Hiking Hallasan in Jeju: A Guide to South Korea’s Tallest Mountain
Well, guys. It happened. After years of not hiking Hallasan (한라산), I’ve finally done it. I’ve hiked South Korea’s tallest mountain and not only did I hike it, I did two different trails going up to and down from the summit so I could give you all the most complete guide possible. Read below so you know what to expect and to learn more mistakes.
I’m not going to lie to you guys; I’ve been putting off hiking Hallasan for years. Since my first trip in 2016, I’ve been to Jeju like four times and just never set aside a day for one of Korea’s most famous mountains. Considering my most recent trip was my fifth visit, I gave myself plenty of time on the island, and one of my new year’s resolution was to do ten new hiking trails, I really had no choice but to buckle down and do it!
JEJU TRAVEL TIPS
- Getting in: Take it from me and just fly in. Flights are regular and easy and short. The boat takes 4 hours FROM Mokpo, which is like 4+ hours by bus from Seoul
- When to Visit: Jeju is pretty beautiful year round but it does get very hot and very crowded come summer. I personally love cherry blossom and canola season which is late March and early April. Late October and early November is also lovely for fall foliage.
- Where to Stay: This depends on if you have a car and what you want to do. I have a guide on where to stay in Jeju that breaks it down more thoroughly. My easy answer – stay in Seogwipo to be central. It’s more charming than Jeju City and close to a ton of attractions.
- Stay in Touch: Korea has eSIMs! Order ahead here.
- Where to Book Activities: Checking Klook or Trazy for the best deals.
- Getting Around: Rent a car! It gives you so much freedom to roam about. I found the best deal on Expedia via Hertz, but keep in mind Hertz is through Lotte, so when you arrive y ou’ll follow rental car signs for Lotte. There are no signs for Hertz! Regardless of what you do, download the Kakao T app for taxis and KakaoMap for navigation.
For a more tips, check out my Jeju travel guide.
Now, I’m just going to get it out before I get into this guide – this hike has to be one of my least favorite hikes in all of the mountains I’ve done in the world. Don’t get me wrong, Nui Dinh and Yen Tu in Vietnam are by far the worst by a large margin, but this was not a fun experience. Before I get into a more detailed guide, let me just do a section of tips for anyone who’s not going to bother reading the whole post.
Tips for Hiking Hallasan (Don’t Make My Mistakes)
1. Don’t forget to make a reservation
When hiking Hallasan summit trails, Gwaneumsa or Seongpak, you now have to make a reservation online at Visit Halla. It’s free and in English and immediate – just don’t forget! You literally need to hold the QR code up at a turn style thing to get in.
2. If you have anything below an okay fitness level, start by 6:30 AM.
There are two trails to the summit – Gwaneumsa (8.7km) and Seongpak (9.6km). They say it takes roughly 5 hours to hike up one of them, but it took me 7. If you don’t pass by one of the shelters by a certain time, they make you turn around, and you have to start descending by 2pm from the summit. I started hiking a little after 7am and literally had 10 minutest tops to enjoy reaching the crater and summit before I had to start going down.
3. The Gwaneumsa Trail is better if you don’t have the right gear
If you’re deciding to do one trail, do the Gwaneumsa trail. Sure the stairs suck, but Seongpak is mostly rocks and then some snowy/icy patches where I almost ate shit multiple times coming down. I’m traveling carry-on only, so I didn’t have room for my hiking boots or to even get poles, so I just had my running sneakers. You absolutely need poles to hike the Seongpak travel and the rocks started digging into my feet. The Gwaneumsa trail is mostly stairs, which is it’s own hell but more doable with normal shoes.
4. The crater isn’t that great
If you’re the kind of person (aka me) who hikes for the views and not necessarily because you enjoy the act of hiking, then honestly – don’t waste eleven hours hiking Hallasan to reach the summit. Maybe in the winter with all the snow it’s beautfiul and then in the summer when it’s all green and there’s more water in the lake… But the actual crater is fine and the views from the top are fine. The best view is on the Gwaneumsa trail when you reach the Samgakbong Shelter (삼각봉 대피소) and a little after that. Otherwise, you’re more or less among the trees so there’s nothing to really see until you reach the crater, and even then chances are it’s kinda cloudy so you won’t see much. It only took me 4 hours to reach Samgakbong, so the whole day would’ve probably been 6-7 hours instead of 11.
