“Don’t go to Korea for the nature!!!” I know, I have said it a thousand times (and sorry for quoting myself, that is a sin, I know), and you know what, I am not backing off of that. At least, not yet. Korea has a breathtaking amount of cultural history, with dozens of things to do in the capital alone. However, I reassert that, with the exception of Jeju Island, it is not a natural haven, despite what the official tourism website might say. However, Wolchulsan National Park is a step up from most nature oriented places I have been to in Korea.
When I first saw it on the map, I had a need to see it, if only to check off another National Park. Hey, there are only twenty, so I figured I could go to most of them by the end of the summer. I had already been to Gayansan National Park when I visited Haeinsa Temple, so I was a bit familiar with how Korean National Parks are. As Wolculsan is really tiny, I didn’t expect much, but I’m happy to announce that I was pleasantly surprised.
First, it is a rocky mountain, not a soily one. Okay fine, ‘soily’ is not really a word, but this is what I mean: Many mountain ranges have quite a bit of soil at their bases and for some time on the hikes up. Notable exceptions in the US are the Grand Canyon, and to a greater extent, Zion National Park.
“Who cares, why does this matter?”
For starters, rocky mountains make for more interesting views from the ground up. Soil based mountains usually have a lot of trees all the way up, masking what shorter mountains really look like. This is the reason why many short mountains and hills all look kind of the same.
Furthermore, the actual process of hiking is far more interesting in rocky mountains. Soil mountains are easier to carve trails on, which is why they are usually an even and smooth climb all the way up. Rocky mountains can be made of hard stone, so the national park people are forced to integrate these into the trails. While it is true that a normal climb is more challenging in these, it also means that the actual process of going way up is fun, and not just the in-between of getting a good view (which is also cool, but far between).
While I was only in this park for a few hours, I was quite happy with the hike. Sadly, hordes of hikers caught up with us when we made the mistake of stopping for the bathroom, making the climb more crowded than I am comfortable with. Nonetheless, if you are already in the area, it is definitely worth a look.
You need to get to Yeongam District first. It is in the southern most province of Korea, and not a very big town, but direct buses are available from Express Bus Terminal in Seoul on subway line 3 , 7 or 9 (map). I was already in Mokpo City, which is a 1 hour bus ride away, so I thought I would be in one of those big tour buses. I was wrong…
From there, just take a taxi, walk, or take a local bus to the national park. I swear the taxi overcharged me and gave me a lame excuse (for the second time ever, as taxis tend to be pretty honest here), but it was still just 5,000 won ($5 USD) each way so not much to complain about. The national park itself is free.