According to Korean legend, the rocky peaks of Songnisan once held the key to health for King Sejo of the Sejeong Dynasty. It was he who, while resting at the top of a mountain, gave the most famous peak the name Munjangdae. While we are skeptical of the mystic healing powers of Songnisan, the sprawling peaks and valleys that compose Songnisan National Park make it quite unforgetable.
We arrived in the town of Songnisan late, around 9:30pm, after a long 3 1/2 hour bus ride from Seoul. While Don was uneasy at the sight of dark stores and restaurants, and lack of hotel signs, I have come to enjoy the first moments of uncertainty upon arriving in Small-Town, ROK. Fortunately, after a short walk down the main road we found a proper hotel. It was definitely not the sketchiest motel we have ever stayed in, and for 40,000 won the price was right.
We woke up early the next day and set off for the park. One of the nice things about Songnisan is that the town is directly next to the entrance to the park. The first part of the trail is along a road and through a park. Even if you are not interested in hiking, the park is a nice place to enjoy a picnic. After about 15 minutes (1.3 km), we arrived at Beopjusa Temple. Beopjusa is famous for its towering Buddha statue. At 33 meters tall, the bronze statue is one of the tallest standing Buddha statues in the Asia. The temple grounds were quite beautiful, and after a quick stroll around the complex, we continued on our way up the mountain.
The first half of the walk is along a road, so it wasn’t the most rustic of trails. For some reason walking along a road takes away the charm of hiking, but once we got to the trail, we felt more in our element. The trail has a gradual incline at first, then changes into a steeper set of rocky steps for the last 1.5 km or so. While I was huffing and puffing, Don found the trail to be quite easy. I guess a lot of it depends on how you are feeling that particular day. When you approach Munjangdae, you emerge from a forested area out onto the giant boulders at the top of the mountain. The final leg of the hike is a set of steep metal stairs taking you to the topmost boulder on the peak. From here, we got a 360 view of surrounding mountains somewhat reminiscent of Seoraksan. The view from the top was amazing, no matter what angle we looked from.
After the long climb up (about 3 hours), we started back down. From Munjangdae, there are several options for continuing on, including a shorter 3.3 km hike to a different parking area and a loop course to other peaks that we estimated would take an extra hour. We opted for returning the way that we came. Along the way, we made several stops for Makgeolli and food. Because the park is rather popular, there were many mountain restaurants where you can rest or just sit and enjoy food and drink. We made it back to the bus terminal just in time to catch a bus for the long ride home.
All in all, we both really enjoyed Songnisan National Park. Its easy accessibility and convenience makes it a good hike for beginners. On our way down, we did notice that the park got quite packed, so make sure to head out early to beat the crowds. Regardless of hiking ability, Songnisan is definitely a park not to be missed.
Due to its popularity, Songnisan has a direct bus from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (located at Gangbyeon Station on the green subway line). The ride will take about 3:30 hours. Be prepared for a long ride. The two hours to Cheongju will make you think the three plus hour estimate was wrong, but do not be fooled. From Cheongju, the bus tools around the countryside for another 90+ minutes before reaching its final stop, Songnisan Bus Terminal. Alternatively, if you’re coming from the south it may be easiest to route through Daejeon. Just grab a local bus to Songnisan from Daejeon Intercity Terminal (a short walk from the Express Terminal) and you’ll arrive at Songnisan village in an hour and a half.