Hallasan is the highest point in South Korea, on Jeju Island. It is a de facto volcano, which was last active around the year 1000 AD. The volcano rises 1947–1950 meters above sea level (data depending on the source), and there is a lake inside the crater. The place is particularly charming in spring, when the local flowers and trees bloom, and in autumn, when the leaves of the trees begin to turn various colors of orange, red, and brown.
Hallasan Volcano is also known as Yeongjusan, which means “Mountain high enough to involve the galaxy” or “Mountain high enough to involve the universe.”. At the summit is the Baengnokdam crater, 108 meters deep and 550 meters wide. The top of the mountain consists of 360-370 (data depending on the source) volcanic cones, which gives it originality among other mountains in the country. The crater was formed after the last eruption, when the top of the ridge collapsed. In addition, on the mountain itself inside the crater is Lake Baengnokdam or otherwise known as White Deer Lake. It obtains its name in honor of this mystical animal, which, according to legends, once visited this place to drink water. The animal came from the sky, and a Taoist hermit arrived at it to visit the place and drink a few sips of the refreshing water. According to beliefs, the gods living in the mountains came here to ride and play with this creature.
Hallasan is located in the central part of the island, and that it is the highest point on the island and in South Korea the views span the entire island, in every direction. Steep cliffs, rocks with unusual shapes and slopes covered with lush vegetation make a visit to Hallasan especially recommended for nature lovers and people who enjoy relaxation and physical activity outdoors. The local ecosystem consists of about 2,000 plant species, 73 of which are native, many endangered and rare. There were even legends about Korean wizards who became immortal after consuming the endemic Hallasan plant. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of unified China (221-210 BC), even sent his trusted men in this area to find the sacred plant in order that he too could live forever.
The mountain area, is home to some 4,000 species of animals, including 160 species of birds and 3,315 species of insects. The largest mountain animal here is the roe deer, a symbol of Hallasan, which has recovered in recent years after that how the species was on the verge of extinction. The park has 42 kilometers of lava caves/tunnels on its territory. The most popular of these is the Manjanggul cave. There are 7 hiking trails in the reserve, and they are: Gwaneumsa, Seongpanak, Eorimok, Yeongsil, Donnaeko, Eoseungsangak and Seokguram.
The Hallasan Mountain Reserve was “converted” to a Natural Monument on October 12, 1966. On March 24, 1970, it was recognized as a National Park, and was inscribed on UNESCO’s list of Biosphere Reserves in December 2002. In 2007, meanwhile, this location became a World Heritage Site.
The formation of Mount Hallasan on the lava plateau dates to the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago. The volcano was formed as a result of the eruption of basaltic lava and trachyte. Research conducted in 2017 to determine the age of the crater rock using optically stimulated luminescence showed that the current shape of the mountain was formed between 37,000 and 20,000 years ago.
IS HALLASAN AN ACTIVE VOLCANO?
Scientists do not always agree on the definition of an active volcano. If one accepts the assumption of the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program, which defines activity over a time horizon of 10,000 years, it can be concluded that Hallasan is not a dormant neither extinct volcano. A recent study in 2014 showed by radiocarbon dating of the charcoal beneath the basalt layer to be 5,000 years old. This means that Hallasan volcano was still active after the last ice age, so it should be considered as active.
In addition, there are historical records from the Joseon Dynasty, recording events from the 11th century, and this is: “In June 1002 A.D. (or 1007 A.D. data depending on the source) a mountain grew up in the middle of the sea. At the top of the mountain were four gigantic holes from which a red liquid flowed, and for five days thick smoke was lifting. All the red liquid hardened and became stone like tiles.” However, there is no substantive evidence of the volcano’s activity during this period.
There are seven different hiking trails on Hallasan Volcano, but only Seongpanak and Gwaneumsa lead to the summit, where the crater lake is located. In this article, we will focus on these two hiking trails.
1 Gwaneumsa Trail 관음사 탐방로.
The Gwaneums Trail is one of the most scenic trails, but also the most difficult. There are several steep climbs. Its length is about 8.5 kilometers, and a one-way trip takes about 5 hours. You should set out on this route no later than 10 a.m. and arrive at the highest “checkpoint”, the hut, at 1 p.m. in summer or 12 p.m. in winter. There is a campsite at the entrance to the trail. Caution: passage along the Gwaneums trail requires early reservations.
The trail is divided into 4 sections.
Section 1 – just under 3 km of the trail will be relatively flat and will lead through thick forest. Much of this trail is covered with trees, so it is one of the most shaded sections on the entire route.
