South Korea: Seoraksan in Autumn

Seoraksan in autumn
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Seoraksan (Seorak Mountain/설악산) is the third tallest mountain in South Korea at 5,603 feet/1,708 meters. Seoraksan National Park is located about 3-4 hours east of Seoul by car, in the vicinity of the popular beach city Sokcho and Pyeongchang, where the 2018 Winter Olympics were held.

Seoraksan in autumn is one of my favorite places at one of my favorite times in Korea. This mountainous national park offers famous hiking trails, a Buddhist temple, a cable car, waterfalls, and gorgeous fall scenery with trees of every color.

Seoraksan is a great destination for nature lovers and both casual and avid hikers alike, with trails of varying difficulty.

I haven’t done any serious hiking around Seoraksan, but I have made two day trips two consecutive years there because I loved it so much the first time. Additionally, visiting as a day trip makes for a pretty long day, so you can only see so much.

The entrance fee to Seoraksan National Park is 3,500 won (~$3 USD).

Here are some of the highlights of Seoraksan, with an autumn theme!

Ulsan Bawi

One of the most famous sights around Seoraksan is Ulsan Bawi (Ulsan Rock/울산바위). This distinctive rock formation has six peaks, with the highest reaching 2,874 feet/876 meters. Its rugged beauty even inspired many poems across the Joseon era.

Ulsan Bawi can be seen from many places in the national park, so you don’t have to hike very far to get a good view of it. It can be spotted by walking just a bit from the entrance!

Ulsan Bawi from the cable car and the ground

The actual trail to get to Ulsan Bawi is supposed to be a little tricky, as it can be steep in some spots. This hike can take around 3 hours.

Gongnyong Ridge

Another iconic sight of Seoraksan is Gongnyong Ridge (공룡능선), more commonly known as Dinosaur Ridge. This ridge is named as such because it looks like the back of a dinosaur. Not only do the peaks look like something out of Jurassic Park, they are! Dinosaur Ridge was actually formed during the Jurassic period, so comparisons to dinosaurs are very apt.

Its highest peak is 4,258.53 feet/1,298 meters, a higher point of Seoraksan National Park.

Though its scenery is beautiful, the climb to Dinosaur Ridge is said to be one of the most challenging in South Korea. The hike up takes a lengthy 13+ hours. Additionally, accidents are frequent enough to be a concern; a handful of people have even died.

So if you decide to climb to Dinosaur Ridge, plan accordingly for daylight, weather, and rest breaks.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of it, but I’d like to get some on my next visit.

Sinheungsa Temple

Not far from the entrance to Seoraksan National Park is Sinheungsa (신흥사), a Buddhist temple built in the 7th century CE. The grounds of the temple feature a gigantic Buddha statue, multiple buildings, and several lovely bridges. You can get a great view of the entire Sinheungsa complex from the cable car.

Some sites around Sinheungsa

Sinheungsa’s Buddha statue is made of bronze, and sits at 62 feet/18.9 meters (including the pedestal). The status is called Tongil Daebul, or Unification Buddha, as it was created with the wish that South and North Korea can reunify.

Giant bronze Buddha at Sinheungsa Temple at Seoraksan

Bronze Buddha statue

The bridges around Sinheungsa include Hyeonsu-gyo, a stone bridge with beautiful cutouts and statues. One side of the bridge is guarded by two haetae, mythical creatures in Korea that are supposed to provide protection from natural disasters, as well as passing judgment on guilt and innocence.

Hyeonsu-gyo (top left) and other bridges around the temple

Haetae statue by Hyeonsu-gyo in Seoraksan National Park

Haetae statue beside Hyeonsu-gyo

Sinheungsa Temple and the surrounding area is definitely worth a look around!

Gwongeumseong Fortress

Located approximately 2,296 feet/700 meters above sea level, Gwongeumseong Fortress (권금성) features some castle ruins. The castle was supposedly built around the 12th century CE. Some of the fortress structure remains today.

It’s a pretty cool site to look around, with a lot of rock formations about and a multitude of peaks encircling the area.

People hiking around Gwongeumseong Fortress at Seoraksan National Park

Some of the vista around Gwongeumseong Fortress

The view from Gwongeumseong is fantastic. On one side, you can see the city of Sokcho and out to the East Sea. On the other side, you can see the peaks and foliage of Seoraksan National Park.

View of Sokcho and the East Sea from Gwongeumseong Fortress
View of Sokcho and the East Sea from Gwongeumseong Fortress

Sokcho and the East Sea from Gwongeumsong Fortress

You can hike up to Gwongeumseong Fortress in about an hour and a half, or you can take the cable car there, which takes 30 minutes.

Seorak Cable Car

As you arrive at Seoraksan National Park, you can’t miss the Seorak Cable Car (site only in Korean). It takes you from near the entrance of the park up to Gwongeumseong Fortress.

As I mentioned, the panoramas from Gwongeumseong Fortress are lovely. The views going up and down on the cable car are quite nice as well. You can see Sinheungsa Temple and the Buddha statue well, not to mention Ulsan Bawi in the distance and all the fall foliage.

Seokab Cable Car going up the mountain

The view of Sinheungsa Temple going up the Seorak Cable Car

Sinheungsa Temple from the cable car

Personally, I really enjoyed the cable car, and took it on both trips to Seoraksan. For those who can’t do long hikes or for those who are short on time (like we were), it’s a really good option for being able to see more of the landscape of the area. It gives you one of the best vantage points to really enjoy the scenery of Seoraksan in autumn.

Admission Fee
11,000 won (~$9.25 USD)

Seoraksan Flora and Fauna

Seoraksan National Park features a diverse array of animal and plant life. This includes rare species like the moon bear (aka the Asian black bear). You can actually see a statue of a moon bear at the front of the park!

While I didn’t see a moon bear on either of my visits, I did see some chipmunks.

A fake moon bear and a real chipmunk

Besides the mountains and rock formations, the obvious star of Seoraksan in autumn is the foliage. There are trees and leaves of every color around. Just look at how gorgeous it is:

A literal rainbow of leaves from Seoraksan in autumn

A rainbow of trees (and leaves!)

The variegated trees against the backdrop of the mountains make Seoraksan in autumn absolutely stunning. You could just keep walking throughout the national park and constantly see beautiful scenery.

Look at how lovely the scenery is

Obviously, the fall foliage in Seoraksan is fantastic and totally worth the trip.

Overall Thoughts

Fall is probably one of the best times to visit Seoraksan. It’s a beautiful destination during autumn. Plus, there are activities and sights suited to the whole range of hiking skill and ability.

It’s also a great day or weekend trip from Seoul or Gyeonggi-do for residents of Korea or even tourists. If you’re visiting South Korea and want to experience some of the country’s breathtaking mountains, definitely consider visiting Seoraksan, especially if you’re going in the fall.

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