Carving out more than one day in Seoul? If you’ve got an inkling for adventure, experience the Korean capital at its best by tackling the best hiking trails around Seoul.
Seoul is one of the biggest cities on earth. But that doesn’t mean its adventures end with its urban jungle. There’s a gamut of outdoor activities drumming at Seoul’s doorstep. Hiking in Seoul isn’t just possible; it’s among the city’s most popular pastimes. Locals cherish the opportunity to escape for fresh air. Best of all, you can do it mere minutes from the bustle of the city.
Unsure of where to start for your Seoul hiking adventure? Follow along with this guide to the best hikes around Seoul…
Introduction to hiking in & around Seoul
Most travellers are shocked at how easy it is to hike in & around Seoul. The city is surrounded by beautiful forested mountains. At nearly every turn, another chance to scale a winding path up a crest seems to present itself.
The best (and, depending on whom you ask, worst) part about hiking in Seoul is how accessible it is for regular folk. Many of the trailheads for the best hikes in Seoul can be reached by public transportation. And quickly & easily at that. The drawback is that you’ll share your views with countless others at almost any given time.
Besides great accessibility, hiking around Seoul is great for people of all levels of fitness. All you’ll need to tackle many of the best trails is a good pair of hiking shoes and outerwear suited for the season. None are overly technical climbs. Yet some yield dramatic sweeping views that you’ll feel you should need to work a little harder for.
Best places to go hiking in Seoul: The top 5 trails
As far as classic Seoul hikes go, this is it. Bukhansan is situated just north of the city centre. It’s the highest point within Seoul’s city limits. Thanks to its convenient location, Bukhansan attracts a whopping 5 million hikers per year.
Most hikers start their first Bukhansan hiking adventure at the Bukhansanseong Fortress Course. This popular 3.4-kilometre trail starts at the Bukhansanseong Hiking Support Center. It extends to Baegundae, the highest peak on the mountain. The peak soars 840 metres above sea level. As you’d imagine, the views unto Seoul from the top of Baegundae are magnificent!
The best part? The Bukhansanseong Fortress Course is accessible for people of all ages. Other than a steep section nearing Baegundae Peak, most of the hike is an easy walk through forested trails.
Once you reach Baegundae, there are two options. You can return to your starting point via the Bukhansanseong Fortress Course. Or you can continue following The Fortress Wall of Seoul to Daedongmun Gate. From Daedongmun Gate, you’ll begin a 4-kilometre descent back down Bukhansan. This alternative return route will take about 3 hours.
How to get to Bukhansan
To get to the Bukhansanseong Fortress Course using Seoul public transportation, take the metro to Gupabal Station (Line 3). Outside Exit 1, hop onto bus 704 to Bukhansanseong Fortress. Get off at the Bukhansanseong Hiking Support Center to enter Bukhansan National Park. Follow the signposts to your preferred route.
Don’t have time for the full Bukhansan experience? Think of Namsan as your consolation prize. Located steps from Myeongdong in the heart of the city, Namsan is a convenient hike you can easily tackle on time-crunch.
While hardcore hikers might feel let down by Namsan’s ease, casual walkers will love it. Seoul’s most famous city centre mountain is a pleasant escape from the bustle of its surrounding areas. Once atop Namsan, several hiking trails await. The tracks offer wonderful views over the city among relaxing natural scenery. If you’re visiting Seoul in spring, you may even catch some of Seoul’s most beautiful cherry blossoms here.
Also at the apex is N Seoul Tower, one of the Korean capital’s most important landmarks. Visit the observation deck to double the height of your views. Going on your Namsan hike in the evening? Grab a dinner at one of N Seoul Tower’s restaurants. Dining above the bright lights of the city offers a romantic nightcap for couples visiting Seoul.
How to get to Namsan
There’s a multitude of ways to get up Namsan from the city centre. One of the easiest is from Myeongdong. First, zip over to Myeongdong Station (Line 4). Using Exit 3, walk south for one block. Stick left at the fork in the road.
Keep walking straight until you reach a set of stairs leading to Sopa-ro. Turn right and follow Sopa-ro past the Namsan Cable Car Station. Walk a little further and you should see some stairs to your right. They’ll lead you up Namsan.
Although lesser-known than Bukhansan, Achasan delivers some of the best hiking around Seoul. Compared to other mountains in Seoul, Achasan can seem vertically challenged to hikers. Don’t let its smaller stature fool you: The vistas from Achasan are among the city’s finest. The mountain flanks the Seoul city centre to the east, giving it a unique perspective.
Once you’ve made your way up Achasan’s ridge (about 30 minutes), a slew of hiking courses await. They range between 1.5 and 2.5 hours. Hit any one of them to experience all the sights and sounds of Achasan.
One of the most interesting parts of the journey is Achasan Park. The park is peppered with military fortifications. The fortresses, including Achasanseong Fortress, date back to the Goguryeo Era (37BC-668AD). Wander around to enjoy the park’s relaxing natural beauty.
How to get to Achasan
Take Seoul Metro Line 5 to Achasan Station. From Exit 2, walk straight along Cheonho-daero. Turn left at Jayang-ro. Walk about 3 blocks and swing right at the Y-junction. Follow the road and turn right at Yeonghwasa-ro. The entrance to Achasan Park will be on your right, uphill past the school.
Add intrigue into your Seoul hiking plans with a scoot up Bugaksan. This 342-metre-high mountain looms north of Gyeongbokgung Palace. It also hovers above the Blue House (Cheongwadae), the South Korean president’s digs. With extra security precautions in place, the atmosphere at Bugaksan feels tenser than elsewhere. This either adds to the experience or dulls it—depending on your outlook.
