HIKING IN KOREA: Slaying Jirisan Mountain (지리산)
Standing at 1,915 meters above sea level, Jirisan is one of Korea’s top three legendary mountains and South Korea’s first national park in 1969. Located in the south, Jirisan is South Korea’s highest mountain mainland and second-highest after Hallasan mountain, located in Jeju. Jirisan, also known as “mountains of the odd and wise,” occupies three provinces (Gyeongnam, Jeollanam-do, and Jeollabuk-do) can be accessed from five cities; Hadong, Hamyang, Sancheon, Gurye, and Namwon. In addition, the mountain houses many valleys located over 20 ridges with plenty of flora and fauna.
There are various hiking trails, though I would like to highlight two routes that include Cheonwangbong peak (1915m – the highest peak) for people looking for shorter or longer courses depending on the level of fitness. For more hiking options, visit the National park’s website.
Longer Route: Daewonsa Temple – Jungsanri Information Center. (Blue – See image)
We took this trail from around Daewonsa Temple and finished at Jungsanri Info Center approximately 20km. While doing our research, we settled for this route – it’s not so popular, we assumed for this long trek to the peak. Taking this route, you will see three peaks; Seoribong, Jungbong, and Cheonwangbong. If you are adventurous and fit enough, you can include Kalbawi rock and Yuam Falls before getting to the Jungsanri information center.
Shorter route: (Yellow – See image)
Jungsanri Hiking Information Center -> Kalbawi Rock -> Yuam Falls -> Jangteomok Shelter -> Cheonwangbong Peak -> Beopgyesa Temple -> Rotary Shelter -> Kalbawi Rock -> Jungsanri Hiking Information Center. This is a popular route; however, I think it isn’t exciting since it’s the same terrain with not much to see.
Jirisan is probably the most challenging but also most rewarding hike I have done so far. The start of the hike is graced with sounds of flowing streams and is mainly shaded –perfect for hiking even in summer. The stretch to the first shelter is quite long but relatively flat and gets steeper after the shelter as you head towards the peaks. On a clear day, you can see beautiful landscapes and scenery along the way.
The view at Cheonwanbong is breathtaking, and the top is spacious enough to rest, energize and grab a meal. However, just like most summits in Korea, Cheonwangbong summit was pretty crowded – we had to wait in line for 10-15 minutes before taking a picture with the summit stone. Descending from the peak to Junsanri shelter is a steep slope with wooden staircases and rocks. Most of the way down was quite dull except for Beopgyesa Temple – I highly recommend checking out the temple if you still have time.
We started the hike pretty late (8:00 am) and found ourselves running through the descent to reach our stop before sunset. Therefore, I highly recommend starting early, possibly at 6:00 am or earlier (the national park is open from 3:00 am), to avoid rushing towards the end of the hike.
How to get there
It doesn’t matter which city you are in; you can get to Jirisan by intercity bus. For example, if you leave from Daejeon (my city), take a bus from Daejeon Bus Terminal to Gurye and then hop on a city bus to Jungsanri.
I would say it is pretty challenging to get to Daewonsa by public transportation. Some buses run to the temple; however, it might be challenging to find one if you are not conversant with Korean. We drove on a Friday night from Daejeon to Sancheong, which took us 1-1.5 hours from Daejeon to our accommodation. Then, we went to the temple at the start of our trail and took a taxi back from Jungsanri to Daewonsa (starting point) that cost us approximately 30,000 Korean won (10km).
Where to Stay
It was hard to find accommodations on Booking.com and Agoda.com around Daewonsa temple; the closest accommodation we could find was 6km from the Daewonsa parking lot. So we spent a night at Sanceong Sinsegye Jirisan Resort.- a spacious and price-friendly pension located in the mountains perfect for group travelers. Unfortunately, the pension doesn’t come with breakfast but has a small convenience store on the ground floor where you can make your coffee and a cup of ramen. Other accommodation options include Sancheong Jirisan Osong Pension and Sancheong Gaon Nuri Pension, all less than 10km from Daewonsa temple. There are more accommodation options around Jungsanri, so starting from here could be a better option if you travel by public transport.
Things to Remember
Hiking Jirisan is quite a challenge, remember to;
- Start the hike early, especially if you are not as fit, so you have enough time to go up and spend some time at the peak
- Carry enough water with you; if you are okay drinking water from the streams, there are a few places to refill your water bottle.
- The shelters are currently not open to trekkers due to the COVID-19 pandemic
- The peak is quite windy – remember to bring a windbreaker
- Carry enough food to snack on along the way before you summit
- Mental strength is more important than physical fitness – the hike is strenuous; it’s essential to keep positive at all times and keep going.
Overall, Jirisan was outstanding! I would love to go back one day in a different season and perhaps slay a separate section for more than a day. Happy hiking!