Translated to “Snowy Peaks Mountain”, Seoraksan National Park is located in the Gangwon Province in northeastern South Korea. The massive park takes part in four different cities and counties including Sokcho, Goseong, Yangyang, and Inje. It includes Korea’s third highest peak, Daecheongbong Peak which has been measured at 1,708 metres.
Driving in from seaside city of Sokcho, we got to Seoraksan at the end of June in 2020. There were still a lot of restrictions due to the pandemic, but South Korea had opened up its National Parks for hiking, and outdoor exercise was encouraged.
I had unfortunately severely rolled my ankle a few weeks earlier, and it had still not healed so our hikes were limited compared to what we normally would have done. However, we were still able to spend a few hours hiking from the Songongwon park entrance up to the Towangseong Falls Observatory which is a trail known for having the best waterfalls.
Despite being an overcast day, it was easy to still appreciate the incredible beauty of the landscape. With its jagged ridges and deep valleys, rushing creeks and flowing waterfalls, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking.
We trail to Towangeseong Falls is a 5.6k round trip trail that we thought might be easier. On the trail, you go from the park entrance to Biryong Falls. On the way. you cross through a wooded area that is relatively flat until gradually making your way across a series of stone steps that get steeper and steeper until you are finally met by a staircase built into one of the mountains. Clusters of granite rock meat with running streams of clear water as you work your way across the first bridge and further along the trail. It was absolutely beautiful with rich varients of green, curving tree branches, and massive lightly-colored granite rocks.
From the first bridge, through the forest and up to the mountain side, we were eventually lead to a massive and imposing suspension bridge that hovered over a series of six small waterfalls known as Yukdam Falls.
After crossing the bridge we passed two more waterfalls before getting to the Biryong Falls which has an interesting legend about it. Biryong means flying dragon, and the falls are said to resemble dragons flying up towards the sky.
From Biryong Falls we continued the trail further to Towangseong Falls and Observatory. The trail was an intense climb up what felt like a never-ending staircase into the sky. There are said to be over 800 steps (some locals counting 888) to reach the observatory, and you feel every single one of them (especially on a twisted ankle). Although it only took us about 30 minutes to climb to the top, my heartbeat was pounding with intensity and my neck and face were burning hot from the exertion.
However, when you get to the climb, you forget all about the strain in your muscles and feel yourself relax into the incredible views around you.
I’ve said it before, but one good thing about this pandemic has been the fact that it has kept most people indoors, and given me the opportunity to see amazing places without the crowds. I was told that these parks are usually quite packed with people making it far less enjoyable. Besides only two other people at the top, we were left alone to freely enjoy the marvels around us.
Cascading down the mountain, Towangseong Falls is over 320 meters high and is sheltered by the rest of the trees and separate peaks. The platform you end up on is still quite far away from it, but you are still able to appreciate it from a distance. Despite how cloudy it was, the mountain peaks rose like jagged waves into the sky as the trees clung to their sides. It was a stunning sight, I won’t ever forget.
The journey down was much faster than the one going up, but with my hurt ankle – not a whole lot easier. After making it back we were famished and found a few small park restaurants, cafes and shops open we were able to get some waters and one of my favourite traditional Korean treats – Kimchijeon. It is a savory kimchi-packed pancake that was perfect after our hike.
Next, since my ankle wasn’t going to allow much more in the way of hiking, we decided to take the cable car up to the Gwongeumseong Fortress. After buying the tickets (about 10,000 won a piece which is less than 9 dollars USD), we had to patiently wait our turn for the cable car. In the meantime, we got ourselves an ice cream and let my ankle rest a bit longer.
It is a quick and quiet trip in the cable car up to the Fortress and takes you up about 700meters. The path from the car station at the top to the Fortress is well-worn and easy to follow. I am sad to say that it was such a dreary and overcast day that we weren’t able to enjoy the views as we normally would have, but it was still a very cool experience.
They say that two generals, hoping to defend themselves from enemy invasion, built the fortress in a single day. Sadly, only the site remains today. Getting to the top is all about the views. I cant wait to go back one day on a clear and sunny day to try again.