Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Five South Korean National Parks

Wolchulsan National Park
South Korea is a nation of hikers. On the trails old, young, hip, dowdy, they love to hike. It's no wonder: Korea is mountainous, but the population is concentrated on relatively small plains. The mountains beckon.

During my current stay in South Korea I've hiked in five of South Korea's twenty-two national parks. I guess I fit into the category old and dowdy, so I'm right at home.

Interactive map
I used public transport to reach every trailhead. Trains were easy to figure out because Korail, the Korean rail system, has a somewhat usable Web site. Buses were a different matter, requiring quite a bit of research each day both online and in situ. [In a another post, How I Got to Five Korean National Parks by Public Transport, I document how I got to the parks in some detail.]

I started my visit to South Korea in Seoul. On my first full day I hiked several miles of the ancient Seoul city walls.
From that vantage point, I could see Bukhansan National Park to the north of central Seoul. I would visit that park towards the end of my time in South Korea.

First, though, I wanted to go right to the end of a rail line, a habit of mine. I took the KTX bullet train to Mokpo in the far southwest of the country. From there I visited Wolchulsan National Park.

Wolchulsan National Park

In Mokpo I boarded a country bus that took me within walking distance of the east entrance to the park. Seven hours later I walked out of the west entrance to the park towards a country bus that took me back to Mokpo. In between, I experienced the most gorgeous and strenuous hike so far in this trip.
I lost count of the peaks I climbed. Mercifully, they were connected by ridge trails.
Over the course of the day, I climbed a total of over 4,000 feet. I had (good) aches for a few days after.

From Mokpo I switched my base to Gwangju, a little further north. This simplified the number of connections I would need to visit the next two parks.

Naejangsan National Park

A short rail journey and a country bus got me to the edge of the national park.

I was still happily aching from the previous day's hike, so the sight of a cable car was just too tempting. I took it much of the way up the mountain. There were still climbs and ridge trails, so I got my workout.
I walked down and back to the bus stop, an unused return cable car ticket in my pocket.

Mudeungsan National Park

While I was in the city of Gwangju, I wanted to take a peek at Mudeungsan National Park. This park is on the west side of the city and has enough trails to keep you busy for days.

I took a city bus from downtown to the park, where I clambered around hillside forested trails for a couple hours.
As the the timetable implies, this is one easy national park to reach.

Gyeongju National Park
I then crossed South Korea from Gwangju, somewhat southwest to Gyeongju somewhat southeast. There I stayed in a former love hotel, surrounded by current love hotels. I paid by the day, they paid by the hour.

But I was also surrounded by national park. In this case, a historical area going back over 2,000 years. It's a UNESCO world Heritage site, so I had to pay attention.

There are hundreds of burial mounds in the area: in the city, and the surrounding countryside.
In less reverent moments my thoughts floated to Tellytubbyland or Jayne Mansfield.

Next day my hike up Mount Namsam was punctuated by ancient artifacts.
This pagoda dates from the 9th century, or earlier.
After seeing other culturally important sites, it was time to hop on a bullet train back up to Seoul.

Bukhansan National Park

At Seoul Station I shoved my backpack into a locker and supplied my fingerprint to ensure subsequent retrieval of the aforementioned backpack.

I then headed for subway line 1.

45 minutes later, I was in easy walking distance of my trailhead. My mission was to reach the highest point in the park on Dobongsan Mountain.

Half-way up I paused at a temple.
The trail became increasingly "technical." I was glad I had my monkey work gloves, as I was sometimes clambering over rocks on all fours, or pulling myself up using a rope.
It was joyful.

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