Foreign chatter, boisterous laughter and the overwhelming smell of Korean food filled the air as we crested the summit of Bagundae Peak. It was a view I had never seen at the top of a mountain. Koreans of every age, clad in neon hiking gear, filled the space. Every inch of the rocky peak was covered with groups of hikers enjoying themselves. They were not drinking water and eating sandwiches like hikers in America, oh no, they were drinking makgeolli (rice wine) and eating full plates of Korean food with chopsticks. Not your typical hiking fare.
Elbows ready, we pushed our way through the crowds of people. It was every man for himself as we crawled our way up the sheer cliff face of the summit to get to the highest point of the mountain. It was here that we found a little nook to rest in. With our feet practically dangling off of the edge we ate our seaweed snacks and reveled in the beautiful views of craggy mountains, a golden Buddha, and the city of Seoul.
Let me back up a few hours here.
It was a national holiday in Korea, which gave us a lovely 3 day weekend. We decided to embark on our first hiking outing in Korea.
Hiking in Korea?!
Yes! Little did I know that 70% of Korea is mountainous, sweet!
So we hopped on a subway and then on a bus and in about 45 minutes we were standing in Bukhansan National Park, the most visited national park in the entire world.
There are many routes to take, but we decided on Bagundae Peak, the highest point in the Bukhansan mountains at 2,800 feet up. The trails are very clearly marked in Korean and English, though it would be impossible to get lost, just follow the brightly dressed Koreans. We learned on this hike that Koreans take hiking very seriously. Every single person was decked out in full hiking gear: boots, pants, shirts, hats, gloves, face masks, backpacks and hiking poles. Owning an outdoor gear store would be very profitable here.
The Bagundae Peak trail is 4.2 kilometers up. We strolled through the forest at a leisurely pace following a stream for the first 1.8 kilometers. Much of this first part of the trek was on metal stairs and rubber floor pads. Not too difficult.
After 1.8 kilometers you come to a large open space with bathrooms, some vending machines, a big deck to sit on, and (for some reason) people selling art. This is where I would suggest turning around if you think you are unable to make it to the top.
The next 2.2 kilometers get significantly steeper, with the last kilometer being a very steep degree of all rocks. It was quite challenging!
Every time you think you are at the top, you look up and there is more to climb. It took us 1 hour and 40 minutes to get up the mountain. We did the first 3 kilometers in 1 hour, and the last kilometer in 40 minutes, that should be a good indicator at the difference in difficulty levels.
The views at the top are pretty darn sweet. The granite peaks of the mountains, the greenery of the valleys and the city of Seoul in the distance make for a gorgeous vista.
We stayed at the top for a little while and basked in the views, and the hoards of people fighting to get to the top. We then went down a kilometer and had our lunch of kimbap and rice wine on the side of a stream.
Bagundae Peak is a challenging but totally doable and easily accessible hike. Definitely a great place to start when coming to Korea!
To get there:
Take Subway Line 3 to Gupabal
Leave the Subway at Exit 1 and go to the bus stop right outside the station.
Take bus 704 or 34 to Bukhansan Fortress- It is about 10 minutes on the bus (give or take) and (I think) its the last stop. You will know to get off when the entire bus does.
Walk about ¼ mile past all of the outdoor gear stores (pick up some kimbap and rice wine on your way) to the entrance of the park and follow the signs!