Day 6: Hiking to Ulsanbawi and Heundeulbawi in Mt. Seorak 설악산

Before I get started, I just want to take a moment to wish everyone a Happy New Year. 2010 has been a tough year for a lot of people, but hopefully 2011 will bring more goodwill and prosperity. My New Year's resolution includes overcoming my fear of flying, but that goal has made it on my list every single year without being crossed off, so I have to work a little harder on that. If you have any tips for overcoming this phobia, please send them my way! I would really appreciate the help and advice.

Okay, so onto my second day in the mountains.

On the previous day, I took the express bus from Seoul to Sokcho and checked into Seoraksan Tourist Hotel. I had enough time to walk through some areas of Seoraksan National Park, hitting hot spots like Sinheungsa, Biseondae, and Cheonbuldong Valley before the sun set.

My sixth day in South Korea started with surprising un-sore legs. My feet were killing me after walking all over the place yesterday, but I woke up feeling excited and refreshed, not to mention relieved that a bug didn't crawl up my nose in the middle of the night! For breakfast, I ate some food and snacks I brought with me from Seoul and packed the rest into my backpack. I filled up my water bottle and was set to tackle one of the most difficult courses in Seoraksan National Park: Ulsanbawi Rock 울산바위 (蔚山岩)and Heundeulbawi Rock 흔들바위 (晃动岩).

The best thing about staying in a hotel that's inside the park is that I didn't have to do anything but walk out of the hotel entrance to enter the park. No bus and no fees! The weather was also great. And speaking of the weather, that's the one thing I haven't mentioned so far.

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I visited Seoraksan National Park in mid-October and found the temperature to be the same as in Seoul. Seoraksan is known to be foggy and rainy, so I was very fortunate to experience cool and sunny weather every day I was there (it actually started to drizzle on the day I left). The weather was cold, but only at night. If you go hiking during the day and the sun is out, you'll probably work up quite a sweat. I wore a thin long-sleeved shirt beneath a t-shirt and carried a North Face jacket with me. At times, I felt like the jacket was too thick, but it got cold fast, almost as soon as the sun set, so it's better to err on the side of caution and bring an ample amount of clothes. I also slipped in the river in Cheonbuldong Valley, so extra socks and pants would be smart! I've been to some mountains before where the air is really thin and dry, usually giving me nosebleeds at night, but I had no symptoms like that during my entire stay at Seoraksan.

I started my hike around 7:30am. By that time, there were already other hikers in the park. Compared to the day before though, there were a lot fewer people. It was a Monday, so if you don't like crowds, it'd be best to avoid coming to Seoraksan on the weekend.

To get to Heundeulbawi Rock (this comes first) and Ulsanbawi Rock, you still have to pass by Sinheungsa Temple, but instead of going to the left, you go to your right. Heundeulbawi is 2.1 km away from the hotel (a 1 hour walk) and Ulsanbawi is 1 km away from Heundeulbawi (another 1 hour walk). It would take four hours to hike there and back, not including any breaks. I would say, take your time as you go and rest whenever you are tired. I stopped and took lots of pictures along the way so I didn't get back to my hotel until 1:00pm.

Sign to Sinheungsa (top) and Ulsanbawi (bottom)

From the get-go, you see Ulsanbawi in the distance. It looks really far away (and it is), but visualizing your target makes it feels extra awesome when you realize how far you've had to walk just to get there.

Ulsanbawi in the distance

As I walked, I passed by a temple and a bridge. I'm not really sure if it was actually a temple or more like a shrine, but the entrance in Chinese says 四天王門 or "Four Heavenly Kings Gate."

Four Heavenly Kings Gate at Seoraksan

Passing a bridge on the way to Ulsanbawi

There were lots of stacked "wishing" rocks everywhere.

Stacked "wishing" rocks at Seoraksan

As I walked I remember thinking, "Hey, this isn't so hard. I wonder why they say this is the most difficult trail to hike." The road was pretty flat and littered with small rocks, but little did I know that things would soon take a steep turn (no pun intended).

See, not so bad right?

Hiking to Ulsanbawi

Hiking to Ulsanbawi

Hiking to Ulsanbawi

There were even some mountain squirrels. They were like gnats compared to the ones back in Texas though.

Mountain squirrels in Seoraksan

The rocks started to get bigger the further along I walked.

Hiking to Ulsanbawi

Hiking to Ulsanbawi

Even though there weren't a lot of red autumn leaves, I still got to see a few! The best time to see the changing colors at Seoraksan in full swing is probably around October 26.

Red autumn leaves at Seoraksan

I also saw some interesting tree growth.

Tree trunk at Seoraksan

This is when the course started to get more difficult. Unlike the previous day, where the rocks were easy to step on, the rocks along the Ulsanbawi trail were much steeper. You also have to be careful of any wet or mossy areas so you don't slip.

