*Updated July 2019*
Hallasan, a massive shield volcano, tops out at 1950m. It is the highest mountain in South Korea and just like any other country’s premier peak, it is one of the hottest items on the hiking menu.
“But wait …” I hear you say, “a volcano?”
Well, a volcano it is, and classed as an active one at that, but don’t worry – it hasn’t erupted for about 5,000 years and is basically dormant, it’s just that the boffins can’t agree on its true status.
Forming the bulk of Jeju, Hallasan is central to the island’s identity. It gave birth to Jeju, and to the locals, the two are often interchangeable, one and the same. No matter where you are, you can see its distinctive profile against the sky, and when it’s shrouded, thick and grey, you can still feel its huge bulk rising behind you.
It is a fantastic hike and one of our favourites in Korea. Jeju’s isolation from the mainland has made it a unique place and the journey up the mountain displays its great qualities, from the beautiful, low lying forests to the craggy beauty of its upper flanks. If you get lucky you’ll see out across the whole of Jeju as you climb, and the crater lake on the summit is a special place.
If you like hiking, nature and spectacular views – and let’s face it, what’s not to like – plan a trip to Jeju Island and put Hallasan first on your list. Watch the video and check out the rest of this guide to find out all you need to know about hiking Hallasan.
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While Hallasan National Park has four or five hiking trails, only two will take you to the summit, Seongpanak (성판악) and Gwaneumsa (관음사).
Seongpanak – Dongneung Peak:
9.7km, 3 – 4.5 hours one way
Gwaneumsa – Dongneung Peak:
8.7km, 4 – 5 hours one way
Seongpanak is the longest of the two at 9.7km, but it is also the gentlest trail, making it the easier and quicker of the two going either way. It is also the busiest and best served by public transport, with buses only running to Gwaneumsa on the weekend. Gwaneumsa is shorter and steeper, but much more scenic and well worth making the effort to get there. For full details on access to both trails, the getting there section has all the info you need.
*Some maps of the park might show other trails linking up to these two, but as far as we can tell this hasn’t been the case for years, the park authority having closed them off to aid recovery of the land*
The trails up and around Hallasan – only Gwaneumsa and Seongpanak go to the top
Which Trail to Hike?
Basically, there are two options for hiking Hallasan. Hike up one and down the other, or hike up and back down the same trail. However, it’s worth noting that the Gwaneumsa trail is often closed due to rock falls, etc., so it’s hard to plan your route too far in advance and you’ll need to stay flexible.
*To check on whether the Gwaneumsa trail is open, check this website, or call the travel hotline on 1330. Otherwise, ask your hotel or guesthouse staff to call the National Park Office, or speak to fellow travellers. Note that the English translation on the website is a bit odd – it translates Seongpanak as ‘Surname Music’*
When we hiked Hallasan, we climbed up Gwaneumsa and came down Seongpanak – it was definitely the right decision. Many Koreans like to go in the opposite direction because Seongpanak is the easier climb. Even Mr. Kim at the Gudeok Guesthouse looked at us strangely when we said we wanted to climb the steeper path. But who wants to punish the knees with a steep descent? And you can better enjoy the great scenery when you’re feeling a little fresher and not watching every step you take.
Cut Off Times
In order to make sure people get up and down the mountain safely before dark, the park authority has set strict cut-off times which must be adhered to. These times change from season to season. On the way up, you must pass either the Yongjingak Shelter on the Gwaneumsa trail or the Jindallaebat Shelter on the Seongpanak trail by the following times:
Spring (Mar – Apr) & Autumn (Sept – Oct) : 12:30 pm
Summer (May – August): 1:00 pm
Winter (Nov – Feb): 12:00 pm
When heading back down you have to get off the summit by the following times:
Spring & Autumn: 2:00 pm
Summer: 2:30 pm
When To Start?
We recommend that you start as early as possible. You want to enjoy your time hiking Hallasan without needing to rush to meet the cut-off times. Also, even on mostly clear days, clouds tend to roll up and form around the summit by midday, so start earlier to get the best views. We started around 8:00 am which gave us enough time to spend at the top, as well as appreciate the trail and stop to take pictures.
