Hiking in Seoul

View south from Bukhansan

The view from the top of Bukhansan

Hiking in Seoul: overview

Despite being one of the world’s biggest cities and home to half the population of South Korea, Seoul is a hiker’s dream; with its northern, eastern, and southern limits defined by sizeable summits and ridges, and a number of smaller mountains standing within the city itself, there’s a wide range of hikes you can do from a quick stomp up to see the view from Namsan to more involved half-day jobs up the bigger ones like Bukhansan and Gwanaksan.

They can all be accessed easily by public transport (in many cases directly from the Metro but sometimes also involving a bus), meaning you can eat lunch in town, hike up a mountain, and be home in time for tea.

As well as the outstanding city views and pleasant mountain scenery, Seoul’s mountains also offer plenty of historical and cultural interest including Buddhist temples & shamanic sites, medieval city walls & ancient mountain forts, modern military installations, and even the site of a battle with North Korean would-be assassins; and of course, in the case of Namsan, a massive sightseeing tower and heaps of restaurants & cafes.

Listed here are eight of Seoul’s most famous mountains:

Bukhansan

Summit of Bukhansan

Seoul’s highest point, on clear days Bukhansan offers epic views of the entire city. If you don’t fancy slogging all the way up, you can cheat by starting from Doseonsa Temple halfway up the mountain’s eastern flank and accessible by road.

Gwanaksan

City view from Gwanaksan's Sadang route

The highest mountain on Seoul’s southern boundary, the summit of Gwanaksan is home to a large Buddhist hermitage including the photogenic cliff-top Yeonjudae temple (as well as various telecoms installations, giving it its distinctive masts), and has several equally convenient but quite different routes to choose from making it very popular with Seoulites.

Namsan

Looking north towards Bukhansan from Namsan

Bang in the middle of the city and topped off with N Seoul Tower (as high again as the mountain itself), Namsan is Seoul’s most prominent landmark and symbol. It’s a small mountain and can easily be climbed from popular spots like Myeongdong and Seoul Station, and it’s really more of a sightseeing activity than a serious hike; the views are still great though, and it’s also a popular cherry blossom spot in spring.

Achasan

The amazing view from the Achasan viewpoint

The name Achasan refers to the entire ridge (as well as one of the constituent peaks) between eastern Seoul and neighbouring Guri city; it isn’t all that high, but the views of Seoul are absolutely awesome and you can do a quick walk up & down to the above viewpoint, a full traverse of the ridge, or aim for the highest point (Yongmasan, a detour from the main trail). Achasan’s also dotted with Goguryeo Era (37BC – 668AD) forts, adding a touch of archeological interest.

Inwangsan & Bugaksan

Cherry blossoms at Gyeongbokgung palace, Seoul

The small neighbouring mountains of Inwangsan & Bugaksan stand immediately north of central Seoul, with good views of Namsan and Gyeongbokgung Palace and a whole host of points of interest. Independence Park and Seodaemun Prison Museum are located near Inwangsan, and the mountain has religious significance being home to a famous temple, a holy rock, and a famous shamanic shrine; Bugaksan was off-limits for decades after the 1968 battle following an assassination attempt on the South Korean president by North Korean commandos, and Inwangsan & Bugaksan remain highly sensitive areas with a large military presence (you even need your passport to step foot on Bugaksan)

Dobongsan

View from the top of Dobongsan

Located all the way up on Seoul’s northern edge, Dobongsan’s the most ‘away from it all’ you can get without actually leaving the city (don’t be expecting complete solitude though); it’s probably the wildest of Seoul’s mountains, and although the city views are a bit more distant than those from the others it has the most dramatic mountain scenery. It’s also home to some famous temples on its lower slopes.

Suraksan

View from the top of Suraksan

Although it’s the third biggest of Seoul’s mountains, Suraksan’s location means it gets fewer visitors than the others on this list. This makes it a good choice if you want to get high above the city but don’t like crowded trails (will still be pretty crowded on a sunny weekend though!)

General Information for Hiking in Seoul

Crowds: hiking is super popular in Korea, Seoul’s a massive city, and these mountains have really convenient access, so you have to expect serious crowds on weekends and holidays when the weather’s good; try to hike on weekdays instead.

