scroll though. Thanks.
What a gorgeous park. I don’t live super far from Seoraksan, but have yet to make it there (Bukhansan is in my backyard so all of my weekends are spend there)! I, like you, am not a fan of gondolas or means of getting to the tops of mountains in other ways. It drives me nuts when I see cars toting the sticker “I climbed Mt. Washington” when really the car climbed Mt. Washington not you. Sorry random side note. Anyway, the fact that you were able to go up and experience the mountains in the winter from the gondola is still pretty cool. I’m sure you will make it back eventually now that the weather has turned nice!