If you’re a really early bird or plan to stay at the Gwaneumsa campsite, the park opens at these times and you can start anytime after that:
Spring & Autumn: 5:30 am
Summer: 5:00 am
Winter: 6:00 am
There are a few important things to keep in mind before hiking Hallasan.
You’ll be hiking up to nearly 2000m, on a mountain in the middle of a small island that stands alone and unprotected out to sea. Conditions can and do change quickly.
In Spring and Autumn, the weather can be cool at the trailheads in the early mornings and late afternoons. You should have warm layers that you can take on or off as needed. At the summit, it’s heavily weather dependent. On a sunny day in early October, we needed hats and sunscreen under the fierce sun. Two days later, our friend was wrapped in her jacket and scarf. So best to be prepared and always be ready for rain.
In Summer, cold shouldn’t be much of a problem but it rains heavily and often, so something light for wind and rain protection is a must. Again, if you plan on hanging around at the top, which you should cause it’s great, don’t forget your sun protection. I left my sunglasses in the hotel when we hiked and I missed them on the summit.
In Winter, early Spring or late Autumn, it’ll be cold and there’s a high chance of snow and ice. You’ll need a warm jacket and clothes, good boots and many people pack crampons which can be bought in Jeju City and Seogwipo.
Food and Water
Take plenty of food and water with you. We normally pack enough but we were short on both. Do like the Koreans and pack a few rolls of kimbap and/or pop into a Paris Baguette or Tous Les Jour and stock up on enough baked goods to keep your energy levels high. Both trailheads have small cafes selling kimbap, noodles, etc. and shops where you can pick up some last minute snacks, but don’t count on much variety. You can buy snacks at the Jindallaebat Shelter on the Seongpanak trail but the options are limited.
Don’t forget bug spray! Signs warn of ticks, mosquitoes can be around, and when we were there, the summit was swarming with some tiny pesky flies.
Part I: The Gentle Forest Walk
08:00 – 09:00
After arriving at the trailhead and downing a quick can of coffee from the little shop, we set off just past 8 o’clock. Waiting for the bus in coastal Seogwipo before dawn, it had been warm, but starting on the trail at a height of 600m, fleeces were on and our hands felt a little chilly. This part of the hike was really beautiful, following the winding trail, steadily climbing, the morning sunlight breaking through the trees.
Passing rocky streams at the start of the Gwaneumsa trail
The small mountain rescue monorail car trundled by, hugging the forest floor. We crossed rocky river beds and small streams, passing our fellow hikers again and again as we stopped to film and take pictures. A few strong limbed hikers strode purposefully by, but most people kept to a similar pace. The trailside boards kept us up to date with where we were and how far we’d gone. It took us almost exactly an hour to complete the first section of the trail.
The mountain rescue train
Part II: Onwards and Upwards
09:00 – 10:55
After a quick snack break at the small bridge we were ready to head off again. The trail map board showed the next section was going to be a little steeper and sure enough, there were the stairs at the other end of the bridge. As it turned out, it wasn’t too steep or challenging. Steady climbing yes, some wooden steps, some rocky path, but the trail was quite varied, not all up, up, up. The sunlight grew stronger, breaking through the trees and showing off the best of Hallasan’s pristine forest. Slightly less pristine were the long drop squat toilets we used on this part of the trail. Three pieces of advice for you: don’t take any deep breaths in there, watch out for the heavy doors and low ceilings, and remember to pack a little bottle of hand sanitiser.
We continued to pass and be passed, but the trail wasn’t overly busy. Waiting for Kim at one point, I spoke with an elderly guy in his seventies taking it slow and steady, and later we passed a hiker lying trailside who appeared to have nodded off. Just before Yongjingak Shelter, there was one guy behind us shouting repeatedly in one of the loudest displays of self encouragement you’re likely to hear on any mountain. But, even his bellowing couldn’t spoil our appreciation as we came out of the forest to a stunning view of Samgakbong, a sharp peak jutting from the mountain, decorated in a patchwork of lush greens and autumn reds, standing beneath the blue sky.
