Hiking in Seoul: Gwanaksan


City view from Gwanaksan's Sadang route

Gwanaksan (관악산, or 冠岳山 in Chinese characters) is located on the southern edge of Seoul, forming part of the boundary between Seoul city and the neighbouring province of Gyeonggi-do. Standing at 632m it isn’t as high as Bukhansan and Dobongsan on the city’s northern edge, but it’s more easily reached from most of Seoul so offers a good combination of being very convenient but still getting up to a fair height above the city; it’s also home to some beautiful temples, and the city views are awesome on a clear day. Gwanaksan is therefore very popular with the legions of Seoul hikers and the trails and viewpoints can get pretty crowded on weekends in fair weather; try to hike it on a weekday if you can.

Yeonjudae cliff-top temple, Gwanaksan

Yeonjudae temple, at the top of Gwanaksan

There are three main routes up Gwanaksan; the most-trodden trail goes up from Seoul National University on the west side of the mountain, with another good trail up the east side from Gwacheon Station on Line 4. These two trails are well-maintained, easygoing hiking paths through the forest; the most interesting trail is the one up the north ridge from Sadang, which is far more exposed and therefore offers cracking views out across Seoul from multiple viewpoints on the way up. The Sadang trail also covers much rougher terrain with some rock scrambling in places, which is fairly serious on the final section with fixed ropes and chains for you to pull yourself up.

View over Seoul from Gwanaksan

My recommended route for hiking Gwanaksan is to go up the Sadang trail, then descend to Gwacheon rather than SNU as Gwacheon has direct subway access (meaning you don’t have to mess around with buses). However, for those who don’t like heights or don’t feel confident about tackling the semi-rock climbing sections on the Sadang route, I recommend going up from SNU and down to Gwacheon (or vice versa).

Map of the main Gwanaksan hiking routes

Red:Sadang trail. Green:Gwacheon trail. Blue:SNU trail

Roughly speaking, each of the routes takes around 90 minutes to 2 hours one way, though the Sadang route is slightly longer and tougher than the others so may take a little more time. It’s also quite easy to end up spending a fair time at the summit enjoying the views and checking out the temple buildings, so as a rough guide you can probably expect a 4 to 5 hour hike.

Gwanaksan Summit Area

There’s quite a lot going on at the top of Gwanaksan, with a radio broadcast facility (which is the upper end of a staff-only cable car from Gwacheon), a radar station, and the large Yeonjuam Hermitage (연주암) complex including the famous clifftop Yeonjudae temple. The mountain actually has twin summits, with the radio antennae on the south summit and the radar station on the north summit; the south summit is completely covered by the radio facility and inaccessible to hikers, so the goal for your hike is the north summit. There you’ll find a big slab of granite just below the radar ‘golf ball’ to chill out on and take photos from, and Yeonjudae which is accessed via a small path round the cliff top.

The communications array on the summit of Gwanaksan

Don’t aim for this!

The radar station at the top of Gwanaksan

The golf ball is the goal

The rest of the Yeonjuam Hermitage buildings are spread out just below the ridge connecting the two summits, on the east side of the ridge.

Temple detail at Yeonjuam Hermitage near the top of Gwanaksan

Roof detail of the main Yeonjuam temple hall

Yeonjudae temple at the top of Gwanaksan

View out from Yeonjudae

Sadang Route

Take exit 4 from Sadang Station, walk straight past the bus stops and up the little slope on the right, and turn right on Seungbang-gil just after this sculpture:

Sadang Station area

Follow the road to the end, passing this map:

Start of the Gwanaksan trail from Sadang

…and continue up following the signs for Gwaneumsa temple (관음사):

Signpost on the way to Gwanaksan

Totem poles and lanterns on the approach to Gwaneumsa temple

Totem poles and lanterns on the approach to Gwaneumsa temple

Gwaneumsa temple

Gwaneumsa temple

Temple on Gwanaksan’s Sadang route

From the temple, follow the signs for Yeonjudae (연주대):

Signpost on the Gwanaksan trail

This takes you through one of the open air gyms which are a common sight on Seoul’s mountains; if it’s a nice day there’ll likely be a bunch of people using it. Just after the gym, at this signpost make sure to take the path for Yeonjudae (and not the Seoul Trail):

Signpost on the Gwanaksan trail

From there, the way is generally clear. As you hike up you’ll pass a number of helipads and military bunkers (pay attention to the ‘no entry’ signs! They’re in Korean, but obvious enough), little reminders of the unfinished business between North and South Korea which can be so easily forgotten as you go about daily life in Seoul:

Military bunker on Gwanaksan

Last time I was there, one of the signposts was broken:

Signpost on Gwanaksan

The best route is actually up to the left from there, scrambling up these slabs:

Scrambling up the rocks on Gwanaksan's Sadang route

Update (2020): not only have they fixed the broken sign, they’ve actually installed a new set of wooden steps up the first section of slabs.

