Autumn is back again, and I’m living vicariously through her outdoor fall adventures. This time she has a little guide to hiking in Odaesan National Park! Enjoy!
When talking about national parks in Korea, a few always pop up – Seoraksan, Jirisan, and Hallasan are perhaps the most popular three. Some, such as Gyeryongsan or Bukhansan, manage to achieve a steady stream of visitors through their proximity and subsequent accessibility to large cities.
However, Odaesan is not only located in Gangwon, the least populated of Korea’s provinces, it’s also an hour away any remotely medium-sized city. Because it’s not the most convenient mountain to visit, it’s often eclipsed in hiking recommendations and, even during the fall season, still feels like a hidden gem.
This is exactly why I went with my friend, A, during Chuseok, one of the two busiest holidays in the country. We figured the more popular parks would be crowded with families and were still hoping to keep some distance from others.
While many Korean mountains house important temples to Buddhism, Odaesan is unique in that the whole mountain is considered sacred due to its connection to the Manjushri Bodhisattva (more on that below).
Given that Odaesan spans three different areas — Gangneung, Hongcheon, and Pyeongchang — and over 300 km2, there are quite a number of different trails. We wound up doing a relatively easy one called Sunjaegil, which I’ll get into below. However, if you want a more difficult course or one that will take you up to the peaks, check out the courses on this page.
If you have a car or are willing to shell out more for a taxi, several roads run through Odaesan. This is to help people get to different hiking points and allow park rangers easier maintenance. In the future, if I’m lucky enough to be able to return, I would really love to do one of the peak courses. Rumor has it that they’re high enough that sometimes, you can see a cloud sea stretching out below.
Getting to Odaesan
We arrived the day before to stay in a tiny area called Hwinggye. Originally, we had grandiose plans to get up super early and hike, but it turned out neither of us were feeling quite that ambitious.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Hwinggye is actually quite far from Odaesan via bus. It can take over an hour with the possibility of long breaks in between. Instead we ended up grabbing a taxi from one of the multiple stands in town. It costs around 20,000 KRW (~$20 USD), so really not that bad between two people.
I should also note that I’d heard that Odaesan was quite remote and that there was really not much nearby. We stocked up on kimbap at the CU and I also boiled some eggs at our Airbnb. However, we realized that the mouth of the park was lined with a handful of restaurants and convenience stores, so we needn’t have worried. Most of them looked pretty new, and I found myself wondering if the blogs I had read were simply out-of-date, due to the influx of things built during the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
Hiking the Seonjaegil Course
Once we arrived, we examined the map and realized that we really could only do one course given our timing and starting point. The Seonjaegil course (선재길) is pretty flat and follows Odaecheon (오대천), a nice long stream. The main point is Woljeongsa (월정사), which is early on in the course, and the turning point is Sangwonsa (상원사), another temple further along.
Here’s what it looks like on the map:
If you can find it, there’s a sign that explains the meaning of walking Seonjaegil. In Korean, it goes as such:
“문수보살은 지혜와 깨달음을 상징하는 불교의 대포적인 보살입니다. 이러한 문수의 지혜를 시작으로 깨달음 이라는 목적을 향해 나아가는 분이 화엄경의 “선재 (동자)” 입나다.
또 선재에는 “착한사람”이 라는 뜻도 내포외어있습니다. 그러므로 선재길을 걷는 것은, 이 길을 통해서 세상사의 고뇌와 시름을 풀어 버리고 새로운 행복으로 나아가는 것과 더불어 서로에게 착한사람으로 기어되는 방법을 배우는 것입니다. 선재길을 걸으며 우리는 지친몸과 마음을 치유하고, 결과가 아닌 과정에서 목적을 찾는 깨어있는 사람으로 거듭나 문수보살의 지혜와 조우하게괼 것입니다”
Roughly translated, it describes Manjushri, a bodhisattva, or someone on the path to Buddhahood. He symbolizes both wisdom and enlightenment. Additionally, Seonjae is supposed to mean “good person,” so walking on this course is meant to help you learn how to be good to your neighbors, help relieve the anxiety of the world, and move towards new happiness.
(Anyone who’s better at Korean and more familiar with Buddhism, feel free to help me explain all of this way better).
Anyway, Sunjaegil starts out like many hiking trails in Korea, a ridiculously easy one that leads to a temple. We saw markers warning us of .5% slopes (which were, to be fair, intended for those in or pushing wheelchairs). Several families and couples were meandering their way to and from the temple at the end of the path.
The main stop of the hike is Woljeongsa. This temple was founded back in 643 under Queen Seondeok during the Silla dynasty and is one of the 24 temple heads of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Other famous head temples include Tongdosa in Yangsan, Jogyesa in Seoul, Bulguksa in Gyeongju, Haeinsa in Hapcheon County, and Songgwangsa in Jogyesan near Suncheon.
Legend has it that the monk who founded Woljeongsa, Jajang, met with a manifestation of Manjushri in China. This manifestation gave Jajang parts of Buddha’s skull, a wooden alms bowl, one of Buddha’s robes, and a hundred sarira to bring back to Korea, telling him they’d meet again at a place called Odaesan. He came back and built Woljeongsa.
Of course, what we see now comes after various expansions and reconstructions, most recently after the Korean War when many of the temples were set on fire by retreating troops.