5. Double check your headphones are charged
Better yet, don’t forget your corded headphones when at home like I did. Because let me tell you, 11 hours of hiking Hallasan without being able to get mentally lost in an audiobook or music was hellish. My airpods didn’t charge the night before so I was left with nothing but my thoughts. I did try to play an audiobook when I was alone, but otherwise nada.
6. Bring enough food and drink.
There is absolutely NOWHERE on the mountain to get food, drink, or water. I don’t know why there are random “potable water” signs on the maps because there aren’t. Bring some of those hydration packets to put in your water so you stay hydrated. I finished my bigger water bottle by the time I got to the top and was increasingly thirstier as I descended.
7. Don’t forget allergy medicine and some tissues
At least in spring the yellow dust, fine dust, and normal allergies can really come out of nowhere. Before I left the US, I was totally fine, but as soon as I settled in Jeju, the sneezing started with vigor. It was brutal the first 2-3 hours of this hike and I literally resorted to sneezing in my hands and shaking them off to the side because I had nothing to blow my nose with. YES, I KNOW THINGS AREN’T ALWAYS GLAMOROUS HERE!
Anyway, learn from my absolutely nasty mistake and make sure to get tissues or a handkerchief before embarking on this hike. If you don’t have your own allergy medicine, my friend, Autumn recommended AllerShot from Korean pharmacies (they’re purple pills).
A Complete Guide to Hiking Hallasan
Okay with all that out of the way, here’s a more in depth guide to hiking Hallasan including a breakdown of all the possible trails and more details on the two I did. Enjoy!
At 1,947, (6,388ft), Hallasan is South Korea’s tallest mountain and is considered one of its three main mountains with Jirisan and Seoraksan. (The tallest on the whole peninsula is Baekdusan, but that’s halfway in North Korea and China.) According to the information outside of the entrance of Gwaneumsa Trail, “Halla” means the mountain is “high enough to reach the Milky Way.”
The mountain itself is a shield volcano with its last eruption occurring in 1007 AD. If you look at a map, you can see how much of Jeju it takes up!
Other Names Hallasan is may be known by:
- Hanla Mountain
- Hanra Mountain
- Mount Halla
- Mt. Halla
- Mount Auckland
Myths & Legends about Hallasan
There are quite a few legends surrounding Hallsan; I’ll just share a few below if you’re interested.
The crater at the top of Hallasan is called Baengnokdam (백록담) which means white deer lake. According to legend, a Taoist hermit descended from the heavens on a white deer to drink the water here.
Because a hunter accidentally ripped off God’s belly button, he retaliated by ripping off the peak of Hallasan leaving the crater behind. He then formed Sangbangsan with the ripped off piece.
At one point it was believed Hallasan had special plants that granted immortality. China’s emperor, Qin Shi Huang at one point sent his men to come find the plant.
Trails for Hiking Hallasan that reach the summit
There are 7 total trails you can follow to enjoy Hallasan, but only two will go to the summit at Baengnokdam. I went up one and down the other, so I’ll go into detail on them below, but I’ll also add some information on the other trails if you want something less intense!
- Korean Name: 관음사 탐방로
- Length: 8.7km
- Elevation Gain: 1380m (4,528ft)
- Entrance: Here (If you can’t get it to come up on navigation, 관음사휴게소 or 064-721-8036)
- Getting There: If you’re not driving, use Bus 475 to get to Entrance to Gwaneumsa Temple Trail Stop (관음사 탐방로입구)
- Stay Nearby: There’s a campground right in the parking lot. Otherwise, the closest spots are Hotel Nanta or Ganeun-gil Pension. The closest major area is Jeju City, and if you want to be along Bus 475 route, stay near Jeju University.
- Need Reservation: Yes
Gwaneumsa Trail is considered the steepest trail when hiking Hallasan with a 1,380m elevation gain over 8.7km but also the most scenic. I’d say over half of it falls under the red zone and the amount of stairs had the front of my thighs sore for two days after. Most Koreans will actually hike up Seongpanak Trail and come down Gwaneumsa, and honestly I can’t figure out if it would be better or worse to go down all those stairs.
Either way, looking back I’d choose to descend Gwaneumsa regardless. Descending Seongpanak was horrible and it turns out going down stairs is better than rocks that are sometimes covered in icy snow!
But I’m getting ahead of myself, here’s exactly what it was like going up Gwaneumsa is like.
