Autumn is back (both the season and the person)! Since she’s such an avid hiker, I thought between the two of us, we’d be able to give you the ultimate guide to hiking in Korea. Buckle in – this post is a doozy!
When people ask me about South Korea, it’s usually about K-pop, Korean food, and Seoul. While those are all fantastic, something that’s less widely known is that Korea is somewhat of a hiking mecca. I mean, 70% of the country is covered in mountains, and the landscape has played a huge role in both its history and culture for centuries.
Between the two of us, we’ve covered a ton of mountain ground in Korea, and if we haven’t hiked the trail ourselves, we probably know someone who has. Whether you live here or are just visiting for a short trip, you should absolutely make time to enjoy hiking in Korea.
And if you’re brand new to all of it, may this guide answer all your questions!
The Ultimate Guide to Hiking in Korea
General Tips & What to Expect
Use the Korea National Park Service (KNPS)
The Korea National Park Service (KNPS) maintains a website in English with tons of great information about the different trails, amenities, restrictions, and even more at each of their parks. For me, I always used it to check both the estimated time a trail would take along with the difficulty – it’s extremely useful! I highly, highly recommend that you at least glance through it before you go on your hike. You can check it out by clicking here.
Kakao Maps is THE map app to use on your hikes. For most national parks, you can see the trails represented as thin green lines on your map, which is very helpful for knowing where you are and which fork you should take at a given intersection.
There will also be a map posted at the entrance of each park. I highly recommend that you snap a picture of this before you head up your trail. They generally have the difficulty, estimated time, and (obviously) different trail routes on them, so you can adjust your hike easily if you need to.
Choosing Your Trail
Parks and mountains typically have multiple trail options that range a lot in length and difficulty. Generally, most trails fall under these three categories:
- Circular hikes – these will take you in a big circle and drop you at the same part you started the hike.
- In and out hikes – where you hike to a certain part, then turn around and go back
- Through hikes – where you start at location A and end up at Location B
If you are a newbie, I definitely recommend doing one of the first two types of hikes, especially if you aren’t familiar with Korea or the area that you’re in. After you finish a hike, you’re probably going to be tired and not want to fuss with figuring out how to get to where you’re staying. Plus, if you do a circular or in and out hike, you’ll have the chance to scope out where you want to eat afterwards!
At the Entrance
Pretty much all parks in Korea are exceptionally well-kept – especially any of the official national parks. At many entrances, you can find fantastic amenities, like full bathrooms (with actual toilets and sinks with running water), convenience stores, and restaurants to eat at before or after you hike. It’s practically a luxury experience if you’re used to parks in the US!
Bonus if you go around a park’s festival season (ie fall festivals or cherry blossom festivals). Then you’ll have even more food and snack options.
Booking & Fees
Some parks (but not all) have fees. Generally, these fees are quite low – I think the most I ever paid was 5,000 KRW. They accept both cash and card at the ticket booths, so you don’t have to worry too much about any possible fees.
Very, very few parks require you to book anything in advance. Off the top of my head, Hallasan is the only mountain with a registration system. I would of course recommend that you double check when planning your hike, but honestly, I never had to make any reservations.
Getting to the Parks
You can get to virtually any national park by public transportation, though this is sometimes a pain to do. (Looking at you, Odaesan). However, even if a bus won’t take you straight there, a bus/taxi combination will. I got my Korean driver’s license two years ago, but I never ended up driving to any parks. Public transport is extremely efficient in Korea even to the mountains.
Generally, the parks allow you to hike from dawn until dusk. You need to plan your hike carefully so that you are finished by the time it gets dark. More popular mountains (again like Hallasan) will have cut off times and people there to monitor the trails to make sure no one gets stuck over night.
There are no lights and the slopes can be quite treacherous in the dark. I do have one friend who went on some night hikes at some much smaller parks, but – no lie – they ran into a group of wild pigs and had to go back over the mountain in order to escape. 0/10 would advise, even if you’re at a park that allows night hiking.
Best Times of Year to Go Hiking in Korea
Korea is a prime example of a country having all four seasons, which range from blistering hot and humid summers to freezing cold winters. One year, for example, I remember the temperatures getting up to 34C (93F) and down to -18C (0F).
Generally, I think there are two prime hiking seasons in Korea: the spring and the fall. From late March, you can see azaleas, cherry blossoms, and some general green creeping into the forest, which is such a relief after the cold, gray winters. The temperatures also start to get a lot more mild. On the downside, springtime in Korea can be absolutely notorious for yellow dust, which has kept me inside hugging my air filter on more than one occasion.
Truly, where I think Korea shines for hiking is the fall. Korean falls are truly spectacular, with brilliant orange and red colors that contrast beautifully against the exposed gray rock of many Korean mountains. The weather is also the best in the fall, and you can expect warm but cool weather well into October. By November things do begin to get chilly, but it still makes for great hiking weather.
