When it comes to sports culture in Korea, there is one activity that rules – hiking. Hiking is Korea’s favorite pastime and the most popular way to stay healthy and active for all ages. This shouldn’t be a surprise though, as Korea’s terrain consists of 70% mountains and only 30% habitable landscape. There are over 15 national parks in Korea, and with it being possible to get from one side of the country to the other in a matter of hours, taking a weekend trip to explore these beautiful locations shouldn’t be too difficult. Korea’s tallest mountain, Hallasan, is located on Jeju Island and peaks at 1,950 meters. Jirisan (1,915 meters), Banyabong (1,734 m), Seoraksan (1,707 m), and Deogyusan (1,613 m) round out the remainder of Korea’s top 5 tallest mountains. I have my heart set on climbing Seoraksan this May.
Hiking the mountains of Korea can be challenging. The trails are generally well-maintained but many of the ones I have climbed have some pretty steep inclines and will certainly result in a solid workout. However, when you finally reach the top, the views are awe-inspiring and worth every huff you may have puffed on your way up. Some Koreans will hike the mountains all year round, but you can expect true hiking season to begin in the springtime when the weather begins to warm up and the mountains turn a beautiful shade of lavender and pink as the azaleas bloom. Once hiking season begins, Koreans will often join tour groups, fill an entire tour bus, and head to a national park where they ascend the mountain in groups of 50 or more. You will see them decked to the nines in the most fashionable and flashy hiking gear too. Last year, I decided to hike in a pair of shorts and, along the way, I was stopped by a handful of older Koreans who were very concerned with my choice of hiking attire. In their opinion, I was well underdressed and unprepared for the hike ahead of me.
But what I love most about hiking in Korea are these exact kinds of moments. Fellow hikers are always saying hello to me, sometimes in Korean and sometimes in English. They will help you along the way and tell you what to expect, even if it might be in Korean. They will also smile at you as if they are giving you encouragement to keep going. When you finally reach the top, they will congratulate you for a job well done. On one of my favorite hikes last year, my friends and I were surprised with delicious grape popsicles at the top of the mountain by a group of incredibly sweet and kind Koreans who were excited to share their countries beautiful landscape with a few foreigners. On that same hike, we had trouble finding the correct path down, so an adorable Korean couple allowed us to follow them as they led us back down the mountain.
Hiking brings many Koreans together due to their mutual love of the sport. It also brings Koreans and foreigners together for the same reason, and proves that no matter where you are from or the language you speak, sports can bring people together in some really cool ways!
Note – All of the pictures featured in this article were taken while hiking Palgongsan in Daegu in April 2017. I highly recommend this hike! But prepare well with food and water, the hike took us nearly 8 hours to complete!