Solo Hiking at Hallasan: South Korea’s Tallest Peak and Jeju’s Centerpiece

Despite being South Korea’s highest peak, Hallasan (Mount Halla) would be dwarfed by the Philippines’ tallest mountains like Mt. Apo and Mt. Pulag, which are taller by about 1,000 meters. That said, for a casual hiker like me, Hallasan is approachable and reassuring.

I had 8 days to spend in Jeju, so I dedicated a day to do an extreme activity like hiking. And if I was going to do hiking, I might as well do it at the most significant mountain in the island and I might as well take it all the way to the summit.

I did not know much about hiking at Hallasan, so naturally, I did my own online research and stumbled upon very helpful ones, especially Going the Whole Hogg and Fork and Foot’s very detailed accounts of their hike at Hallasan. Of course, there’s also the official website of Visit Jeju that you can turn to for more ideas on touring around Jeju.

It was the most ideal season for me to hike Hallasan. It was the middle of autumn, and the weather was my favorite. The colors of the foliage were my favorite. The blue sky consistently brushed by cotton clouds sailing through was my favorite.

My take on the hiking trails:

There are a couple of hiking trails on Hallasan, but only two lead up to the summit: Gwaneumsa and Seongpanak. Based on many reviews I read prior, Gwaneumsa is a more scenic trail—although I personally think both are spectacular. The difference is that Gwaneumsa has a bit more variety in its landscape, where you’d find streams and scenic bridges along the way.

Many recommend combining the two trails in one hike—i.e. taking one trail up and the other going down. Since Seongpanak is categorized as an easier, although longer, trail, many suggest taking it to go up. However, I decided to follow Going the Whole Hogg’s example and took the Gwaneumsa trail to hike up and Seongpanak to go back down.

I reaffirm their advice to take Gwaneumsa up and Seongpanak down—unless you’re a pro hiker and have tough knees, then it does not matter. Here’s what I think. They categorize Seongpanak as an easier trail because it has a somewhat better-laid out trail than Gwaneumsa. There are a lot of stepping stones and wooden steps. But that also means it’s more straining for the legs/knees to go up the trail. Imagine climbing up a staircase versus walking up a slope, that’s my point. Don’t get me wrong though—Gwaneumsa also has a lot of steep steps. So basically there’s no escape, just a matter of choosing the lesser evil, lol.

Before the hike (TIPS):

✽Plan your hiking schedule ahead. Check how to go to Gwaneumsa (or whichever your starting trail is) and how long the trip is. NAVER MAP is more reliable than Google Maps.

✽You have to make sure that you get to Gwaneumsa by 9 AM, but earlier the better if you don’t want to rush the hike.

There is a cut-off time of 12:30 PM (autumn cut-off; varies by season) at Samgakbong Shelter (2.7 km to the summit). After that, hikers cannot proceed to the summit anymore.

Also, you have to get to the summit before 2 PM (autumn cut-off). No one is allowed at the summit after this time.

✽Prepare lots of water and food. In my case, I bought a 1-liter bottle of water, a pack of bread, and kimbap, which was enough for me. There’s a restaurant just across the road from the Gwaneumsa trail entrance.

✽Wear proper and sufficient attire.

My shoes were not really for hiking (#packlight principle; I only brought/wore 1 pair for the whole trip), but that’s okay because the trails are not that cruel. Also, my jacket was a little too thin for the mountain climate so I was freezing come evening!

✽Pack a mini emergency/first aid kit. Because you never know. Especially—if you are a beginner or know that your hiking stamina and pain tolerance are low, it’s best to bring things like painkillers, ointment, Band-Aids, and bandages.

I did see a guy struggling to walk most likely because of a sprain. Sprain is one of the most common hiking injuries, along with blisters and cuts. In all of these cases, Band-Aids and bandages are extremely useful.

✽As part of your mini emergency kit, pack a flashlight as well. Or at least, bring a fully loaded power bank so that your phone won’t run out of juice when you need to use its flashlight. It’s quite hard to gauge what time you’ll arrive back at the base. It might be dark before you reach the end, and there are certainly no lights on the trail.

Here’s how my hike went:

05:00 AM On Saturday, I defied my body clock and arose ahead of the sun so I can rise to the peak of Hallasan on time.

06:00 AM I leave my pension in Yeondae Village to make sure to get to Gwaneumsa by 9 AM. Why the 3-hour allowance? Gwaneumsa is not that far from my place, but I was commuting. Buses have longer intervals in the wee hours so I wanted to make sure I caught the buses on time.

In late-October, the dawn was chilly without the sun to curb the frigid atmosphere. The surroundings were dark yet serene.

Parking lot at Gwaneumsa

08:30 AM I start the hike on the Gwaneumsa trail.

The trails are well-designed with boardwalks and stepping stones and shelters with toilets. There are signages that tell you the level of difficulty of the trail and how far you are until the next checkpoint.

