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Seoraksan National Park – Best Hikes, Tips, and Hidden Gems


Seoraksan National Park, located in the northeast of Korea near the city of Sokcho, is a stunning national park that is popular amongst the locals, and still a hidden gem to the tourists. 

You don’t have to be a hiker to visit Seoraksan National Park though, there’s a trail and a view that caters to everyone – from small children to avid hikers and pensioners alike. With its spectacular trails leading to rocky peaks and serene waterfalls, or prefer a scenic cable car ride for dramatic views, the park delivers. I visited the park twice, and both times it was equally stunning. Rich with ancient temples and good local food, Seoraksan is especially beautiful in autumn when the foliage turns vibrant shades of yellow and red.

The best way to visit Seoraksan National Park from Seoul is by car, but buses and tours also run here often, especially in peak seasons like autumn. You can either visit on a day trip, or stay in Sokcho for a night and combine a calm seaside trip with a beautiful mountain escape – which is what I did.

In this guide you will find out everything you need to visit Seoraksan National Park!

How to get to Seoraksan National Park from Seoul

There’s three ways to visit Seoraksan National Park from Seoul and it’s either by renting a car, using public transportation or joining a tour. I drove there twice and I’d highly recommend renting a car (if you have a driving license) while traveling around Korea. It takes less time, it’s very convenient and you’ll even get to experience the rest areas on the way!

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By car

If you’re renting a car then it’s very convenient to get to Seoroksan National Park from Seoul. It takes roughly 2-3 hours to drive. Make sure you get breakfast at a highway rest stop though, that’s how the locals do it! The expressways in Korea have tolls so when you rent a car, make sure you get the toll card as well – it just makes it much easier to drive.

I absolutely love driving a car in South Korea. I think it’s the best way to explore the country and it was my first choice for visiting Seoroksan National Park as well. Read this article if you want to know more about driving in Korea as a tourist.

Parking in front of the park costs ₩6000 ($4.50 USD) up to 12 hours. A man will collect the money for the parking as you enter the parking lot. 

IMPORTANT: if you plan on arriving at the park’s opening hours in the morning, especially on the weekends in peak season – expect a large line of cars trying to enter. The wait can be even 2 hours or more (I sat in the car for 1 hour before I decided to walk the rest of the road). The first time I visited the park, I arrived at around 12.30 and there were no lines. If you want to avoid morning lines altogether, you could opt to stay at Kensington Hotel Seorak and wake up early for sunrise before the crowds roll in.

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By public transportation

Taking the bus is a cheap alternative that takes a little longer, but is perfect for those on a budget. Take the bus from the Seoul Express Bus Terminal to Sokcho. They run every half an hour and you can use your T-Money card to pay, or buy a ticket at the counter. You will arrive to Sokcho and from there you’ll then board a local bus (7 or 7-1) to the park entrance. 

By joining a tour

There are lots of companies that run tours from Seoul to Seoraksan National Park, with various itinerary options. If you don’t like planning too much and just want to keep an eye on when to be where then a Seoraksan National Park tour is the best choice for you. Here are some options:

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Best time of the year to visit

South Korea has 4 distinct seasons and visiting Seoraksan National Park in the hot months of summer is absolutely not the same as peak autumn foliage. I highly suggest you visit in either spring or autumn – but if you only choose one, then autumn is it.

If you’ve been traveling around Korea before then you’ll also know that autumn (or spring) foliage brings hoards of local tourists to every nature spot across the country and Seoraksan is no exception. A good way to visit during peak seasons is to not arrive on weekends and arrive either at least an hour before opening or at lunch time when the first visitors would have already left the park.

Summers can get very hot and humid in Korea, so if you arrive during this time, make sure you pack lots of water and sunscreen. In winter, dress in layers and make sure you wear good hiking shoes. Also check in advance if the park is open since it sometimes gets closed when the weather is very bad.

Park opening hours and admission fee

Seoraksan National Park is open from 6:00 until 20:00 every day, year round.

There is no admission fee for Seoraksan National Park, it’s free to enter and hike. There is however an admission fee for the cable car if you opt to take it.

If you want to be at the top of Ulsanbawi rock at sunrise (which is a popular photography spot), then I know people get in even earlier so don’t be discouraged by the 6am opening time if you want those sunrise shots.

Cable car opening hours and admission fee

The cable car that goes up to Gwongeumseong Fortress has varying opening hours, depending on the day and season. It’s usually open from 9:00 to 17:30. You can also check it as you arrive as it sometimes closes due to strong winds (on my first visit it was open and on the second visit it was closed all morning, open afternoon).