So now it looks like this:

You still walk up a short section of stone after the wooden steps, and then you reach the older metal steps.

Just after the steps there’s a nice rest area with views on all sides from a prominent point on the ridge. This rest area makes a good goal for a shorter hike if you don’t have time to go all the way up but you want to get up above the city for the views, or if you’re mostly looking for somewhere to take some photos from. I’ve often hiked from Sadang station up to this rest area and then back down the same way.

These next 3 photos are from the rest area, including your first view of the summit ahead:

The Gwanaksan ridge from Sadang

Clear view of Bukhansan, Dobongsan, Namsan, and Inwangsan & Bugaksan:

City view from Gwanaksan

Looking east towards Gangnam and Lotte World Tower:

View of Lotte World Tower from Gwanaksan

From there it’s up & down along the ridge, with more outstanding views as you go. Be prepared for some rock scrambling on the final summit section; some of it involves pulling yourself up using fixed ropes.

Scrambling section at the top of the Sadang route

Scrambling section at the top of the Sadang route

Scrambling section at the top of the Sadang route

Scrambling section at the top of the Sadang route

Scrambling section at the top of the Sadang route

It’s good fun, but won’t be for everyone – if that’s you, hike up from SNU or Gwacheon instead!

Seoul National University Route

To get to the start of the trail, ride the Seoul Metro to SNU Station on Line 2 and take exit 3, and then jump on a bus at the stop there. At time of writing you can take bus numbers 5511, 5513, 5515A, 5515B, 5520, or 5528; this could of course change, so the main thing to check is that the destination of the bus is Seoul National University Entrance (서울대입구, Seoul-dae-ibku). You can also walk, which takes about 20 minutes; if walking take exit 2 then just follow the main road (Gwanak-ro) south up and over the hill to SNU.

This big modern gate on the left is the university entrance:

A view of Gwanaksan from the Seoul National University entrance gate

The Gwanaksan trail is a short distance beyond that, also on the left, marked with this big traditional gate:

The start of the Gwanaksan trail near Seoul National University

There’s a map there to the side, and you can easily find your way up the trail; the lower part is fully paved, then it becomes more of a mountain trail further up but with the wooden walkways and flights of steps in places it’s fairly easy going. You’re hiking up through the forest, so you don’t catch much in the way of views until you get to the top. After two hours or so you reach an intersection on the summit ridge (often manned by a vendor selling makgeolli, a fermented rice drink favoured by older Korean hikers – some like to sit and get quite pissed up!); turning right leads over to the radio facility, turning left leads directly along the ridge to the radar golf ball, and going straight ahead leads down to Yeonjuam Hermitage. The ridge is a fun bit of rock scrambling, but if you don’t fancy that go to Yeonjuam first, and from there there’s an easier path up to Yeonjudae and the golf ball.

Intersection of the routes on Gwanaksan

The intersection. From this angle the summit (and way down to Sadang) is behind me, the SNU route is down to the right and Yeonjuam (and the way down to Gwacheon) is down to the left

If you’ve come up another way and want to descend to SNU, from Yeonjuam walk up to the ridge and SNU is signposted from the trail intersection.

Gwacheon Route

To descend to Gwacheon, head down to the main Yeonjuam temple building and then take the path down the mountain from there; from Yeonjuam start by following the signs for 화장실 (which means toilet), then keep going down the path past the toilets and following further signs to 과천 (Gwacheon).

Start of the path down to Gwacheon

Start of the path down to Gwacheon from Yeonjuam

Gwacheon route

Like the SNU route, it’s an easy and well-maintained trail through the shelter of the forest. When you reach the road at the bottom, turn left and then after a couple hundred metres turn right on the pedestrian street through the residential area to the station.

If you want to do the hike the opposite way and ascend from Gwacheon, take exit 7 from Gwacheon Station and walk straight along the path past some residential blocks.

Gwacheon Station

Exit 7 of Gwacheon Station’s along this sci-fi tunnel

The path goes under one road and then ends at another (Gwanaksan-gil); turn left along the road and then a short distance along you’ll come to a park on the right where a stream comes down the mountain:

Route from Gwacheon

Cross over the bridge to walk up the right bank of the stream, past a bunch of restaurants and the lower cable car station; just past the cable car station you come to some steps on the right, which is the start of the trail:

Bottom of the Gwacheon hiking trail

Click here for more hiking in Seoul

Have you climbed Gwanaksan? How was it? Any questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.

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24 comments on “Hiking in Seoul: Gwanaksan
  1. Reni says:

    Woow, credit to you so precisely detailed and structured.
    We are heading out this weekend,and will follow your guidelines.
    Thank you.

  2. Salma says:

    Brilliant, will be heading there tomorrow and great to have such detailed descriptions.

