There’s no denying that autumn is the best time to visit South Korea when the fiery fall foliage takes over the mountains, shading the hidden streams, and covering the sky. Korea is no short of meticulous hikes leading down to the valley or uphill into the forests. However, the most whimsical place to visit during autumn is nowhere else but Seoraksan National Park.
This expansive UNESCO Heritage Site takes over 163 square kilometers and is perched over 1700 meters at its highest points. One of the best ways to reach the top is to take on one of the forest hikes. Most of them take a few hours to complete. You get lost in the marvelous beauty of cliffs, waterfalls, rip-roaring streams, and of course: the autumn leaves. If this sounds like a plan, this hiker’s guide to Seoraksan National Park will help you come prepared.
What Is the Best Time to Visit Seoraksan National Park?
The fall foliage in South Korea begins in late October and lasts until the end of November, with the first leaves starting to switch colors about one week earlier. Seoraksan National Park is the best place to enjoy the fall foliage in October, while Naejangsan National Park becomes the limelight for November and autumn.
How to Get to Seoraksan National Park from Seoul?
The best way to get to Seoraksan National Park without signing up for a day trip from Seoul is by bus. Take a bus from the Seoul Express Bus terminal to Sokcho in about two hours and 30 minutes. The bus is available every 30 minutes. It then drops you off at the Sokcho Express Bus Terminal where you switch to Bus #7-1 and #7 for another 50 minutes to Seoraksan Sogongwon. This is the last stop and the national park is only one minute’s walk from the bus station.
Now if this sounds too much hassle for you, why don’t you sign up for a day tour to Seoraksan National Park from Seoul like I did? Not to mention you’ve gotta wait in line for the cable car ticket riding up the mountain once you’re there. So it’s time to make a better plan!
Keep reading and I’ll walk you through a day visiting Seoraksan National Park with a local guide. This is a perfect choice for anyone who wants to take a Seoraksan National Park Tour and not worry about how to get there or getting drowned by the waiting line for tickets or waiting for the bus.
A Day Tour to Seoraksan National Park from Seoul
I was assigned to meet the guide at a meeting point near the Myeongdong subway station at 7:10. From there, we all hopped in the car for a 3-hour ride directly to the park with a short stop at a rest station in the middle of the ride.
The package I opted for included lunch. If you get there by yourself, make sure to pack some rice rolls or ready-to-eat snacks for a picnic in the national park.
I got there at 10:30. The guide gave us a heads-up with her favorite hikes, the routes, and the map of the park before setting the return time. Once everything was all set, I ventured out on my own.
Giant Bronze Buddha
This is the starting point of the hike, featuring a massive sitting bronze Buddha weighing nearly 380 tons. The giant stone Buddha sits still, representing the reunification of the two Koreas. The statue is actually attached to the Sinheungsa Temple, leaning against the fiery backdrop of autumn leaves.
Sinheungsa is translated into ‘Spirit of the Temple’ and is perceived as one of the most famous temples in all of South Korea. The ground of the temple is dotted with plenty of picnic spots. If you’re lucky, you’ll receive free tea from the monks. From the ground, you will see a path crossing over a bridge and leading you towards some unique sculptures under the autumn trees.
Valley of a Thousand Buddhas
Leaving the Sinheungsa temple behind, I moved on further towards the Valley of a Thousand Buddhas via a forest trail. The entire trail is drowned in the fall foliage, with red maple leaves fringing from above. Sadly, the rain soon approached, leaving the sky an overcast, cloudy look that blankets the autumn forest dispersed at the foot of the mountains.
The hike along this course is not too bad. Some of the sections are perfectly groomed and flanked by dream-like trees from both sides of the path. Even a little wooden bridge crossing over the roaring stream is a beautiful scene to marvel at.
Seorak Cable Car to a Mountain Fortress
The cable car is operated between 9 am and 6 pm, lifting you over the height of 700 meters in only 5 minutes despite the weather. The feeling of sitting back in the cable car and traversing over the forest is beyond imagination. It seems as if you’re riding on top of a colorful sea of foliage while the dramatic mountains are soaring behind your back.
Once you get off at the station, the Gwongeumseong Fortress is only 10 minutes away on foot. The magnificent vista at the top is to die for, but little do I know that it once served as an ancient fortress almost a millennium ago, going by the names Onggeumsan Castle and Toto Castle. If you are physically fit, you can also climb to the top of the summit to marvel at the view. The wind was insanely strong on the day I was there so make sure you layer up and invest in some good hiking shoes if you plan to climb. Watch out for the sketchy steps carved out of the rock on your way to the summit!
Even though the hike to the national park can be done in a day, you can opt for an overnight stay in a hotel nearby. Make sure to pack some food and plenty of water, and don’t forget to stay warm at the top of the mountain.
Check out my Fall Foliage Forecast and the 10 best spots to see fall foliage in South Korea here: