If you want to really see a country, escape the cities. It’s a an ethos many travelers live by, and while you may not want to work in a small village – the culture shock would certainly be substantial – you’ll definitely want to escape the fast-paced hustle and bustle of major cities like Seoul and Busan if you’re more of a countryside person, especially as Korea has such an incredible, hilly variety to it. Here’s the best:
Bukhansan – very easy access from Seoul, being on the end of one of the subway lines, which allows you to stroll through a host of bargain knock off hiking stores and loads of supplies before heading straight up the hill. It’s packed at the weekend due to its sheer proximity, but come during the week and you’ll find a really chilled out stroll and some incredible views back over the city. Allow plenty of time for the subway ride, though, unless you’re staying in the Northern suburbs of Seoul.
Seoraksan Korea’s most popular national park is in the east, and best accessed through the town of Sokcho. You could get lost for hours in amongst the craggy peaks, waterfalls and endless trails of this stunning district, stumbling across ancient temples and monks caves, as well as ‘hut hopping’ through the trails, sleeping in pre-booked little sheds along the way. If you visit one national park in Korea, visit this one, as the scenery is utterly spectacular.
Gajisan Home to two of Korea’s most famous temples (and sedate temples stays that might just change your view on life), Gajisan is accessible from the city of Gyeongju, and has impressive craggy peaks and plenty of more committed hikers. While Seoraksan’s highest peak is slightly tarred by the easy-access from a gondola, the peak of Gajisan’s highest mountain (1,240m) has to be conquered on foot, and will take you through some beautiful trees to some truly amazing views. This is for those who are at least as up for the hiking as the outdoors, if not more. There are some stunning hot springs to be found just round the corner, too.
Taebaeksan A small provincial park that has an amazing festival in the winter, as well as the country’s sixth highest peak; a serious mission in the snow. The mountain is a traditional shamanist home, with an alter at the top connected to the mythical founder of the country, ‘Dangun’. You’ll find offerings in brass bowls sat in front of the temple, as well as shamanist statues. The region was also once a big coal mining area and has a museum that’s well worth a look.
Jirisan Jirisan is another national park for the serious hikers, and by far Korea’s largest (land based – there are bigger one off the coast) national park. Cheonwangbong is the country’s second highest peak, and makes for a major endeavor, one that you can easily extend to several days by dropping in on the various springs and temples along the way. The park has a host of trails, though, and you can have a good time as an advanced or beginners hiker. Make sure you pick up a map on the way, though, as this place is a real maze.