Section 2 – is the longest section of the trail. There are quite a few ramps and stairs. On this part of the trail are Tamnagyegok toilets, Gaemideung and Samgakbong mountain hut. It takes about 3 – 3.5 hours to reach it. There are also several benches and toilets.
Section 3 – a longer section of the trail follows well-maintained wooden “sidewalks/paths.” Here there are practically no more trees, so from this point on we are exposed to the sun all the time.
Section 4 – the most difficult part, there are the most steep climbs and stairs to climb.
To get to where the trail begins, take intercity bus No. 281 or 212 from Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal to Seogwipo and get off at Jeju University (about a 25-minute drive). Then take Intercity Bus No. 475 and get off at Gwaneumsa Campground (about a 15-minute drive). Every day, a course approximately 14 passage buses of the No. 475, and the gaps between services are between 1 hour and 1.5 hours. You can also rent a cab from the bus station. The cost is about 17,000 won (less than $13 at the January 2024 exchange rate).
2 Seongpanak Trail 성판악 탐방로.
The Seongpanak Trail is the longest trail, measuring about 9.5 kilometers, but it is not as technically difficult as Gwaneumsa. The hike takes about 4 hours one way. On the way, you can walk up to the Sara Oreum mountain, where there is a small lake. Caution: passage along the Seongpanak trail requires early reservations.
To get to the place from where the trail leads, you must go to the Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal, take bus No. 281 or 181, which runs to Seogwipo, and get off at the bus stop (about a 45-minute drive).
Other routes are:
- Eorimoka Trail (어리목 탐방로) with a length of about 6.8 kilometers, and the passage takes about 3 hours one way.
- Yeongsil Trail (영실 탐방로) is about 5.8 kilometers in length and takes about 3.5 hours one way. Recommended route for beginner hikers.
- Donnaeko Trail (돈내코 탐방로) measuring about 9 kilometers, and takes about 4 hours, one way.
- Eoseungsaengak Trail (어승생악 탐방로) is ideal for walks and short trips out of town with children. The length is less than 1.5 kilometers, and the time it takes to walk it one way is less than an hour.
- Seokgulam Trail (석굴암 탐방로) just like the Eoseungsaengak Trail, is ideal for hiking with small children. The length is a little over than 1.5 kilometers, the time required to walk is one hour (one way).
Online booking at the summit via the Gwaneumsa and Seongpanak trails you can find here.
For those who need help making reservations: Jeju Tourist Information Center is open daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Before set forth on a trek, it is important to remember that there are boundary hours in the mountains. On the Seongpanak route, the boundary hour is at the Jindallaebat Field Control Center (also known as Azalea), and on the Gwaneumsa route, it is at the Samgakbong Peak control station. This means that if you do not arrive at either of these stations before the fixed time, you will be asked to return to the parking lot. In addition, you will be asked to leave the summit at a defined the time in order that everyone leaves the mountain before nightfall. Seasonally, the trails are open from 5:00 – 6:00 a.m., and you should arrive at the stations between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m. The summit closes between 1:30 and 2:30 p.m.
There are 1,000 pasteboard available per day on the Seongpanak trek, while 500 are available in Gwaneumsa.
To make a reservation, you have to wait until the month before the date of the trek. Example: reservations for the entire month of June will “open” on May 1. When it is June 1, you will be able to make reservations for July. If you plan to go out on Saturday or Sundays, it is advisable to make reservations over a dozen days early because then are the most eager hikers on the trails to reach the summit. Although reservations are required, no need to pay any fees. This system is mainly aims at preventing “overcrowding” on the trails and limiting the number of tourists on the summit. This rule came into live in 2020 (before that there was no reservation system). To make a reservation, click this link or call 064-713-9953. After making a reservation, a QR code will be sent to your cell phone, thanks to this, we can go through the gates located at the beginning of the trail.
Comment: reservations can be made maximum for 4 people.
HOW TO GET TO HALLASAN?
There are 3 ways to get to the Hallasan Mountain area.
- Rental car
You can use the website rentalcars.com and choose the car which will be best for us. However, if we would like to explore other parts of the island, a good option would be to rent a car with a larger trunk like a station wagon, minivan, or SUV.
Trail coordinates: Seongpanak (GPS: 33°23’05.5″N 126°37’12.1″E), Gwaneumsa (GPS: 33°25’19.5″N 126°32’59.2″E).
Important information about renting a car:
To rent a car in South Korea, we will need an international driver’s license.
Google Maps does not work in South Korea. It is worth downloading the Naver Map app to get directions and maps of the country.