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How long time to spend at Seoraksan

How long you spend at the Seoraksan National Park will depend fully on how much of it you want to explore. In one day you can hike to Ulsanbawi Rock, take the cable car, see the Seoraksan Sinheungsa Temple and the Buddha Statue.

If you want to explore some waterfalls as well, then I’d suggest spending two days in this region. Personally, I would opt for two days – spending one full day at the national park, then heading to Sokcho for sunset, dinner, sleeping over, breakfast the next day, some more exploring around Sokcho and then another half a day at the park.

a mountain with a statue in the middle

Visiting the park twice also means you’ll be able to photograph it in two different weather conditions since the weather in the mountains can be pretty variable.

Restaurants and picnic food

You can’t visit Seoraksan National Park without visiting the restaurants at the entrance. Enjoy some local food for breakfast or lunch by the table, or get some picnic food to take with you on the hike in the park. That’s exactly how the locals do it and there’s nothing odd about pouring hot water into an instant noodle box at the top of the mountain!

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Prices for food at the park are only a little higher than average, but still cheaper than Seoul. If you are looking for a culinary experience though, then it’s better to eat in Sokcho – it’s simpler meals at the park but I quite enjoyed it after a long day.

Seoraksan National Park cable car

The best way for small children and pensioners to visit Seoraksan National Park, is by boarding a cable car that runs from the main restaurant and café area near the park entrance. This way barely any hiking is involved, but you still get some pretty spectacular views!

The cable car ascends 700 meters to the top of Gwongeumseong Peak and after you arrive at the station on top, you can hike another 15 minutes to the Gwongeumseong site which provides panoramic views. Just follow the staircase and trail and you can’t miss it.

Tickets for the cable car can only be purchased on the day of use because of potential weather disruptions, and they are also time-specific. My recommendation is that if you want to take the cable car, get the ticket as soon as you enter because otherwise the time slots can sell out.

The cable car departs every five minutes, carrying up to 50 passengers each trip. Ticket prices are ₩15,000 ($11.50 USD) for adults and teenagers, ₩11,000 for children over three, with infants riding for free. All tickets are round-trip.

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The cable car journey takes about five minutes, leading to facilities including a café, toilets, and outdoor viewing areas.

What to see in Seoraksan National Park

Although Seoraksan is renowned for its hiking trails, scenic viewpoints, and autumn foliage, there’s more to explore here than just the hiking trails. In this park lies the world’s oldest Zen Buddhist temple, as well as a giant Buddha statue.

Giant Buddha

Standing at nearly 15 meters tall, the giant bronze Buddha statue is an unmistakable highlight of the park. As the largest seated Buddha statue in the World, it’s worth taking a minute or two to admire its size before you start your hike.

Sinheungsa Temple

Just past the giant Buddha lies the Sinheungsa temple complex. Set amidst lush forests and towering mountains, the location of this temple is both beautiful and serene.

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Dating back to the mid-600s AD, the temple has endured fires and reconstruction, yet still standing resilient for over five centuries. It’s easily accessible via a paved path past the giant bronze Buddha statue and a small stone bridge. The temple is well-signposted from the park entrance and is conveniently located along the route to Ulsanbawi Peak. I recommend spending 15 minutes here wandering around the temple complex.

Gyejoam Grotto

This grotto was built by Vinaya Master Jajang in the sixth year of Queen Jindeok of Silla (652). It is a place where three Buddhist order progenitors, Jajang, Dongsan and Bongjeong, practiced Buddism, and was inherited by Buddhist master Wonhyo and Buddhist order progenitor Uisang, so it is called “Gyejoam,” which means “inheriting progenitors grotto.” Among the rock clusters, a grotto hermitage was built in the cave under Moktakbawi Rock with the most rounded shape.

Hiking Trails In Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan National Park offers two main types of hiking: day walks and multi day hikes. Multi day hikes take you deeper into the park, and you’ll usually need to spend one or two nights in huts. Day walks are the more popular choice amongst locals and tourists alike, and they’re also suitable for those with moderate fitness level or those that are in the park only for the day. The day walks still take you to see beautiful waterfalls, valleys, and mountain views though. Trail difficulty varies, and the difficulty (and how much time approximately it taks to hike) is stated on the boards at the bottom of the trail.

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The trails are well signposted in both Korean and English from the main Sogongwon Park area and along the paths, ensuring easy navigation. Here are the most popular hiking trails in the park.

