• Saryangdo

    The Best Day Hike in Korea

*Updated July 2019*

THE BEST DAY HIKE IN KOREA

Standing at the edge of a jagged cliff, staring down a metal staircase that disappears into thin air, my stomach is in my mouth. Having been here twice before I know those stairs continue steeply down the cliff face, just out of sight, but I’m still bricking it. I love this hike, but I hate it too. Or maybe these moments of exhilarating terror and heightened adrenaline are the reason I love it. I grip the cold metal railing tightly with both hands and inch my way down the stairs, one step at a time, jaw clenched hard. It takes an age to get down. Stepping onto solid rock again, I exhale long and hard and the grin that’s barely left my face for the past five hours is back.

This incredible ridge hike is on Saryangdo, an island off the south coast of Korea in the Hallyeohaesang National Marine Park. Relatively unknown (in a country that has a serious obsession with hiking) this trail, and the island itself, is worth travelling for. In fact, we’d rate it the best day hike in Korea. 

Looking towards one of Saryangdo Island's suspension bridges from the ridge hiking trail, with the road bridge and surrounding islands in the distance, South KoreaWho doesn’t love views like this?!

This is our absolute favourite Korean hike, so good we’ve returned to it three times. Saw-toothed peaks and kryptonite-esque rock formations make up large sections of the hike, rivalling the scenery of Korea’s most celebrated national park, Seoraksan. What gives Saryangdo the edge though is its spectacular island views. Clearing the trees on the initial ascent, the view over to Namhae, Samcheonpo and the surrounding islands is a stunning reward. By the time you’ve reached Jirisan, the first peak, the 360° vista is downright breathtaking and it just keeps getting better.

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This hike is not for the faint hearted though; expect a hefty dose of scrambling up/down/over rocks, narrow ‘trails’ with drops on both sides, suspension bridges joining craggy peaks, and ladder and rope descents that will have your heart pumping. The terrain is no joke, so step carefully and think twice before posing for that jumping shot – the mountain rescue helicopter flew over us on our last trip there, off to rescue someone who fell off the mountain while taking a selfie. According to the locals this is a fairly common occurrence.  

Scrambling down rocks on Saryangdo Island Ridge Hike, Tongyeong, South KoreaStill smiling cause I’m yet to encounter the staircase of doom

Where to Start?

First, get yourself to the city of Tongyeong, then it’s a bus or taxi and a ferry ride away. The hike takes anywhere between 4 – 7 hours, depending on your fitness level and how often you stop to drink in the views. Our average is around 6 hours (we stop a lot for photos, etc.). So, you can plan to do it as a day trip from the mainland, or stay over and enjoy the island vibe a little longer (highly recommended!). We have full details on transport and accommodation options, plus hints and tips, further down in this post.

The ridge hike takes in 4 or 5 peaks (depending on how keen you are!) and it’s best to start the hike at the opposite end of the island to the ferry terminal and hike back. This way you save the most exciting bits for the end and get the best views while on the trail (looking towards the cool bridge that connects Saryangdo to neighbouring Hado). Plus, you don’t have to worry about getting transport back to the terminal/town.

Saryangdo Island Ridge Hike Trail Map, Tongyeong, South KoreaTrail map in the village at the start

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Saryangdo Ridge Hike

Beginning

The initial ascent up to the ridge takes around 40 minutes, past farmland, impressive stone cairns and through a forest. Emerging from the trees, you’re faced with a rugged rocky climb upwards, and some amazing views. Pine trees sprout from the grey rock facade, colourful hiking flags strung up in clumps on their branches.

Climbing a steep rock face on Saryangdo Island Ridge Hike, Tongyeong, South KoreaThe first WOW moment


Autumn colours on Saryangdo Island Ridge Hike, Tongyeong, South KoreaStruggling to pick my jaw up off the ground


The ridge trail continues with ups, downs and small forest areas dotted amongst exposed rock sections. You’ll pass plenty of good looking rest stops, but hold out for Jirisan peak before you crack out your lunch. The views are spectacular and worth savouring over a sandwich and coffee. It takes around 1 ½ – 2 hours to reach this first peak.

Jirisan Peak, Saryangdo Island Ridge Hike, Tongyeong, South KoreaJirisan Peak


Lunch with a view on Jirisan peak, Saryangdo Island Ridge Hike, Tongyeong, South KoreaLunch with a view


Continuing on from Jirisan there’s a bit of a descent and in a forest clearing you’ll come across a shack selling beer (₩5,000 a can!), Makgeolli and ice cream. Sometimes it’s open, sometimes it’s not. If you’ve taken the shortcut from the road, this is where you’ll emerge.

