One of the best things that I ever did in Korea is to take a hike in one of its 20 national parks. I’m just lucky I live about 20 minutes from that place. Mt. Gyeryongsang is a part of both Daejon (a metropolitan city of Korea) and Gongju (a small city where I live).
There’s a very interesting story about this place. Gyeryong literally means a dragon with the shape of a rooster. The first king of the Joseon dynasty, King Taejoe was visiting this mountain when a renowned Buddhist priest described it as a”golden rooster sitting on eggs” and a “dragon soaring up to the heavens.” Hence its name as rooster (Gye) and dragon (ryong) mountain remains to this day.
So, does it really look like a dragon or a rooster?
Sorry, the picture isn’t really that good. Or probably that wasn’t the view where you could see a rooster or a dragon. 😛
It’s my second time to come here. The first time I came to Gyeryongsan, I didn’t go far so I thought I’d like to come back and a do some real hiking. With a total area of 64 sq. km, it encompasses three temples (Donghaksa, Sinwonsa and Gapsa), all renowned for its rich cultural heritage. One thing I love about taking hiking trips in Korea is that you are not only in communion with nature but you also get a taste of Korean culture and spirituality.
There are many entrances (and also exits) to Gyeryongsan National Park. You can enter in one temple and exit another temple, but that would be about 4-5 hours hike. There are 14 hike courses, listed in the brochure found at tourist information area near the gates (I was also able to get a neat map of Korea there). Here are the 14 hike courses:
Donghaksa Temple – Gwaneumbong peak -The Nature Wall Ridge – Nanmae-tap Pagoda – Shinheung-am Heritage – Gapsa Temple (7.1 km/4.5 hrs)
Donghaksa Temple – Gwaneumbong peak -The Nature Wall Ridge – Nanmae-tap Pagoda -Donghaksa Temple (6.4 km/4 hrs)
Donghaksa Temple – Nanmae-tap Pagoda -Sambulbong thre-way junction – Geumjandi-hill – Shinheung-am Heritage- Yongmon Waterfall – Gapsa Temple (4.7 km/3 hrs)
Donghaksa Temple – Eunson waterfall- Gwaneumbong three-way junction-Gowang-am heritage- Sinwonsa Temple (5.8 km/3.5 hrs)
Donghaksa Temple – Eunson waterfall- Gwaneumbong peak- The Nature Wall Ridge – Sambulbong Peak-Nanmaetap Pagoda-Cheonjong Valley (8.2 km/4.5 hrs)
Cheonjong Valley-Nanmaetap Pagoda- Sambulbong three-way junction-Geumjandi Hill-Yongmon Waterfall-Gapsa Temple (6.3 km/3.5km)
Cheonjong Valley-Nanmaetap Pagoda- Sambulbong three-way junction- The Nature Wall Ridge- Gwaneumbong Peak-Yeonchongbon Peak- Sinwonsa Temple (9.4 km/5 hrs)
Gapsa Temple- Yeonchongbong Three-way junction- Yeonchongbong Peak-Gowang-am Heritage-Sinwonsa Temple (5.5 km/3.5 km)
Gapsa Temple- Yeonchongbong Three-way junction-Gwaneumbong Peak – The Nature Ridge Wall- Geumjandi Hill – Shinheung-am Heritage – Yongmon Waterfall – Gapsa Temple (7.2 km/4.5 hrs)
Sinwonsa Temple – Gowang-am Heritage – Yeonchongbom three-way junction-Gwaneumbong peak- The Nature Ridge Wall – Geumjandi Hill – Yongmon Waterfall – Gapsa Temple (7.5 km/4.5 hrs)
Sangsin-ri parking lot – Eunson Waterfall- Keungol three-way junction – Large Baejae – Nanmaetap Pagoda (3.2 km/1.5 hrs)
Sutong valley visitor center – Dodeokbong peak-Geumsu-bong peak-Bingyesan Mountain – Sutong valley parking lot (8.5 km/5 hrs)
Jiseok Valley – Little Baejae- Nanmaetap Pagoda – Donghaksa Temple (4.3km/2.5 hrs)
Byeongsa Valley-Janggunbong Peak -Gatbawi Rock- Large Baejae-Nanmaetap Pagoda-Donghaksa Temple (4.9 km/4 hrs & 10 min)
We took the Donghaksa-Nanmaetap Pagoda- Sambulbong three-way Junction – Sambulbong Peak -Shinheung-am Heritage-Gapsa Temple course. It was a very nice hike. Hiking in Korea is very leisurely – the path/trail is very nice and there are markers everywhere to tell you the direction (good for people like me who has a propensity of getting lost). There are a lot of hikers – most old people, married couples or groups of friends.
