Exploring Deogyusan Hyangjeokbong Peak is one of my most memorable mountain hiking experiences in South Korea. The Peak is over 1,000 meters above sea level and famous for its 'ice flowers' during the winter season.
Some of its best features include...
Yes, you can tell me if you've been there and that I am wrong with my observations and experiences!^^
Now, if you are wondering how I traveled to Hyeongjakbong, let me simply describe how I got there using public transports. It was my first time, but I had no problems finding my way (it's the drivers' job ^^).
Yes, here's how I got there safely and quickly. But, I want to confess that since I am living here in Korea for quite some time now, it is my advantage.
But I say that if it's my first travel to the area, then it would be the same if you came from outside the country. Yes?
You can prepare light, book ahead of your hotel (or B&B), guide tools (navigation or map). Some useful details are below. Here I go...
Yes, it is always advisable to travel light, and I always prepare like this so that I can move easily and quickly.
The advantage of traveling light is (for me) that I can enjoy my adventure fully. It would be best if you're trekking various terrain if your personal supplies do not so burden you.
As much as you can, one backpack is enough. Since it was winter, I was a bit heavy due to my thick winter jacket. If it is not winter, you only need to prepare a couple of sweatshirts, light hiking pants, and hiking boots.
Other useful tools include boots spikes (for winter), hiking sticks, headcovers (hat, bandana, or any), water container.
I stayed overnight in a comfortable hotel located where I started my hike. Yes, I think it is very advisable and much better if you book a room nearby or around the national park.
The nearest town where you can book is Muju Town and its nearby areas but within the whole Deogyusan National Park's area. (and where I stayed).
To get there, here is the quick summary...
Incheon Airport T1--Daejeon City--Muju--Deogyusan National Park
And, here are the detailed description...
From Incheon International Airport (Terminal 1), you can take a bus on the first floor (or ground floor) at the airport where all other transports pick up passengers (bus, taxi, van, hotel limousine).
By bus, go to the Ticket Booth located in the waiting area on the first floor outside the airport. First, before coming out, ask the Information Desk to give you a guide map or ask directly how to get the bus for Deokgyusan.
The bus Incheon Airport to Daejeon costs around 28,000KRW (around 3 hours). Then from Daejeon (Bus Terminal) to Muju is around 5,000KRW (takes 50 minutes).
Then from Muju Bus Terminal, you can either take a Maeul Bus (4,000KRW) or a taxi (costs around 35,000KRW) to the main entrance stop of Deogyusan National Park.
I didn't go straight to the park but to my small hotel located along the way. Since I couldn't bear waiting for a bus that takes about an hour, I took a taxi to my hotel.
I only paid around 20,000KRW by taxi (23 kilometers from Muju Terminal) to my hotel. The bus cost me 4,700KRW, which I took from Deogyusan National Park's parking area to Muju-gun Bus Terminal.
While on our way to my hotel with much and excitement, I was talking to the driver while enjoying the views outside.
Abbie: Are there many travelers nowadays?
Driver: No, unfortunately, not many, and it's bad for business. Can you see those resorts (he's pointing to some hotels and resorts' gardens with no guests)? They were fully booked at the same time last year.
Abbie: Why not many this year?
Driver: It's because there is less snow this time. People want to see snow, and especially the famous 'snow flowers' (he's talking about the snow-clad trees, branches, and leaves that form like spikes).
Abbie: Most probably because of the warming weather conditions...
The conversation went on, and we arrived at our destination--my hotel by the roadside. Yeeyyy!
Choosing the Hiking Trail
It was not time to check in yet, but I decided to see the hotel first and to inquire about hike trails.
I first met the woman (most probably the wife of the owner), but when she noticed I looked like a foreigner, she called the man (the manager and possibly the husband).
I immediately told him my booking and asked for directions about trails and attractions. Then he asked me...
Hotel Manager: How much can you do physically, and for how many hours?
Abbie: I can hike any mountain trail for up to ten hours (answered with much excitement and confidence).
With much confidence, I mentioned that I could hike for eight hours or more. With that, he pointed out the best route I could take for the day. Looking at the map which he marked with a black pentel pen, I felt very excited!
Abbie: I need to eat first, then head off.
Manager: No, you don't have enough time. You better drop by a shop and pick up something and eat while on your way. It's because it takes time to get to the summit, and it would be dark when you start to come down.
Abbie: Oh, I see. Then I'll do what you suggested since you know what you're saying! Thanks so much!
