Sunday, March 22, 2015

Guide for Hiking Chiaksan in Wonju, South Korea

Korea isn't a big place. It's roughly the size of the state of Minnesota for my fellow Yankees.

But you know what they say: great things often come in small packages. One benefit of living in such a geographically compact place is that you can visit just about anywhere in the country in a day or over the weekend.

If you're eager for an outdoor adventure but only have a single day or weekend to spare, Chiaksan in Gangwon-do, Korea is a great choice. Read on for details and directions!

A Mountain of Myth and Beauty

If we're talking mountain ranges in Korea the best known are Jirisan and Seorraksan. These are beautiful places to visit and worthy of their reputations, but they're often crowded with hikers.

Chiaksan isn't quite as spectacular as it's more famous brethren, but it still makes for a worthwhile destination and -- bonus! -- it's far less crowded.

Chiaksan is located in Gangwon-do about 30km from the city of Wonju.

Like all but the most remote and abandoned trailheads in Korea, the base of Chiaksan is a busy place. You'll find an array of stores and vendors selling everything from reliquary beads and Buddhist trinkets to kimchi pancakes and rice wine.

It might be a good idea to fuel up before your hike and the kimchi pancakes sizzling on griddles are sure to satisfy a hungry stomach.

Once you make your way through the distractions and delicious smells of this mountain bazaar you'll arrive at the entrance to Chiaksan. The entry fee to Chiaksan is 2,500 won per person, cash only.

Not far from the entrance is Guryeongsa Temple.

Guryeongsa Temple is a medium-sized temple complex built during the Silla Dynasty. Built on the side of a steep hill, you enter the temple complex through a pavillion, towering wooden statues of the "Four Heavenly Guardians" looking down at you, and then climb a steep flight of stairs into Guryeongsa Temple.

As with most Korean temples, the air will likely be faint with incense and the rhythmic chanting of monks at their prayers will echo off of temple walls. It's a pleasant and relaxing environment to spend a few minutes before setting off on your journey.

Hiking the Trails

From Guryeongsa Temple it's a 5km hike to Birobong, the peak of Chiaksan. For roughly half of that hike the trail is easygoing -- more of a leisurely walk than a hike, really.

You can follow trails through forests of towering pine, through quiet bamboo groves, down into valleys where the trail runs alongisde a bubbling mountain stream, or criss-cross between the two.

About 2km from the base of Chiak Mountain is Seryeong waterfall and from there the hike gets steep. I'm talking a Jekyll and Hyde transformation from the earlier part of the hike, so if you plan on trekking to the peak of Chiaksan make sure you're well prepared.

If you're not up to the challenge there's a lovely botanical garden located between the Seryeong waterfall and Guryeongsa Temple. It's a wonderful place to relax and simply enjoy the beauty of nature.

When you need a break from Seoul, or if you're just in the market for your next outdoor adventure, head for Chiaksan. It's a beauty of a mountain and one of Korea's better kept secrets.

Getting There

Unless you have access to your own transportation, Wonju is going to be your base of operation for a trip to Chiaksan.

Take a bus to Wonju. Exit out the front of Wonju Bus Terminal and take local bus number 2-1, 31, 33, or 35. Any one of these busses will take you to a stop called "sanghanjuyooso".

From "sanghanjuyooso" you'll transfer to either the 41 or 41-1. It's about 10 mintue trip from Wonju Bus Terminal to the transfer, and another 30-35 minutes to get from the transfer to Chiaksan.

Chiaksan is the final stop for both the 41 and 41-1. Bus fare is 1,200 won per trip, but your T-Money card (a public transit card available from most convenience stores and at most bus and train stations -- essential if you're travelling in Korea!) will work as well.

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