Autumn is back! This time with a complete guide to hiking Gyeryongsan National Park, a harder hike with lovely views near Daejeon. Enjoy!
Honestly, before going to Gyeryongsan, I knew little about it. I’d hiked a lot of Korean mountains before, but Gyeryongsan, just a small green blip on the map west of Daejeon, never caught my eye. I ended up choosing to go simply because it offered a central meeting location for my friend who lives in Seoul and myself, who lives to the very south in Jinju.
However, it turned out to be breathtakingly gorgeous, easily accessible via public transportation, and provided plenty of amenities (such as my trusted kimbap stop at the base of the mountain!), which means I’ll definitely be returning.
The whole of Gyeryongsan stretches across a few cities: Gongju, Gyeryong, Nonsan, and Daejeon. This mountain has 15 valleys in between 20 peaks, all ranging from 500m to 845m.
Gyerongsan’s Eight Scenic views
As with most attractions in Korea, they usually designate a number of “scenic views.” We find that often these lists leave out certain places while including head-scratching ones, so take it with a grain of salt! But if you’d like to know, this is what we found for Gyeryongsan:
- Sunrise over Cheonhwabong (천황봉의 일출)
- Folktale of Sambulbong (삼불봉의 설화)
- Sunset over Yeoncheonbong (연천봉의 낙조)
- Floating Clouds over Gwaneumbong (관음봉의 한운)
- Forest of Donghaksa Valley (동학사 계곡의 숲)
- Autumn Colors of Gapsa Valley (갑사 계곡의 단풍)
- Eunseon Waterfall (은선폭포)
- Brother Pagodas (남매탑)/ Brother and Sister Pagodas (오누이탑)
The hike we did sights 4, 6, 7, and 8.
Over all, there are eight courses you could take to enjoy Gyeryongsan depending on how much you want to hike and what you want to see. Most courses are ranked as either B or C in terms of difficulty. We completed the Donghaksa Course 2, which I’ll get into below.
How to Hike the Donghaksa Course 2 in Gyeryongsan
The Donghaksa Course 2 (동학사2코스) was the most attractive for us as it’s a circular course that goes through the main part of the mountain. It’s rated as in in intermediate/difficult course, so it’s definitely not for beginners!
Beware that it can also be a bit hazardous. At certain points, you walk along paths with sheer drops next to them, separated from the void by only a thin rail. I definitely would not recommend this path to anyone who is not in pretty good physical shape or to anyone who has a fear of heights.
At one point, we had to climb up a ladder/staircase to get to a peak, using both hands to hold onto the rail. Since it was so steep, the staircase-ladder wasn’t directly on the mountain Rather it was floating a few feet above it, held on by what felt like only a few loose screws (though I’m sure the Koreans who built it engineered the ever-loving shit out of it to last the next several centuries). It made for some shaky knees, and those weren’t just from the physical exertion!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me talk you through the course.
Drop Off: Donghaksa Bus Stop & the Base of the Mountain
The first leg is from the bus stop to Donghak Temple or Donghaksa (동학사). If you’ve ever been hiking in Korea, this is peak mountain base. There are plenty of shops to buy hats, souvenirs, snacks, and, of course, kimbap. There are also lots of restaurants, which have exclusively Korean food.
We picked up some kimbap at a local convenience store (look for 편의점 and another sign that says 김밥). There are a lot of people rolling fresh kimbap so skip out of the 7/11 and the GS25s!
I will say though, the only kimbap that seemed to be available at the local stores was yachae kimbap (야채 김밥). Despite its name, which translates to vegetable kimbap, there was artificial crab meat and ham, so not as vegetarian-friendly as you’d think.
Another great potential hiking food to take with you would be some cup ramen, provided you have a thermos to carry your hot water with you or like eating it dry (which is a trend beyond us).
Donghak Temple (동학사)
The path to Donghak Temple/Donghaksa (동학사) is wide and paved. I saw people pushing strollers up it, and people wearing dresses and suits just out for a gentle weekend stroll. Even with buying kimbap, I’d say this part of our journey took less than thirty minutes to complete.
Donghaksa is an interesting temple as it’s actually one of the oldest institute for female monks. From what I found, its origins go back to the Silla Dynasty. If you come during the spring, you might be able to catch the Donghaksa Spring Flower Festival or the 3km-long cherry blossom tunnel leading to the temple.
A Fork in the Path
Once you get to the temple, the path will converge. You can keep going up the paved path for a bit, or head right into the woods. As it was crowded on the weekend, and we were desperate to get away from the crowds, we headed right.
