Seoraksan National park was designated the 5th national park in Korea in 1970 and chosen as a nature preservation area on November 5, 1965 Also, internationally recognized for its rare species, Seoraksan is the area in Korea to have been designated as a Biosphere Preservation District by UNESCO in 1982, and in IUCN recognized its rich natural resources and labeled it category Ⅱ(National Park). Over 2,000 animal species live in Seoraksan, including the Korea goral, Musk deer, and others. There are also more than 1,400 rare plant species, such as the Edelweiss, here as well.(Reference: National Parks of Korea).
1. Getting There
Seorasak is considered one of the most beautiful mountains, especially during autumn season. It is loved by locals and tourists and is easily accessible, just 15 minutes' drive from the town of Sokcho.
If you intend to take a trip to Seoraksan, you will need to arrive at Sokcho before you take a short ride to the mountain. For more details of the trip to Sokcho, check out the blog on Sokcho.
1.1 If you are stationed in Sokcho city
There is a bus service from Sokcho to (Mount) Seoraksan. Local bus 7 or bus 7-1 to go to Seoraksan Sorak . The bus stop for this bus is located less than 100 meters on the right hand side of Sokcho (Intercity) Bus Terminal. The frequency of the bus is about every 30 minutes (both bus 7 or 7-1 can take you to Mount Sorak National Park. The bus ticket fare for these bus is only 1200 won (please prepare small change in exact amount if possible). The bus journey time from Sokcho Terminal to Seoraksan National Park is about 45 minutes. On your way back after visiting Mount Seorak National Park, you can take bus 7 or bus 7-1 from the opposite side of the road to return to Sokcho Terminal or to your hotel in Sokcho.
1.2 If you are stationed at Seoraksan
My personal preference is always to stay near bus stations and city areas, but for Seoraksan, I decided to take the accomodations at the mountain. Not that I have alot of options- there is only one hotel and a 5 star hotel, which I usually do not take up unless there is good reason for me to spend the extra $$.
In the end, I have no regrets, and I will go back to the same hotel again when I revisit Seoraksan in the winter. I will first write abit about the accomodation, which will help to explain the suggested itinerary.
1.2.1. Accommodations at Seoraksan
One of my bucketlist to stay at mountain, so that I can wake up to mountain air, mountain breeze, and stay as long as I can until sunset. My plan to to take at least 2 walking trials, dip my feet in the mountain stream, see the sunset or sunrise, which I decided is a bit difficult for someone who likes to laze around in bed). So I opted for accomodation at Seoraksan, which is actually easy to decide because there is only 1 hotel at Seoraksan Kensington star hotel). Comfort and ambience wise, it is 5 star, but amenities wise, you need to take a discount because many things may be closed especially during off peak.
Picture below: View from the front and back of hotel (Room views)
Kensington star is only 20 minutes walk to the entrance of Seoraksan National Park, and I really enjoy the walk. My recommendation is that to maximize your experience at Seoraksan, stay at Kensington, save on the 2 hours on journey and energy to travel from Sokcho.
1.2.2 From Sokcho Bus Stationa to Seoraksan
From Sokcho Intercity, you can find the taxi stand just outside the station. There is a Tourist Booth just besides the taxi station too. Remember to pick up the necessary brochure from a at the same place before you depart from Sokcho Intercity station. A taxi from the Sokcho intercity bus terminal to the Kensington Hotel/ or Seoraksan park gates costs approximately 15000 won.
2. Area Information
Cable Car: http://www.sorakcablecar.co.kr/english2
Fees: Admission too the park is 3500 won. If you are going for the cable car ride, it is 10000 won for an adult return ticket, which must be purchased at the entrance as well.
If you are a regular hiker with good strength, speed and stamina, you may be able to complete the trails for each area in a day. Otherwise, if you are a more recreational hiker, I would recommend you plan for 2 days - 5 hour comfortable hike per day. This rate will allow you to cover 2 areas in details per day. While this may mean you need to pay the admission fee twice, it does ensure you get enough time to stop and take pictures, explore the temple grounds, and perhaps enjoy an afternoon tea, soak your feet among the mountain streams and wait up for a great shot at sunset, where the mountain rocks give off a golden sheen (Best seen from Biryeong Falls trial at the bridge section)- a highly recommended experience!
3. Moving Around
There are 3 key locations which we need to define and be understood, for the purpose of discussing time-check matters. For convenience, we shall call this the "base locations"
This is near the carpark, taxi stand, bus stop.
2. Bear icon
This is near my recommended restaurant, and is the first fork- for choosing your walking trail
3. Temple/buddha statue/stream
This is near a second cluster of eating places, and the second area where there is a fork for choosing your walking trail.
What you cover depends on how much time you have.