Of course, if you’re unable to make it to Korea in the fall or spring, there are still plenty of great hikes to do, and I’ve done hikes both in winter and summer. For the summer, 100% make sure that you are well hydrated and know your limits. I would also recommend that you choose shorter hikes with plenty of shade.
The winters can get quite snowy and icy, especially on the tops of the mountains, so you’ll possibly need to be prepared for that extra challenge if you choose to go winter hiking in Korea. But, if you’re the outdoorsy type, why not go skiing instead?
Tips on What to Wear
As seen in the last section, there’s a lot of variety in Korean weather, so you definitely need to factor in the season and weather conditions before planning your hiking trip. However, no matter the weather, I always have at least a few of the same items with me for every hike, which consist of the following:
Long Pants or Leggings
There are lots of things to scrape, sting, bite, or scratch you in the woods, and full coverage on your legs can protect you from a lot of that. Plus, at some point in the hike you’re going to want to sit down somewhere, and that somewhere is likely to be a rock, a log, or even just a flat piece of land. Trust me, you do not necessarily want to do that with bare skin.
Girlfriend leggings have yet to let me (Sam) down! Get the ones with pockets so you can keep a snack and your phone in them.
A Sports Bra
Even for my (Autumn) tiny boobs, a sports bra is a necessity when hiking, as there’s a lot of jolting up and down. Plus, you want something that can take sweat and that you can just throw into the wash later.
I like the Girlfriend Paloma bra for its coverage and because it has the little sweat band built in under the bust which makes a huge difference.
They might seem like a specialty item, but they’re super cheap to buy in Korea. You can get them at nearly any E-Mart or Lotte Mart, and they will save you from blisters and other discomfort. Hiking socks are more cushioned and can wick away sweat from your feet more than normal socks.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
It’s tempting to think that you can just get away with sneakers, but hiking shoes will give you so much more grip and support. They’re also about a thousand times more durable than regular sneakers. That will do a lot to save your foot from rocks, brambles, and other hazards in the outdoors, but will also save you money in the long run.
I’m not lying when I say that I’ve had my hiking shoes since 2016, have used them on every single hike I’ve been on since then (which is a lot, by my estimate) and they are still in GREAT condition – they look less than a year old, and I’m sure that I’ll be able to get another ten years of wear out of them.
(From Sam) – this is the most accurate. While you kind of can do hikes in sneakers, it’ll make your life so much better to get hiking boots. I did Hallasan in sneakers and regretted every minute of my life. If some nice ahjussis didn’t literally hold my hand on the way down, I wouldn’t been sliding down on my butt.
Hat and Sunglasses
In the warmer seasons, I always have a baseball cap (again try to find one that wicks sweat). When it’s cold, I keep a beanie. Either way, you’re going to want something to protect your head from either the sun or the cold.
Other than these key items, what else you wear is very dependent on the weather.
What to Pack for Your Hike
No matter what hike you do anywhere, you want to bring some sort of backpack to store things in. Any backpack will do, but if you’re worried about space, look into
Your body consists of 70% water and you will die without it. Hydrate. Bring some water bottles from the convenience store or pre-pack your own. I wouldn’t say you need a hydration vest for most hikes, but for longer trails they don’ hurt.
When hiking, you naturally burn tons of calories and need to replenish them pretty often! I like to pack both quick snacks, which I’ll get into in a later section, and bigger meals to eat at a good stopping point.
This is where I’ll say Korean convenience stores aren’t always the best depending on what kind of snack you’ll wan to bring. While they’re great for kimbap and sweet snacks, they often don’t have heartier or healthier options like veggies, special protein bars, etc. If you’re picky, pre-pack some snacks to bring with you from home or stop at a grocery store the day beforehand to shop around.
The sun is a deadly laser that gives you cancer, plus you’ll look young and hot forever if you use sunscreen. Look for sports sunscreens as I find they stay on better than regular sunscreens, even the nice ones from Olive Young. (If you’re coming from the US, Wegman’s sport sunscreens are the BEST!)
Windbreaker and/or sweater
Even on warm or even hot days, the tops of Korean mountains can get downright chilly, especially since there’s not always trees to block the wind. If nothing else, you can always use your windbreaker as a makeshift picnic blanket or something to sit on. No lie, I bought my windbreaker back in 2011 for a high school camping trip and that thing still looks brand new, even though I’ve worn it for almost every hiking trip and rainy/windy day since then.
In the summer, Korean mosquitoes are vicious demons from the darkest pits of hell. You do not want them near you. Get some (eco-friendly) repellent to save yourself and your loved ones, you won’t regret it.
Extremely useful for sneezes, coughs, wiping off dirt, dabbing sweat, cleaning surfaces, and creating a small flag to hail rescuers in case you get lost in the woods.
(From Sam) – I could’ve used these in Hallasan. I went in the spring, which means my allergies were acting up and there was a bit of pollution in the area. The whole way up I couldn’t stop sneezing and I had to use my shirt as a makeshift handkerchief. It was disgusting.