I drop by a 24/7 shop and bought bread, juice, canned pineapple, and chocolate. I thought these would keep me going. But I also kept in my mind that I should not be too burdened with additional weight on my backpack.
On My Way to Hyangjeokbong Peak
January is still mid-winter in South Korea. Although I expected more snow in this famous park, I somehow thought that there was less than I expected.
But the snow was everywhere...
The concrete road leading towards the main entrance of the park was by the streamside (or riverbank). It's a stream but looks like a small river with both snow and ice floating above the calm water.
Some frozen snow turned ice (icicles) still cling to the rocks giving exciting white sights.
I also see the small bridges linking the stream banks at some points before I started to take the steeper trail.
Of course, I was busy taking photos of every angle I thought worth seeing by myself and others! And I took lots of photos
After hiking for an hour while enjoying all the wonders of nature and snow around, I sensed that I was nearing the famous and old temple area nestling by the foot of Hyangjeokbong Peak.
It is called Deukyoo Mt Baekryeon Temple, according to the board right before the entrance gate of the temple area.
And here I come. I saw the entrance gate of the temple area. I don't know why, but I always feel peaceful and calm whenever I spot places like this one.
I call myself a pensive person (really! :)). That's probably one of the reasons. However, I think I like relics, sculpture, building structures, arts, which are some of the features that I find quite appealing in the Buddhist religion's culture and philosophy.
After passing through the gate, I was not very sure which was the direction to the temple as I couldn't see the structures due to the thickets and trees.
So, I asked one 'ajumma' (a married woman, I presume with that age), the direction in which she kindly pointed out. 'Kamsahamnida', I returned.
Without delay, I took out my camera and started shooting at anything worth remembering. Before I continued exploring the area, I decided to have my lunch where the other hikers do--on the porch of one of the temple structure!
Steep Hike Trail
Now, this is the real thing...
After my lunch, which I thought would provide me enough energy and courage to proceed, I headed towards where the other hikers were moving.
Holy Molly... It was an abrupt steep!
Yes, it's the right direction as I saw the signpost. It also says "4 kilometers" to Hyangjeokbong Peak. Wow, oh my, that's still far!
One of the comforting things in Korea when hiking mountains is that there are steps, stairways, and bridges that assist you in conquering the steep slopes along the sides and curves of any mountain.
There was snow all over the place. Fortunately, I have my hiking sticks to help me balance and lessen the burden to my legs muscles (around 15 percent, I guess!).
I just forgot to bring my hiking boots spikes (Aizen). I sometimes tended to slide off because of the snow that covers the ground and steps. It was somewhat challenging--I took a lot of stops to rest my aching leg.
During my stops, I took advantage of taking photos around. There were many hikers. They are mostly in groups belonging to a hiking club or something else!
One Korean 'ajussi' (a middle-aged married man) started commenting that every time he takes a break, he would see me ahead of him, something like a mysterious being or a ghost. I realized that we almost have the same pace, but we have a few meters difference in distance. I was 5 to 8 meters ahead of him!
Because I haven't had that hike for almost two months, my legs started to complain--feeling sore. Then I started fantasizing that the Peak is getting nearer, yet a bit far!
Finally, I was almost there. Although my heartbeat was already rushing, I was all the more feeling excited and relieved that I almost made it to the top.
On the wooden steps just a few meters before the plateau of Hyangjeokbong Peak, I saw another trail on my left that leads to a resting area--a lodging structure where hikers could rest for a night then continue their hike the next day! (One has to pay for an overnight stay).
Yes, I made it!
I was feeling elated not only because I was on the Peak but also because I overcame the challenge.
I thought that it would have been easier if there was no snow. However, probably it was the white and silky snow that kept me cool and going!
There were many people at the Peak. I realized that they came through a lift (or the Gondola) from the base of Muju Ski Resort then hiked to the Peak.
I even saw small kids and toddlers with their parents, of course. Everyone was busy taking selfies and group photos.
Hmm... this is what I am here for... to take lots of pictures.
After feeling satisfied and fill my heart to its brim that I have taken enough photos, I asked somebody to take one for me, which he willingly did.
'Kamsahamnida,' I said gladly and gratefully!
Heading Towards the Gondola
It was getting dark, and I had to start coming down. My plan was to take the Gondola (sort of cable car) to the base of Muju Ski Resort, where I can find my way back to my hotel.
