Jeju Island, the largest island in South Korea, lies to the south of the Korean peninsula. It is a volcanic island but it is currently dormant. This volcanic island is dominated by Halla Mountain, the tallest mountain in South Korea, which rises 1,950 meters above sea level. Jeju Island's unique geographical location with its subtropical climate, which is much warmer than rest of the Korean peninsula, has made it a favorable tourist destination, appealing to many couples as a popular locale for honeymoon trips and to many tourists as a popular sightseeing destination. Traditionally the major tourist attractions in Jeju Island were its beaches, colorful natural scenery, historical relics and national parks, but recently hiking has surfaced as one of the most popular tourism themes among Jeju Island visitors.
Halla Mountain (1950 m), a dormant volcano characterized for its gentle slopes, is situated at the center of Jeju Island. Baeknokdam, its summit crater, is where the legendary story has it that an ancient mystic who traveled on a white deer came for refreshment. Halla Mountain also features a steep cliff and rocks in a variety of shapes, along with the surrounding 40 oreums (parasitic volcanos, or small volcanoes formed around a major volcano), and the mountain boasts distinguished and outstanding scenic views throughout the four seasons. Halla Mountain is also called a living ecological park because it acts as a natural habitat for approximately 2000 of the 4000 species of plants that are found in Korea. It also has the largest ecology of Korean fir trees at the summit. For its outstanding scenic appeal, as well as geological and biological value, Halla Moutain was designated as a World Natural Heritage by UNESCO in the year 2007.
There are six major trails for Halla Mountain hiking, namely, Eorimok, Yeonsil, Songpanak, Gwaneumsa, Donnaeko, and Eoseungsaengak Trails. The Eorimok, Yeonsil, and Songpanak Trails are the most popular and recommendable.
Eorimk Trail is a 6.8 kilometer long trail laid on the northwest side of Halla Mountain and begins at the Eorimok Square on the 1100 Road. It is the most popular trail because the views of Jeju oreums can be seen right away. The Eorimik trail runs across Witseoreum at 1,700 meters above sea level. It stops at the junction of the mountain's southern cliff due to the Rest-year Sabbatical System around the top area. For a return course, trackers could take either the Yeongsil or Donnaeko Trails.
The Yeongsil Trail is southwest of Halla Mountain which is a 5.8 kilometer course. The path to the trail is on the 1100 Road. Although it is the shortest course, the outstanding scenery along the trail is one of a kind. It also offers the best autumn foliage. Because of the steep angle of the stone stairways from 1,400 meters above sea level, trackers may have to rest more frequently. The Rest-year Sabbatical System is currently applied around the top of Halla Mountain. For this reason, trackers are only allowed to the junction of the mountain's southern cliff after passing through Witseoreum at 1,700 meters above sea level.
Seongpanak Trail is a 9.6 kilometer long course that is located on the east side of Halla Mountain. The trail begins at the 750 meters point above sea level on the 516 Road that runs across the mountain and the trail continues to the summit. It is a good course for trackers for all ages and genders due to the trait's gentle slope. The Seongpanak Trail boasts the spectacular beauty of spring with the field covered by azalea blossoms and greenery of the Korean fir trees. As a return course trackers could take Gwaneumsa Trail.
"Olle" [Ole] is the Jeju dialect for a narrow pathway that is connected from the street to the front gate of a house. Hence, Olle is a path that comes out from a secret room to an open space and a gateway to the world. In a sense, if the road is connected, it is linked to the whole island and the rest of the world as well. In short, Olle is a trail route path along the pristine coastal perimeter of Jeju Island that has been purposefully marked by volunteers to enable walkers of all ages to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the environment. When pronouncing the word Olle, it sounds like saying "Would you come" in Korean, so Jeju's Olle sounds like saying "Would you come to Jeju?" Since the year 2007, when the first Olle trail was opened, there have been efforts to develop and open more Olle trails. There are currently a total of twelve trail routes equaling 200 kilometers of walking trails. It is said that trackers who explore the Jeju Olle could experience peace, happiness and healing on the road.
On average, each Olle trail is about ten to eighteen kilometers long, and each offers a distinct opportunity to soak in the beauty of the Jeju coastline that varies from lowlands to highlands. Among the twelve major routes, route 7 which connects Oedolgae Rock to Wolpyeong is known to be the most popular among visitors. This route is a seaside hiking trail beginning at Oedolgae Rock and passing through Beophwan port and the Poonglim Resort until it reaches Wolpyeong port. Some of the most loved points on the route involve coming across abundant pampas grass and wildflowers. Moreover, visitors should never miss out on Soobong pathway and Soobong Bridge, which are named after Kim Soobong. He built the pathway and bridge himself using shovel and pick to clear the road and moving big stones to make the bridge.
Hiking in Jeju Island is a unique experience in a way that visitors can directly experience the natural environment. It offers visitors the opportunity to fully enjoy Jeju Island itself, Halla Mountain, beaches, and oreums which have not been artificially manipulated to fit a tourist's needs. Hiking can be done alone, with families, or even with friends. To fully experience hiking in Jeju Island, participants need just three things: appropriate clothing, comfortable shoes, and some pocket money.
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