Maple Tree leaves in Autumn, Saryangdo Island Ridge Hike, Tongyeong, South KoreaHiking in Autumn 


Hiking flags hanging from branches on the Saryangdo Island Ridge Hike, Tongyeong, South KoreaHiking clubs tie their flags to branches all over the mountain


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Middle

Next, it’s onto the first hair-raising section of the trail, the Moon Rock (달 바위), 1 – 1 ½ hours beyond Jirisan peak.

Crossing the Moon Rock on the Saryangdo Island Ridge Hike, Tongyeong, South Korea“Oh, this railing is new”

Standing in relative safety at the end of the wooden staircase, taking in the scene for the first time, our friend Jack exclaims, “Oh! They’ve put up a railing.” Eh, what the f**k?! I’m shitting it even with a railing. Glad I didn’t join him on his last jaunt to Saryangdo.

Like a giant grey chunk of Toblerone, the trail has suddenly become no more than a narrow spine over which we have to cross, thankfully with the aid of a cold metal railing to cling onto these days. Waiting for hikers to cross in the opposite direction my angst is building, rising further and further up my throat. Nimble mountain goats skip over the pass, not even bothering with the railing. A fearful ajjuma sits paralysed, one foot on the rock, the other dangling over the crevice below, looking for somewhere to step, all the while gripping the metal for dear life and shouting ‘어떻게! 어떻게!’ (How! How!).

This isn’t helping my overwhelming fear.

The queue behind us is building. Del, one of said mountain goats, strides confidently across the trail of doom, while I gingerly inch my way along. Reaching the chasm (OK, OK, so it’s like half a meter), I’m starting to sympathise with 어떻게 woman. There’s no turning back though, and after some words of encouragement from my fellow hikers I’m on the home straight. Soon we’re standing on the second peak of the day, Wolambong (월암봉).

The incredible view over Daehang beach (our home for the night), the ridge and the newly constructed bridge is enough to distract me. Until, that is, it’s time to keep going and I’m wondering where exactly the trail is. Turns out it’s just straight down the chunks of rock. Engaging arms, legs and bum, I scramble and wedge myself between rock faces, easing my way down to the bottom.

Clear views over the Saryangdo Island Ridge Hike, Tongyeong, South KoreaYou’ve got all this to go…

End

If you’re ever in doubt as to whether you’re on the right path or not, just feel the trees. Years of hikers’ tight grips have turned the trunks and branches as smooth as polished wood. A couple of times I turned back, choosing a different route after encountering some rough bark.

A scenic staircase on the best day hike in Korea, SaryangdoPart staircase, part rock climbing


A staircase that appears to fall off the side of a cliff on the best day hike in Korea, Saryangdo“Yeah guys, I’m just coming!”
*unable to move as I watch them disappear off the rock face*


Looking back up towards the Moon Rock, it’s hard to reconcile quite how one got from there to the current spot on the trail. Ahead lies more fun and games. After a short boardwalk section and steep staircase – part manmade, part natural – it’s time to descend the aforementioned stairway from hell.

A metal staircase which appears to drop off the edge of a rock face on the best day hike in Korea, SaryangdoHell No


Views from the ridge on the best day hike in Korea, SaryangdoGolden Hour setting in

Rope descent on the best day hike in Korea, SaryangdoOne last jolly down a rock face


Next, there’s a bit of up and it’s not long until another big WOW moment; a duo of suspension bridges. The setting is fantastic and bouncing your way between the jagged peaks is good fun, or terrifying, depending on your head for heights.

After easing your way down a rock slope and some casual rope-assisted descents the end is nearly in sight. You’ll reach a junction in the forest where you can continue onto the ferry terminal (사량면 사무소), or turn left towards Daehang Beach (대항) if you’re staying the night, or if you’re up for the 5th peak.

Parting Ways

On the ferry terminal trail, turn left when you reach the road and you’ll soon be back at the start.

On the Daehang path, once you reach the road, walk left for a few minutes, then right down the path through the bushes to reach the village. You’ll come out at the back of Dandihae Pension (단디해 펜션).

For the fifth peak, turn right at the road, walk up for a bit and you’ll see a path heading up a hill on the left. Follow this to the peak and around and down to the ferry terminal.

Two suspension bridges silhouetted against the sky on the best day hike in Korea, Saryangdo Looking back up at the suspension bridges from Daehang Beach

Now that your epic hike is over, DON’T FORGET TO STRETCH! The pain will last a few days, but believe me it’s worth every damn inch of muscle ache.