The start of the Gwaneumsa Trail
A signage on the easy section of the Gwaneumsa trail
A nice peaceful stream within the first 1 or 2 km of the trail
A dizzying steep staircase somewhere on the Gwaneumsa trail

12:00 NN I reach Samgakbong Shelter and take a 15-minute break.

You could eat your lunch at Samgakbong Shelter, but I decided to eat my kimbap for lunch at the summit.

Samgakbong Shelter

01:00 PM I’m starting to ponder over my decisions in life, lol! I was tired so it felt like the hike was taking longer than it actually is.

The old site of the Yongjingak Shelter that was destroyed by a storm in 2007.
화이팅! Fighting!

01:30 PM Touch down, summit!!!

There’s this marker people were lining up for to get a selfie with, but the queue was too long so I didn’t bother. I only had 30 mins. to spend before the cut-off time.

Hallasan summit marker

You’d find the “crater lake” but there’s really no lake at this time of the year. It’s almost dry. It’s weird, the wind was so strong and loud when I directly faced and looked toward the crater, but it’s all normal when I went down from the viewing platform.

Baekrokdam, the summit crater of Hallasan

The crater itself was not really a sight to behold, but the views of the city are. Also, the scenery throughout the hike was amazing, so it’s okay that the crater peak was not as impressive as I had imagined. This is the part where we together sing, “It’s the cliiiiimb.”

View from the summit of Hallasan

Also, there’s still good cell reception at the summit. A good time to snap some photos and send them real-time to your pals.

View of the clouds on one side of the summit/Seongpanak trail

02:00 PM The station rangers promptly ask hikers to leave, including those who are still in line for a photo with the marker. I take the Seongpanak trail.

As I began the Seongpanak trail, the view was so open and expansive. I could see smaller hills below, clouds floating lower than the summit, and the towns below with the windmills standing out. The trail had a combination of wooden steps/boardwalks and big stepping stones.

Seongpanak trail from the summit

03:00 PM The views fill me with awe.

04:00 PM I continue enjoying the views. So marvelous.

Around this time, I was already somewhere in the middle of the trail, so the views of the island/town landscape have been replaced by a lot of trees with colorful foliage.

The trail alternates between flat boardwalks, wooden steps, and layers of big rocks and dirt paths. My legs have switched to autopilot—I was barely watching my steps and I was not conscious of any pain in my legs.

05:00 PM Uhm, okay, I’m good. Trail exit, you may show up now.

There was a part of the trail surrounded by tall, looming trees, and I was alone and far from other hikers, so it gave off a raw jungle vibe. And with the light from the sun gradually fading, it was a bit creepy and mystifying at the same time. It was exciting.

06:00 PM It’s already getting dark, and the trail end is still nowhere in sight. Lord, help my knees.

Is my nose still attached? I can’t feel it anymore.

06:30 PM Finally, some signs of civilization. I’m back, and I can feel my nose again.

My nose is back with a snot.

The beauty I found in Hallasan

It was not entirely easy to hike at Hallasan, but it was deeply rewarding. I could achieve serenity right at the start of the trek. The trail was genial, and there are many moments of solitude where I could savor the scenery all to myself. It was tempting to stop at every change of scenery and inhale the beauty of the surroundings; but you have to keep track of time because each checkpoint at the latter part of the trail has a cut-off time.

I hiked alone, and some of my friends asked me if and why I was not scared. As I have already pointed out, Hallasan is very approachable and safe. I did come across many other solo hikers like me. Also, I did not feel totally alone because many Korean hikers were friendly and polite. They’d greet you and smile at you (that’s why, if you watch my video below, you’d see me smiling when other hikers passed by).

EXTRA TIP! You would want to understand and respond appropriately when Korean hikers greet you along the way. Knowing ONE phrase is enough: An-nyeong-ha-se-yo [안녕하세요], which means “Good day,” or “Hello.” You can say this first, or you can respond with this when a hiker greets you first with Annyeonghaseyo.

If you want to go extra, you could also say Jo-shim-ha-se-yo [조심하세요] to say “Take care/Be careful.”

If you ask me what my favorite part of the trail is, a lot of images come to mind. There is not one spot at Hallasan that stands out because every part of it is breathtaking. One of the most memorable for me was the section of the trail just before Samgakbong Shelter because, during autumn, this had one of the most colorful landscapes. From where I stood, I could glimpse the nearby ridges with dense colorful foliage of red, orange, and yellow hues.

I also loved the vibrant colors around the Yongjingak Hyunsugyo Bridge, and the old site of the Yongjingak Shelter.

Of course, the view from the summit of Hallasan is the crème de la crème. It’s the culmination of all the beautiful things you saw from the bottom up to the top end of the trail. At every blink of your eye, without moving, you capture this whole picture of Jeju from the highest point of the land. A complete painting on one huge canvas, encompassing all the colorful foliage, the clouds, the sea, the breeze, the smaller hills, and the neighborhoods below: it is Jeju.

Got questions about my hike at Hallasan as a solo female traveler? Shoot me an email below or follow and drop me a message on Instagram!

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