    • Simon Norton says:

      Cheers Salma! It’s nice hiking weather in Seoul this week – I actually hiked up Bukhansan just yesterday! Hopefully the pollution’s light tomorrow and you’ll get clear views. Enjoy!

      • Salma says:

        We took the Sadang route and enjoyed the entire day in the mountains. It did take us over 8 hours though (with lots of breaks) as we went over every peak there is so I am sure we took an even longer route than described above. On the way down, we took the Seoul National University route which was lovely. It was an amazing spring’s day and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks again for the insight.

  3. Jeremy Bruce says:

    I started from Samsung san and came down to The SNU trail. There’s is a sign at one point leading to an intermediate trail Which is unmarked but easy enough to follow (not so much to traverse). Lot’s of hoisting yourself up rocks and splendid views. Much fewer people too if you want to get away from the crowds

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Jeremy,

      Nice, thanks for the info, I haven’t been up Samsungsan yet. You traversed Samsung to Gwanak from peak to peak? How long did it take? Sounds good, will have to check it out

  4. Fikri says:

    Hi, I am visiting Seoul in December from the 18th – 26th. Is it advisable or worth it to hike using the Sadang Route for the duration i’m in Seoul ?

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Fikri,

      The Sadang route is mostly fine in winter, but the scrambling sections at the top will be very tricky if there’s already snow & ice up there. So I’d only advise going that route in winter if you’re an experienced hiker and confident with winter conditions. The Gwacheon and SNU routes should be fine though.

      • Fikri says:

        Oh alright ! The summit will be the same though right ? As in the views from the top will almost be the same as the Sadang route if I take either the Gwacheon and SNU routes cause I really like the pictures of the views you took from the Sadang route but if it’s dangerous, I’d rather not risk it.

        • Simon Norton says:

          Yeah the summit will be fine and you’ll still get the views, no worries.

          Another option – sometimes when I want a shorter hike, I just hike up the first bit of the Sadang route. Around the halfway point there’s a long flight of metal steps going up a steep rocky section, and there’s a great viewing deck at the top of those steps. So sometimes I just hike up to that, and several of the best photos on this page were taken from that viewpoint.

          • Fikri says:

            Hi, i’ll be landing on Wednesday. Is the weather there now safe/good to climb ? Thanks for your help

            • Simon Norton says:

              Hi Fikri,

              Yes should be fine, but it snowed this weekend (I’m actually in Seoul right now) so I don’t recommend the Sadang route unless you’re prepared for scrambling in icy conditions. You can still have a nice hike using the SNU and Gwacheon routes, and present forecast for Wednesday is 7 degrees in Seoul (so maybe 0 or 1 at the top) which is fairly warm for December. Enjoy!

              • Fikri says:

                Hi ! Thank you for all the help. Had a really great time exploring the area while I was there. Really glad that the information here is up-to-date and helpful. Keep up the good work and thank you so much.

  5. RaKee says:


    Thanks for writing this blog, you have provided very detailed information and it was very helpful.
    Thank You.

  6. Anna says:

    Thank you for this really useful guide! I just hiked the Sadang trail today and because I didn’t have any WiFi or data, I was reliant on your photos to help me find the way. Super fun and I loved climbing up all the rocks. Thanks again!

  7. Anna 2 says:

    Hi Simon, thanks for that wonderful description. I really want to hike the Sadang route, do you think it would be safe to hike it alone? When I hiked up Samseongsan from Anyang, I was shocked by how little trail markings there were. I sort of got lost and climbed up unsecured rocks that did not seem like they were part of the official trail. I like rock climbing, but I’d like to avoid getting lost if possible, haha. Is the trail marked well?
    And another question: I want to see the sunrise over Seoul, do you know a good spot to do that now in Summer? You said something about hiking only part of Sadang trail up to a viewpoint after some metal stairs. You think I would be able to see the sunrise from there? And is there some rock climbing prior to those stairs? I have good head lamps, so I am not worried about some simple hiking, but rocks are out of the question in the dark, I suppose. Thank you!

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Anna, sorry for the slow reply, blogging’s on the backburner a bit due to the pandemic.

      I’ve never done a sunrise hike in Seoul, but if I did I think Gwanaksan from Sadang would be the one I’d go for. The viewpoint at the top of the steps would be a nice sunrise spot, sure – I’ve been up there for sunset, as you can see in the pics.

      The main trails are generally very obvious (though I’ve checked out a couple of more minor ones and those are much rougher) and well signed, but if you look at the 18th image on this page you can see the broken signpost – they should’ve fixed it by now, but if not you could get thrown off course there so be careful with that.

      If you turn left at that signpost, in front of you is the rock scramble shown in the next image (19th down from the top) with the steps & flag at the top of the rocks. That’s the main rock scramble until the final summit section, so take a look at the rocks in that pic and decide if you’re happy to tackle those in the dark and base your decision on that.

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