We knew that Koreans love to hike. Even if we hadn’t known that before coming to Seoul the sheer quantity of hikers using the metro would have tipped us off. Boots, backpacks, hiking poles, sun hats, we felt right at home with these transit enabled hikers. We hadn’t planned on turning our time in Seoul into a multi day hiking expedition, but that’s the joy of travel. Sometimes you just never know what’s going to happen and what you’ll find in a new place.
You may be realizing that what these views have in common is that we are looking down at the city. Down as in ‘we climbed a lot of darn steps to get up here’.
Rich found the first hike for us by seeing the mountain park from our 12th floor window and navigating us there hoping there would be a trail. There was. And there was an amazing accessible boardwalk style trail all the way up to a temple and a cafe. Maps.me was helpful, showing some trails, and Alltrails had some as well, but lacking a great mapping site we relied on Rich’s wonderful navigation skills.
Since hikers are getting to and from their hikes on the metro, there are also signs to get you to the trails from the neighborhoods.
The signage and maps varied in detail, and confusingly played fast and loose with having north be at the top, but on the whole you were well taken care of, signage wise.
Not only was the number of trail opportunities great, the amenities along the trails, and the construction of the trails were impressive. Very nicely maintained steps, benches and picnic spots, restrooms, and my new favorite thing – carpeted trails. It looks like jute, or coir, and for stretches that are steep up or down, or could get quite muddy, it’s super helpful. It also stops the usual trail ruts from forming, or the footsteps turning into hardened mud. And dang, carpeted trails – what’s not to love about that?
It’s not unusual for us to come to a city and skip the A list sights. Doing things we love to do, like hiking or biking, or even just walking city streets, gives us more insight into what life is really like in a place like Seoul. Seeing the neighborhoods far from the tourist friendly zones. Going into restaurants with basically zero idea what kind of food they serve. And hiking trails like these, full of locals. I tell Rich he’s never happier then when there are zero other western tourists. I developed a rating scale for him of tourist bombs – a high of five is a lot of tourists and not going to result in a happy Rich, and a low of one is good, but zero is better. After the tourist bomb rating is the wide eyed locals rating – which shows how surprised the locals seem to be to spot two big foreigners on their trail or in their small neighborhood restaurant. Our best hike was zero tourist bombs, and five wide eyed locals, the highest rating possible in my new rating scale.
In addition to good trail signs, there are informational signs about archaeological sites, and signs asking folks to please not collect acorns and chestnuts as the wildlife depend on them.
You might be thinking, ok, so that’s all impressive and interesting, but lots of places have trails, and signs, and views. Well hold on to your sun hats, there’s more.
The unexpected pleasure of hiking in Seoul was highlighted by all the amazing views. As you climbed up, wrapped around, or climbed down a mountain park, you got new views of a different part of this mega city.
I want to include some tips for hiking in Seoul: Keep your metro card charged up, all the hikes we did are transit friendly. Bring snacks or lunch, the smaller neighborhood parks might have a cafe, but the longer trails that we hiked didn’t. Bring water, we were able to refill on all of our hikes eventually, but bring enough water to last for most of your hike just in case. Now, how to find hikes. You can assume that every mountain you see has trails, but finding a trailhead might be a little tricky. Rich used a combination of google maps, maps.me and All Trails. You can find information about the Seoul Trail at English.Seoul.go.kr and on our links page. If you find yourself confused, ask a local or follow someone in hiking gear.
We’re at Incheon Airport now, slightly dreading the 12 hour fight to the US. I will definitely do a post about the food we ate while in Korea. The good, the not my favorite, and the mysterious that Google translate failed to help us understand. See you soon San Francisco.