ENTRANCE & BEGINNING (570m)
*I started a little after 7:00 AM*
Located below Jeju City, I’d say there’s more parking available at the entrance to Gwaneumsa vs. Seongpanak, but who knows how crowded things get in the summer! Once you pull in and park, there will be some toilets to use and then the entrance to the trail. This is where you’ll need to pull out your e-mailed reservation and show the QR Code. Chances are some ahjummas will be there to do it for you to keep things moving.
If you want to delay the inevitable, there’s also a few boards with information on Hallasan and Gwaneumsa trail to read. Also for those wondering, the trailhead starts at 570 meters above sea level. Only 1,380 meters to ascend!
3.1 KM OF MODERATE TRAIL
The first 3.1km trail is moderate (NOT easy despite the green color) and starts picking up pretty quickly. It’s all in the woods, and the above trails are more or less what you can expect to see. There’s not a ton to see except maybe a cave on the side and all the backsides of the hikers passing you by. Not bad but I worked up a sweat by the time I got to my first resting point.
TAMNA VALLEY BRIDGE (탐라계곡 목교)
The first point on the trail map is Tamna Valley Bridge (Tamnagyegok Mokgyo), but the bridge comes a bit later in the valley (gyegok) portion of “Tamnagyegok.” There is a platform to sit and rest for a moment, so I took the opportunity to eat some kimbap and drink some water. Nothing like tuna kimchi triangle kimbap when you’re hiking mmmm.
Before you get to the bathroom stop, you’ll walk down a steep set of stairs… to walk back up another set of steep stairs. Yes, it does indeed suck but honestly things get worse later, so I kind of forgot about this part until now. This is your view of Tamna Valley!
A little after this platform, you’ll get to a bigger rest stop with one of two restrooms on this trail. If you’re the type who has to pee so suddenly you can’t hold it, make sure you go because the next one won’t be for a few hours! There is also this stair section if you want to sit and rest here instead of back at the platform.
~3 KM DIFFICULT TRAIL (Gaemideung)
If you weren’t tired before, you’re about to be tired – yay! The next portion of trail is considered difficult and you’ll ascend about 525m over 3km. The estimated time is 2 hours and 20 minutes, so do with that information what you will. There’s a point in the middle of this section that says “Gaemideung (개미등)” which translates to an ant’s back, but I don’t remember seeing anything notable.
I just remember there were a lot of stairs and rocky paths. Honestly, I turned my brain off a bit to get through this part.
SAMGAKBONG SHELTER (1500m)
*** I got here around 11:00 AM ***
The absolute best part of this whole hike was reaching Samgakbong Shelter (삼각봉 대피소). It’s a circular building with a bathroom, and it’s where most people take their lunch break before finishing the trail. It took me roughly 4 hours to get here, and I foolishly thought it meant I was fairly close to the peak because it’s 6km in and I had only 2.7km to go. Delusional.
Frankly speaking, this section and the easy section after are the most beautiful part of this whole hike especially in late spring. I think the peak and crater are probably prettier in winter with all the snow or in summer when it’s green and the lake is fuller, but in April, it’s just kind of mustard beige and honestly, I’d rather turn around and have the rest of my day than spend 3 hours going 2.7km and then 4 hours balancing on rocks going back down.
The times change depending on the season, but you HAVE to get to Samgakbong Shelter by 12:30 PM or else they won’t let you go further. You literally have to go through a turn style to keep going, so there’s no way to circumvent this. Koreans don’t mess around with mountain safety!
This section was my favorite section and not just because it was easy. You’re kind of in what feels like a valley and it’s just so stunning. Cross over Yongjingak Hyunsu Bridge (용진각 연수교) and just enjoy the views. Honestly could’ve posted even more photos, every corner is so pretty!
Hope you enjoyed your brief reprieve because it’s all stairs and sharp incline from here! I think it’s this point that I would take a break on every irregular stair and if that was too far away, I’d count to ten and then rest. I will say at the very least, you’re not really in the woods anymore, so you get constant views of the valley and some peaks out to Jeju. There are two rest stops I can think of but nothing like Samgakbong Shelter. This one had a particularly stunning view of to the valley below:
And then this one was also pretty stunning:
I think right before I got here some very nice ahjumma told me I was close and I thought that meant this was the peak. It was not and I died a little. I feel like maybe those snowy paths are waterfalls in the summer because there are supposed to be some waterfalls on this trail, but I’m not sure.