Going down, I saw some foreign visitors pausing by the trailside making sure they got pictures with snow all over. I'm pretty sure they did it for their Instagram or Facebook pages.
Why not? The views are simply spectacular!
I also took the time to get more photos at some corners and elevated observation deck.
There I went, and to my surprise, I saw the tourists lining up waiting for their turn. What made me feel anxious was that the ticketing booth would be closing in 15 minutes.
A staff was announcing and reminding people of the same thing. I approached him and stated my concerns. And he responded (cooly) saying that I had to buy my ticket and should be in a group of eight.
"How can I be in a group of eight?"
"Find any group that can take you in," he said.
Since I don't have any idea how to do that in a short time, I started to panic. Fortunately...
The woman whom I asked about the ticketing process offered that she would take me with her group--that is, her family. Wow, her offer really made me believe in humans again! (half kidding).
Why eight? It's because only eight people can fit in inside the Gondola.
I was very relieved and so grateful for that very generous mom of two young kids. I rushed to the Ticket Booth and purchased my Gondola ticket (12,000KRW) and feeling secure to go back.
Now, how can I recognize that woman among the hundreds of people lining up wearing almost the same jackets and covered faces and heads?
I tried to search for her and her family, which took some time. Fortunately, there she was--waving--trying to adopt this solo traveler... What a relief!
The Ski Resort
There were two families inside the Gondola. I know I was feeling awkward but feeling grateful for being 'adopted' at the same time.
I enjoyed the views of the snow-laden pine trees and snow-clad slope under us as we were gliding down towards that base.
We reached the ground, and I was surprised again that there were many people. Most of them were youngsters with their snowboards--some resting while the others just came down from the snow-covered slope.
Took more photos!
At the base, you can find lots of facilities including shops, restaurants, washrooms, snowboard and ski shops, among others.
Way Back to the Hotel
It was almost dark, but I didn't worry about how to get to my hotel. My phone's navigation proves very useful.
From the ski resort to my hotel, it would take around an hour on foot, which I decided I should do.
It was getting dark, but I was feeling gratified with what I have done for the day.
It was an achievement, and I was feeling great that I was adding more hours (or days) of my life by keeping healthy through hiking!
It took me about an hour to reach my hotel that was eagerly waiting for my existence. Of course, I was already dreaming about my soft and fresh pillows and blanket!
These are just some of my thoughts and experiences, and understanding about Deogyusan National Park and Hyangjeokbong Peak.
But, I'm sure there are more exciting things and worth-doing activities you can enjoy and remember for the rest of your life.
Here are my answers to 'Why' travel question to Deogyusan and Hyangjeokbong...
You can add more activities if you have some thoughts. Or, let me know if you have questions so that I can inquire or do research.
Indeed, you can find various homey and perfect places to stay overnight or longer nearby Deogyusan and Hyangjeokbong Peak.
You can book a hotel (villa, motel, apartment, etc.) in Muju, which is located 20 minutes or so by taxi to the main entrance of Deogyusan National Park.
Alternately, I booked my hotel at Seolcheonmyon, which is only about 10 minutes on foot to the main entrance of Deogyusan Park.
Seolcheonmyon has the view when starting your hike to Hyangjeokbong Peak. That's because of the stream views along the way. Also, you can visit the temple right before your hike.
Starting your hike from this point to the peak (Hyangjeokbong) and coming down riding the Gondola is a great idea.
I was grateful to the hotel manager, who provided me that itinerary, which I totally enjoyed.
Since I have already described in some details (somewhat) how to get there, please let me summarize below the course of action you can take...
Incheon Airport T1--Daejeon City--Muju--Deogyusan National Park
Incheon-Daejeon fare: 28,000KRW
Daejeon-Muju fare: 5,000KRW
Muju-Deogyusan Entrance by bus: 4,700KRW
You may refer back to the details above if the summary is too brief.
I guess I don't have to say what I think as you must have understood what I'm saying here.
However, if you insist on asking me, I would say that Deogyusan is worth your time and resources.
The park is more enticing and amazing when you visit during the winter season. Skiing and skateboard enthusiasts come for their hobby, while hikers come to see the virgin snow and 'snow flowers' with friends, families, or hiking clubs.
But you can do anything you want as a solo traveler. Safety, room, and food are not a problem. You only need time to do what you want to enjoy the park's resources.
I hope you have time to hike or travel. Taking a break from toiling work is worth doing, just as I did!
Thanks, and I hope you a great day!