Season: spring and autumn are by far the nicest times to hike Seoul’s mountains, but they’re all climbable year-round. It gets really cold in winter though, and you may have to deal with snow and ice – the granite domes which form the summits of Bukhansan and Dobongsan are a particularly sketchy prospect in winter and while they do have fixed chains in place, you really also want proper footwear and some clip-on ice spikes (you can pick these up from the outdoors shops and vendors at the bottom of both mountains). Gwanaksan’s fine in winter as long as you stick to the trails from SNU or Gwacheon (and not the Sadang route), and the smaller hills should also be fine (especially Namsan, which gets hordes of visitors for New Year). In summer, prepare to sweat! Bring heaps more water than you think you’ll need.

Pollution: Seoul’s air ranges from crystal clear to decidedly dodgy, and if you climb on a smoggy day you won’t get the views. I always check the PM2.5 levels here before hiking; below 50 (green on the chart) means awesome views, 50 – 100 (yellow) means decent views but hazy in the distance i.e. probably still worth going, but over 100 (orange) means I wouldn’t usually bother (and if it’s hitting 150+ (red) it’s best to stay indoors for health reasons anyway). Here’s the view from Bukhansan on a clear day:

Bukhansan summit view

…and this is it with the PM2.5 at around 80:

View from Bukhansan with moderate air pollution

Mountain locations in Seoul

1.Gwanaksan 2.Namsan 3.Achasan 4.Inwangsan 5.Bugaksan 6.Bukhansan 7.Dobongsan 8.Suraksan

Terrain map of mountain locations in Seoul

Map of mountain locations in Seoul

Any questions about hiking in Seoul? Leave me a comment below and I’ll get back to you.

Useful Links for Hiking in Seoul

Map apps: be aware that Google Maps doesn’t work as well in Korea as in most places. You should download either or both of the Korean map apps, Naver Map & KakaoMap. They’re great for live transportation updates, were both updated with English versions prior to the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics, and they also have the main hiking trails marked (my personal preference is for KakaoMap, but I use both)

Accommodation: search & book rooms in Seoul

See my Korea page for general info on travelling in Korea, and more Korea posts here

Check out my hiking guides for TaipeiKyoto and Tokyo

Also make sure you have a good insurance policy… World Nomads offer flexible travel insurance you can buy even if already overseas – most travel insurance companies won’t cover you if you’ve already left your country, and this can be a crucial point as I once found out the hard way in Thailand.

These are affiliate links i.e. if you use them to purchase insurance or book accommodation, 4corners7seas will receive a commission from World Nomads or Agoda – this commission comes out of their profit margin at no extra cost to you. I’m recommending them because I know and trust them from personal use; thank you in advance should you choose to use my links.


8 comments on “Hiking in Seoul
  1. Corrie VanLaanen says:

    Hello,
    I am currently in Seoul and I am looking for a fun day hike. It is February so what would you suggest. I am an avid hiker from Colorado.
    Thanks
    Corrie VanLaanen

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Corrie,

      I’d go for Gwanaksan probably – easy access, approx 4 hours hiking time, and getting up to a decent height with cracking views of the city. The route from Sadang is my favourite but could be a bit tricky at the top if it’s icy (there are scrambling sections with fixed ropes), so if you’re not equipped for or keen on that maybe go up the SNU route then descend to Gwacheon.

      Hope you have a great hike, and let me know if you have any more questions!

  2. Ruth says:

    Hello,
    I have a 14 hour layover in Seoul beginning of November and would love to get a good hike in while I’m there. I get in at 4 am and don’t fly out until 6 pm. What and where would you recommend I go and do. I’m from Colorado and do a lot of hiking.
    Thank you!
    Ruth

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Ruth,

      The obvious suggestion would be Namsan. It isn’t a very involved hike – if you’re used to Colorado it’s really just a quick walk up a small hill! – but you can do it directly from Seoul Station, which is where the airport train terminates. It’s the main landmark bang in the middle of Seoul with some nice views, so you can get a good feel for the lay of the land. Also there’s Seoul Tower at the top of the hill, so you could add a little sightseeing to your hike and go up to the viewing deck for the bird’s eye view of the city. Then if you descend to Myeongdong, that’s a busy little shopping area to check out and grab some lunch before walking (or hopping on the subway 2 stops) back to Seoul Station. This certainly isn’t the best hike in the city, but should make for a satisfying quick Seoul visit and get you back to the airport in good time.

