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Mountains of South Korea: Mt. Seorak, Mt. Halla & Mt. Jiri

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011
korean mountains

About 70 percent of the Korean Peninsula is mountainous. Therefore, it is but natural that Koreans love to go mountain hiking in the spring and fall. Most mountains have well-paved paths and thus many people can be found hiking on any given day. ‘San’ means ‘mountain’ in Korean. Most of the nation’s mountains are branches of the Baekdu-daegan mountain range, which starts at Mt. Baekdu in North Korea and stretches down to Mt. Jiri in the South. The three most scenic mountains to visit are Mt. Seorak on the east coast, Mt. Jiri in the southern part of the country, and Mt. Halla on Jeju Island off the southwest coast.

Mt. Seorak

Perhaps the most famous mountain of South Korea is Mt. Seorak, known in Korean as Seoraksan, a site most Koreans visit at least once in their lifetime. Seoraksan National Park in Gangwon Province is located at the far northern end of the mountain group and is known for its breathtaking valleys and waterfalls. Each spring, the park holds its annual flower festival, filling the air with sweet fragrances.

The mountain was named Seorak because the snow would not melt for a long time, keeping the rocks in a permanent state of white. In November 1965, the Seorak Mountain district was designated as a natural monument preservation area. Then in December 1973 it was designated as a park preservation area, and in August 1982 as a Biosphere Preservation District by UNESCO.

The park is spread across four counties: Sokcho, Inje, Goseong and Yangyang. The highest peak is Daecheongbong. To the east is OeSeorak and to the west is NaeSeorak, which is divided again into North NaeSeorak and South NaeSeorak. North NaeSeorak is composed of Bukcheon, which flows to Ingyecheon and Baekdamcheon. There are numerous valleys in NaeSeorak. When tracking the Baekdamcheon valley where all the streams meet, travelers will reach Baekdam Temple, which is known for its beautiful scenery. Upstream there is Gayadong valley and Suryeomdong valley, and past Yeongsiam and Mangyeongdae there is Madeungryeong ridge (1,327m), which leads to Seorakdong.

Through Suryeomdong valley travelers will also come across Waryong Waterfall and Ssangpok. Further up is Bongjeongam (1,224m sea level). Once travelers arrive at Daecheong peak they can view the magnificent mountain range. The sunrise viewed from the Daecheong peak is spectacular and should not be missed. South NaeSeorak directs the valley from Oknyeotang area to Hangyeryeong. Daeseung Waterfall, north of Jangsudae, is the most beautiful site of NaeSeorak, which is 88m high. South of Yongdaeri valley is the twelve fairy bathing spring, Oktang Falls, and Yongtang Falls, along with several other traditional relics.

Mt. Jiri

Mt. Jiri, or Jirisan, is located in the south of Korea. The mountain rises to 1,915 meters and is located in a designated national park of the same name. Jirisan National Park is the largest in Korea. Boasting breathtaking views, Jirisan National Park was the first Korean park to be designated as a national park in 1967. Its glorious mountain range extends across three provinces and five cities. The magnificent mountains and exceptional scenery make this one of the most famous mountains in Korea.

Roughly 1,915 meters above sea level, Cheonwangbong Peak is considered by Korean lore to be the pillar of heaven. Jirisan also features Banyabong and Nogodan, and is home to over 10 famous temples. There are over twenty summits and valleys, such as Baemsagol Valley, which are part of the ‘Jirisan Ten’. As this is the location of the most well-preserved virgin forests in Korea, the majestic and mystical mountain is highly revered. There are many species of animal and plant life, and as it was the first place to cultivate tea in Korea, herbal medicine cultivation still flourishes here. Jirisan was also where the Buddhist culture prospered, and there are many cultural assets here, such as Silsang Temple (National Treasure No. 7), Baekjangam and the Three-Story Stone Pagoda (National Treasure No. 26). These regional cultural assets and the superb sceneries of nature give visitors a unique taste of local history and culture. The weather is temperamental and only 80~100 days out of the year are clear and sunny, but the mist and fog create rare, unparalleled scenes of beauty not found anywhere else.

Mt. Halla

Another popular mountain, Mt. Halla, or Hallasan, is located on the island of Jeju, about 80 kilometers south of the Korean peninsula. It is the highest mountain in South Korea, and in 1970 it became Hallasan National Park. Mt. Halla, a shield volcano, practically constitutes all of Jejudo, and it is famous for its beautiful scenery in all four seasons. There is a lake on top of the mountain called Baengnokdam, which translates to White Deer Lake. Many plants and animals that have been selected as national heritage items call this mountain home, and tourists can experience the beautiful diversity of nature there.

Hallasan stands tall in the middle of Jeju Island. It is also called Yeongjusan, meaning a mountain high enough to pull the galaxy. Hallasan is widely acknowledged by scholars for its research value. Designated as a National Park in 1970, there are 368 parasitic volcanoes called Ohreum around Hallasan. From its warm areas to its cold areas, Hallasan is famous for its vertical ecosystem of plants. Over 1,800 kinds of plants, 3,300 species of insects, and 4,000 species of animals are known to exist around the Mt. Halla area. Hallasan is a short climb, less than 10km in length. It is possible to reach the peak and come back down in one day. But the weather conditions often change, and there is a lot of wind, so visitors must be well-prepared before going up the mountain. With Korea being gifted with these beautiful mountains, it is but natural that thousands visit these mountains every year from all over the globe.

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