Looking at our course at the entrance of the Park (Donghaksa Temple side)
There is a tourist information center near the entrance of the park where you can get information on hiking courses, cultural heritage and natural resources of Gyeoryong National Park. The center also houses exhibits on the flora and fauna that thrive in the park.
Inside the Tourist Information Center.
The biggest beehive I’ve ever seen.
Entrance to the National Park (after the Tourist Information Center)
Donghaksa Temple (Photo taken in May when I first went there). It is considered to be one of the most impressive temple complexes in Korea.
About 15-20 minutes hike from Donghaksa temple, is Eunson Waterfall.
It is not really a pretty site. I have seen bigger falls but the hike going there is great and the view of the mountains is breathtaking.
Mountain streams. I love the sound of the water against the rocks, very relaxing.
A very rocky hike.
One hour hike from Donghaksa Temple (about 1.7km), two pagodas stand abreast. The Nammaetap pagodas are considered national treasures, built in memory of a legendary monk and his adopted sister (a seven-story pagoda for the brother and a five-story pagoda for the sister).
According to legend, a man from the royal family (some versions say it was a famous monk) retreated to a cave in the twenty-third year of Queen Seondeok of Silla, and was living there in meditation. One day he rescued a tiger who was suffering from a bone caught in its throat. The tiger brought a lady to express its gratitude. The man discovered that the woman had been recently married in Sangju, Gyeongsang-do. On the first night of her wedding, she had gone out to get some fresh air, and had no memory of what happened next nor how she found herself to be with the tiger. Since it was a very cold winter season, they had no choice but to stay together in the cave. Later, she asked him to marry her but the man concretely rejected her, knowing she was already married. Instead, he promised to live with her as brother and sister. After living together many years in the cave, they died at the same time on the same day, and the two pagodas, a seven-story pagoda for the brother, and a five-story pagoda for the sister were built in their memory.
Just below the Nammaetap pagodas is the temple village, with an English-speaking monk serving free coffee.
The lush view of the mountains from Nammaetap.
At the Sambulbong three-way junction, bracing ourselves to take the hike to Sambulbong peak (0.2 km). I wanted to go to Gwangumbong Peak (1.8 km) but we didn’t have time (and yes, we were already tired). Going to the peak was worth it. It was not a difficult hike because there were railings for safety and support. The view from the top was magnificent.
This picture was not zoomed so that’s how close we were to that whirlybird.
Going down from Sambulbong three-way junction.
Geumjandi hill calling for our chopper to pick us up. 😉
Small falls along the way.
Hundreds of monk figurines inside the temple.
Jongmon Waterfall, about 10-15 minute hike from Shinheung-am Heritage.
Sources of potable water in the park (they are clean and safe to drink).
After more than 4 hours hike, we reached Gapsa Temple. It is said that Gapsa is very beautiful during fall season, with dense old pinewoods, zelkova trees, red persimmons and maples.
A painting in one of the doors at the Gapsa temle complex.
It was a great experience. The views are lovely and I felt a sense of peace during the hike and visits to the temples.
Note: There are restaurants near the temple where you could eat after the hike. We did not actually ate lunch there because we brought some trail food and we thought we would like to save some money and just enjoy a hearty sangyupsal dinner back to the city. In my first visit to Donghaksa, my friend and I ate in one of the restaurants there. The food was ok but what I love most about that place is the refreshing dip at the stream beside the restaurants.