Hiking Hallasan

A hike on Hallasan is not to be missed when you visit Jeju-do.

Towering nearly 2,000 meters into the sky, Hallasan on Jeju-do is the tallest mountain in Korea and it offers an unforgettable hiking experience.

Imagine: The air chills as you work your way up the mountain. Soon you find yourself surrounded by cool, misty clouds. When the clouds clear you’re treated to a view of Jeju-do that stretches to the ocean and beyond. It’s beautiful. Magical.

I’ve done lots of hiking in Korea. But I can’t remember another hike that took my breath away quite like hiking Hallasan did.

If you yearn for an incredible hiking experience the tallest mountain in Korea deserves your attention. Read on for a taste of what to expect from hiking Hallasan as well as directions for getting to the mountain.

Hiking Hallasan: A Walk in the Clouds

Hallasan trail

The road less traveled.

I’ve lived in Asia for five years.

When I left my home in America for the (at the time) unexplored wilds of Korea I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I was brimming over with a sense of excitement and adventure and anticipation, but what was I going to actually find in Korea once I arrived?

If you’ve ever lived or traveled overseas you know the feelings I’m talking about. Hell, just think about venturing into foreign lands and you’re likely to feel giddy and lightheaded.

We humans are curious animals. We like to explore, to have a look around.

In my half decade of living abroad I’ve done a lot of exploring. I’ve been to all sorts of beautiful, strange, and intriguing destinations.

The best of these destinations — and there have only been a few like this — inspire in me the sense that I’m returning to a place to which I’ve never been before.

That’s a paradox, yes, but I don’t know how else to put it.

To quote one of Bjork’s best songs: “I miss you, but I haven’t met you yet.”

Hiking Hallasan gave me that “I miss you, but I haven’t met you yet” feeling. The entire time my wife and I were on the mountain it felt like I’d returned to a place I’d only known in dreams or in the shadows of my imagination.

It was about as profound a hiking experience as I’m likely to have.

Who knows. Maybe it was just getting out of the city and into a peaceful natural environment. Living on the outskirts of Seoul has its perks — plenty of culture, good friends, and Western eats when I’ve had all the kimchi I can handle for the week — but the hustle and bustle starts to drag on you after a while.

Jeju-do on the other hand is everything Seoul is not: quiet, laid back, low key.

We embarked on our hike up Hallasan with a Jeju-do frame of mind. We took things easy. Nice and slow. The trail head we chose — Yeongsil Trail – accommodated our chill approach thanks to its wooden walkways and gentle gradient. At just over 6 km one way this isn’t a short trail (it took us three hours to get to the summit), but it’s easy going.

One thing: make sure you wear proper footwear. My wife and I learned the hard way that flip flops are not ideal for hiking Hallasan. A couple of nasty blisters and a twisted ankle taught us that lesson. I guess we took our laid back Jeju-do frame of mind a little too far!

When we hiked Hallasan in mid-August the mountain was splashed with colorful flowers at every turn. At lower altitudes countless bees and butterflies were taking full advantage of this bounty and I even made a new fluttery friend.

There were countless bees and butterflies on Hallasan when we visited in mid-August. Here I'm chatting with a new friend.

There were countless bees and butterflies on Hallasan when we visited in mid-August. Here I’m chatting with a new friend.

As we hiked farther up the mountain there were fewer flowers to be seen. Instead, Hallasan was shrouded in a mysterious pine forest and groves of ancient-looking sub-alpine trees like this one.

Tree on Hallasan

A grove of old growth trees like this one gave our hike on Hallasan an ethereal, mystical feel.

As we neared the summit the wind began to pick up. My wife and I stood and watched as massive, alabaster clouds race towards us from the horizon like mighty airships.

It’s a strange delight to watch a cloud approaching from the distance and know that in a few minutes, or less, it will wash over you in a spray of cool mist.

The view from near the summit of Hallasan is stunning. Pictures hardly do it justice. Words certainly don’t. But I will say that there’s real pleasure in admiring a view that stretches down the slopes of the mountain, across forested valleys and lush green hills, before racing over the ocean to the limitless edge of the horizon.

Hallasan view

This is a view I’ll never forget.

It was here near the summit of Hallasan, where I felt like I could simply lift my hand to touch the sky, that I experienced my “a ha!” moment. This is why I travel. This is why I roam.

I travel, I roam, in order to come home to the places I never knew I left.

Getting There

Hallasan has seven main trails that range from easy-breezy (Seokgulam Trail) to more challenging (Seongpanak Trail). We hiked Yeongsil Trail. It wasn’t a grueling hike, but it did take us the better part of the afternoon to get to the summit and back. Make sure to bring plenty of water along.

I’d strongly recommend renting a car when you visit Jeju-do. The buses on the island are just as efficient as they are back on the mainland, so getting from one major attraction to the next isn’t tricky. But with so many out-of-the-way destinations to explore on Jeju-do a rental car will make your visit that much more enjoyable.

If you’re unable to rent a car, no problem. The 101 Road Bus offers regular service between Jeju City Bus Terminal and Yeongsil Trail. The first bus departs at 6:30 A.M. and the final bus from Yeongsil Trail leaves at 6:25 P.M.

Naturally, you’ll want to verify these times for yourself as bus schedules are subject to change. Hallasan is spectacular, but probably not the best place to spend the night if you’re unprepared!

Thinking of hiking Hallasan? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section.

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