Hiking Hallasan – South Korea’s Tallest Mountain
Located in Jeju island, Hallasan (Halla) Mountain is one of the “top three” mountains in South Korea situated at 1,950 meters above sea level. It was designated Korea’s National monument in 1966 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002. The mountain has over 360 volcanic cones (Oreums) scattered around it with a crater lake at the summit that is said to be active even though it has not erupted in more than 5000 years. Mt. Halla is a big part of Jeju island and its culture and can almost be seen standing tall from any part of the island.
There are six hiking trails to choose from; however, only two (Seongpanak and Gwaneumsa) reach the summit. The remaining four although shorter have also scenic views. The trails look different through the four seasons, each unique and distinctive.
– Seongpanak Trail -> 9.6km, One-way to the summit
– Gwaneumsa Trail -> 8.7km, One-way to the summit
– Donneko Trail -> 7km, One-way to Nambyeokbungijeom
– Eorimok Trail -> 6.8km, One-way to Nambyeokbungijeom
– Yeongsil Trail -> 5.8km, One way to Nambyeokbungijeom
– Seokgulam Trail, 1.5km, famous for visitors that want to have a break in the woods
All trails are open all year round. Seongpanak is longer but also the easiest to hike if you are inexperienced in hiking. Most of this trail is shaded by overgrown trees, providing you a cool shade if you are hiking during the summer. Gwaneumsa, on the other hand, is the most scenic trail with magnificent views of mountains and deep valleys but a lot steeper and harder to hike.
Combining these two trails into one hike is highly recommend. Go up Seongpanak and descend through Gwaneumsa for the best experience. However, this can be a challenge if you drove to the beginning of the trail, considering you have to find your back to the Seongpanak parking lot.
Eorimok trail is known to be famous for travelers who want to experience the magic scenery at Halla but don’t have much time. The path has both scenic views of oak trees, valleys, and Baengnokdam lake.
The trails open 5:30 am in Spring and Fall; 5:00 am for summer, and 6:00 am for winter.
Cut off Times
Although most online sources say it would take 6-9 hours to the peak and back from Seongpanak, my friend and I completed the trail in 5.40 hours (breaks included). We are both competitive, so we challenged ourselves to hike in less than six hours. We arrived at the Seongpanak trail entrance a little past 8:00 am bought vegetarian Kimbap and coffee from the shop at the parking lot before starting our hike at 8:30 am.
The start of the trail is pretty flat, and most of the path has woven sisal looking mat, which simplified the climb since it was raining. In the beginning, the path was pretty busy with other hikers, but we managed to leave them behind and enjoy nature’s sounds. We steadily paced ourselves throughout the hike. We made it to the first shelter – Sokbat Shelter within an hour, and since we were not tired, we decided to continue to the second shelter.
After the first shelter, the terrain changes, the course is mainly made of stone with a few wooden staircases. This area was quite steep due to the rain. We made it to the second shelter, where we had 10 minutes of rest to drink some water and snack to energize for the last part of the hike. Jindallaebat shelter is big, with plenty of room both inside and outside. The inside is also air-conditioned, which is a perfect place to cool off.
After the short rest, we made our way to the top. This last part of the hike was different; there was a change in vegetation from big leafy trees to Korean fir trees. Also, most of the trail consists of staircases. Unfortunately, we could only see a few feet ahead of us as the area was foggy and misty due to the rains. Close to the summit, we ascended steep stairs for about 20 minutes. When we finally made it to the summit, we felt a sense of relief and accomplishment.
The summit was crowded with people having mini picnics and taking pictures. We joined the line of people waiting to take photos at the peak before finding a comfortable place to enjoy our meal and recuperate.
It was too foggy to see the crater; nevertheless, we were excited to have reached the top. We planned to descend through Gwaneumsa but canceled it due to the heavy rains; we decided to go down a familiar path.
Getting to Hallasan
Depending on where you are planning to start hiking, you can get to the starting point either by bus or car. Seongpanak trail is pretty accessible from Seogwipo side while Gwaneumsa from Jeju city. We found going by private much more comfortable and hustle free before and after the hike. If you are starting from Seongpanak and are driving, make sure not to miss the stop (National Park) as you would have to drive another 3 km to find a place to turn since the roads are pretty narrow.
Parking fee: 1,800 KRW
For buses to Seongpanak Trail: Bus 781 will take you to the start of the trail from Seogwipo
Preparation before the hike/ Things to remember
The first time I tried hiking Hallasan, I was discouraged by friends since I had little to no hiking experience. So before embarking on this journey, I did a little research and asked for some tips and advice in the ‘Hiking in Korea (한국에서 등산)’ Facebook community. Below are some of the tips they shared and some information based on my experience hiking Hallasan Mountain.
– Start your hike early, especially if you are a slow hiker; you need to be at the last shelter by 13:00 and summit before 14:00 after which all hikers should start their descent.
– Carry enough drinking water for the hike; there no areas to get drinking water on the trail, though you might be lucky to see some streams in the summer. Remember to carry what you can drink during the hike; otherwise, too much of it will slow you down.
– Have layered clothing and a raincoat with you just if it rains as the weather is quite unpredictable. It can get cold/hot/ rainy on the same day.
– Carry some food to snack on along the way or when you get to the summit
– The toilets by the shelters don’t have sinks (yet) to wash wands so you might want to carry extra water to wash your hands or wet tissues
– Remember to show your picture at the peak of Hallsan at the tourism office to get a certificate of completion.
– Keep an open mind, enjoy the nature