The Bukhansan National Park (Korean: 북한산국립공원, 北漢山國立公園) in Seoul and Gyeonggi covers an area of nearly 80 km (31 sq mi) and was established in 1983. Bukhansan means “mountains north of the Han River.” Bukhansan’s proximity to Seoul, its natural setting and its historical significance combine to make it the park with the most visitors per square foot, according to the Guinness World Records. That means it can get extremely crowded, especially on weekends.
The park is home to towering granite peaks, forest-laden valleys, and miles of hiking trails in between, as well as about 100 historic Buddhist temples and monks’ cells. The three main peaks are Baekundae, 836.5 m (2,744 ft), Insubong, 810.5 m (2,659 ft) and Mangnyeongdae, 799.5 m (2,623 ft). Among the granite peaks, the best known is Insubong Peak’s Giam rocks – over 200m above sea level, and there are about 100 mountain paths leading to the rock. When you stand on Baegundae and look down, sometimes you can see as far as Seoul City and the Hangang River. Due to its popularity with hikers and Seoul residents, some trails are closed on a rotation basis to protect the local environment.
The historical must-see, though, is Bukhansanseong Fortress, one of the representative mountain fortresses of the Joseon Era, together with its 9.5 km (5.9 mi) long defensive wall. The fortress was built in 1711 and served as a place of refuge for kings in times of emergency (rebuilt on the foundations of the original, which dates back to A.D. 132). Silla’s King Jinheung Sunsubi Monument on Bibong Peak, Sangunsa Temple built by the monk Won-Hyo, and numerous other temples occupy the mountain areas.
The Seungasa Temple on the east Bibong Peak, with Maaeseokgayeoraejwasang (seated rock-carved Buddhas) carved into a 5m granite rock, and the Munsusa Temple located halfway up the Musubong Peak, with purified mountain water dropping from the ceiling of Munsugol Cave, are indicative of both Bukhansan’s history and culture.
Bukhansan is perfect for hiking in all seasons. In the spring, all kinds of flowers bloom, and in the summer, lush forests carpet the numerous valleys.
The hiking path along the valley is perhaps the best summer mountain climbing course. And the fall is the perfect time to visit the temples and pavilions in their autumn colors. In the winter, the snow-covered mountain scenery is very beautiful.
Despite our research in Bukhansan as a destination on our trip, we were woefully unprepared. I wore Teva sandals, which was a huge mistake. They didn’t afford the protection needed for mountain hiking and their looseness coming down the mountain made my feet slip inside them, resulting in blisters that plagued me for the rest of the trip. Live and learn.
Had we really done our research, we would have known that hiking in Korea is kind of a Big Deal, replete with the Proper Uniform.
Nearly every Korean hiker was decked in similar attire – hiking boots, half-pants, wicking shirts, light-windbreaker, hat and hiking poles. There are dozens of street vendors in the streets leading up to the park, all with incredibly cheap hiking gear (most of them knock-offs of more expensive brands). We could have outfitted ourselves for probably 100,000 ₩ – if they could have handled American 3XL sizes.