Seoul Weekend Edition: Hiking Gwanaksan

September and October are two of the most perfect times of the year to go hiking in Seoul. We, however, decided to hike Gwanaksan (관악산) at the end of June when the temperatures are high and the humidity is even higher. Hudson and I met two of our friends at Seoul National University Station and hopped in a taxi to the base of the mountain. You can also hop on any bus headed to Seoul University (서울대입구). It’s only about a five minute cab ride so the cost was no different when split among 4 people. From where the cab dropped us off (we just said, “Gwanaksan, juseo”) it was pretty easy to see exactly where we were supposed to go. We loaded up on snacks and soju for the summit and headed towards the mountain.

straight lounging

straight lounging

Most mountains in Seoul are equipped with large maps at the base to help you choose which trail you’re going to do. Though I have no idea which trail it is we ended up taking. I can say that it followed the stream all the way to the top. As we climbed, there were plenty of people having lunch in the mostly dry river bed, many with their shoes off dipping their feet in the little bit of water that was flowing. It was a beautiful day for it.

hiking gwanaksan

not so rushing river

As we hiked up the relatively busy trail, we saw more and more people lounging on large flat rocks and just enjoying the afternoon. We were determined, however and reached the summit in about two hours. Once at the top, we followed the ridge up to the weather station that looks like Epcot Center. There was a wide slope there perfect for popping a squat and enjoying our summit soju.

After about thirty minutes resting and enjoying the views, we were ready to begin our descent. On the other side of the mountain we found a steep path descending with thick chains for support and a sheer drop behind you. Of course, this was the way we decided to go. In my younger days, I was never scared of heights at all, but as I grow older, my own mortality seems to be kicking in. The ledges below for your feet to land were very narrow, and at only 5’3″ tall, my foot was often dangling trying to find the next step. Of course the boys and my tall friend had no problems with this.

hiking gwanaksan

view from the top

 

hiking gwanaksan

surfing the ridge

We continued on down the much more adventurous path, which was completely empty save for one older Korean couple relaxing on a rock. At the sight of four foreigners on the difficult trail, they asked us to stop and take pictures with them. Koreans just love taking photos with white people. As we continued on, it became difficult to tell which way the path was supposed to go. We often had several ways that seemed like options, only to double back and try the other way. We could see Seoul Nat’l University as we descended, so we knew we were headed the right way.

hiking gwanaksan

this was not even the scary part

When we finally popped out on the street, it was ON campus. Literally. Looking back at the entrance to the trail it was simply a two-foot wide clearing into the forest with three stairs leading up to it. I’m not sure anyone ever took that trail to the top before, as I don’t know how they ever would have found it. As it was already getting late and our friends had to get back to Cheong-ju, we took a taxi back to the station and said our goodbyes.

So far Gwanaksan has been one of my favorite hikes in Seoul. It’s challenging, but not expert, the views are amazing, and it’s relatively close to the center of the city. Also, anything that pushes my comfort level including ropes and chains hanging you over deathly narrow cliffs, gets bonus points in my book. I would definitely come here again, though I might wait until after the rainy season so the river has a little more power to it.

Got any questions or tips on hiking Gwanaksan? Leave ’em in the comments below!

14 Comments

  • Woah, this hike looks awesome! I’ve done a few with ropes/chains back home, but never in Korea. Most hikes seem to be more on the tame side.

    I really like that shot surfing the ridge with the weather station in the background. It does look a bit like the Epcot Center, now that you mention it…

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Laura says:

    I haven’t heard of this one, I’ll have to check it out! It’s so cool how many hikes there are around Seoul. They’re so accessible!

  • This hike looks way too crazy for me with those ropes and chains. Going up would be nerve wrecking enough but then you have to come down! I think I might actually give myself a heart attack with my fear of heights :/

  • Nadia says:

    Hmmm… chains?! Ropes?! Yup, I have some mates that would love that challenge level. I’m quite a rookie with hiking but hiking Gwanaksan might be something to add to my To-Do List before I leave Korea.

    The photo showing the view from the top is stunning! It makes me want to get back into the game for sure. Thanks!

  • We never really did any hiking IN Seoul when we lived there. The view is pretty great up there, but the smog!! >.< You guys are brave, if that picture wasn't even the scary part haha. I know what you mean about being afraid more often as you get older. I think about some of the things i've done before and wonder how I'm not already dead! Definitely more cautious these days. 😛

  • Lara says:

    I have never hiked anywhere that involves holding onto a giant chain! Looks a bit like you would have to tap into some rappelling skills…My husband and I are moving up closer to Seoul in a couple of weeks and it is nice to know that there will be just as many opportunities for great day hikes as there are down in the Daegu area.

  • Duke Stewart says:

    Hard to believe there’s mountains like these near Seoul but hey, It’s Korea! Really cool views from the top there. Is that one part of a National Park? I didn’t notice you posting any signs that made me think so. Looks like a blast! Thanks for sharing.

  • Katie says:

    Ha! I love that you mentioned the perfect place for popping a squat! This looks like my kind of hike…good exercise, good views, and a little dangerous! I am looking to do a few more hike before the weather gets cold, this could be one of them!

  • Meg Wray says:

    Wow… Not sure if I’d have the guts to complete this hike. That looks even scarier than some points on Wayna Picchu in Peru! The view looks absolutely stunning though. You must’ve felt so accomplished making it to the top with your soju. 😉

  • Matt says:

    Hiking in Korea is almost always fun for the reasons you mentioned, especially the older Koreans who love to say hello. As a borderline alcoholic, I also really enjoy the makgeolli tradition.
    I never made it to Gwanaksan but it looks as I prefer being in the middle of nowhere when I hike but, still, it looks like a good one!

  • Neysha says:

    Oh man! That picture on the edge makes me queasy. This looks fun, though. I’ve climbed one mountain in Korea where we needed to use ropes, and it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be, so I’d definitely try it again. Especially for that view!

    • Taylor says:

      I’ve actually been on a few different courses with ropes and chains, but the other ones were more just there to help. These were necessary in order not to fall off the edge. Haha slightly different feeling.

  • Nailah says:

    That view from the top is amazing! Koreans love taking photos with anyone that’s not Korean. A black woman, I’ve been asked a few times to take pictures with random folks in Seoul and for the first time in Jeju, two days ago.

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