Contrary to popular opinion, Korea is not a country of cities dotted with mountains. It’s a country of mountains dotted by cities. Lots of travelers head to Jeju to hike Mount Hallasan or even Bukhansan, just north of the Blue House. Both are more for seasoned hikers and require +5 hour investments of your time. That’s why I like Inwangsan. It offers shorter hikes with trails that are easier to navigate. But at the same time, Inwangsan has one of the best views of Seoul.
Inwangsan is covered in trails with several popular entry points. For our excursion we chose Inwangsa Temple which is located at the western base of the mountain. Temples are popular destinations for hikers thanks to the infrastructure they provide. Temples mean paved roads, concrete steps, and clear paths you can follow deeper into the mountain’s forests.
Our starting point led us up a steep incline to a set of stairs that curled around shrines and past a pair of beautiful murals. Inwangsa is less a cohesive temple ground and more a collection of buildings that includes homes, shrines, and prayer halls. The highest structure is Guksadang of Inwangsan, a curious shrine historically used for shaman rituals including sacrifices. Today, a ceremony was being held with music and singing ringing out from its halls. Nothing too ominous, I promise.
We left the music behind to navigate through trails cut into the wilderness along with semi-visible steps added onto the stone face of the mountain. Just about every trail on Inwangsan Mountain will lead you through dirt paths, over man-made staircases and across smooth (but not slippery) rock faces. Maneuvering our way across a variety of terrain made the entire trip feel like a real adventure.
About a liter of water and an hour after the temple, we made our way up to Snail Rock. While it may not be the peak of Inwangsan, Snail Rock has grooves cut into the rock so visitors can climb up and take in an unobstructed view of the city. It’s a popular spot. Atop Snail Rock, you get a good view of the Seoul city sprawl. That includes the Blue House, Gyeongbokgung, and Namsan hovering above it all in the distance. The Seoul Wall also extends into Inwangsan with one trail leading you alongside the stonework as you make your way up to the peak.
While we weren’t too far off from the peak, we were running low on energy about 2 hours into our trek. We climbed down off Snail Rock and walked along the rock face to make our way down to Hat Rock which offered a view that somehow put Snail Rock to shame. For anyone who visits Inwangsan Mountain, the view from Hat Rock is a must. The entire city is laid out in front of you and it’d be difficult to think of a view that beats this one.
Inwangsan had more views and adventures, but we decided to call it a day. The entire meandering hike took 3 hours which included multiple stops. There is a quicker and easier hike along the Seoul Wall. But it takes you around most of the mountain’s most popular landmarks and straight to the peak. For wanderers like us, Inwangsa Temple’s trail offered a fun adventure. Perfect for a late-morning or early afternoon jaunt.
- 16-1, Tongil-ro 18ga-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
- 서울특별시 종로구 통일로18가길 16-1
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