With Autumn upon us and the lack of changing leaves here in Hong Kong, I’m beginning to long for the fall colors that can be experienced in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere. While living in South Korea, my friend and I ventured the 6 hour bus ride from our home town of Daegu to Sokcho for some fall foliage. Sokcho is a city located on the northeastern coast of Korea, not far from the North Korean border. The city is known as a gateway to nearby Seoraksan National Park, where we spent most of our weekend.
Seoraksan is one of Korea’s most popular National Parks and is listed as a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is known for its stunning natural beauty, rare flora and fauna, and Buddhist temples. From the park’s main entrance there are many trails, with some peaks measuring over 1,200 meters above sea level, as well as access to a cable car. We decided to hike the Biryong Falls and Ulsanbawi courses.
The Biryong Falls course is a short hike from the main entrance of the park. “Biryong” which literally means flying dragon is an easy hike which leads visitors to a serene waterfall that is hidden deep within the forest. As with most things in Korea, Biryong has a unique back story. It is believed that “long ago, the villagers suffered from a dire drought. The villagers found that a dragon had stopped the flow of the stream from the fall. They offered a maid as a sacrifice and the dragon disappeared into the sky, thus letting the stream flow once again.”
This is great trail for anyone who wants a simple and easy hike. The course is quite flat and well maintained except for a bit at the end that involves some rock scrambling. The trail passes a thick bamboo forest, various sheer cliffs, and three waterfalls, making it a unique trekking experience. I really enjoyed taking in all the fall foliage along the path. The leaves here appeared to be deeper and brighter in color as the trail wandered along the lower elevations of the park.
The Ulsanbawi course is a longer hike and known as one of the park’s more difficult hikes. The top is 876 meters above sea level, here you can enjoy panoramic views of Daecheongbong (the highest peak), Sokcho, and the East Sea. According to legend, Ulsanbawi comes from the city of Ulsan in South-Eastern Korea. It is said that on its way to the making of Kumgangsan (one of the best-known mountains in North Korea), the rock fell in love with Seorak and decided to stay here for good.
The fairly arduous 4km hike takes roughly two hours to reach the peak is well worth the effort. The views from the top are simply breathtaking. I really enjoyed all the rock scrambling and climbing the 888 steps to the top. Although it was a bit crowded, it was still a peaceful experience. It’s easy to see why Ulsanbawi is one of park’s most popular hikes.
If you have the time, I highly recommend adding Seoraksan National Park to your Korean itinerary. Only two and half hours by bus from Seoul, the park can be easily visited in one day. It’s a beautiful place to explore during any season and the nearby city of Sokcho is a quaint little coastal town that is an added bonus.
For more information be sure to visit the Korea National Park Service Website.