But, before you know it, Ulsanbawi gets even closer! (At this point, Heundeulbawi is only a few more minutes climb away, but I didn't know it at the time.)

Getting closer to Ulsanbawi

This is actually a really nice area for a break. There is a big platform-type rock (I stood on it to snap the above shot) for you to sit and rest. You can also get a great picture of yourself here with Ulsanbawi in the background. The view in front of the mountain is breathtaking:

View from atop the rock in Seoraksan

I spent a few minutes here and then went on my way. Before arriving at Heundeulbawi, I passed by this little shrine hidden away in some rocks. It looked out of place, but nonetheless peaceful.

Hidden shrine in Seoraksan

After climbing over a big rock, I found myself at Heundeulbawi, also known as the "tottering rock", "teetering rock", or "rocking rock".

"Supermanning" at Heundeulbawi Rock in Seoraksan

The reason Heundeulbawi is called the rocking rock is because if you push it hard enough, it actually moves back and forth. I don't think anyone will have the strength to knock it off balance, but it's still scary and cool at the same time. Heundeulbawi is also famous for being the place where all Koreans come to pretend to be Superman. Definitely don't miss out on taking a "superman" picture yourself, superman as in, "Hey look at me, I'm so strong, I'm able to push over this giant rock!"

One more kilometer until Ulsanbawi:

1km to Ulsanbawi Rock

With the course getting higher, much of the trail to Ulsanbawi was replaced with metal stairs. The metal stairs were easier to climb and there was also no risk of slipping because they were covered with rubber mats. However, they still presented a challenging hike. I kind of felt like a loser because all these ajushis and ajummas were walking like they were taking a normal stroll in the park, when I was huffing and puffing and all out of breath. Note to self: another new year's resolution - work out more.

Climbing metal stairs to Ulsanbawi at Seoraksan

Rubber mats on metal stairs in Seoraksan

Ulsanbawi gets bigger with each step you take.

Getting closer to Ulsanbawi

Only 0.8 more kilometers until the top of Ulsanbawi!

0.8km to Ulsanbawi Rock

I don't remember if it was here or a little bit later, but there was a part of the course where there was a fork in the road and there were no signs to tell you which way to go. One was a flatter path while the other had a bridge over some water (if I recall correctly). However, both paths lead to Ulsanbawi. The paths cross a few meters up ahead, so take whichever one strikes your fancy.

Ulsanbawi information sign

Ever since I passed Heundeulbawi, the course only grew more difficult to hike. It's not that you have to use your hands to climb up the rocks or anything, but a lot of them are steep enough for your knees to feel sore after awhile. Plus, you have to be on the lookout in case you slip because there's nothing to break your fall but... more rock. So again, rest frequently so you don't burn yourself out.
Here I am stopping to catch my breath and take in the view:

Autumn leaves in Seoraksan

View of the mountains near Ulsanbawi

It took me over 2 hours to get this close to Ulsanbawi!

Ulsanbawi Rock

Ulsanbawi Rock

I thought the course from Heundeulbawi to Ulsanbawi was hard, but it was actually easy compared to climbing up Ulsabawi. As I went up the rock, I tried to take as many pictures as I could, shaky hands and knees and all, so hopefully they will be helpful to you!


  1. Hi, I love your posts on your Seoraksan trip and this has inspired me to go on my own Seoraksan adventure as well when I visit Korea in October :) Just want to know whether you think it's better to climb Ulsanbawi in the morning or in the afternoon? If the "degree of difficulty" will be the same, I just want to know which time is it more picturesque to climb? I was thinking of doing Ulsanbawi in the afternoon when the light is nice and nearing sunset. THanks :)

    1. Thank you! I'm sorry I did not respond to your comment sooner.

      I would probably climb Ulsanbawi in the morning. It's one of the more difficult trails in the park and you want to give yourself ample time to just enjoy the scenery and take breaks if you get tired. I also say AM is better because the mountains can get dark pretty quickly and being out in the dark is definitely not a good thing unless you know the area well or are with a group of people.

      I was just beginning a hike on another trail (don't remember which one!) around 6pm and saw everyone going the opposite direction as me to leave the park. Several of the nice hikers told me I should turn back before it gets dark or else it will be too dangerous.

      Sunset sounds really pretty though! But... Ulsanbawi is a tough climb and I personally would want plenty of light so I could see where my feet should go. =)

      Hope you have a fun trip!

  2. hiii..

    woow your post very helpful :)

    is climbing the ulsanbawi will get the same view just like visitor take cable car to the top of the mountain?

    1. Thank you! Glad the post is helpful.

      I actually didn't take the cable car to Gwongeumseong Fortress, so I don't know if the view is comparable to Ulsanbawi. I would think that since Ulsanbawi is higher, the view will be different though.