South Korea // Gyeonggi and Gangwon //

Seoraksan National Park

Koreans gush about SEORAKSAN NATIONAL PARK (설악산 국립 공원), and with good reason. The nation’s northernmost park, it contains some of the tallest peaks in the country, with mist-fringed bluffs of exposed crag that could have come straight from a Chinese painting. The name gains ambiguity in translation, but roughly translates as “Snow-cragged Mountains”; these bony peaks are pretty enough on a cloudy day, but in good weather they’re set alight by the sun, bathed in spectacular hues during its rising and setting.

The park stretches around 40km from east to west and about the same from north to south, with the wide area crisscrossed with myriad hiking trails. Also bear in mind that some are closed off from time to time in rotation in order to protect the land: in peak season there can be literally queues of hikers stomping along the more popular routes, and this pressure takes its toll. The park offers several two-day hikes heading around Daecheonbong, its highest peak, but the focal point is undoubtedly Ulsanbawi, a beautiful spine of jagged rock to the north which resembles a stegosaur spine, the fossilized jaw of a giant crocodile, or a thousand other things depending on your angle, the time of day, and the weather. The time of year is important, too; Seoraksan is one of the highest parks in the country and, as a result, usually the first to display the reds, yellows and oranges of autumn.

Seoraksan can be roughly split into three main areas. Outer Seorak, the most accessible part of the park from Sokcho, is where most of the action takes place. South Seorak looms above the small spa town of Osaek, while to the west are the less crowded peaks of Inner Seorak.