Posted by: Matt Kelley | 29 April 2009

Wolchulsan Mountain


From Baekdusan Mountain on North Korea’s border with China to Mount Hallasan on Jeju island, Korea is home to thousands of magnificent peaks. But while some of the nation’s mountains are grand, good things can also come in small packages. Case in point is the country’s smallest national park, Wolchulsan Mountain National Park (월출산국립공원) in South Jeolla Province.

20090429_wolchulsan2Wolchulsan National Park is South Korea’s smallest, at just 41 square kilometers.

At just 41 square kilometers, the national park may be small, but it still feels impressive because the mountain rises dramatically from the flat farmlands of Gangjin and Yeongam counties. Wolchulsan means “mountain where the moon rises”, and if you’re lucky enough to see a moonrise or sunset over this mountain’s spectacular rock formations, it’s an unforgettable sight.

20090429_wolchulpeaksWolchulsan’s jagged peaks make for dramatic sightseeing.

About 300,000 guests like me visit the park annually to enjoy its 16 kilometers of hiking trails and the spectacular views of the South Jeolla Province countryside. The most popular route is a 9-kilometer trek from Cheonhwangsa (천황사) west to Dogapsa (도갑사). Along the way you’ll see temples, a field of reeds that’s especially picturesque during the fall, and three of Korea’s National Treasures, including #144, an 8-meter tall carving of a sitting Buddha.

20090429_wolchulsummitCheonghwangbong Peak is Wolchulsan’s peak. At 809 meters, the view includes farms and even Korea’s south and west coasts.

Keep going further and you might see a dragon… or at least legend has it that a dragon used to drink from some peculiar water-filled holes at Gujeolbong Peak (구정봉). Dragon or no dragon, about one and a half kilometers later you’ll reach Wolchulsan’s highest point, called Cheonhwangbong Peak (천황봉). Topping off at just under 809 meters, the summit offers gorgeous views of forested mountains, a patchwork of farms, and even the coastal waters off the cities of Mokpo and Gangjin.

20090429_bridgeThe Cloud Bridge is a 52-meter-long suspension bridge 120 meters up.

After enjoying the view, rather than going back the way you came, keep going northeast and 100 meters later you’ll pass through Tongcheonmun Gate (통천문), a rocky tunnel that rewards hikers with a refreshing breeze. Shortly after you’ll hit a fork in the trail. Go left to see the Baram Waterfall (바람폭포), or, better yet, go right to reach the dramatic Cloud Bridge. This 52-meter-long, orange suspension bridge connects two peaks. At 120 meters high, it’s not for the faint of heart. But if you’re brave, run (or crawl) across, and then you’re only 2 kilometers from the base, where there are restaurants and even the nearby Wolchulsan Spa Resort. If you need a ride back to your car, frequent bus service is available.

20090429_wolchulvista1The Jeolla Provinces’ peaks are less dramatic than those in Korea’s eastern Gyeongsang region, though no less beautiful.

While my friend and I are just day hikers, Mt. Wolchulsan is also popular among more serious hikers and even rock climbers. In fact, I was surprised to see two guys inching up a wall of rock, with just ropes, tools, skill and a little luck to keep them safe.

20090429_azaleasSpecies of rhododendron and bamboo cover Wolchulsan’s verdant slopes.

For nature lovers, while hiking be on the lookout for the Forest Wagtail (물레새), an olive, black and white-colored bird native to Jeolla Province that is named for the way it sways its tail from side to side. But beware of the Common Sundew, a bright red plant whose glistening drops of sugary sweetness lure unsuspecting prey into its leaves. Well, don’t worry too much, since this carnivorous plant only eats insects.

Whatever outdoor activity you’re looking for, next time, consider visiting Wolchulsan Mountain, just one hour south of Gwangju in South Jeolla Province.

More Information:
Wolchulsan Mountain Official Site (in English) 

Getting There:
map_wolchulsan→ From Seoul, non-stop buses leave Seoul Express Bus Terminal (subway lines 3 and 7) for the Yeongam Express Terminal three times daily between 08:50 and 16:50. The 4 hour 50 minute ride runs between 17,100 and 25,300 won.

→ From Yeongam Express Terminal, a 1,000 won 20-minute bus ride leaves every 20 minutes for Dogapsa. Every 15 minutes, an 850 won fare will take you on a 10-minute, 4-kilometer ride to Cheonghwangsa.

→ Park entrance fees are 1,600 won for adults and 600/400 won for youth and children, respectively.

(A version of this text aired on KBS World Radio on June 21, 2008.)



  1. My name is Kholoud from United Arab Emirates..I’m a big fan of everything korean…I started loving Korean culture and people since I started watching Korean dramas…I’ve completed my dream last year by visiting Korea…I’ve been to Jeju-do too I loved it and I hope to go there anytime soon…I wish if i can live there haha`…now I’m learning the Korean language and hope to be fluent one day^^I really enjoyed reading your postings…it made me wanna prepare my suitecase to go there again ^^…I will keep checking your blog and will start watching your show Hwaiting^^V

  2. Hi Kholoud,
    Thanks for your note. I think it’s great you’ve developed a fondness for Korean culture… those dramas have had the same effect on so many people! Honestly, I haven’t watched many of them, but I’ve heard it’s a great way to improve one’s Korean. Anyhow, thanks for reading, and I hope you get that suitcase packed soon! (화이팅 indeed! :)

    Best, Matt

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