Seoraksan National Park
One of the tourist attractions overseas visitors consider the most memorable is Seoraksan - the mountains that Koreans love most. Outer Seoraksan has fantastic cliffs and big fountains, while the beautiful inner Seoraksan exhibits the highest level of splendor and sensation by displaying various forms and colors that nature can offer during the four seasons. The Seoraksan Mountains have multiple hiking courses, valleys, and cultural artifacts hidden in each valley, and are internationally renowned as a habitat for rare plants and animals. UNESCO designated the region in 1982 as a Biosphere Reserve.
In 1970 Seoraksan was designated the 5th national park in Korea.
Seoraksan National Park has an incredible rocky landscape, with jagged peaks rising up out of pine forests. The Cheonbuldong Valley is filled with crystal clear streams and pools, particularly beautiful in autumn when the leaves begin to change. This combination of rocks and valleys makes Seoraksan comparable to Zion National Park in the United States.
Flora and fauna
The Korean National Parks page states that "Over 2,000 animal species live in Seoraksan, including the Korea goral, Musk deer and Otter. There are also more than 1,400 rare plant species, such as the Edelweiss". There is a large amount of pine and elm trees, which change colour in the autumn.
Spring and autumn are the best times to visit the park, with mild weather for hiking. Summer temperatures can go over 30C. In winter snow is common.
Sokcho City bus number 7 and 7-1 ventures into the Park Village of Seorak-Dong and up to the park gates. However these buses can get incredibly busy in peak times on weekends and public holidays.
A taxi from the intercity bus terminal to the park gates costs approximately 15000 won.
There are express buses running from Gangnam Express Bus Terminal (in Seoul) to Sokcho City roughly every 30 minutes. The trip takes about 2 and a half hours.
The best way to get Seoraksan from Seoul is by bus:
Step 1. There are 2 bus terminals for city Sokcho (속초). Dong Seoul bus terminal(동서울 버스 터미널) and Gangnam Express bus terminal(고속버스 터미널)
Step 2. Find ticket booth for city ‘Sokcho’(속초)
Step 3. Get off bus at ‘Sokcho’ intercity bus terminal. Take local bus No 7 or 7-1. The last stop for the buses is entrance of Seoraksan, about 60 minutes from Sokcho. For more detail click link next Seoul to Seoraksan.
It costs 3500 won ($3) for an adult to enter the National Park. Discounts are available for students and seniors. The cable car to the top of Gwongeumseong costs 9000 won.
The 7 and 7-1 buses run between the campground to the gates of the park, however these are very busy in peak times and you will often not be able to get on the bus without lining up at the park gates.
Taxis are often quicker and run regularly up and down the road between the gates and campground. On busy days the afternoon traffic can slow to a halt and it is often quicker to walk.
Once inside the park walking is the only method of getting around, except for the cable car that runs from the main square to the top of Gwongeumseong. The park is wheelchair accessible in many parts.
Hiking is the main activity within the park. Most of the trails are well marked and maintained, with signs indicating the distances and directions in Korean and English. Pick up a free map from the National Park Visitor Centre just before the entrance.
Seoraksan is divided into Inner and Outer Seorak, spanning a large area. Some of the best day walks from the entrance include to Ulsanbawi or the Cheonbuldong Valley. Multi-day hikes need to be pre-arranged with a guide.
Be warned that hiking to Daecheongbong (1708m) in one day will take over 12 hours return.
Take all reasonable precautions when hiking and honestly assess your hiking ability before launching into a difficult hike. There are plenty of walks for all levels of hiker in the park.
Hiking gear is readily available in the park, including shoes, hats and hiking poles. However Korean sizes are very small - don't rely on purchasing equipment in the park if you don't fit into Asian sized clothing.
Unless you want devil's fork or an inflatable hammer, best to get your souvenirs somewhere else.
There are many restaurants in and around the park, including on some trails! Food prices within the park are more expensive than in the nearby town of Sokcho. Try the Ojingeo Sundae (pronounced soon-day), otherwise known as Squid Sausage. The casing of a squid is stuffed with tentacles, rice and herbs and is only available in this particular region of Korea.
Other stores sell a mix of traditional kimbap and bibimbap, and there are a few coffee shops that do sandwiches as well.
There are plenty of places to get water and beer in the park. Park sellers often sell pre-frozen waters, which are very refreshing after a long day hiking.
There are many hotels located near the National Park Visitor Centre. More budget options are available 15 minutes down the road, where love motels and the youth hostel are located.
Back country camping and shelters must be pre-arranged with the National Parks Service. This can be done in English. If you plan on doing multi-day hikes you must organise a guide with the NPS.
Be cautious of mountain wenches who will offer small samples of delicious berry wine and then sell you a bottle of something else that sadly resembles Jinro house wine in taste.