Really, though, these last 2.7km of hiking Hallasan were just stairs upon stairs upon stairs. At least they were wooden stairs free of snow instead of rocks! But yeah, I was struggling and my thighs were screaming. I was poppin’ my energy gummies pretty regularly for a burst of energy.
*I got here around 2:00 PM*
Finally finally you reach a flatter section and go around an outcrop and are treated with the peak! Yay! By the time I got there at 2:00 PM, it was pretty cloudy and it does get quite chilly and windy up there. Some people had sweatshirts and jackets on.
Behold the famous crater and crater lake:
I mean, if you’re impressed, good for you! I wasn’t super impressed but I guess summer it looks a lot more interesting. Either way, I only had about 5 minutes to admire it because everyone has to start descending at 2:00 PM, so there was an ahjussi up there to say “Time Over.” I didn’t even have time to enjoy my celebratory chocolate bar!
Anyway that’s the Gwaneumsa Trail! You can choose to go back down the same trail or go down Seongpanak Trail. I went down Seongpanak solely so I could compare the two, and I can tell you going down this trail is a terrible, terrible idea. But I’ll get into that in the next section.
- Korean Name: 성판악 탐방로
- Length: 9.6km
- Elevation Gain: 1200m (3,973ft)
- Entrance: Here (064-725-9950 for navigation)
- Getting There: If you’re not driving, use Buses 281 or 181.
- Stay Nearby: The closest areas are Starry Forest, Yolowa Pension, and Pampas Pension. Both buses above leave from Jeju City and Seogwipo bus terminals, so you can also stay near them to be on the bus route.
- Need Reservation: Yes
The Seongpanak Trail is supposed to be a more gradual incline than Gwaneumsa but it’s also a 1km longer and a LOT rockier. Like way, way rockier and I felt like I was constantly wishing I had just gone down a bunch of wooden stairs than precariously balance in running sneakers. While I think you can do Gwaneumsa pretty easily with just regular sneakers, you 100% want hiking poles and sturdied hiking shoes for Seongpanak!
Anyway, I’m going to write this as though you’re going from the entrance to the top to make things easier.
ENTRANCE & BEGINNING
The entrance to Seongpanak Trail is more towards the Northeast or Central East coast and about a 10-15 minute drive to Gwaneumsa. (At least a taxi will cost you around 15,000 KRW). There’s a sort of museum and visitor center but otherwise parking seemed a lot more limited, and they specifically ask you to take public transportation or a taxi if you start from here.
~5 KM EASY SECTION
The nice thing about the Seongpanak trail is that the first 5km is fairly easy and the incline is very gradual. The path looks like the above for the most part – rocks and some boards for stairs. I was able to go down this section pretty quick in my exhaustion, so I have a feeling going up would be pretty pleasant!
Also if you’re luck you might just see a cute deer or two.
The first big break is Sokbat Shelter (속밭대피소). There’s some easy section after and then starts a really steepest section, so be sure to go to the bathroom and get some food before continuing!
The difficult section lasts for about 3.3km and by the time you’re done you’ll be at 1500m high. The map estimates this will take around 1 hour 40 minutes, and it pretty much looks like the above with stairs.
About 1.7km in, you’ll also get to the entrance to Sara Oreum (사라 오름), which leads to a lake and will add an extra 1km onto your hike.
Now, while the stairs are steep and there I thought it was a break compared to the green part to come later. The stairs have regular handles to hold onto and were more or less clear.
JINDALLAEBAT SHELTER (1500m)
At 1500m is the major shelter – Jindallaebat Shelter (진달래밭 대픽소) and if you go in the right season, it’ll be surrounded by pretty purple azaleas but I was still too early. I imagine May would be a good month for them to be in bloom?
This is also your last chance to go to the bathroom until your descent!
2.3 KM “MODERATE” TRAIL
The rest of the trail promises to be moderate and should take about 90 minutes to get to the peak. Honestly, this felt like a cruel joke. This was easily the hardest section because most of the trail looked like above or below:
There were small sections just completely covered in icy snow, and the handles were either super low or nonexistent, so if I didn’t have a really nice ahjussi to help me, I would’ve literally sat on my ass and slid down.
This section alone is why you need poles when hiking Hallasan! I’m sure it would’ve made all the different in my experience if I had poles to help balance and my actual hiking shoes. Oh well, you live and you learn and you write a blog post so others can learn from your mistakes.
And finally the peak! Woohoo! If you hiked up Seongpanak, I highly recommend going down Gwaneumsa solely because the view around Samgokbong Shelter is so beautiful, and the paths are nicer. Also, there are a lot more maps to let you know where you are along Gwaneumsa! They were nonexistent on Seongpanak after the first 5km.