The second option is to take a public transportation bus, which stops at parking lots which are located at the beginning of routes.
For this purpose, it is worth looking at sites such as, http://bus.jeju.go.kr and https://www.visitjeju.net/en/tourInfo/traffic?tap=three&menuId=DOM_000001821013003000 where we can check the routes of bus lines, rent a bus or find a stop which interests us.
The last option to consider is taking a cab from the airport or bus station, for example. The cost of a ride from the airport to the Gwaneumsa parking zone is about ₩ 30,000. On the other hand, from the city of Seogwipo, a cab will cost about 60,000 ₩.
Keep in mind that if you rent a car and plan to walk to Hallasan volcano via the Gwaneumsa trail, for example, and walk down Seongpanak, then you will have to get back to the parking lot beside the Gwaneums trail. This can be done in several ways:
There is often some sort of cab stand in parking lots, but not always. After walking down with the trail, we can ask the driver to drive us to the parking lot where we left the car. Between one parking lot and the other (Gwaneumsa – Seongpanak) the route takes less than 15 minutes and the cost of such a service is about ₩ 15,000.
To travel between Gwaneumsa and Seongpanak (in that order!), you can first take a bus toward Jeju University. There, change to bus (number 475) to get to one of the two initial routes.
TIPS FOR TAKING PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION AND CABS
The best way to find the nearest bus stop is to use the Kakao Maps app (iOS/Android) or Naver Maps (iOS/Android).
If we want to use public transportation, we can consider buying a T-money card for about ₩ 4,000 at any grocery store and recharge it in amount, for example, 20,000 won. We can use it while riding the bus or train. Details about the card and how to use it can be found here.
Uber’s Korean equivalent is the Kakao T app (iOS/Android), which is worth downloading and setting up before your trip if you plan to travel by cab. It is also available in English.
OPENING HOURS AND FEES
Before climbing the mountain, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the opening schedule of Hallasan National Park. Keep in mind that overnight stays are not allowed in the volcano area. The trails in Hallasan Reserve open at 5:00 am from May to August and at 6:00 am from September to April. To ensure that everyone has enough time to return before dark, hiking times are limited and vary depending on the season. The rangers will prevent hikers from climbing higher if they do not reach the highest shelters/points at certain times (usually at 1:00 pm or 12:00 pm in winter).
Hallasan Mountain is open year-round and can be climbed at any time (the most recommended time of year to visit this place is spring or autumn, however) it may happen that the trails may be closed due to bad weather or “repairs”.
Parking fees (2023 prices):
Two-wheeled vehicles (scooters, motorcycles): 500 ₩
Automobiles (capacity less than 1,000 cc): 1000 ₩
Vehicle weighing less than 4 tons: 1800 ₩
Small bus (11-15 seats): 3000 ₩
Bus with more than 16 seats / vehicle weight over 4 tons: 3700 ₩
“Closing/boundary” hours are the time of day at which guards do not continue to let tourists who want to go to the summit pass. This is to eliminate the situation of casual hikers staying overnight on the top of the volcano.
– The summit of Hallasan is closed at 1:30 p.m. in winter, 2 p.m. in spring/autumn and 2:30 p.m. in summer.
– Witse Oreum Shelter closes at 3:00 pm in winter, 4:00 pm in spring/autumn and 5:00 pm in summer months.
– Samgakbong Shelter closes at 12:30 pm in spring, at 1 pm in summer and at 12 pm in winter.
– Nambyeok or South Cliff turnaround points close at 2:00 pm in winter, 2:30 pm in spring/autumn and 3:00 pm in summer.
Closing times can change. This may be dictated by difficult and adverse weather.
Recommended accommodations on Jeju Island is including:
Yeha Guesthouse – guesthouse offers free breakfast and laundry, near the bus station.
Thira Hotel – a hotel with spacious rooms and a restaurant in Seogwipo town.
Gwaneumsa Campsite – a campground at the beginning of the Gwaneumsa trail, which leads to the top of Hallasan Mountain. There are toilets and washrooms. The campground does not have a website, so reservations can only be made by phone +82-064-756-9950.
Jeju R Guesthouse – is a small modern hotel with breakfast included in the price, a 5-minute walk from the main bus station.
Hotel Nanta Jeju – is a four-star hotel, located near Hallasan and across the street from the Planetarium. The guesthouse has its theater with live performances, multiple gastronomic local and fitness equipment.
Amber Resort Jeju – a complex of large houses/villas where you can rent rooms with bathrooms overlooking Hallasan Volcano.
Grand Hyatt Jeju – is a luxury five-star hotel in downtown Jeju with a swimming pool.
