Sometimes you have a really good plan to get up in the morning and go on a five hour hike that is 90 minutes away. Sometimes you just feel like sleeping in and don’t even get ready to go until after 1pm. Well if that’s the case, then I have the perfect hike for you: Inwangsan! Inwangsan is a mountain in the center of Seoul that overlooks Gwanghwamun Palace, the Presidential Blue House, and follows the Seoul Fortress Wall along its easily accessible ridge. The hike up only takes about an hour, and the hike along the wall is full of spectacular views of the city center, often not visible in such detail from the peaks outside of Seoul proper.
Rather than take the standard trail to the top, we opted to go up the “back way” from Dongdimmun Station on Line 3. Getting out at Exit 2, we took a left on Tongil-ro 14-gil. We followed the narrow, snaking road into what seemed to be a residential dead end. As Hudson and I looked around trying to figure out where to go next, we heard a man start clapping. Presumably just some ajushi clapping at pigeons. Turns out, we were the pigeons. When we turned around we saw him pointing towards a very tall staircase tucked away to the right. Still unsure how he knew where exactly where we wanted to go, we decided to take his advice anyway. We followed the staircase up passing by the Muak-dong apartment complex on the left until we finally reached a fork. We sat down in the small picnic pagoda (as I like to call them) and cracked open a pre-hike beer. What? That’s totally normal. We added a bit of orange juice to our cans since at 2pm, they were still pretty much breakfast beers. As we drank our beermosas, we took stock of the three options before us. To the far left, a grassy trail with hikers popping out from time to time, to the far right, a road with a sign that said “Inwangsan.” Sounds promising. And in the center was a steep road with what looked like an entrance to a temple at the top of the hill. Bingo.
We finished our beers and trudged up the hill only to find ourselves in what appeared to be a quiet little village. Apparently this village is also home to both a Buddhist temple and a Shamanistic shrine. We didn’t do too much exploring, but rather just looked around as we chose which of the many different staircases to follow up.
As we climbed, we saw a sign for seonbawi (선바위), which basically means Buddha rock. I think. It was worth a quick stop.
On the way to the top we passed a Shamanistic offering (I think?), a table full of meat and fruits and cakes and candles, before which two women were chanting. I wanted to stop to watch, but felt it was an intrusion, so we moved on. Before long we stumbled upon the Seoul Fortress wall! It was a very hazy day (as per usual, Seoul) but we continued the steep climb up to the peak. The entire wall is still an active military base, so they have guards dressed as Best Buy employees pretending to be park rangers. But they’re soldiers. Trust me. There are all kinds of restrictions on taking pictures, mainly that you cannot photograph in the direction of the Blue House, but if you’re stealthy you can sneak a pic.
As the afternoon wore on, the haze began to dissipate and we found a nice rock to sit on with a view of Bukhansan not far in the distance. We drank our soju and enjoyed our kimbap and crackers before following the only available trail down. We ended up popping out a few blocks from Muakjae station (we seriously never know where we are going to land after descending) and made our way home feeling completely satisfied.
The best part is, we didn’t even start hiking until after 2 pm and we were home by 6:30. Thanks Inwangsan for making me feel like I did something without actually doing that much!