After Woljeongsa, the path should remain quite easy. It will consist of a wooden walking path that I believe is wheelchair accessible. The path snakes a bit deeper into the forest and you can begin to get really immersed in nature. We spotted this little guy scampering around on a cliff face at this point in the hike!
The wooden path, however, ends after a kilometer or two, leaving us on what was more or less an actual trail.
All along Odaecheon
Like I said earlier, Seonjaegil hugs Odaecheon, which makes for a very beautiful (and very easy) hike. Although we ended up walking somewhere between 10-12k, the path was so easy that the distance seemed like nothing.
At some point, we stopped and ate our kimbap on some rocks right on the stream. As I told A, it was exactly how I wanted to spend every fall day from then throughout November.
Looping Back Around & Leaving
I think technically the path ends around Sangwonsa temple, but we were running out of daylight, so we turned around earlier to head back to the entrance.
It was once we left the park that we had the somewhat arduous task of finding a bus back to Hwinggye. There was no schedule on Kakao, and the temperature was quickly dropping as the sun set behind the mountains.
We finally managed to find a bus stop which had a schedule posted. However, we had to transfer buses halfway to back to Hwinggye, and could find neither a sign for the bus stop nor any sort of schedule! After waiting for about ten minutes, we ended up just booking a car via KakaoTaxi.
Dinner in Hwinggye
Once we arrived back in Hwinggye (횡계), we headed to a fish restaurant, 생선구이, recommended by our host. The place was popular with the local crowd, and for good reason! The fish was delicious, especially after our hike, and that banchan game was strong.
Upon leaving the restaurant, we found a little boy, no more than five, waiting outside. As soon as we stepped out, he asked us in a very confident voice “DID YOU LIKE THE FISH?” His parents laughed in what I imagine was a mixture in pride at their son’s flawless English and his boldness. I assured the little guy that we did very much, and we headed back to our Airbnb to watch old Bruce Lee movies and collapse.
Practical Information for Odaesan
- Korean Name: 오대산
- Length: 10-12km for the Sunjaegil course roundtrip
- Cost: 5,000 KRW (credit card accepted)
At 5,000 won per adult, Odaesan is on the “expensive” end for parks in Korea. However, it is the largest natural forest, and the money really does go into taking care of and maintaining the whole area. Lots of paths are closed for years or decades to allow nature to fully restore.
Where to Stay Near Odaesan
You have a few options for towns near Odaesan.
The closest “city” is tiny Jinbu (진부), and probably where most people will stay. X on jinbu & Hotels
Where we wound up staying, Hwinggye, is even tinier. Really it’s like a blip on the map not even a town. However, I’m glad we stayed here. The Olympics in general had a huge effect on this whole area of Korea, and nowhere is that more evident than Hwinggye.
It’s located right on the slopes of Alpensia, one of the main spots for the Olympics, and the two got a huge makeover to make it more accessible. You can still see where the torch burned, the mascots, and the bridges light up at night with Olympic pride. Despite its tiny size, Hwinggye still offers all you need — several delicious and reasonably priced restaurants, convenience stores, and even a cute stream running through town!
We stayed at this small but fully outfitted AirbnB, complete with a kitchen and balcony view. It was really cozy on those brisk fall nights.
Getting to Odaesan
To get to the towns near Odaesan, you have a few choices.
For us to get to Hwinggye, we had to book tickets through the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal website here. It won’t be listed on Kobus.
For Jinbu, you can book a bus the same way or use the high speed rail that was built for the Olympics.
As for Gangneung, which is where we went after Odaesan and returned to Seoul from, is also on that same high speed rail and on Kobus. Though if you’re going over a holiday weekend, I recommend getting the train as traffic was pretty awful getting back into Seoul after Chuseok.
A Note on What to Wear for Odaesan
Pyeongchang is one of the coldest places in Korea. I remember people actually leaving the Olympics because the February breeze was too icy. Even in early October, the temperature difference from Seoul was entirely noticeable. It was around 25C when we left. By the time we got off the bus in Hwinggye the temperature had dropped to 14C.
Make sure that you pack accordingly and bring a jacket or wear longer pants even if you’re a bit warmer getting there.
What Else to Do Near Odaesan
We mostly wanted a relaxing trip, so day we arrived, we just explored the town for a bit after dinner and had a coffee at a very nice Twosome Place. There are several little coffee shops around, including an Ediya right on the banks of the stream that looked absolutely perfect for sitting outside at.
The day after our hike, we went to Gangneung for a few hours before heading back to Seoul. We mostly – what else? – walked. A found a nice area called Wolhwa Street, which runs along an old railroad path if you’re looking for a specific spot.. It’s lined with super cute houses and is quite near the market, so it was absolutely lovely in early October.
Have you been to Odaesan National Park? Which trail 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.
for more from autumn
Funny to think that I’ve known Autumn for five years now! She’s popped up on the blog a few times both in my travels (like our adventure to Morocco where we learned what to do if you get bitten by a cat lol) and because I’ve hired her to write a few posts! If you want to read more from her check out her guide to Gyeryongsan, how she got hired to teach in Spain, her Tenerife itinerary, and her experience staying at a ryokan in Kyoto.