The impressive Samgakbong peak
Part IV: A Brief Rest At The Shelter
10:55 – 11:15
There was plenty of space here both inside and outside the shelter to take a rest. More toilets were set off to the side, no more pleasant than the last ones according to Kim. At the front of the shelter was a viewing platform facing north towards Jeju City. People clustered around, ready to pose for the usual snaps. The view towards the city was getting a little cloudy but we could see it in flashes, and the horizon out at sea was really cool, it seemed to be halfway up the sky, almost at eye level.
The view towards Jeju City from Yongjingak shelter
We took a load off, wolfed down our next round of snacks, and sat back and admired the mountain. Soon we were off again. This was the cut-off point for the Gwaneumsa trail, no climbing after 12:30, but we were in plenty of time.
Part V: Up To The Summit
11:15 – 12:45
Leaving the shelter, the next section was really beautiful, with clear views up and around the mountain and vivid autumn colours appearing. The trail here was easy, winding along a wooden boardwalk before descending a short staircase to a stone basin, where drinking water was flowing rapidly from a pipe – you should fill up here, there’s no more to be had this side of the mountain. We didn’t and we regretted it. Crossing a big wooden bridge over the river bed, almost dry, we stopped for a minute or two to take it all in.
Crossing the suspension bridge after Yongjingak shelter
Not long after the bridge we passed the site of the old shelter, destroyed by Storm Nari in 2007, a reminder that conditions on a mountainside can turn nasty. The information board showed a serious looking stone building, but nothing remained except a few tumbled stones here and there, and the flagstones where the door once stood.
Just beyond this was the steepest part of the climb. The trees hung close to the narrow path and the rough hewn steps were high and uneven. The good news is it doesn’t last for long, maybe 20-30 minutes depending on your fitness, and it’s not too bad … I’ve seen much worse. Again, take it slow and know that it’ll get easier soon.
Autumn colours in full swing
As we emerged from the trees the clouds were rolling in behind us but we could still see the mountain top ahead. Worried about missing the views at the summit, Kim told me to crack on, leaving her to catch up. This final section was mostly open, through scraggly trees, scrub and brush, on a metal and wooden pathway, climbing gradually with the odd set of steps.
The path was under construction here, so care was needed when passing the workmen, busy with soldering irons and drills, the smell of diesel filling the air from the rattling mini-generators. This looked like it will be ongoing as they extend the path further, so step carefully as you pass – two or three planks were missing at points.
The path slowed to a gentle slope for the last 30-40 metres, passing through open ground ruled by large ravens – it felt like Odin’s messengers were gathering, ready to feast on the fallen.
Part VI: The Summit
12:45 – 14:00
I’d reached the summit with plenty of blue sky still to go around. Looking across the grass to the south, a blanket of white cloud shrouded the edge of the mountain, obscuring the island view but acting as an interesting backdrop to the moon base-like hut sitting there. To the north was the crater, a great sight and why Hallasan stands out among the big hikes of Korea; the rough rocky slope dropped steeply below the wooden barrier, turning to a thick, green mossy covering, the base filled with a small blue-green lake glinting under the hot sun. The level was low: sometimes there’s no water, at other times it can be filled high, and come winter, it’s covered with snow.
At the summit. The rangers’ hut and wooden decks for chilling out.
The summit had a large open area with extensive decking, pocketed with rest areas where people ate, chatted, rubbed aching feet or took a short nap. Others were queuing for their picture at the obligatory summit stone. The hike saw all sorts. Families with kids as young as 6 or 7, lone hikers, husbands and wives, some elderly men and women, and the odd group of foreigners.
Kim arrived soon after, grinning and excited. She took some pictures while I rested up. Starving, I got tucked into the lunch bag and Kim eventually joined me after gawking at the crater lake for twenty minutes.
The icing on the cake – Hallasan crater lake
We had more than an hour up top, a good amount of time to really enjoy the experience and take plenty of pictures. At 2:00pm, the guy working up there came on the loudspeaker telling everyone it was time to get off the summit, making the long way back down before sunset.
Part VII: The Descent to Jindallaebat Shelter
13:55 – 14:45
We headed down the Seongpanak trail. It was a mixture of even to uneven stone slabs, new wooden steps and slippery boulders. The cloud surrounding the slope limited the view and most people were descending at a similar pace. The path was definitely less steep than the Gwaneumsa trail but a little more slippery. Slipperiness aside, it only took us about 50 minutes to get down to the big shelter where they cut you off on the way up. The trail board said it would take an hour and a half so we made decent time.
