If Korea is known for something other than kpop, it is hiking. That begs the question, “Where is the best place to hike in Korea?” Sure, everyone may have their opinions, but if that opinion isn’t “Jeju,” they are just wrong. Jeju Island is the best place to hike, case closed. You may have heard of the Olle Trails, but Jeju has a ton more hikes to satisfy niche preferences. Here are 10 sets of trails ready to be explored.
1) The Oreums (제주오름)
If you aren’t the type to be into full days of hiking, oreums may be for you. They are all very short hikes of 30-90 minutes, and nearly all have a great view at the top.
The Jeju oreums are mini-volcanoes of Mt. Halla. Across Jeju Island, it is said that there are “368 oreums” with Hallasan being the 369th. Whether this is an accurate head count or just some clever marketing is debatable. What can be said with certainty is that there are over 70 climbable oreums with a minimum of 59 trails.
Unfortunately, getting maps about individual oreums in English is hard to come by. Most people I know that hike them simply know them from word of mouth. If you can read Korean, I do recommend the book “Oreum Oreum Treking Map / 오름 오름 트레킹맵” which has a complete map of every hike-able oreum on the island. On the back, there are even full day sample hiking itineraries. Another strategy would be to just type 오름 on Kakao/Naver maps and explore the ones near you. You can also try searching them on the Alltrails website.
Pro Tip – Avoid the more famous ones to have the oreum all to yourself. The further away from a town the better.
[13 Hikes / “Sites”]
A sister project of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites is the Geoparks program which sets to preserve geologically significant sites. These “sites” aren’t all trails, but most do have one associated with them. If you’re into geology, these are the trails for you.
To get a map head over to the information booth in front of the “Hexagon columns” in Jungmun. You can probably get one at the airport too. The website linked above works but while it claims to have an English option, it doesn’t currently work.
You can recognize the trails with its trusty GEO symbol which kind of looks like a giant comma.
Pro Tip – Double up! Many GEO trails and sites double up as UNESCO World Heritage site including Hallasan, the Manjanggul Lava Tube, and Ilchulbong (sunrise peak).
[10 Hikes / 44 buildings – 32.6km walkable]
The Architecture “Tours” are a set of 10 hikes of architecturally significant places across Seogwipo. The architecture includes the beautiful World Cup Stadium, Japanese WW2 bunkers and even a folk village. These trails are sure to satisfy history buffs and architecture aficionados.
A map I found in Seogwipo city was the only clue I ever found on these trails being a thing. The 32.6km is the total walking length of the 10 trails. However, it doesn’t include the driving distance from one point to the next.
Pro Tip – Plan your route ahead of time. Some of the groupings of these “trails” is rather cumbersome with many in-between driving time.
[6 Hikes – 92.5km – Map]
Going on a pilgrimage can be one of the most powerful shows of faith a person can make. In fact, some of the most famous hikes in the world such as the Camino de Santiago in Spain are based on the idea of faith through walking sacrifice. This set of trails takes you though Jeju’s top Catholic sites across the island. You can recognize them by their orange ribbon symbol.
Pro Tip – Much like the Olle Trails, there are stamps you can collect as proof that you have been to said sites. They are usually encased in a stone pillar near the major trail attractions.
[1 Hike with 8 Sites – Map?]
This one…is a bit weird. When I first started to recognize the iconic red and blue ribbons of the Olle Trails, I also started to notice a set of purple ribbons. Along with these ribbons was a purple fish marker, a common Christian symbol. I didn’t know much about this trail until I decided to go down the research rabbit hole.
Riding on the success of the Olle, many “copycat” trails sprung up all over Jeju. Some, like the Catholic trails, were successful and remain well maintained. The Protestant Pilgrimage, however, seems to have been forgotten and continues to deteriorate due to lack of maintenance.
Nevertheless, I have as much a fascination for abandoned projects as I do for hiking, so I did a little homework. The trail is basically a walking tour of 8 churches on the north west side of Jeju. The purple ribbons can guide you if you start at Geumseong Church (금성 교희). Unfortunately, searching 제주 순례길 first directs you to the Catholic trails of the same name, so make sure you’re in the right place!
Pro Tip – Request a map on their website. Maybe if 100 of us ask, they will make one that isn’t incomplete.
[6 Hikes – 70+ Temples – 297km – Map]
The most ambitious project of the religious trifecta trails are the Buddhist Pilgrimage routes. Also founded in 2012, this set of trails is the only one that crosses Hallasan National Park leading to some of the hardest hikes on this list. The shortest trail is just over 14km with the longest a solid 161km around the majority of Jeju.
These trails are probably the best marked after the Jeju Olle, with bright orange and brown ribbons along the way and easy to find signposts too. Some of the temples, including Yakcheonsa, are truly remarkable and among the best in Korea.
Pro Tip – Spend some time to look around Yakcheonsa in the southernmost trail. It has some remarkable serene spots including hidden life lessons towards the back of the temple.
[10 Routes – 234km]
The Jeju Fantasy Bicycle Path is part of a larger initiative by the Korean government to make and maintain bike paths across the country. The entirety of the “Fantasy Path” is one of 13 “Happy Routes” across the peninsula, including the famous 4 rivers trail. The Jeju portion has 10 individual legs which totals 234km in circumference.
This particular path does a simple circle around the outermost road of Jeju. It is well marked and has bike pit stops at the beginning and end of each leg. The government has also implemented a bike “passport” system where you can collect stamps along your routes. Along with the Jeju Olle, it is the only set of “trails” with any decent information in English. If you’d rather bike than hike, this is the route for you.
Pro Tip – The Jeju government has designated the “Sunshine Route” (route 8 along the North East of Jeju) as the best route…if you only have time for one.
8) Local “Town” Trails (마을 등산)
[Too many to name!]
Every town and village you come across will, almost without fail, have its own designated set of “walking routes”. I wouldn’t particularly suggest going out of your way for these as they are quite hit and miss. However, if you’re looking for something to do, it is a nice thing to stumble upon.
Pro Tip – If I must recommend one, the murals along the old town of Jeju city are quite beautiful and a testament to the history of the neighborhood. You come across a map along Olle Trail #17.
9) Hallasan Trails (할라산)
Hallsan deserves its own entry. Some people travel all the way to Jeju simply to master South Korea’s tallest peak. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so here, read this post which goes into detail about the 4 trails up Halla. One thing to note is that not every trail hits the summit as I learned the hard way my first time up.
Pro Tip – If you’re not all about getting to the top, do consider the non-summit trails. Everyone and their momma avoid these because they don’t reach the crater, but the views are still spectacular and with considerably less people.
[26 Hikes – 425km]
The Olle is a set of 26 trails that form a loop around the entirety of Jeju Island. What makes these trails special is that there is a little bit of something for everyone, and I really do mean EVERYONE. The trails cover folk villages, small towns, beaches, temples, churches, oreums (see more below), farms, indigenous forests, and even both of Jeju’s main cities (Seogwipo and Jeju). What’s best is that many of the individual hikes cover all of these in a single trail!
You can also hike Olle trails in either direction, with blue arrows showing the clockwise direction and orange showing the counter clockwise. I usually look at the trail topography and go in the least strenuous direction! The trails are well marked and extremely well organized with booths at most trailheads, volunteers who take care of the trails, and a very detailed website. I’ll soon write an in-depth article on the Olles but for now, if there is one type of trail to try, it is the Olle Trails.
Pro Tip 1 – Trail 8 is my favorite so far (I’ve done 16/26).
Pro Tip 2 – Get an Olle Passport to collect all of the stamps along the trails. You get a prize if you finish them all!
(Bonus points for the cute mascots.)