Back in 1968, Bugaksan was the backdrop for an interesting battle. The skirmish started when a group of North Korean commandos set course to assassinate the South Korea president. The plot ultimately failed. They were gunned down nearby by South Korean and American soldiers.
It’s hardly a surprise that Bugaksan was off-limits for awhile. It wasn’t until 2007 when civilians were allowed to hike in the area again. Today, there’s still military presence on Bugaksan and restrictions in place. (You’ll need your passport to access it, for instance.)
Bugaksan is home to the Seoul Fortress Wall and incredible views over the city and the surrounding area. You’d be remiss if you let a few hassles get in your way of tackling one of Seoul’s top hiking trails.
How to get to Bugaksan
Take the Seoul Subway to Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3), leaving the station via Exit 3. At the bus stop outside, take green bus 1020, 7022, or 7212 to Jahamun Gate Hill (Changuimun Gate). Walk two minutes along Changuimun-ro to get to the entrance.
Looking for a more rugged alternative? Head for Dobongsan, a 740-metre-high peak in the middle of Bukhansan National Park.
Dobongsan is the most difficult of all the best places to go hiking in Seoul, but one of the most rewarding. Since you’re further from the city centre, Dobongsan feels more “out there” in its scenery. Like other popular hiking trails around Seoul though, the crowds will quickly remind you of where you are.)
Starting in the city, the main ascent to Dobongsan heads through a densely-forested valley and up to the ridgeline. Once you’re on the ridge, you’ll have plenty of choice for what to do. Be aware that some of the routes, especially to the higher peaks, can be challenging and even dangerous for uninitiated hikers. Choose wisely.
How to get to Dobongsan
One of the best things about Dobongsan is how easy it is to get to. Take the subway to Dobongsan Station (Lines 1 & 7). From Exit 1, cross the street. Make your way through the street vendors, set up for hikers, to the entrance of Bukhansan National Park.
Where to stay in Seoul for hikers
Since hiking opportunities are spread throughout Seoul, there’s no single neighbourhood standing out above all others. I’d recommend narrowing down your search to areas like Myeongdong, Insadong or Hongdae. (Get the full details with this guide to the best areas to stay in Seoul for travellers). In the meantime, here are few ideas:
- Grid Inn Hotel is a sleek budget pick in the culture-rich neighbourhood of Insadong. Clean modern designs and an on-site café with retro Euro leanings highlight a delightful stay.
- Aloft Myeongdong is a relative newcomer on the Seoul accommodations scene. The hotel impresses travellers with its hip & artistic rooms and innovative designs. You’ll love sipping a cocktail at the trendy on-site W XYZ bar&lounge. Or walk outside and splinter off into nearby Myeongdong or Namdaemun Market for your own adventures. Either way, staying at this chillaxin’ 4-star will be unforgettable.
- The Westin Chosun is one of the best luxury hotels in Seoul. The hotel offers up an incredible 5-star experience from the moment you enter. Luxurious extras, from the opulent indoor pool to the relaxing spa, promise a Korean urban vacation like none other.
Seoul hiking packing list
- Hiking Shoes: Full-on hiking boots are probably overkill for most of these trails (other than maybe Dobongsan). Either way, you’ll want a sturdy pair of hiking shoes with good footbed support. My own personal favourites are the Merrell Men’s Moab Edge or the Merrell Women’s Moab Edge. (For more choices, check out these guides to the top-rated low-cut hiking shoes for men and the top-rated low-cut hiking shoes for women.)
- Lightweight Clothing: You’re gonna be burning some calories and sweating hiking in Seoul. You should try to be as comfortable as possible. Lightweight, quick-drying, and moisture-wicking clothing is a great idea for your Korea packing list.
- Daypack: Since you’ll be out for the day, you’ll need extra room to carry a few travel essentials with you. For travellers looking for a basic daypack, the Tortuga Setout Daypack is a great choice. It’s got enough room for everything you need for a half-day hike. It packs up into a package about the size of a small bag of chips. You’ll barely notice it in your luggage. (For more ideas, check out our guide to the top-rated travel daypacks.)
- Rain Jacket: Even if you’ve picked the best time to visit Seoul, you’ll likely hit a rough patch weather-wise. Whenever you’re out and about in Korea, you’ll want to stuff a rain jacket in your backpack. For an all-around performer that doesn’t break the bank, take a look at the Columbia Men’s Watertight II or Columbia Women’s Arcadia II. (Want more selection? Check out these men’s waterproof jacket reviews and women’s waterproof jacket reviews.)
- Softshell Jacket: Hiking in autumn? You’ll need something a little warmer to stay comfortable in the dwindling temperatures. My own preference is the cozy & windproof The North Face Men’s Apex Bionic 2 and The North Face Women’s Apex Bionic 2. (Need more options? Check out these men’s softshell jacket reviews and women’s softshell jacket reviews.)
- Water Bottle: Even if you’re not sweating in the heat of a Korean summer, it’s important to stay hydrated on the trails. The Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle is a great choice as a travel water bottle.
Summary: The best hikes in Seoul
- Short on time? Go for the mini-hike up Namsan in the city centre. It’ll allow you to clear your lungs and get impressive views over the city without taking up too much of your time.
- Need a bigger challenge? The precipitous peaks & ridges of Dobongsan offers some of the best heart-pumping hikes around Seoul.
- Looking for the classic Seoul hike? Set your sights on the Bukhansanseong Fortress Course at Bukhansan. For visitors to Seoul, it’s the most popular hiking trail.