Sometimes referred to in Korean hiking circles as seolguk (설국) “snow country” in the winter, Deogyusan National Park (1614m) is a well-known destination for winter sightseeing. The mountain is located in Jeollabuk-do where moist atmospheric air from the West Sea passes over and easily turns into snow. During or right after a heavy snow storm, the trees become completely covered in snow which Koreans call seolhwa (설화) “snow flowers”. Here is a collection of Koreasanha.net’s best “snow flower” photos.
To get there from Seoul, I took a 7:40am bus from Nambu Terminal to the town of Muju (2.5 hours), and then transferred to the Muju Resort Shuttle Bus at 10:30am (50 minutes/FREE). Once at the resort, I looked for a convenience store to pick up snacks and a kimbap house to pick up dinner. I had booked a spot in Hyangjeokbong Shelter (향적봉대피소) and would be needing enough food to carry me through breakfast. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any kimbap house, and the convenience store only offered booze and chips. Having no other options, I regretfully ate an expensive meal at the resort cafeteria and bought booze and chips for my camping dinner. Next time, I’ll be better prepared.
At the resort, I bought a round-trip ticket on the gondola for ₩12,000 (~$11). From the drop off point at Seolcheonbong peak (설천봉), I hiked about 15 minutes to get to Hyangjeokbong, the highest peak in the park. The views were amazing as the weather was extremely clear. My original plan was to hike along the ridge to the nearby Jungbong peak (중봉) and then go as far as I could in a day, but this trail was closed. The only other option was to hike to Baengyeonsa Temple (백련사), so that’s where I headed.
It took me about 40 minutes to hike down to the temple. Along the way, there aren’t really any views to speak of, but I did get a chance to see a couple of birds up close. One is called a Eurasian Nuthatch, which the first and last time I saw one was on a hike in Taebaeksan National Park last winter. The other bird I spotted is called a Marsh Tit. I had never seen one of those before. The birds were clearly unafraid of me or the other hikers because people had been feeding them.
The temple was nice, but I was mostly interested in taking photographs of the paintings on its walls for future reports to include in my Buddhism category of posts. I spent about 20 minutes there before departing on my 1 hour 20 minute hike back to the peak.
Just after 4pm I checked into the shelter where I relaxed and warmed myself up. I needed to kill a couple of hours before heading back out to try and get some sunset photos. Right around 6pm I made my way back to the peak where it was really gorgeous. I don’t know if my photo does it justice or not, but it was really nice to be there with the purple colored sky.
After my sunset photo session, I went back to the shelter where I was invited by other hikers to join them for dinner. I shared my soju and snacks and they shared their much better samgyupsal (삼겹살) , bossam (보쌈), and jokbal (족발) with me. I really appreciated their hospitality considering how under prepared I was for dinner.
The shelter was clean and warm. It cost ₩ 7,000 (~$6) for the night plus ₩ 1,000 for an optional blanket. The floors are the heated ondol (온돌) variety, so I felt like a piece of bacon in a fry pan during the night. Plus, two of the other hikers snored louder than I thought humanly possible… all night. Needless to say, I was tired from the previous day’s hike, and even more tired at 6am when I decided I had had enough of the heat and noise.
The park ranger told me that sunrise would be after 7am, so shortly before that, I made my way to the peak. It was snowing. It had been all night. So there was really no hope of seeing the sunrise. Instead, I walked around and tried to find a good shot or two of the mountain in that condition. Afterwards, I went back to the gondola to get a ride down the mountain.
At the gondola, which started operating at 8:30am, I was asked to buy a new ticket because the one I bought the previous day was no longer valid. I complained to the operator that I didn’t know the ticket was good for one day only and wouldn’t have bought the round-trip ticket if I had known that I needed to buy a one-way ticket each time. He didn’t argue with me. He punched my ticket and told me to have nice day. A few hours later, I was back home in Seoul again.
Sitting at my desk and looking back, this was definitely a great trip for me. I would have preferred that the trail to Jungbong was open, but that’s the way it is. Next time, I need to call beforehand and ask about which trails are open or closed.
덕유산 국립공원 (Koreasanha.net – Korean language)
DEOGYUSAN (덕유산) National Park: The Basics (Korea In The Clouds)
Deogyusan National Park (National Parks Service)
Deogyusan Resort (Korea Toursim Organization)