Ganderak Guesthouse – offers mainly, 4-bed rooms along with free breakfast.
Jeju Oriental Hotel and Casino – a reasonably priced hotel with sea views.
Donnaeko Guesthouse in Seogwipo – offers luxurious double rooms with fully equipped private kitchens and bathrooms, as well as a shared outdoor pool and garden.
Qube Resort Jeju – offers spacious suites with sea and Hallasan Mountain views.
Velum Resort – a guesthouse has rooms with a balcony overlooking the mountains.
Bridge Residence Hotel – a budget hotel in Seogwipo where rooms are equipped with a cooking stock and a laundry room.
Other recommended hotel is Jeju Best Hill.
MYTHS AND LEGENDS
And how was the volcano formed? What do the myths read? Well, the giant woman Seolmundae Halmang created Hallasan Mountain with seven shovel throws. One day the woman, a mother of 500 sons, while cooking soup for them, fell into the caldron and died. The sons ate the soup, and when they found their mother’s bones inside, they cried until they turned to stone. A large cluster of unusual rock pillars can be seen from the Yeongsil trail, and every spring, legend explains, their blood is reborn in the form of field flowers.
It is also believed that a plant grows in the Hallasan area that provides immortality. China’s Emperor Qin Shi Huang himself sent his men to find it, but they failed. The emperor died in 210 BC.
When the first Western visitors began arriving at Jeju Island in the late 19th century with hopes of reaching Hallasan, locals informed them that no one had ever been to the summit before. Jeju’s governor, Yi Chi-ho, in 1901 rejected German journalist Siegfried Genthe’s request for permission to climb the volcano with these words: “The mountain spirits would certainly plague the island with bad weather, storms, poor harvests and pestilence if someone approached them and disturbed their rest. A bad harvest would cause people to blame you, the foreigner, and no question they would do you harm.”. Unfortunately, there is no reliable information on the Internet about who managed to climb Hallasan Peak for the first time and when. You can try to ask the staff at the ascent (guards/refuge/service) for such information. 😊
For many Koreans, Hallasan volcano has spiritual significance. As one of South Korea’s three spiritual mountains (the others being Jirisan and Seoraksan), Hallasan is considered sacred. Koreans believe that gods and spirits live in the mountain, so they worship it, and some also pray there. Hallasan volcano is also home to Gwaneumsa, the oldest Buddhist temple on the island, dating back to the 11th century. However, it was destroyed in 1702, during the Joseon Dynasty, when Confucianism was established as the national religion, but was rebuilt in the early 20th century.
TIPS AND ADVICE
When climbing Mt. Hallasan in winter, worth taking with you crampons, as the trails can be icy.
It is a good idea to take with you: rain jacket or down jacket (in winter), sweatshirt, hat, pants with unzip legs (in summer), sunglasses, sunscreen, insect spray, trekking shoes, bandages, first aid kit, 2–4 liters of water (depending on which trail you choose and what season you will be climbing, you will be more thirsty in summer) and food.
To check if the Gwaneumsa trail is open, you can visit this website or call the travel hotline at 1330.
Jeju is a fairly windy island. Let’s keep this in mind when packing up and going to this place.
The volcano area occurs frequent rainfall in the summer.
It is also wise to take trekking poles with you.
T-shirt and underwear should be thermoactive.
The top of Hallasan Peak is inaccessible to tourists due to erosion. Visitors this place can near 10 meters below the actual summit.
People who have booked an ascent of Halssan Volcano via the Seongpanak and Gwaneumsa trails, and do not come, will get a penalty. The first time such a person will not be allowed to re-book for three months, and the second time, a year must pass before such a delinquent can book again.
South Korea is covered with 70% mountains and highlands. The country has 7715 mountains which have a name. Most of them do not exceed 1,000 meters in height.
If you want to get a certificate for climbing a mountain, you must show a photo which is taken at the summit on the same day. The certificate can be purchased for 1,000 won (about $1, cash only, price in 2023) at the Information Center at the beginning of the Seongpanak or Gwaneumsa trail.
Coming to Jeju Island in South Korea and being a nature lover, you should visit this place. There is a trail for everyone. People with the less experienced will choose the Eoseungsaengak or Seokgulam trails, while those who want to go to the summit and are not afraid of fatigue will choose Gwaneumsa and Seongpanak. Independently of the season, the views of the island from here are unforgettable. However, let’s remember about good preparation, and to set out as early in the morning as possible to reach the top in peace and savor the local panoramas.
Author Jonas K., source flickr.
Author Nfarag2019, source wikimedia.org.