Hiking Korea
Story and photos by David McNally

For adventurers who want to explore the Korean peninsula, look no further than the horizon. Koreans have a saying: “You will see a mountain no matter where you look.”

Here on this mountain range north of Seoul, a trek up the trails is a national pastime. Ride the subway between Seoul and Uijeongbu and see one of the most prominent geographical features in the area: Dobong Mountain.

The mountain’s rock face is a spectacular sight. This is Bukhansan National Park. For a challenging hike, many people try the Dobongsan entrance.

On weekends, if you arrive on Subway Line No. 1 or No. 7, you’ll see hundreds of Korean hikers getting of at the same stop.

They dress from head to toe in hiking garb,backpacks, vests, hats, canteens, even bells — nothing is too exotic for the Korean hiker.

Follow the hikers across the street to a ticket booth at the park entrance. The entrance fee is nominal, less than a couple of thousand Korean won per person. There is even a discount for a group of three people or more.

Although the majority of signs in the park are written in Korean, you will not have any difficulty if you follow the crowds.

Tip: The mountain is up!

Good weather draws thousands to the park on Sundays during the summer.
Park officials estimate more than 16,000 people take to the trails on a good day. The Bukhansan National Park swells almost to capacity. Yes, there are even traffic jams on mountain trails — but with people.

During your trek from the subway stop to the park entrance you will find a myriad of snack options: cucumbers, kim-bob, rice and boiled eggs. There are scads of eateries offering roast pig, beef, or almost any other food you may desire. But, nothing beats eating lunch at the peak of Dobong Mountain.

Tip: Get some lunch to go and take it to the top.

Many Koreans enter the park just to have a picnic near the entrance. They set up small day camps along the cool, mountain stream that runs along the main trail.

Motivated hikers, though, will find a challenge in the trail to the top. The path turns austere the higher up you go. From  well-worn rock stairs to dirt slopes, the trail gets more and more difficult. About two-hours into the ascent you come to an area  with restroom facilities. From this point, the peak is another 700 meters and the trail is more physically taxing.

A trip to the peak is accomplished at your own risk. An occasional rope is all the help you can expect. If you attempt to climb to the peak, it will test your rock-climbing abilities. The reward at the top is the view and the cool breeze in your face.

The hike is hardy cardiovascular exercise. If you drink enough water, you should be soaked with sweat. Tip: Bring enough water and avoid dehydration.

After a well-deserved rest, you begin your trip down the mountain. This requires extra caution and concentration.

Your knees may be weak from the stress of the climb. Choosing which rock to step on becomes essential — your descent becomes a controlled fall. The trip down is by far easier.

Koreans are proud of their country and what it offers. As you pass the hundreds of fellow hikers up and down the mountain, you’ll be greeted with smiles and salutations. Although one may see an occasional foreigner, not many choose to explore Korea in this way.

Whether your hiking experience is Dobongsan, or any other mountain in Korea, a trip to the countryside can be a rewarding experience. Hiking can be an inexpensive way to get out and discover Korea, and get in some healthy exercise.

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