The first part of the hike is an incline. It’s “paved” with large rocks that make the trail easy to follow, although they can wobble a bit. The incline wasn’t too steep, but it was a bit challenging as you have to carefully watch your step. However, this path runs next to a pretty stream, which means you get to see lots of natural pools and small waterfalls.
We stopped several times along this section just to listen and smell. If you’ve not been to the woods recently, I honestly think that one of the best things about it is how nice everything smells, especially since the very first of the autumn leaves had started to fall.
Brother and Sister Pagodas (남매탑)
The first lookout you’ll get to is the Brother and Sister Pagodas (남매탑). It took us a bit over an hour to arrive here, but by this point, you’ll have climbed enough to get some nice views. Some kids even made it to this point, so even if you’re not a hiker I think almost anyone could make it to this lookout.
While the pagodas look like pretty much most multi-story pagoda’s you’ll see in Korea, they do represent a somewhat interesting folktale. Here’s the original in Korea. The story basically goes like this:
A tiger comes up to a monk looking irritated, and the monk realizes he has a hairpin stuck in its neck, so he pulls it out and the tiger is thankful. Later, he brings a girl who has fainted on his back and the monk helps her get better. It turns out she’s a runaway bride, and when he returns her to her parents, she decides that she will instead live as a sister to the monk and practice Buddhism that way. The monk and girl live out the rest of their lives religiously, and the pagodas were built in their honor. Sometimes you might seem them under the name “Onui Pagoda (오누이탑).”
There’s a small fountain where you can refill your water bottles. (Seriously, drink way more than you think you need when hiking – you’re losing water faster than you realize). You can also snap a few photos or even – and don’t do this – visit the outhouse which is little more than a seat above a hole.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see a chubby orange and white cat that seemed to live around there, though he did seem shy of people.
Sambul Peak (삼불봉)
After you’ve taken a breather, it’s time to head to Sambul Peak/Sambulbong (삼불봉), which sits at 775m high. This part of the trail begins to get steeper, though the large rocks start to get scarcer. There are some rails that you can use to help pull yourself up or to provide balance.
Although it is challenging on the legs, especially if you’ve been neglecting your squats recently, I don’t think it’s too terrible. The only bad (and by bad I mean scary) part is the staircase ladder I mentioned towards the start of this post, that will take you right to the peak. However, once you get there, there are some truly glorious sights to see.
Gwaneum Peak (관음봉)
Once you’ve had some rest, eaten a few kimbaps, and rehydrated some, you can walk along the “ridge” to Gwaneum Peak/Gwaneumbong (관음봉), which is 766m high. Although it was marked as a “ridge,” we noticed that the course had several “advanced” parts along it, and we quickly realized why. The path snaked across narrow ledges with only some (very sturdy) rails.
The ground was uneven and some of the steps were steep enough that it was virtually rock climbing instead of hiking. At the very end, to get up to the Gwaneumbong, you’re greeted by a view of stairs.
To more or less distract myself while climbing, I ended up counting the stairs. The first leg is 369 steps… There are a few more stairs after this, but honestly, the view from the top makes it so worth it, no matter how much your calves are crying.
Descent from Gwaneum Peak & Eunson Falls (은선폭포)
The descent down from Gwaneumbong wasn’t too bad, although I dislike descents. I typically find them more challenging than ascending because it’s harder to keep balance when you can just lean forward and use core muscles. The first part is more steep, let’s-walk-along-this-death-trap-path-with-rails, but then starts to flatten as you get further down the mountain.
It passes by Eunson Fall (은선폭포), which I found slightly underwhelming after the views from the top of the mountain. From the falls, the incline down is pretty easy until you get back to the temple again.
Back at the Base
Despite our kimbap snacks, we were absolutely starving by the time we got off the mountain. As I said, the hike was pretty challenging and we’d definitely burned enough calories during the five and a half hours it took to eat whatever the hell we wanted.
We stopped at a jeon restaurant and ordered both a seafood and kimchi jeon, along with magkeolli (more on what they are here). One of the most classic meals post-hiking in Korea is a nice big jeon and magkeolli in those gold-colored kettles.
We’d started our hike late enough (around one) that night was falling by the time we exited the mountain, so it was completely dark when we went to our hotel.
Still, if you wanted to get home that night, it definitely wouldn’t be too difficult, and honestly it might be nice to just sit still on a bus for a few hours!
Practical Information for Gyeryongsan
- Korean Name: 계룡산
- Length: 11.8 km2 for Donghaksa Course 2
- Cost: around 3,000 KRW (and they take card)
PRO TIP: Naver Maps has the hiking paths for Gyeryongsan on it! Even though we did a circular course, it was still helpful to see exactly where we were and which direction we were heading.
