how we started hiking in south korea

podaeneungseon ridge

While ROM and restrictions continue to persist here in South Korea, we’re doing our best to stay sane by continuing to get out there and hike whenever we can. Because we fall under USFK guidelines we, as dependents, are also subject to the limitations off post for the time being. At HPCON B+, we are only allowed to do essential activities off base, as well as hiking, biking, or running. While there are plenty of indoor activities we’d love to do in the winter, they’re off limits right now, so we’re kicking off 2022 by navigating hiking in South Korea and really getting to know the hiking culture in this country.

Getting Started Hiking in South Korea

Contrary to what you might think, we haven’t always hiked and, frankly, Ryan and I both grew up hating hiking. Living in Washington State, however, afforded us the chance of a lifetime to experience some of the greatest hiking in the US, and we dove in headfirst. Here’s the funny thing though…we thought getting started hiking with kids was the hard part. Honestly, that was nothing compared to getting started hiking in South Korea!

Our first taste of hiking in South Korea was in early July, and if you’ve never visited the country in the summer, let me just tell you that it is h o t. Like, hot hot. It’s also humid, and coming from Washington, we were not remotely acclimated to the temperature or the climate here on the peninsula. So, that was a rude awakening. Now that we are a little more comfortable with the super hot summers and frigid winters though, we’re diving in again with a goal of 30 hikes this year.

hiking korea with kids

hiking in south korea

yeonginsan natural forest asan

Is Hiking Big in South Korea?

Interestingly enough, hiking has really come a long way in South Korea! While it was once considered the sport of the elderly, Korea is really set up to hike. There are hiking and walking trails everywhere, and Korea has put a lot of time and money into both maintaining its trails and accommodating for the needs of incoming hikers. That means that most hikes have public restrooms, many have food kiosks nearby, and there are often pressurized air machines to clean your shoes post-hike.

We’ve done quite a few hikes thus far on the peninsula, and we’ve seen all ages hiking. Some hike in actual gear, and some hike in street clothes, showing the rest of us up. My point? Hiking is big here, but some just treat it as a walk in the park…literally.

Our Best Tips for Hiking in South Korea

We’re still fairly new to hiking on the peninsula, but we’ve learned a few things that we hope help others start their hiking journeys here, as well!

AllTrails // Okay, let me caveat this. AllTrails works in South Korea, but the navigation to the trails on iPhones does not. We’ve tried Apple Maps, and it took us somewhere totally wrong. We’ve had some luck inputting trailhead names or mountains into Waze, but usually we’re flying blind or we have to copy the GPS coordinates from AllTrails into Waze. It’s not ideal, but it works.

Hiking Groups on Facebook // While Facebook and I aren’t big friends, the hiking groups (like Hike Korea) are absolutely paramount for finding directions to the actual trailheads. We only found the trailhead for Crocodile Peak because someone dropped a Naver pin for us.

Wear Sunscreen // A lot of the trails are shady, but just as many of the peaks have absolutely no cloud cover. Both summer and winter, you can get a pretty wicked burn, so I recommend wearing sunscreen religiously!

crocodile peak trail south korea

hiking in korea with kids

hiking in south korea

hiking mangwolsa temple trail

Ankle Socks + Bug Spray // The bugs in South Korea are absolutely abysmal in the summer. Bug spray is your best friend, and ankle socks (also sprayed with bug spray) will help save you from the works of it.

Bring Water // We always recommend bringing a hydration pack or bottle, but I definitely recommend it moreso now because a lot of the hydration stations are closed due to Covid.

KNPS Website // The KNPS website is perfect for those hikes you intend to do in Korea’s national parks. It’s a simpler way to find trails and routes that are ideal for the time you hope to invest, as well as your skill level. It’s also easier to navigate using Waze/Naver/Kakao.

Watch the AQI // The air quality in South Korea is pretty awful in the winter months. The locals refer to it as “fine dust” that comes from air pollution from China, etc. If hiking high peaks, the smog will settle over the landscape, obscuring much from view. Also, it’s important to note that sensitive groups can have breathing troubles during poor AQI days.

The Bottom Line

Hiking is actually pretty big in South Korea, and it’s been an exciting prospect to think of a whole spring, summer, and fall of hiking ahead for our family. If you’ve never hiked before, this is a great place to try because there is literally a trail in every location for every skill level. We don’t see a lot of very young children on the trails, so we’re a little out of the norm here, but it’s been an absolute blast so far. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for us hiking through 2022!