Other Trails for Hiking Hallasan
So while Gwaneumsa and Seongpanak are the two trails that will take you to the summit, there are still other trails for hikking Hallasan and might be a little easier. Sometimes they can connect and take you to the crater, but from my research, these paths have been restricted for years, so don’t count on them being open by the time you go.
Obviously, since I didn’t hike them I have no firsthand experience, but here’s some quick info in case you want to try any of them out.
- Korean Name: 돈내코 탐방로
- Length: 7km
- Elevation Gain: 1,150m (3,772ft)
- Entrance: Near this parking lot
- Getting There: Use Bus 611
- Stay Nearby: Entrance to the east of Seogwipo
- Need Reservation: No
It looks like there’s some swimming in Donnaeko Valley fairly close to the trail entrance – nice way to end things if you’re hiking Hallasan in the summer!
- Korean Name: 영실 탐방로
- Length: 5.8km
- Elevation Gain: 420m (1,377ft)
- Entrance: Here (Parking Lot Here and towards Seogwipo)
- Getting There: Use Bus 240 – Note it’s still quite a ways away from trail entrance, so if you’re not driving, you might be better off getting a taxi.
- Need Reservation: No
Yeongsil and Donnaeko trails connect at the Nambyeok Junction if you want to do two trails.
- Korean Name: 어리목 탐방로
- Length: 6.8km
- Elevation Gain: 630m (2,067ft)
- Entrance: Here (towards Jeju City)
- Getting There: Use Bus 240, but still have a ways to walk to get to entrance
- Need Reservation: No
Eorimok also ends at Nambyuk Junction, so you can take Donnaeko or Yeongsil down for something different.
- Korean Name: 어승생악 탐방로
- Length: 1.3km
- Elevation Gain: 200m (656ft)
- Entrance: Same as Eorimok here
- Getting There: Use Bus 240 but still a ways away
- Need Reservation: No
This is the shortest and easiest trail for hiking Hallasan! Should take maybe 30 minutes all in all and might be a good one to end on to the end of Eorimok.
- Korean Name: 석굴암 탐방로
- Length: 1.5km
- Elevation Gain: ~200m (656ft)
- Entrance: Here (Unsure of parking though)
- Getting There: Bus 240
- Need Reservation: No
This is another super short trail in Hallasan. It’s somewhere near Jeju City as well.
I was too exhausted to eat anything real right after I finished. By the time I took a taxi to back to Gwaneumsa parking lot, stopped at a 7/11 to chug gatorade, cider, and chocolate milk, and then drove about 30 minutes back to my apartment, it was around 8:30 PM. I showered and literally climbed into bed and passed out. At one point I realized I hadn’t brushed my hair and couldn’t find my lotion, so I just slept with knotted hair and dry skin lol.
If you’re NOT as tired as I was, I highly recommend seeking out some delicious Korean BBQ to refuel, maybe even a black pork bbq spot. I really liked Jeju Ko for their seasoned kalbi option! In Jeju City, there’s the black pork street (흑돼지거리) though I haven’t been. I did like Jerahan Bossam if you want to try bossam (pork shoulder).
What Else to Do in Jeju
There’s honestly SO many cool things to do in Jeju, it’s hard to keep count. If you, like me, are hurting a bit after your day of hiking Hallasan, I’d take it easy and do some cafe hopping and maybe some easy sightseeing to the coastal beaches. There are hot springs in the Southwest around Sangbangsan but I didn’t bring a swimsuit to see if they’re worth it! You can also search for jimjilbangs near where you’re staying – they’re Korean bathhouses. Honestly, I thought about it because sitting in a hot tub sounded heavenly.
And there you have it – a complete guide to hiking Hallasan including tips so you learn from my mistake and a quick guide to every potential trail you could take! If you have any questions or anything to add, comment below – I see those before I see anything else!
For more hiking guides in Korea:
- A Hiking Guide to Odaesan National Park
- A Guide to Hiking Gyeryongsan
- Hiking Between Two Mountain Temples in Jogyesan
- Hiking Wolchulsan to Cross One of Korea’s Must See Bridges
- Hiking Daedunsan in the Fog
- How to Hike Guryong Valley in Jirisan
- Jirisan’s Baemsagol Valley Course
- Hike Seoraksan, One of Korea’s Tallest Mountains
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