We all know that the urban and ultra-modern city of Seoul is known for great food, culture, and entertainment. But what would surprise many is that the city is built up on mountains, and hiking in Seoul is a very popular activity among natives and tourists alike. In fact, there are 43 mountains in Seoul alone, ranging in size and steepness.
Many of Seoul’s mountains have well-maintained trails, convenient resting or picnic spots, and believe it or not, wi-fi, albeit spotty connections at times. You will also often see exercise apparatuses set up at various points of the path, which are free to use by the public. The best part is that many of the best mountain trails are easily accessible by subway.
Whether you are a beginner or in top physical shape, mountain hiking in Seoul is an activity that I highly recommend, both alone and as a fun group excursion. It is a great way to get exercise, get fresh air, and take in nature. There is no better feeling than reaching the pinnacle of one of the many mountains and being rewarded with breathtaking views of the vast and busy metropolis and the spectacular nature surrounding it.
Before embarking on your mountain hike, be sure to prepare. Find out how long it generally takes to complete the trail and bring enough water and snacks for your hike. In general, you will need about a half liter per hour, and more if the conditions are very hot. As for food, I suggest packing something lightweight, or just stop by one of the many convenience stores and grab something to go. My top recommendation is triangle kimbap. (Just make sure to pack up any post-snack trash to keep the mountains clean).
Also, be sure to look at a weather forecast for the day that you want to go hiking. Rainy weather can ruin a perfectly good hike, especially if you are unprepared. If you’re undeterred by the possibility of rain, make sure to prepare accordingly. The sun can also pose a challenge, so be sure to wear a hat and plenty of sunscreen.
Everyone has their own speed at which they hike. One thing you will notice is that a majority of the people who frequent the mountain trails in Seoul are elderly, some of whom are in better shape, more athletic, and faster than many young people, including myself. Instead of comparing your pace and speed to others on the path, be inspired by these amazing elder athletes and resist the urge to overexert yourself. Also, be sure to take your time while ascending down a mountain trail, as some spots can be steep and slippery.
Top 5 Trails
During my first trip to Seoul, I made it my mission to explore as many mountains as I could. Having only made a small dent in my list, I returned this past summer to continue tackling the list of mountains I had yet to hike. While I haven’t come close to hiking all the mountains in Seoul, this article highlights my favorite five mountains so far, ranging in difficulty.
Length: 30-45 minutes
Height: 787 ft (240 m)
Namsan is a short, safe climb. It takes the same level of exertion as ascending a big staircase. Of course, the reward at the peak is Namsan Seoul Tower, a must-visit for tourists. While the views are not from a very high point, they are unique in that Namsan is in the middle of Seoul, which provides a truly vast view of the city. Unlike some of the other mountains, there is not much to prepare to climb Namsan other than comfortable clothes and sneakers since there are no dirt paths or rock scrambles. You will be running into quite a few people, however, as Namsan is one of the most accessible mountains in Seoul, and a big tourist attraction. Also, if you don’t want to walk down the path for the descent, you can just take a bus or a cable car.
Length: 1-2 hours
Height: 971 ft (296 m)
Ansan Mountain is easily accessible via a subway station, albeit further from the center of the city. It is also more difficult than Namsan. While less difficult than many of the other trails, one does need to be in reasonably good shape because it is a rougher, longer, and higher trail, and there is a scramble at the end of the trail. Overall, it is not too difficult though, so I still recommend it to all ages. There is nice shade for most of the hike except for the area close to the summit, so it is not as grueling as some other mountains during the summer months.
Even my 51-year-old mom can climb it!
Length: 1-2 hours
Height: 1128 ft (338 m)
Right next to Ansan, is the neighboring mountain of Inwangsan, which is a much more popular mountain for hiking. This is in large part due to the Seoul City Wall that runs alongside the entire trail. Like Ansan, Inwangsan also has a fairly rough scramble toward the end of the hike, but I recommend it to anyone. Most of the trail is well-maintained, safe and consists mostly of stairs and slopes. There are some military bases located along the mountain, so keep in mind that no photo-taking is permitted in those military zones. But outside those areas, you can get stunning views of the city and the Seoul City Wall.
Length: 2-3 hours
Height: 2073 ft (632 m)
Going to the south of Seoul, and slightly into Gwanak-gu and Geumchon-gu, you can see the towering Gwanaksan. There are two main paths and the experience differs greatly between them. If you’re going from Sadang station, you will go through a very long hike, with rocky terrain and going over the peaks of several smaller mountains. This comes with an incredible view of the city below along the way.
If you take the path from Gwacheon station, however, you will go through a hike with many more stairs and trees. (It is considerably easier to take the first (Sadang station) path, as there are not nearly as many ups and downs along the way.) Also, the entire trail follows a stream, letting you refill your water bottle or cool off your face. You also encounter some Buddhist temples along the way. Due to the trees, however, you won’t get nearly as much of a view along the way. But at the top, not only will you be rewarded with a breathtakingly amazing view, you can take to heart that gratifying sensation that you chose to take the harder path. I loved looking back on the smaller mountains that I conquered along the way as well as the many cute cats that live near the peak.
Length: 3-4 hours
Height: 2774 ft (836 m)
As the highest peak in the mountains of Seoul, Bukhansan is not for the faint of heart, leg or lung. I would not recommend it to anyone with physical ailments as this one takes a considerable amount of exertion. Located in the north of Seoul, it takes about three hours of upward hiking to reach the peak. It is also worthy to note that Bukhansan is exceedingly popular since it is the highest mountain in the Seoul area, with many locals and tourists alike braving the heights. At the top, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Seoul and the mountains below you. If you are in decent shape, I highly recommend tackling this mountain as it is unlike anything else that you will see on other mountains.