Hiking is definetly a favorite Korean passtime, and it's something that everyone should endulge in at least once while in Korea. The East coast mountains are much larger and more beautiful, but you can easily hike one of the many mountains right in Seoul. It is a day long activity and you'll probably pass out early that night, but it's really not THAT hard if you're in reasonable shape. You'll have to pay a small fee when entereing the park and just follow the crowds from the subway. There are easier climbs for smaller mountains and hills all around seoul. Lights at night make for gorgeous city views.
Equipment: Just a good pair of shoes and dress for the weather of course- it will be colder than in Seoul.. which is nice in the summer.
Back in Hong Kong I used to go hiking almost every weekend. I just loved the hiking trails with its beautiful scenery and tranquility...
After coming to Korea, I was asked to join a hiking-trip on my very first weekend and immediately agreed to come along, looking forward to another great hiking experience. Well, it indeed was an experience... but one of the kind that made me end up not joining more than a total of two hiking excursions until today.
Things you should know about hiking in Korea:
a) Korea's mountain trails are not the horizontal, long-stretched kind but rather tend to go up in vertical direction. Most of them are not very long but extremely steep (refer to the picture on your right).
b) Another thing that I was completely shocked about were the crowds of people. If you're looking for tranquility and relaxation forget about going hiking in Korea. Hiking is one of the most popular activities for Koreans and it's rather like a huge group excursion than a one or two person hiking adventure. It's seriously unbelievable. Standing on top of a mountain peak, looking down on the various trails, it looks like a gigantic army of ants crawling up and invading the area.
c) Matching with the steep trails are the numerous ropes that are fixed on several steep pieces of rock supporting your ascent. People are lining up in front of them like cueing up for a baseball match, waiting for their turn. Once you decide to go up, there is no coming back.
Well, Koreans seem to enjoy it and the views from the top are indeed an unforgettable experience.
Nevertheless, should you ever get invited to some hiking trip by Korean locals, better be prepared!
Equipment: Another rather funny aspect but one that supports my thesis that if Koreans are into something, they are really into it. Meaning: In the same way that Koreans prepare for a two-hour cycling trip along Hangang (including a complete Tour-de-France outfit, helmet, gloves, biking shoes and backpack), people carry a fully equipped North Face rucksack with carabiners, various bottles of drinks, walking stick and sometimes even ropes with them. Considering the fact that they are climbing a 500m-peak, the Mount Everest-gears are somewhat exhilarating. ;-)
In my opinion a pair of robust hiking boots, a bottle of water and camera is enough.
There is a very good book called "National Parks of Korea', issued by the Korean National Park Authority that describes in detail all 20 National Parks with maps and pictures. Cost: 10,000 KRW
I just read the book "Korea" written by Simon Winchester, who spent two months walking through Korea, describing his impressions on the country, the people and providing lots of insight into Korea's history. I found a very fitting paragraph about Korea's hiking habits which I'd like to recite in the following:
"The rules for mountain climbing demand not that you climb a mountain, but that you dress up in heavy boots, alpine hat, coloured jacket, and have a knapsack or pack over your shoulder. If you are thus equipped you are "mountain climbing", even if you get on the wrong bus and end up at the seaside." ;-)
Try scaling UlsanBawi when you're in Mt Sorak. Though it is only about 1000m above sea level, the uphill climb is quite a challenge as it's very rocky. You'll get gorgeous views from the peak...