As I said above, this hike is more for intermediate-advanced hikers. It’s definitely not recommended for beginners or those not in decent physical shape. Also if you have knee problems, the stairs might be an issue, and if you suffer from vertigo or a fear of heights, some of the narrower stretches might be stressful.
Getting to Gyeryongsan
If you wanted to, you could technically take a train from Yongsan Station (영산역) in Seoul to Gyeryong Station (겨룡역). By KTX it’s only about an hour and 20 minutes while the Mugunghwa or ITX take around 2 hours. (Check Korail for a timetable; just make sure to hover over “Rail Tickets” and then “Ticket Reservation”)
From Gyeryong Station, you could grab a taxi, though it’ll probably be pricey as it’s still 25 minutes away. If you do the local bus route, there are two different buses you’ll take, so it’s best to use Naver or Kakao Map to check. This should take around an hour.
The easiest way, actually, is to go to the closest city, which is Daejeon. From Seoul’s bus terminals, Daejeon Complex Bus Terminal (대전복합터미널) is less than 2 hours. Most cities around Korea will be able to get to Daejeon. Just check Kobus for schedules.
Getting to Gyeryongsan from Daejeon is, as I mentioned, incredibly easy. Public transportation will roll you straight up to the very base of the mountain.
From Daejeon Complex, take Bus #102 out of the city to Guam Pal Tong (구암 8통). It’s 24 stops, but honestly it gives you a great chance to admire Daejeon as it passes through many pretty parts of the city.
At Guam 8 Tong, transfer to Bus #107. This bus will take you right up to the park. Just stay on until the last stop at Donghaksa, the name of the temple located at the base of the mountain. It takes roughly an hour to get to the park from the bus terminal.
Then, to get back, you can just do these in reverse (Bus #107 to Guam Pal Tong and then take Bus #102 straight to the bus terminal).
Although we stayed at a motel near the base of the mountain that night, you could easily do this park as a day trip from almost anywhere in Korea, as it’s so centrally located.
What to Wear for Hiking Gyeryongsan
Besides the obvious (activewear, sunglasses, seasonal clothing…), here are some things you may not want to forget!
Any sort of daypack will do. You’ll want one if you have a camera and to carry all your kimbap and water. I have an old Janisport that has held up well and Sam always recommends her Gonex ones for something super lightweight.
A lot of hikes in Korea can be done with just good running sneakers, but for the harder sections of this course, you definitely want an actual pair of hiking boots, preferably over the ankle if you’re worried about rolling yours.
Reusable Water Bottle
Of course. Since there are spots to refill your water bottle, you really don’t need to stock up on plastic ones. The insulated ones, like the Hydroflask, are always nice because you won’t have the condensation on the outside and your water stays cold. Target also sells a similar version to Hydroflask for much cheaper. In Korea, you should be able to find them online or in one of the big stores.
Jacket for Night
Normally, early September is decently warm for Korea but we did find it got quite a bit cooler at night. You’ll want some sort of lightweight jacket for then, weather a windbreaker or jean jacket of sorts.
Any other snacks
If you’ve ever been to a Korean convenience store, you know their snacks aren’t exactly healthy. So if you need extra sustenance on your hike, you may want to pack some protein bars or veggies ahead of time. (PS get one of the reusable Ziploc bags to be extra earth-friendly)
Where to Stay near Gyeryongsan
Just past all of the restaurants, convenience stores, and souvenir shops at the base of the mountain are plenty of pensions and motels for hikers to stay at. Although Airbnb was only about a twenty minute walk away, we were tired enough after hiking that it felt like forever – at that point, we just wanted to take showers and collapse.
What Else to Do
The next morning, we explored the small mountain town a little, ate some mountain vegetable bibimbap, and had a coffee at one of the many cafes featuring a stunning mountain view before heading back towards Daejeon.
If you’re planning for a few days in the area, you could always look into things to do in Daejeon, Sejong, or Gongju.
Have you been to Gyeryongsan? Which course did you do?
for more on korea
I have so many hiking posts for Korea! After all, it’s a very mountainous country so even when you think you’re just sightseeing, you’re climbing up something. Check out our guides to Guryong Valley and Baemsagol Valley in Jirisan, Wolchulsan, Daedunsan, Naejangsan, Seoraksan, and Jogyesan.
If you’re just starting to plan your trip to Korea, be sure to check out my logistics guide, my travel tips post, apps you’ll want to download, and seasonal guides for autumn, winter, spring, and summer. Also don’t skip my itinerary guides for 2 weeks, 1 month, and 7 days.
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