We just went through a global pandemic and also there’s dirt in the woods. I don’t think I have to explain this one too much.
Korean hiking food culture
Truly kimbap is the GOAT of Korean hiking food. It’s sold in convenience stores (both chain and independent) at the foot of most major national parks. It’s pretty durable to take in your backpack – the ajummas who make it will wrap it in foil for you so it doesn’t get damaged – and is full of carbs from the rice, vegetables, and even protein from egg or meat inside. It’s also delicious and easy to eat and IMO much better than a soggy sandwich.
I love taking cup ramen on cold weather hikes, especially. So long as you make sure you have a thermos of hot water, you can enjoy a nice, hot meal full of carbs to help fuel the rest of your hike.
Get something with an easy peel that you don’t have to worry about cleaning, like tangerines or bananas. I also highly recommend dried fruits, since they’re lighter (as they don’t contain nearly as much water) and give you a lot more calories for their size.
These are very, very popular to take hiking with you in Korea. In the fall, you can often find stands with people roasting chestnuts fresh at the foot of the mountain for a reasonable price. Outside of chestnut season, it’s pretty easy to find them prepackaged at convenience stores.
You can find both meat and vegan jerky at most convenience stores now
Delicious, nutritious, easy to carry, full of good fats.
I’m putting these because I honestly love chips and think they go so well with the kimbap. Plus, you’re finally burning enough calories to justify eating an entire bag, which is hard to do when sitting on the couch rewatching Emily in Paris.
Safety Concerns When Hiking in Korea
Over all, hiking in Korea is considered quite safe on all sides. There are plenty of options depending on your level, and some national parks even have wheelchair accessible options. If a hike is considered challenging or dangerous, you’ll see plenty of warning signs!
Hiking in Korea is very, very popular. Once you arrive in Korea, it’s impossible to ignore the myriad of hiking stores everywhere. It’s common to see people (especially middle-aged people) going about their everyday activities in full hiking gear. On the Seoul metro, you can often spot people with their hiking equipment, going to or from a hike, as many are accessible by subway.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What’s important to know is that hiking is popular, generally quite safe, and very accessible. Let’s get more into the details of it below.
Hiking Etiquette in Korea
- When passing other hikers, always go to the right.
- It’s normal to greet other hikers with a quick hello, or annyeonghasaeyo (“an-young-ha-say-oh”)
- If you want to listen to music, a podcast, or anything else wear headphones. Occasionally, you’ll get an old man who blasts old school Korean ballads, but this is seen as rudeness as a product of age
- Take all your trash with you and observe all hiking rules. Generally, the rules are posted at the beginning of a hike but are also posted online. They range from things like “don’t pick the plants you see” to “it’s not allowed to summit after X time.” These rules are all made for a reason, so make sure you follow them
After the Hike
The most famous post-hiking food is jeon, savory Korean pancakes, and magkeolli, which is a type of rice wine. However, every time I finish hiking I was absolutely ravenous, so normally I order a bit more.
You can generally find full restaurants at the entrances of most national parks that serve some of the best Korean dishes. Some of my favorite things to eat after a hike were a nice jjigae (stew) with about a million side dishes, noodles, or grilled fish. You can also check what’s available on Kakao or Naver Maps.
Also, make sure that you hydrate yourself plenty!
Make sure to stretch out your muscles, ESPECIALLY your calf muscles and quads after a hike. DO IT AT NIGHT, BEFORE YOU SLEEP. Even if you’re bone tired, and I know I’ve been after a challenging hike, it can really make all the difference the next morning.
Where to Hike in Korea
Stay tuned! We have a whole separate post of recommended hikes in Korea coming up next. However, the best thing about a country that’s mostly mountainous is that there’s pretty much some sort of trail no matter where you are. My favorite trail was literally a random one right behind my house in Suncheon! If you don’t have a specific mountain in mind, just ask your hotel or guesthouse for their recommendations – trust me they have at least one.
And there you have it – literally EVERYTHING you need to know for hiking in Korea! Have any questions or additional tips? Drop them below!
For more tips for planning a trip to Korea, read these next:
- Korea Travel Guide – for all my posts on Korea
- 50 South Korea Travel Tips
- 22 Places in the Korean Countryside You’ll Love
SHARE THIS ON PINTEREST
want to support?
I’m always grateful when friends and readereach out wanting to support There She Goes Again. Truthfully, I’m just happy my posts are helping people travel! If you’d like to support the blog, here are some companies and brands I’m affiliated with. Simply click the links, and I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you!
- Booking (Hotels)
- Sixt (Car Rental)
- Klook (Tours)
- Viator (Tours)
- Get Your Guide (Tours)
- Trazy (Korea Tours)
- Tiqets (Entrance Tickets)
BLOGGING / SOCIAL MEDIA