Assuming you arrive at Sokcho at 1pm, and get your lunch before getting to Soeraksan by taxi, you should have 3 hours at Seoraksan.
If you have a full day at Seoraksan, you may wish to consider how you can plan your hike, so that you get to have lunch at base locations, or have a early dinner/late lunch at the restaurant near the Bear icon. The latter will be a good option if you are staying at Seoraksan Kengsinton and is looking for cheap local meals.
If you have 3 hours to spare
Option 1: Seorak Sogongwon Cable Car (설악 케이블카) and Gwongeumseong Fortress (which is actually the highest peak/stone/rock
The queue for cable car can be quite a wait in the morning. It will be good if you can save time. Do note that the cable car services are subjected to weather conditions, including strong winds.
Sogongwon Cable Care
About: From http://english.visitkorea.or.kr, http://www.sorakcablecar.co.kr/english2
The best way to see Seoraksan Mountain if you only have a limited time, is by taking the Seorak Cable Car. However, it is so popular that you sometimes have to wait in line for approximately 2 to 3 hours during the peak seasons (summer vacation and fall foliage seasons) and during the weekends, but during off-seasons, the cable car can be boarded without having to wait in line. Riding up and down the cable car, visitors can view the fascinating rock formations of the Gwongeumseong region as well as the Sogongwon area, Jeohangnyeong, and Ulsanbawi Rock to the north. To the northeast, downtown Sokcho and the East Sea comes into view. After getting off the cable car, visitors can take a 20 to 30 minute hike to Gwongeumseong to get a birds-eye-view of Oe-Serok. The cable car ascends at a relatively high speed with some excitement. Safety is assured and the scenery can be enjoyed with the guided tour in the cable car. It runs even when it is raining or snowing, but operation may be suspended under windy conditions.
Unfortunately, the wind was rushing around at 60km/hr during the week when I was at Seoraksan. Walking through open grounds can be challenging, so I was not exactly sorry that they did not allow visitors on the cable car. If it does I will be really worried about safety issues! Anyway I am sure I will be back, and I will be sure to catch autumn next time!
If you wish to read more about the Sogongwon cable here, you can goto the official website HERE.
Option 2: Sinheungsa Temple (신흥사) + Biryeong Falls/Biryong Falls (비룡폭포)
(Recommended that you catch sunset on the return trip of this hiking trial)
About: From http://english.visitkorea.or.kr
Sinheungsa (신흥사) is a short 10min walk away from the entrance to Sogongwon. In fact, many visit because of its close proximity to Sogongwon. Sinheungsa is a temple which used to be called Hyangseongsa, built by Jajangyulsa (590~658), who traveled to famous mountains all over the nation, in Queen Jindeok’s (?~654) 6th year of reign. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times since. On the path to Sinheungsa, there is a great bronze statue called Bronze Jwabul Statue, which is well over 10 meters high. Just beyond the statue, which is on a granite terrace, there is a bridge to the right called Hyeonsugyo, which was newly built for crossing the ravine. Past the bridge there is a long stone wall with a Cheongwang door, and you can enter the temple. At the entrance there are four Cheonwang (king) statues (Jiguk Cheonwang with a sword, Damun Cheonwang with a lute, Gwangmok Cheonwang with a tower, and Jeungjang Cheonwang with a dragon), placed on either side. The Buddhist statues at Sinheungsa were placed here during the founding days of Seongjeongsa, and include the statues Mireukbosal, Gwaneumbosal and Seji which were sculpted by Uisang Daesa. The buildings which were built during that time are still standing, like the sanctuary, main temple, Myeongbujeon, Bojaeru, and Chilseonggak, etc. There is also an important cultural property, Treasure No. 443, called Hyangseongsaji, a three-story stone tower. You can reach the Ulsan boulder by following the wall outside Sinheungsa. Sinheungsa is an ancient temple with deep historical significance, and many tourists come because of its beautiful scenery.
Once you pass the temple gate, you can see the Bronze Buddha statue. The statue called Bronze Jwabul Statue, which is well over 10 meters high. The gate itself is also a piece of art, with intricately crafted dragon on both sides. There are 2 dragons on each side of the gate, each with its unique design.
Once you pass the bronze statue, you will see a path towards the inner part of the temple , enroute to Ulsanbawi rock.
This is also the place where you can access a shallow, board stream and soak our feet in cool/icy mountain stream water. The weather was then about 21 degrees Celsius, but the water felt much colder than that, possibly because it was mountain stream that sprouts from the nearby rocky areas.
I was at the stream at around 330pm, and had the stream to myself. If you are lucky, you can pick afew rocks which are at the shallower part of the upper end where there is a good choice of dipping points and rocks to sit/dry your feet. If your feet gets too cold, just prop your feet on the rocks which is cosy and warm.
