Among all my adventures backpacking in Korea, hiking Mount Hallasan in Jeju island was surely the highlight of them all!
On the island of Jeju there are 368 volcanoes and at 1950m of altitude the Hallasan is the highest mountain/volcano in South Korea! Although it hasn’t erupted for about 5000 years it’s still considered active.
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This incredible site was named Unesco World Heritage in 2007.
I’m a big fan of all the poetic names of natural features in Asia and this was no exception. Mt. Hallasan means “high enough to reach the Milky Way”
Clouds permitting, Hallasan can be seen from anywhere you are in Jeju so the temptation to hike it is always present.
There are a few hiking trails up to the top and the 2 main ones are: the Seongpanak and the Gwaneumsa.
The Seongpanak trail is the longest and most transited one. It’s 9.6Km from the entrance to the top and as usual on most hikes in South Korea, the hike is quite “civilised” with well marked trails and wooden steps for the steepest sections.
The Gwaneumsa trail is shorter and steeper, at 8.7Km long this one also has plenty of civilised areas but also some rocky patches which are cool to trek. On a rainy day this trail can be very slippery so make sure to have good footwear with you.
I took the first trail to go up and the second one to go down. I’d have preferred to go up via Gwaneumsa but I couldn’t find a good connection with the buses as I was couchsurfing on the far east of the island.
I also read that there were no buses at all to/fro Gwaneumsa on weekdays so I only took the risk on the way down as I could always hitchhike back to town.
How to get there
There are buses going regularly around the island, check on Google Maps or even better Kakao Maps which has a lot more bus information for Korea.
MY HIKING ESSENTIALS
Make sure to start early as there are cut off times to go to the top! (more on that below)
I was couchsurfing in Jeju, but if you need accommodation, check here for some cheap hostels in Jeju island.
Preparing for the trail
This trail is almost 20Km long so you should go with plenty of water, snacks and prepared for a colder weather at the top even if it’s sunny and hot when you start.
At the entrance of Seongpanak trail you can buy drinks and food. I got x2 Gimbaps for 3000KRW.
I always bought Gimbaps on my Korean hikes after seeing it first when in Danyang. It’s a great snack and nutritionally good for the mountain! a piece of fruit always great as well!
Cut off times
I found the cut off times to be pretty generous if you’re a regular hiker, but make sure to consider them when planning your day.
From the Seongpanak entrance it took me 2h10min to arrive to the cut off point and that included a small diversion to another crater on the way up of about 25min. These are the cut off times for all trails over the year:
Hiking Mount Hallasan
The Seongpanak trail is divided into 4 sections that go from flattish to steepest, although I never found the trail to be actually steep. Every 500m or so you’ll find location boards, so you’re always pretty aware on your progress.
Just a little bit after the first section there’s a diversion towards a crater and viewpoint. When taking this diversion you’ll find a set of wooden stairs that will take about 5 minutes to climb.
I actually enjoyed this little diversion as when I arrived to the “Lake of the Sky” I was on my own, away from the little crowds of the main path and it’s a wonderful spot for a quick snack (an apple on my case!)
The “Lake of the Sky” is actually a crater lake and on times of the year is dry. There are signs mentioning of the presence of animals such as roe deer, unfortunately I didn’t see any.
On the time of my visit, the wooden walking platform was partially submerged, just take off your footwear and walk a few minutes for a viewpoint of the island. If you cannot be bothered, then just wait to get to the top of the mountain for even better views!
Back down on the main path, the climb continues steadily and after 2h10min I passed the cut off point where there was a lot of people resting.
Soon after you will leave the forest behind and the first beautiful views of the island will appear on your back, the summit will also be visible for the first time since the start of the hike and with that will also come the largest number of people you will find.
By now you’ll have about 3 hours of climbing among quite a few people, so you’re mentally prepared that once at the summit the crowds will be even larger.
Mount Hallasan being Korea’s tallest mountain and a relatively easy hike for almost any person means that you’ll have to deal with that no matter the day or the time you go.
The summit offers gorgeous views, it was actually my first volcano climb so I was really happy with the sight which is a perfect spot to rest and devour the Gimbaps!
After a little while enjoying not only the crater views but also the island ones, it was time to go down.
I thought initially to go down on the same way as I was not sure there were buses going down the Gwaneumsa trail during weekdays, but then I decided to “risk it” as the worst thing that could happen was just to walk a little bit more or hitchhike my way back.
The way down on Gwaneumsa was a bit more technical than the way up, with some fun rocky patches but also many “civilised” sections with wooden platforms.
I liked the views more on this side of the mountain and also found a lot less people which also allowed for a bit of trail running on some sections.
You also cross some lava rivers which are pretty cool!
It took me just over 2 hours to go down and once I arrived to the gate I saw a bus going down the road so my concern of how to get back quickly disappeared! there’s a bus stop just 100m from the gate, where you’ll also find toilets and a water fountain, and as almost everywhere in Korea, you will also find some free wifi connection.
Korea is not the wildest place to hike, but hiking is a very common activity in this country, specially on the older generations so the trails are very well taken care of, at times way too much for my liking.
Because of that, these hikes are not necessarily “dream hikes” on a regular bucket list, but if you can bear with crowds in Nepal or in Patagonia, you can certainly hike with a bunch of friendly Koreans around and discover some incredibly places such as Mount Hallasan!
If you go to Jeju you should definitely look into hiking this cool volcano! feel free to drop any comments or questions if you’re planning to go hiking in Korea!
Check out the rest of my solo backpacking in Korea adventures for more ideas on your next trip!