      I’d hesitate to recommend any of the other hikes, due to the extra transportation time and the longer hiking time – some of them would be possible, but could be cutting it a bit tight for the onward flight.

      Do give me a shout if you have any further questions about Namsan or any of the others – would be happy to help with specifics like train times etc

      • Ruth says:

        Hi Simon,
        Thank you so much for the info, I greatly appreciate it. Now, I am tempted to ask about some of the other more “involved” hikes, as you would say, my feet are itching. haha. I figure, if I give one of the other ones a go, i can assess my time as I go, and if I feel at all, like I’m going to get into a pickle I will just turn around early. Seeing as my flight gets in at 4 am, I thought that with getting out and about at the crack of dawn it would possibly give me enough time to venture out a little. What are your thoughts?
        Thank you!

        • Simon Norton says:

          Hi Ruth,

          Ok if you want to go for something bigger than Namsan, I’d definitely go for Gwanaksan as you can access it on Line 4 directly from Seoul Station. It’s about 90 minutes from the airport, with just the one transfer at Seoul Station (i.e. Airport Express to Seoul Station then Line 4 to Sadang); the other higher mountains on this list involve multiple transfers or buses. I’d suggest starting from Sadang Station and descending to Gwacheon Station (both on Line 4).

          First train from the airport is at 5.20ish. It’s usually a very efficient airport so you’ve a good chance of making that first train (or one soon after), meaning you could hopefully be starting your hike from Sadang around 7am.

          Now, for me Sadang to Gwacheon is around a 5-hour hike, but I’ve done it before, know the route well, hike quickly, and don’t really stop much. Obviously I don’t know how fast you go, and the various temples & viewpoints can be quite time-consuming stops, but I’d be happy doing this hike aiming to finish around noon/1pm, and then it’s around 2 hours back to the airport from Gwacheon so you’d get back there 2 or 3pm in good time for a meal and your onward flight. I did hear from another reader that it took them 8 hours to do the SNU route though, which I consider to be a 4-hour hike! So as you say, judge it as you go and if you’re not near the summit by say 10:30 you’ll probably need to turn around & head down. The Sadang route has great views all the way up though, so even if you don’t go to the top it’d still be rewarding.

          I’d also suggest loading up on food & drink at a bakery or convenience store at the airport before you start, so you can eat as you go and not waste any time stopping for food in Sadang. And make sure you don’t descend on the SNU route, as you’d then have to mess about with buses and extra transfers.

          Again, if you have any more questions fire away, and if not let me know how you get on!

          • Ruth says:

            Hi Simon,
            Just wanted to say thank you for the great advice. Everything went according to plan. First train from the airport at 5;15, I exited Sadang station about 6:45 and headed on up. It was perfect timing. The sun just peeped up over the mountains about 15 min up. So I had great light for some great photos. It is a lovely hike, and a perfect interlude after 20 something hours on a plane. Sadang route is definitely the way to go, picturesque and the ropes and scrambling make it interesting enough, but nothing to really be worried about at all.
            I was up and down by 11 am, happily sipping a latte at Starbucks just past Gwacheon station, had oodles of time to get back to the airport, take a shower (Incheon has tied the top spot with Singapore as far as airports go) take a nap, have some food and then pop back on the plane. Thanks again!

            • Simon Norton says:

              Hi Ruth,

              Brilliant, thanks for the report and I’m glad it worked out nicely! You made good time with the hike – I knew it’d be fine for a fast hiker but was hesitant to recommend it at first as it’s impossible to know how fast readers’ hiking speeds are. So definitely a good call to do Gwanaksan, I don’t think you’d have found Namsan very satisfying.

              And yes, Incheon is an excellent airport. As layovers go, I think yours was about as good as they can be!

              Cheers

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