On our third day in Seoul, South Korea, we decided we had enough of the scene in Gangnam (there is only so many times I can do that dance! 😉 ) and the temples north of the river. So, we consulted our trusty Seoul Selection Guide, and saw that there were four recommended options for hiking: Mt. Bukhansan, Mt. Bugaksan, Mt. Namsan, and Mt. Inwangsan. We knew we wanted to do Mt. Namsan later that night to visit the N Seoul Tower, so Mt. Inwangsan seemed like the logical option for an earlier in the day hike. Plus, the book touted it as having “an unusual rock formation,” and I am all about my unusual rocks.
Seoul is a high-tech, chic bustling metropolis, and most of the city’s highlights are in busy, urban areas. There’s nothing wrong with that. As a whole, Seoul is one of my favorite cities, and while I have some qualms with the superficiality and excess on display in some places, but that’s another story for another post. However, it’s quite easy to escape all of that in one of the mountains located around Seoul. To me, it’s the way the city offers the ‘best of both worlds’, so to speak, that makes it so alluring.
One thing I am not “all about” is directions. For someone who travels a decent amount, I get lost with an inordinate frequency, but I think that’s as much a byproduct of me not following directions and instead getting distracted and drawn to random things I see, and then trying to improvise finding my way back to wherever it is that I need to go. Such was the case with this particular hike…
After exiting Dongnimmun Station (Line 3), we were supposed to head towards the Hyundai Apartments to access the trailhead to Mt. Inwangsan. However, I saw the Independence Gate, and wandered that way, instead.
This diversion was worthwhile, as it was probably only 5 or so minutes out of the way, and neat to see. I’d recommend doing it…and on the plus side, you no longer will need to take that trip to Paris to see that other gate. 😉
Anyway, getting back on track, we set out for Hyundai Apartments. Now, I love the Seoul Guide, but it directs you to go behind the Hyundai Apartments without any real explanation as to where they are or how you locate them. Same goes for some of the sites I Googled while trying to figure out how to find them. We ended up just wandering towards a tall set of buildings and got lucky, as they happened to be the right ones.
In case you’re wondering, the photo above shows the Hyundai Apartments…in case you happened upon this post trying to locate them. It’s not exactly a grand introduction to the trail, but the road that winds around the apartments leads you to the trailhead.
It’s sort of an inauspicious start, but once we got to this little gate, we knew we were on the right track. Or so we thought. Continuing up this way, though, it felt like we were wandering into a secluded little village, and some of the places by which the trail passed definitely seemed like private property. At this point, we wondered if the book was leading us into a little urban exploring and/or Korean jail.
As we saw a few other people who were also clearly hiking at this point, we became a little less concerned with where we were. Still, as a word to anyone else planning on doing this hike, it’s not your conventional set-up.
Although it winds past a variety of little private-ish places, this path is definitely rewarding, with some beautiful murals and other neat design touches before getting to the main part of the “mountain” trail.
The hike is unique for the reasons stated above, but it’s also cool in that it has a “Choose Your Own Adventure!” kind of vibe. At various points in the trail, there are multiple paths to take, most of which will take you by different routes to the same place. However, there are some “traps” that take you nowhere (such as the path to the left above that leads to a gated home). These are pretty easy to spot, though, and we spent maybe 2 minutes total backtracking to get to the correct path after picking the wrong route.
The trail starts to get interesting when you get to the various shrines. The main shrine is Guksadang, which is described as one of Korea’s most important shamanist shrines. I’m not quite sure why it’s so important, but they did perform exorcisms there, so that could be why. Hopefully there are no lingering demonic spirits in the mountain. Although that would make for a pretty awesome horror B-movie.
After this, there are some stairs leading up to Seonbawi (or the Zen Rocks).
The large rocks of Seonbawi are supposed to resemble a Buddhist Monk, but they look as much like literally anything else as they do a Buddhist Monk to me. Maybe I just don’t see it, or maybe whomever originally said that had used LSD on the path to an enlightened mind. Regardless, the rock formations here do look pretty cool. This is said to be a popular spot for praying (we saw one woman here), and it is also said to bestow sons upon pregnant women. We quietly passed behind the woman praying, and continued along the trail up behind the rocks.
Once up and around the rocks, you can start to see some gorgeous, sweeping views of Seoul. That tower in the distance is N Seoul Tower on Mt. Namsan.
Continuing a bit farther along the trail…
Once in the higher elevations (and really, none of the elevations are all that high, this is a decidedly easy hike), the area feels much more rural with the shrines, streets, and cars giving ways to trees, rocks, and…gardens?
The view from the top is stunning, and really rewarding. We ended up going down before sunset to get to N Seoul Tower, but in hindsight, I would just stay up here. The view is different and not quite as good, but when we were up here, there was barely anyone else around, versus the throngs of people at N Seoul Tower. Plus, the photos of sunset from here with the Old Fortress Walls of Seoul in the foreground would have been much better than distant skyline shots I got from N Seoul Tower.
Once you get to the Old Fortress Wall of Seoul, you can walk along it, double back and continue down on the trail, or cross over to the other side of the wall to head down. On the other side of the wall is a much more maintained trail back down, and it feels like this is the kind of trail (with picnic spots and other areas along the way) that was probably built and maintained by Seoul’s equivalent of a Parks Department. It felt cleaner and more polished, which I supposed would be an upside if you wanted to visit a park, but I far preferred the adventure and mystique of the pathways through the random private-ish areas and up through the shrines. It felt like this was an actual slice of Korean culture, and an area with a laid back lifestyle.
Overall, if you are thinking about doing this hike, or are visiting Seoul and wondering about things to do, I would definitely put this on your list of possibilities. It was one of our highlights in Seoul, and after spending a lot of time in the urban areas and the historical shrines in the city (as well as those in Kyoto, Japan), this was a really nice change of pace. If you aren’t going to be there long enough to want a change of pace or aren’t interested in the Old Fortress Walls, skip it. In terms of the hike itself, there’s absolutely nothing to it. From that perspective, I would have liked something a bit more “intense” or that spent a bit more time in the mountains, so I think I might try Mt. Bukhansan (Bukhansan National Park) next time. It’s a bit more difficult to access and is more of a day trip, so for those with limited time in Seoul, Mt. Inwangsan is probably the best option.
Have you ever been to Seoul? What are your highlights? Ever hiked in its mountains? Does this hike look appealing to you? Any other thoughts or questions? Please share in the comments below!