The place is busy with the staff from Seoraksan clearing the waters stream beneath the nearby bridge. Apparently, people would throw coins into the water, which they probably should not as it may contaminate the waters.
Behind the stream towards Ulsanbawi rock, there is another part of the temple, which offers temple stay. During off peak, the place is quiet and peaceful. With breathtaking landscape and fresh air and waters, I can see why thus would be a place of healing, even if it is not a temple.
About: From http://english.visitkorea.or.kr
The falling water of the loud and magnificent Biryong Fall looks very much like dragons flying up towards the sky, which is why it was named Biryong (flying dragon) Falls. There is a relatively wide path leading to Biryong Waterfall, through a bamboo forest, making it a very nice place to hike. From Biryonggyo Bridge, which is located in the lower reaches of Cheonbuldong Valley, called Ssangcheon, walk past it for about 30 minutes to the left, and you will see the Yukdam Falls, made up of six waterfalls and a deep pond. Roughly 300 m past this area, you can see the Biryong Falls between the narrow and rugged ravine. Also, if you follow the Towanggol, up a steep, rocky path, there is a huge, three-tiered waterfall called Towangseong Falls. However, due to the extremely dangerous path leading to it, it is barred to the public
A round trip is 2.7km, and takes 2 hours. For me I took double the time. There is so much photogenic spots. Another reason for the slower pace is that I have weak knees. The later parts of Biryong Falls trial is more rocky with graduations, so hikers must be vigilant and hike with care. I have seen elderly and children hike the trial though, so it all comes to your strength and stamina.
The start of Biryong trial is closest to the Park entrance. You should see it not far from the Bear icon. You will be greeted by a long bridge across an valley, which is the best spot to see sunset along this trial. So remember to make it back at this point for sunset.
Photos in first row: View from the Bridge.
Photos in second row: (left) Sunset casts a golden shimmer on the rocky peaks; (right) Sunset from the bridge.
For those who prefers natural sand-pebbled-gradual rocked formed terrain, you should like the variety Biryong trial. There were lots of big pine trees and lush, well grown maples which explains why Seoraksan is voted as the best location in Korean for Autumn, and internationally (CNN). I went in May, so I would not be able to share Autumn foliage in this post.
It was really windy when I visited Seoraksan . At 60km/hr, there was no cable car ride for me. However, if you like listening to the wind rustling amongst the mountain foliage, then be sure to indulge in it along this trial. Its melodious!
The best part of the Biryong trial is that a large of the trial offers a view of the streams and crystal clear water. I would love to get into the water if not for the general rules (as well as the Korean's civic mindedness) that we need to do our part to keep the water in clear pristine condition.
I managed to catch a video of a visitor who attempted to check out the waters close up. you can sense how windy it was.
There is a lot more
Option 3: Biseondae Rocks (비선대) + Soak your feet in mountain stream
About: From http://english.visitkorea.or.kr
Biseondae is about a 300-meter walk along the mountain stream from Waseondae Rock. The view is quite beautiful, and after rainfall water cascades down large boulders. The name ‘Biseondae’ derives from the legend of a fairy who flew up into the heavens while admiring the area’s beautiful scenery. The grand scenery of rocks and cliffs seem like they are touching the heavens, and Biseondae has inspired many poets and scholars through the ages. Some of their writings have been engraved on the rocks and are preserved to this day.
The trail from Sogongwon to Biseondae is an easy 3 kilometers and takes approximately 50 minutes (1 way, by Korean walking speed. For me, I took 1.5 hours with many phototaking breaks)
Biseondae Rocks trial is publicized as one of the easiest trial in Seoraksan, so much of the earlier parts of the trial is largely "processed" and cleared out, so there is not much to rave about. I saw some families attempting to bring a baby trolley along the trial, which looks fine for the initial stages. But the "pram friendly" stretch does not offer much to see either. What keeps us promise is the promise of a more spectacular view at the end of the trial.
The final stretch of Biseondae rocks can only be access via metal stairways and platform, built to overcome the very rocky terrains of Biseondae rocks. From the platform you can get a good view of the water holes, which presents clear, pristine water.
The platform also offers visitors a chance to catch a glimpse of Chinese characters engraved onto the stone.
At the peak of the trail is a bridge where you can get a good view of the landscape along
Chipmunks on Seaoraksan
As we come close to the streams enroute Biseondae Rocks, you can catch a glimpse of chipmunks. Not that little cuties are not found along other trials such as Biryong Falls trial, but the sheer height of trees at Biryong trials makes it difficult for anyone to spot them.
I thought I was looking at a squirrel until someone said that it was a chipmunk. I searched online and this is what I found: chipmunks have stripes on their body AND head. I went through some old photographs of "squirrels" and confirmed my thoughts: This little fella is the first chipmunk I met. I am glad I was able to keep this memory.
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