Hiking Seoul’s Crowded Bukhansan National Park
Inside the Mount Bukhansan visitors center, a framed certificate from the Guinness Book of World Records proclaims the South Korean national park has the most annual visitors per square kilometer out of any park in the world. Hordes of climbers packing an otherwise bucolic 80 square kilometers outside Seoul sounds totally unappealing, but it isn’t as bad as it sounds…until we actually ran into one of these hordes.
That is, until we actually ran into one of these hordes.
In the early part of our 10-kilometer hike, my brother (pictured below) and I passed cherry blossoms in full bloom and a rambunctious elementary school class en route to the old fortress wall. The later part of this hour-long walk was surprisingly tough for two guys unaccustomed to hiking, but we were treated with amazing views. The kids caught up to us and behaved exactly like the Cambodian kids I work with. They say hello, ask where you’re from and then some boy runs in, calls them all crazy, and gets chased by the girls. They were a funny lot.
The trail ran parallel to the fortress walls and the climb leveled off at this point. Through the trees, we heard a roar of conversation growing as we moved closer. We soon came across the horde: hundreds – maybe thousands – of picnicking university students enjoying a day off the campus. They were all well-behaved, but there were so many that walking through this part of the trail without stepping on someone eating their lunch was difficult. Seeing such a tightly packed crowd in a city would have been unusual. On Mount Bukhansan is was something of a surreal sight.
They were all well-behaved, but there were so many that walking through this part of the trail without stepping on someone eating their lunch was difficult. Seeing such a tightly packed crowd in a city would have been unusual. On Mount Bukhansan is was something of a surreal sight.
To the Top
This was all still part of the easier section of the mountain trails, but after another hour or two of hiking that all changed. We neared the highest point of the mountain and the sloping paths were long gone. Now, we had to hold on to metal cables as we hiked up boulders and steep inclines. While nowhere near as crowded as where the university students were hanging out, there were some very brief bottlenecks as people climbing down had to wait for the people climbing up in order to grab onto the cables.
Parts of the final ascent felt almost as much like rope climbing as it did hiking. It was a demanding final kilometer but, as expected, the view was worth it. Even on a slightly hazy day, we saw the city of Seoul and surrounding mountaintops. In the distance, some rock climbers were scaling some of the adjacent peaks’ sheer cliffs. The height they were climbing was terrifying. Just hiking was enough for me.
I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?