Ulsanbawi Rock trail

Length: 7.6km both ways
Duration: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate/Hard
Tip: Wear good hiking shoes

The hike to Ulsanbawi Rock is the major attraction in Seoraksan National Park, offering spectacular views from its distinctive six-peaked granite ridge at 870 meters above sea level.

Starting from the main entrance, the trail leads past Sinheungsa Temple and initially follows a flat, concrete path along the river before transitioning to steep stone steps. A stop I recommend making (you can’t miss it) is Gyejoam Temple, known for its “rocking rock” (Heundeulbawi) and as one of the last flat rest areas.

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The final stretch to the summit is a challenging climb up hundreds of steps, with little shade once past the tree line, so make sure you have plenty of water with you. The reward at the top is a panoramic view of the mountains extending all the way to Sokcho, making the strenuous hike worthwhile.

Going down is faster, but due to all the steps, it can be tough on the knees. To avoid crowds and the afternoon heat, it’s a good idea to start early, especially during warmer months. I don’t have the best fitness level and while the hike was tiring, it was completely doable with lots of rest and keeping good pace.

Biryong Falls trail

Length: 4.8km both ways
Duration: 1-1.5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate

For waterfall enthusiasts, the Biryong Falls trail in Seoraksan National Parkis a good choice. This short trail begins on a wide, flat nature path through the forest and gradually climbs alongside a river to reach two waterfalls.

Biryong falls

Starting from the park entrance area, the trail crosses a long stone bridge over the rocky Ssangcheon river (that’s usually just rocks). Following the signs toward Yukdam Falls, the path initially offers an easy stroll through woodland, and then the trail then becomes steeper and rockier as it approaches Yukdam Falls, crossing a suspension bridge that offers scenic views and popular photo opportunities.

Continuing from Yukdam Falls, the trail becomes moderately challenging with a steeper and rockier path leading to Biryong Falls. Here you can relax and enjoy the views of the waterfall, with seating around the pool at the waterfall’s base.

If you want a little more adventure, an optional extension up a steep staircase leads to an observation deck for Towangseong Falls, the country’s tallest waterfall at 320 meters (compared to Biryong’s 16m). While many hikers turn back after reaching Biryong Falls, the extended hike is well worthwhile if you have the time and energy to do it.

The 400m ascent takes about 15-20 minutes and can be quite exhausting. At the top, a multi-level observation deck offers views of a significant mountain range and the 320-meter Towangseong Falls.

Biseondae Rock trail

Length: 6km return
Duration: 1.5-2 hours
Difficulty: Easy

The Biseondae Rock trail offers an easy yet rewarding hike in Seoraksan National Park. Starting near the park entrance, the trail follows a stream through the valley, passing under tree cover along mostly flat paths. Along the 2.3km route to Biseondae Rock, hikers encounter scenic clearings and occasional glimpses of the stream. The trail remains largely flat for the first half, becoming slightly steeper in the second half after crossing a stone bridge.

The highlight of the trail is Biseondae Rock itself, a large smooth rock that transforms into a waterfall after heavy rainfall. The trail concludes with breathtaking views at the end, offering a peaceful atmosphere with the sound of rushing water from small rapids below.

Biseondae Rock

If you still have some energy left you could choose between two additional paths going from here: one leading to Geumganggul cave and the other to Yangpok shelter and nearby waterfalls. The path to the cave, although only 600m long, features steep steps and offers impressive valley views from the cave’s mouth. On the other hand, the trail to Yangpok shelter provides a steady incline and takes about 2-3 hours round trip, offering the option to stay overnight and explore further.

I hope you enjoyed these short descriptions of these three popular hiking trails. If you’re a first time visitor on a day trip, then I suggest you take the Ulsanbawi Rock trail.

Where to stay

If you’re planning an extended stay at Seoraksan National Park, you have two options for accommodation: Sokcho or a hotel along the road leading to the park entrance.

The closest option to the entrance is the four-star Kensington Hotel, just a short five-minute walk away from the park entrance. It’s an old hotel filled with British memorabilia that could use a little update, but the location makes it very convenient if you plan on hiking early and don’t want to waste time being stuck in the morning traffic.

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If opting for Sokcho, Urbanstay Sokcho Beach is my favorite choice due to its proximity to the bus terminal, beach, and affordable, modern studios equipped with cooking and laundry facilities.

That wraps up my guide to Seoraksan National Park! If you have any questions or if there’s anything I may have overlooked, don’t hesitate to reach out. Feel free to leave a comment down below, and I’ll be here to provide any additional information or assistance you may need.

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