Part VIII: Quick Rest At The Shelter
14:45 – 15:00
The shelter had toilets, rest areas and a small store inside selling water, Pocari Sweat, chocolate bars, cup ramyeon and rain covers. We only picked up a small bottle of water, planning to fill up at the spring further down the trail.
If you do buy supplies, you have to carry your own trash off the mountain. There are no bins at the shelter or anywhere on the trail. Also, although the signs indicated that there was a spring further down the trail, it wasn’t where it was supposed to be, so make sure you have enough water.
At 3:00pm, an announcement was made to leave the shelter and start heading down.
Part IX: The Long Way Down
15:00 – 17:45
It was about an hour to the next shelter, through more wooded trail. The path was sometimes wooden path and stairs, sometimes slippery, damp, mud covered stones. We passed the point where the spring was supposed to be with only a mouthful of water left. Kim, who drinks water endlessly in normal life, was a little pissed at me for only getting a small bottle at the last shelter.
There’s a side route to another peak and crater lake, Sara Oreum. We didn’t have time but it wasn’t far from the trail and I was tempted by the trailboard picture. If you have time, maybe 30-45 minutes, factor it in.
We passed through the final shelter without stopping. It was in woodland with toilets and rest areas but nothing else. Beyond here, the final stretch took us just over an hour and a half. Kim’s feet and legs were hurting and the trail was often muddy so the going was a little slow. A few parents were patiently cajoling their young kids, promising that the end was near. There were plenty of wooden boardwalk sections too where the slope was very gradual, often without steps.
Large signs displayed dramatic warnings of wild boars but none showed their face.
The forest path on the Seongpanak trail
After a while, we passed through a really cool section where the deciduous trees gave way to tall straight pines, and an eerie, ethereal mist suddenly filled the forest. Kim’s tiredness disappeared, too excited to take pictures of the mysterious forest.
Mist enshrouding the tall pine trees
The rest of the trail was similar to the lower sections on the Gwaneumsa trail, only flatter, more open and a little wider. Birds occasionally flew by and we were lucky to see a couple of deer. One was scared away by noisy hikers but the other hung around for five minutes, busily nibbling on grass and licking the fur on its forelegs. We were tired and ready to finish at this point, but really appreciated the chance to just stand and watch it.
The second deer we saw nearing the bottom of the Seongpanak trail
Back at the car park
As we arrived at the Seongpanak car park the mist was hugging the ground thickly. It was 5:45 and almost sunset, though there was no sun to be seen. Both of us were tired, hungry and thirsty (for beer as well as water), but happy too. It had been a long but really great day. Hiking Hallasan had most definitely lived up to our expectations.
After five minutes the bus arrived, and we were back in Seogwipo in less than 25 minutes – the driver was mental, taking corners like Lewis Hamilton. Ten minutes later we were tucking into a Sumburger and sipping on a cold beer.
How the day should end!
If you have your own transport you can easily get to either trailhead from Jeju City or Seogwipo:
Jeju City – Gwaneumsa
about 20 minutes
Jeju City – Seongpanak
about 30 minutes
Seogwipo – Gwaneumsa
about 30 – 40 minutes
Seogwipo – Seongpanak
about 25 – 30 minutes
If you do drive you can start at Gwaneumsa or Seongpanak, come down the other trail, and take one of the available taxis back to your car. It should cost roughly 15,000₩ to get between the two trails.
Or if you decide to go up and down the same way, definitely go for the Gwaneumsa trail – just remember to check if it’s open.
There is parking available at both locations. It costs 1,000 – 1,800₩ depending on the size of your car.
**UPDATE: There is now a daily bus service for Gwaneumsa, not just at the weekend**
You can get to both trails by bus at the weekend,
but during the week the Gwaneumsa bus doesn’t run. For Gwaneumsa you’ll need to change buses to get there but for Seongpanak there’s a direct bus. The first step regardless is to take bus 281 from either Jeju City or Seogwipo – the bus route starts and finishes at the main bus terminal in each city.