A view of Saryangdo island and the entire ridge from the ferry approaching the best day hike in KoreaYep, you’re gonna be hiking all of that

Tips For The Trail

  • Hang back for a bit when you get off the bus at the start of the trail to leave a gap between you and all those other hikers that piled off the bus.
  • Take a packed lunch and plenty of water. There’s nowhere to fill up on the hike and only one ‘shop’ with very limited, expensive supplies. And it’s not always open.
  • You’ll want to have both hands free for the rock scrambling sections so pack your stuff in a backpack. We always hike with a water bladder instead of a water bottle. Much easier for on the go drinking.

  • Check the weather forecast before setting out and avoid hiking in the rain/just after heavy rain. This trail is dangerous if slippy.
  • Take suncream, even in Winter.
  • Make sure you’ve got appropriate layers. None of the peaks are crazy high, but it’s a long hike with exposed sections so it’s best to have a warm fleece/jacket etc if you’re hiking outside of Summer.
  • As mentioned already, watch your footing. There’s no need to fear for your safety, but be sensible as accidents can and do happen on this ridge. The emergency number in Korea is 119.

  • Make sure you have proper footwear (hiking shoes/boots, or trainers with good grip, not Converse, Toms etc.)
  • Take a headtorch, just in case it gets dark before you’re finished.
  • Personally, I only used my hiking pole on the final descent to the village (and even then mostly just cause Del was pissing and moaning about having carried it the whole way for no reason). If you normally need a hiking pole, take it, but you’ll probably want both hands free for the majority of the hike.

Good To Know

There’s a new CU convenience store and two small supermarkets at the ferry terminal where you can pick up snacks, drinks, food and cooking supplies etc, plus a few coffee shops and local restaurants.

At the village where you start the trail there’s one or two local restaurants but it’s best to stock up in the main town if you need anything.

There are public toilets at the ferry terminal and at the village where the trail starts, but none on the actual hike.

Getting There

*UPDATE:
There is now a second ferry terminal running ferries to Saryangdo out of Misudong on Mireukdo. We’ve added details below*

Tongyeong,  just west of Geoje on the south coast , is the closest city. You can take a direct bus (no train) from Seoul, Busan, Daejeon, Daegu and numerous other cities and towns.

If you’re planning to arrive in Tongyeong the night before your ferry, there are plenty of motels near the bus terminal. There aren’t any hotels or hostels in this part of town. For food and supplies there’s an eMart across the road from the bus terminal and loads of restaurants, bakeries and convenience stores around.

Gaochi Ferry Terminal

Local Bus

You can take local bus 670 to Gaochi (가오치) ferry terminal. Go to the bus stop across the road from the bus terminal to get on the 670. There are just 6 buses a day, but they arrive in time to catch each ferry. Be at the bus stop around 1 hour prior to your chosen ferry departure time (first bus is approx 6:10am).  It takes around 30-40 minutes.

Taxi

There’s a taxi rank outside the bus terminal. This is quicker at around 20 minutes drive and will cost approx ₩15,000.

FERRY TIMES

Departing
GAOCHI

0700

0900

1100

1300

1500

1700

Departing
SARYANGDO

0800

1000

1200

1400

1600

1800


It takes about 40 minutes to reach Saryangdo. The above times are accurate at the time of writing as per the ferry times posted on the website and at the ticket office, however on our last trip there were ferries returning at 10am, 11am and 1pm (no 12pm ferry). As schedules can (and do) change it’s always best to call the Korea travel helpline, 1330, to check up to date times.

One way fares are 6,000₩ on weekdays and 6,500₩ on weekends. You must have your passport or ARC card for Korean residents and you need to fill in the white form before purchasing your tickets. You have to write your name, sex (남 is male, 여 is female), D.O.B. and phone number.

Going under the bridge on the ferry as it approaches Saryangdo Island, home to the best day hike in KoreaCruising under the new bridge that links Saryangdo to neighbouring Hado

Saryangdo Ferry Terminal
(Misudong)

A new ferry service now runs out of Saryangdo Ferry Terminal (사량도여객선터미널), in Misudong on Mireukdo. If you’re planning on staying in Tongyeong for a day or two as well as taking the trip to Saryangdo, then this may be more convenient for you than Gaochi as it’s closer to the main tourist hub. 

Local Bus

You can take a number of local buses from Tongyeong Bus Terminal, or elsewhere, to nearby the Saryangdo Ferry Terminal.  The best way to navigate the bus system is to download Kakao Maps  (iOS/Android). Drop a pin on the passenger terminal and hit the ‘route to’ button (two arrows). Select the bus symbol at the top and it’ll show you which bus number to take, and where to get on and off. You can click into each option for more details. 

Taxi

You can take a metred taxi from anywhere in the city, just look for the red light on top reading 빈차 showing it’s available for hire.

