On Top of Seoul – Hiking Baegundae Peak

Not many cities in the world can claim they are home to a national park. But Seoul is one of the few that can.

Bukhansan National Park lies within the greater Seoul metropolitan area, providing a green escape to the 25 some million people that live in this massive urban environment. Because of its location in one of the biggest cities in the world and its excellent connections to public transportation, the park holds a Guinness World Record for the Most Visited National Park per Unit Area. With countless hiking trails to choose from, beautiful temples and fantastic transportation links, it’s easy to see why this park is so popular!

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With my boyfriend fresh off a plane from England, still suffering from jetlag, I figured what better time to explore this park! The weather is beautiful and the fall foliage is at its finest, so we made the trip from Incheon to Bukhansan to take on Baegundae Peak, the most famous peak in Seoul.

From Incheon, it took us about 3 hours to get to park. A little over two of those hours were spent on the metro, which was a breeze. However, we then had to take a bus to the entrance of the park, which ended up being a bit of a challenge. There were so many people headed to the park that there was a massive queue just to get on the bus. We grabbed some breakfast and coffee at a nearby cafe before joining the queue, which ended up moving rather quickly, and after about 30 minutes of waiting we were on our way.

The bus conveniently dropped us off about a 10 minute walk from the entrance to the park. We walked past many cafes, restaurants and shops selling hiking gear along the way, which reminded me a lot of many mountain towns in the United States. In the distance, we could see Baegundae Peak looming 836 meters (2,743 feet) above us and we realized we were in for a challenge.

From the entrance of the park, the hike to the Baegundae is only about 4 kilometers, which doesn’t sound too bad…until you realize that 4 kilometers involves a nearly 800 meter elevation gain. The beginning of the trail was really enjoyable, though, with a large paved footpath covered by a canopy of trees. We passed through a beautiful gate, took a small detour to explore a temple and found a few cute dogs along the way.

With about 2.7 kilometers to go, the path turned to dirt and rocks and got really intense really fast. The incline was insane and at several points we found ourselves literally climbing vertically up rocks. On the bright side, however, the fall foliage was absolutely beautiful!

Eventually, we reached another gate and were just a couple hundred meters from the top. But, of course, this was the hardest stretch of the hike. Baegundae Peak is just exposed rock, so this final stretch required pulling yourself up the face of the mountain using cables. It was incredibly steep and actually quite scary because it would be so easy to lose your footing and fall off the mountain. Plus, there were quite literally hundreds of people there, so we had to join a long queue of people slowly pulling themselves up the mountain.

But fortunately, we both made it to the top and the view was incredible! The city of Seoul sprawls as far as the eyes can see, wrapping itself around the mountain as it continues to grow. It was freezing cold and windy, but we managed to get a few photos before making the treacherous decent down the steep mountain façade, gripping the cables and trying not to die.

Once we got past the cables, it was smooth sailing. We decided to take a different path down the opposite side of the mountain, which was a good choice! It was a much easier decent than the path we took up would’ve been and was actually really enjoyable. After about 45 minutes we reached the Welcome Center and then continued down the road about another 30 minutes to the park entrance where we hopped on the metro back to Incheon.

While Nick probably wouldn’t recommend doing this hike the day after traveling 5,000 miles across the world, it was an incredible hike overall and we were both really glad we decided to make the trip to Bukhansan!

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