The best way to find the nearest bus stop to you is on Kakao Maps (iOS/Android) or Naver Maps (iOS/Android). Download the app to your phone, zoom in on the road till the bus stop symbol appears and click on it. Select bus 281 from the list and it will show you every bus stop on the route and track the buses in real time. Both apps also show the hiking trails so it’s easy to keep track of your progress.
You can also check out this website which gives you similar information: search by bus number, view route maps and get live tracking info.
Also, visitjeju.net gives you up to date bus information on an excellent English language version site, with a downloadable PDF of all the bus routes.
Since the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, Naver maps is now available in English and Kakao Maps translates a lot into English as well (try both to see which one works best for you). A word of warning though, the English translations may be different from the ones that appear on the bus screens. Keep an eye on the screens behind the bus driver – they tell the name of the upcoming stop and the next one.
Buy a T-money card for 3,000₩ at any convenience store, put 10,000₩ on it to get you started and top it up anytime. Then you can just tap on and off any bus in Jeju, or any bus or subway in Korea. It’s the easiest way to pay, your balance pops up each time and if you change buses or lines within 30 minutes, you won’t pay for the second journey. The journey to the trails cost around 2,000₩.
If you’re heading to the Seongpanak trail the bus will take you around 30 minutes from Jeju City or Seogwipo – it’s pretty much half way.
If you’re going to Gwaneumsa
at the weekend:
From Jeju City take bus 281 and get off at Sancheondan (산천단), it’ll take around 15-20 minutes. On the bus website, Google translates this stop to ‘Mountain Farm’.
From Seogwipo take bus 281 and get off at Sancheondan Korean Polytechnic University (산천단한국폴리턱대학), it’ll take around 40 – 45 minutes, then walk across the road for the next bus.
At the Sancheondan (산천단) bus stop wait for bus 475.
From here it’ll take 5 – 10 minutes, keep an eye out for the huge car park appearing and hopefully a view of the mountain too.
There are 14 buses a day, with 1 – 1.5 hours between services. Check the timetable here.
If you’re going to Gwaneumsa Monday to Friday (no longer required, but we’ve left the taxi info for your reference):
Follow the first step and take the 281 to Sancheondan (산천단) from Jeju City or to Sancheondan Korean Polytechnic University (산천단한국폴리턱대학) from Seogwipo. Then just wave down a passing taxi, you won’t have long to wait – look for the red light on top reading 빈차. The taxi will cost around 4-5,000₩ and take about 5 minutes. This was how we got there.
If you’re not on a budget then you can always take a taxi directly from Jeju City, Seogwipo or even the airport. The Jeju website says the fare will be around 20,000₩ from the airport to Gwaneumsa. It should be similar or less from Jeju City. Best advice is to check with your hotel or guesthouse. From Seogwipo to Gwaneumsa, we were advised that a taxi would cost about 40,000₩ – a little bit steep.
If you decide to go to the Seongpanak trail, don’t waste money on a taxi. The bus couldn’t be more convenient and it’s far cheaper.
WHERE TO STAY
There’s a decent sized campsite at the start of the Gwaneumsa trail. It looked like a fairly pleasant place to camp, shaded by overhanging trees. Expect the nights to be somewhere between cool and cold outside July and August. There are clean toilet blocks and sinks outside for washing dishes. The campsite fees are as follows:
Small (3 people or fewer) 3,000₩
Medium (4-9 people) 4,500₩
Large (10 people or more) 6,000₩
We stayed at the R Hotel in Jeju City and it was a good budget option. It’s clean, modern and self service breakfast is included, plus it’s only a 5 minute walk from the main bus terminal.
We’ve stayed at the Gudeok Guesthouse on three separate trips to Seogwipo and love it! It’s a family run place and Mr. Kim is super helpful and friendly. He speaks enough English to talk you through options for just about anything you want to do on Jeju. The common areas have been recently renovated and it has an awesome rooftop terrace with sofas, a small kitchen, tables, etc. Self-service breakfast is included in the new open plan kitchen on the ground floor. This guesthouse has both private rooms and dorm rooms and is a great budget option in a central location.
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