Where: Odaesan, far north of South Korea
Best Season: Autumn is cooler and less prone to forest fires
Best Sights: Craggy peaks, waterfalls and ancient temples
Remember to bring: Bottle to collect spring water, good walking boots and high fashion leisure wear
South Korea’s stunning landscape has played a big part in creating a cohesive Korean identity. This is a country swathed in green, prodding its stony fingers skyward, and the Koreans are a people obsessed with nature (mountains in particular). Wherever you travel, you’ll see Koreans out in the open air, clad in the latest adventure fashions, pushing ever onward and upward.
Situated near the DMZ and once an area of intense fighting in the Korean war, Odaesan is a land of high craggy peaks, lush forests, tremendous waterfalls, boulder-strewn white water rivers, beaches and ancient temples. This is one of the only parts of the country where native animals are still in existence; if you are lucky you might see black bear and deer.
Being such a gorgeous attraction, the park is outrageously popular, so don’t go there expecting a solitary wilderness experience, as the Koreans head there in their thousands every weekend. At Odesan you can follow a trek or a bike ride through a high arc of mountains and then down into a valley that shelter a number of old Buddhist monasteries, including the Zen hermitage of Sangwon-sa and then down to Woljong-sa (Moon vitality temple), one of the best known and most beautiful complexes in the country.
– During the spring and summer forest fires are rife in Korea so be pre-warned that many peaks can be shut down for prolonged periods as the vegetation is too dry to risk an errant matchstick. However, if you call first to a local KNTO office they will let you know where and what has been closed to visitors.
– A top tip for travellers is to drink some of the mountain water when on the trails – these wells are delicious and untainted and if you travel a bit beyond the beaten track you will find a multitude of mountain springs to replenish your energies.
By Iain Overton