On top of being the world’s second largest metro area (to Tokyo), home of five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, K-pop, the world’s best beauty products, airport, connectivity and being the city closest to the world’s most private country and still with no idea what’s going on over there, Seoul is also wildly rich in natural landscape appeal.
With Bukhansan National Park in city limits and the Seoul Fortress Wall jetting alongside four smaller mountains, hiking is a regular weekend activity in Seoul and basically the only thing on the list of things to do during my impromptu 4-day visit last month.
Always looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience, I turned to the travel blogging community for suggestions outside of Bukhansan and stumbled upon Steve Miller’s recommendation for the cultural back-route up one of Korea’s holiest mountains: Inwangsan (인왕산). Hike Time: 2 Hours. Difficulty: Moderate. Sold.
We made our trek to the foot of Inwangsan (인왕산), once known as “White Tiger Mountain” because of their reign on the land, from Gangnam via cab to Dingninmun Station and followed Steve’s instructions through the windy, unsuspecting neighborhood, up past the entrance sign and onto the walkway.
Coming on to this trail from the side of the mountain you’ll go straight through some bushes and thorns on your way to the path, just look ahead for the rope — you’re going in the right direction.
Seon-Bawi – Most Worshipped Rock in Korea
Heading up the route puts you head on to one of the world’s most-worshipped natural-stone altars and the most worshipped rock in Korea, Seon-bawi. Seon-bawi hosts two different legends. One, as the rock of child-bearing prayer, where Koreans come to pray for having a son to pass on the family name, and Two, as the meditating rock, because it resembles a monk wearing a long-sleeve Buddhist robe.
Guksadang – Exorcism Shrine
Trucking along the trail while it’s still tame you next hit Seoul’s most famous shamanist shrine, Guksadang. Originally built on Mt. Namsan until the Japanese decided they needed room for their own Shinto shrine in 1925 (rude), Guksadang is famous because of its use for sacrifices and exorcisms. Female shamans known as Mudangs can sometimes be seen here performing Gut (굿) ceremonies, where they become possessed by spirit to act as an intermediary between the two worlds. If you catch one, do NOT take pictures.
Seoul Fortress Wall
Moving up along the Fortress Wall the terrain gets noticeably more steep, and definitely rocky. Most people along the trail had trekking poles at this point but the dedicated steps are manageable without one. You can tell which era the section of the wall you’re hiking by the tightness of the stones, with those from the late 14th century being round and loosely packed getting tighter and more rectangular through to the 16th century.
Panoramic View + Military Guards
Huh? Well… I saved this little tidbit for last because this hike is definitely worth taking, but (unbeknownst to us at the time) Inwangsan (인왕산) is in a military zone so you’ll notice guards, posts and some serious artillery along the way. There are surveillance cameras posted up in some of the trees. Yes, I said artillery.
The panoramic view from Inwangsan (인왕산)’s 338m elevation looks south over many of Seoul’s main attractions including the Namsan Tower, Gyeongbok Palace, the President’s Blue House, The Samsung Tower and more. It’s a sweeping cityscape, but even at 30 miles south of the North Korean border, the guards are very specific about which direction you’re allowed to take pictures — and they will ask to go through your camera.
While I was snapping towards the city they asked that I scroll back through my recent images and made me delete a few from the way up they deemed unreasonable. UHHHHH. Camera went in my bag at this point for (most of) the hike down.
But, not before I got this one — enjoy!