October 24, 2013

Hallasan, Jeju Island, South Korea, Aug. 2013
Pentax K1000, Kodak Portra 800 Film

If you're in Korea, you must go to Jeju Island. And one of the most popular activities on the island is hiking Hallasan (한라산), a shield volcano and the nation's highest mountain.

I took Ryan to Jeju on a long weekend for his birthday in August. Hiking Hallasan was at the top of our list of activities. The night before we hiked, we slept at the campgrounds (#1) at the base of Gwaneumsa Trail. Although the grounds were pleasant, there were no park rangers on duty, no fees, and no registration forms. Thus, on what we thought would be an early night, we were overrun by a large family (perhaps a reunion?) drinking and shouting and playing flashlight tag until midnight. This kept us awake for hours past our bedtime and prevented us from waking up early to begin our hike. I believe this was a rare occurrence, as many hikers have reported peaceful nights at the campground. It is also conveniently located, directly at the base of the trail and across the road from a 7/11.

We hiked up Gwaneumsa Trail (8.7 km) and down Seongpanak Trail (9.6 km), the only two trails that lead to the top of the mountain. Our ascending hike was breathtaking and lasted about four hours. The descending hike was less enjoyable, as the trail was mainly comprised of large rocks and it lacked the scenery of our upward trek. If you plan to hike Hallasan, I would recommend hiking up and down the same trail (Gwaneumsa). You will find many websites recommending that you go up one and down the other, but I say nay! Seongpanak was crowded and uncomfortable, whereas Gwaneumsa - though challenging at points - was beautiful and serenely quiet, despite our late start. Check the opening times online, since access is denied in the late morning or early afternoon, depending on the season.

Ryan was thoroughly unimpressed by the crater (#16) at the top of the volcano. Its name (백록담) is derived from a legend about mountain gods coming down to play with deer in the crater. Though it is scientifically interesting, I think the crater looks more beautiful on film than in person.

Hallasan is listed as one of UNESCO's World Natural Heritage sites. It is rich in biodiversity (with 1,565 species of plants and 1,179 species of animals) and is home to a number of rare and endangered species. The mountain and its national park are beautiful and it's worth the time and energy to hike to the top. Also, aside from a few rocky areas, I thought it was a pretty easy hike compared to other trails in Korea.

#3: beginning of our ascent
#4: Ryan looking tired
#7: an older woman resting and taking in the view
#9 & 11: large bridge on Gwaneumsa Trail
#14-15: above the clouds
#16: the crater lake
#17: ridge of the crater
#18: our fellow hikers in typical summer gear at the top of the peak
#19-22: Seongpanak Trail

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  1. Crater Pond was underwhelming, but the hike up was one of the most naturally beautiful things I have ever seen. Agreed that this is a must for anyone spending significant time in Korea.

  2. Looks rather nice! I've considered the island but when ever I look at flights I'm always disappointed in the price. It does look a nice hike and not busy considering it was Summer and apparently Jeju is the best thing in the world... just what Koreans tell me

  3. Alex, we didn't expect to love Jeju as much as we did. We avoided a lot of the touristy things and also accepted that without a car, we'd only be able to see a handful of sights. I recommend Hallasan (although, since you've hiked Fuji, it will seem like nothing to you) as well as Jungmun Beach, which did not feel like Korea at all, but for the Cass and the delicous pajeon we enjoyed oceanside. Seriously - it's gorgeous! You should go! We went at the very end of August (31st), which is after the peak season in Jeju - it was perfect timing.

  4. Hi there, very nice hike. I'm planning to use Gwaneumsa trail up for my winter hike up Halla coming February. Is there any tent available to rent ? Or nearby guesthouse to stay the night before the hike cause i think it will be really cold camp out. Hope you can share some of your thoughts :)

  5. Autumnrainbow - I'm sorry that I don't have a lot of information to give you. Gwaneumsa Trail is located on a wooded stretch of road away from Jeju City and Seogwipo, which are the major cities on Jeju Island. These are where most of the guesthouses and motels are. You may choose to stay in a guesthouse in one of the cities and take a cab to the trailhead? As for renting a tent, we did not see this available anywhere, though I've read you can do so. We brought our tent with us. Enjoy your hike!! Hallasan is gorgeous!

  6. Mallory, thanks for replying :) I guess my best bet is to take a cab straight to save time or get a bus to Seongpanak and take a cab from there. That means I'll have to catch up with time. I heard the cut off time is 12 noon for winter! :P

    Is the trek difficult? And do you think 5 hours on a leisure pace is do-able?


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