Highest Mountain in the Republic of Korea on Cheju Island
The trail from Gwaneumsa Temple to the summit of Hallasan leads the climber to the highest point in the Republic of Korea at 6,396 feet atop a dormant shield volcano.
This 5.4 mile trail to Hallasan begins at Gwaneumsa Temple six miles east of the harbor of Jeju City on Cheju Island, Korea. There is no other way to get to the trail head other than by rental car or taxi where there is parking for forty vehicles or so. The starting point of the Gwaneumsa Trail up Hallasan is 2,033 feet above sea level. Hikers should sign the register just beyond the temple in Korean or English.
The best times to climb Hallasan are early May through mid-October. Be aware that sudden snowstorms can cover the summit in May and in October. The worst times to climb this shield volcano would be from mid-October to late April. The only hazard on this trail is toward the very summit where there are man-made cables to grab while climbing the sheerest part. These cables can be frozen in early May and in mid to late October. It is absolutely necessary to have warm gloves in May and October.
Once Under Way the Hiker Can Enjoy Coastal Views
Once beyond the beautiful Gwaneumsa Temple with its one hundred statues of Buddha, the hiker can almost immediately enjoy great views into the East China Sea. The first several miles of trail go through susuki grasslands with occasional large Asian oak trees. One such oak is identified with a sign in Korean and English as being the Virtuous Tree. Legend has it that during times of famine a maiden of an ancient Korean king prayed for help at this very tree until acorns came tumbling down like manna from heaven.
Be on the Lookout for Ring-Necked Pheasants
Here in the grasslands many ring-neck pheasants can be seen strutting about in their natural habitat. The hiker may also see an occasional wild horse. As she climbs higher on the trail, grasslands give way to beautiful cedar forests some two miles beyond the trail head. If the hiker is climbing in June, he will be treated views of beautiful mountain azalea in full bloom. It can become quite windy up here, but at the half-way point up Hallasan a daepiso (day shelter house) can be found at trail side nestled in a little hollow of cedar bushes. Here on can visit the restroom, buy drinks and snacks and even a detailed trail map.
Full Views of the Great Shield Volcano of Hallasan
As the climber continues hiking over a landscape that is said to resemble the back of a giant ant, she is afforded a fine view of the dormant shield volcano of Hallasan, so called because of its very thick and solid geologic structure (see photo). The trail winds its way for a little over a mile to the very base of the shield volcano. From up here the hiker can see half of Cheju Island with its pineapple fields and the seas beyond, The steepest part of the trail begins at the base of the shield volcano over four miles from the trail head.
Climbing Up Landscapes That Resemble a Chinese Scroll Painting
The way up is so steep that waist-high steel cables have be set in volcanic rock at trail side, so that the climber can easily have more secure handholds while going up a vertical pitch of black lava fringed with delicate oriental cedar trees. It is almost like climbing through the landscapes of a Chinese scroll painting, especially if there is mist. After a mile or less of hard work, the climber will finally stand at the crater’s edge to peer down into a beautiful blue lake (unless it is frozen in mid spring or mid to late fall.) If it is a clear day, the hiker can see far out into the East China Sea and the Straits of Korea as well as the entire Cheju Island.
A Full-Day Hike in a Unique Landscape
The hike up Hallasan takes up to a full day (round trip) with a vertical gain (over some of the most unique landscapes on the planet) of 4,363 feet. Bring sufficient water (even though drinks can be bought back at the daepiso) as there are no water sources on the trail nor any restrooms (except at the daepiso). You can buy a map at the trail side day shelter or download a detailed verbal description of the trail in English or Korean at National Parks of Korea web site (see Hallasan National Park).