FERRY TIMES

Departing
MISUDONG TERMINAL

0700

0920

1140

1400

1620

Departing
SARYANGDO

0810

1030

1250

1510

1730


Getting Around The Island

There’s a local bus that meets the ferry on Saryangdo and goes to the opposite end of the island where you can start the hike. Be ready and near the front of the ferry when it arrives and head straight for the bus on the left. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a seat, otherwise you’ll be packed in like sardines. You can use a T Money transport card to pay for the bus, or cash. It’s about ₩1,350 or less. It takes 20 minutes to get to the village where you start the hike. The bus will likely stop before this, and some hikers might get off. This is a shortcut route. If you take this trail you emerge at the forest clearing where the snack shack is.

There’s a trail map board in the village showing all the routes and distances, plus signs on the hike, but they are all in Korean only. Snap a picture if you want to reference it later.

To start your hike just walk through the village, past the fields and turn left at the old school, following the sign for 등산로 (hiking trail).

If you stay over in Daehang you can walk back to the ferry port along the main road (30 minutes) or take the recently opened scenic trail around the coast. Head to the end of the beach and up the trail by the jetty. It takes around 1 – 1½ hours to reach the ferry terminal and it’s a stunning walk. Alternatively, take on the 5th peak.

Where To Stay

Although you can visit the island as a day trip from Tongyeong (assuming you get an early enough ferry), it’s a great place to stay over and relax after the hike. The nicest area, easily accessible straight off the mountain, is Daehang. It’s been spruced up a bit in recent times too, with some nice golden sand and the recently opened 둘레길 (dool-lay-gil) – a beautiful coastal walk linking the village with the main ferry port.

There are a number of pensions dotted along the shore and a basic campsite right in front of the beach. It’s advisable to book ahead for a pension.

Pension

Dandihae Pension is available to book through booking.com and is a great option. The owners are super friendly and they have a number of rooms sleeping 2 or more people. As with most pensions they provide a BBQ grill on the balcony and they can prepare hot coals for you to cook on for a small fee. The rooms have a kitchenette, fridge etc. so you can take your own food to cook.

The owners don’t speak English, but if your Korean is good enough, or if you can get a Korean speaker to help, it’s a good idea to call and ask if they can pick up your bags, food, cool bags, etc. from the ferry terminal when you first arrive. That way you can catch the bus and head straight to the hiking trail without having to waste time dropping your bags at the pension first (a 2KM round trip from the ferry!). They’ve done this for us a couple of times. Unless, of course, you’re happy to hike with your bags.

Sitting on the balcony at Dandihae Pension, Saryangdo Island, Tongyeong, South KoreaBreakfast on the balcony at Dandihae Pension

Camping

If you want to camp, there are public toilets, showers (open summer season only) and taps for washing dishes at the (basic) campsite by the beach. That’s the campsite behind Del’s head in the picture above.  

There’s a small shop selling basic supplies like water, beer, cup noodles, cooking paraphernalia, etc. about half way along the beach. It’s part of a pension and kinda looks more like someone’s house than a shop. A couple of seafood restaurants can be found too but options are limited, so it’s a good idea to stock up in the main town or before going to the island.

Daehang Beach on Saryangdo Island, Tongyeong, South KoreaDaehang Beach


Sunrise over the local fishing village at Daehang Beach on Saryangdo Island, Tongyeong, South KoreaSunrise at Daehang Beach


So, are you ready to check out the best day hike in Korea?! Get yourself to Saryangdo and you won’t be disappointed, we promise.

ORGANISE YOUR TRIP TO SARYANGDO NOW


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*Some of the links in this post are affiliate links – if you purchase a product or service via these links, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps offset the cost of running this blog and keeps us travelling so that we can continue to produce great content for you. We greatly appreciate your support!*

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Saryangdo Ridge Hike, the best day hike in South Korea

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Looking towards one of Saryangdo Island's suspension bridges from the ridge hiking trail, with the road bridge and surrounding islands in the distance, South Korea

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roland

Thanks for sharing. Very helpful when planning a visit to Saryang-do. We really enjoyed the hike. We got off a a bus stop right after the village (Donji-Ri). This is were most of the hikers got off the bus. I think we just skipped the first bit of climbing and merged with the hike you describe very soon. Ferry times are still the same

SaPa
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SaPa

Hi, will it be possible to hike the ridge towards end of November? Will it be too cold, or the daylight hours too short?

Anna
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Anna

Very helpful tips and guidance about Saryangdo! Love your pics and layout. We should be at Saryangdo soon 🙂

A complete guide to the BEST day hike in Korea. Little known, even in this hiking obsessed country, Saryangdo Island Ridge Hike is absolutely worth the effort to get to. Read on to find out how to get there, where to stay, how best to tackle the trail and why you NEED to do this hike when you travel South Korea.
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