Bukhansan National Park
Swathed in a blanket of pine trees, crisscrossed by trails and dotted with secluded temples, Bukhansan National Park rears up behind Seoul like a jagged granite crown. Its myriad peaks will allow you to pick your level of exertion quite precisely – anything from a gentle forest stroll to an exhilarating pant to the top.
Bukhansan claims to be the most-visited national park on the planet – although admittedly its location, right on the doorstep of one of the world’s biggest cities, gives it something of a head start. On warm weekends it can feel like half of Seoul is marching along the trails here, but even at peak times it’s easy to duck away from the main routes for some mountain solace.
The choice of trails here can seem overwhelming, but there are three main ones that we recommend – the choice depends on how much of a challenge you’re after. The shortest of the three, Baegundae, is a gentle two kilometres each way, while the Bukhansanseong trail is a little longer, and named after a dynastic fortress whose beautifully reconstructed walls can be seen en route. Finally, the Obong trail covers six and a half kilometres each way – this is no walk in the park (although technically, of course, it totally is one), but the added effort buys views of a tumbling waterfall and five magnificent peaks. It’s also possible to overnight in Bukhansan at a number of temples and hermitages – a truly magical experience, though you’ll probably have to wake up before the mountain birds.
If you notice a few ruddy cheeks while departing Bukhansan, note that they may not have been caused by exertion alone – for many Koreans, the best part of a trip to the mountains is the drink afterwards (or sometimes, bizarrely, even at the top of the peaks). Makgeolli, a type of rice beer, is usually the tipple of choice for such occasions, and is often enjoyed with a savoury pajeon pancake – don’t be surprised if you’re roped into a cheery picnic at some point during your walk around the mountains.