Biseulsan or Biseul Mountain is part of the same mountain range as Apsan — the mountain park right by our house. Known for its beautiful field of wild azaleas set against the backdrop Biseulsan’s peak, it is a strenuous and very popular hike. Anticipating large weekend crowds we met up with one of our Korean friends, Mrs. C, at 7am, loaded up our things, and headed to the mountains.
The most direct way to get to Biseulsan from our house is to hike through the mountains on foot — from the top of Mt. Sanseong, its another 15km or so to Mt. Biseul. You can also drive around the mountain to get there. Which is obviously what we did.
We arrived at the entrance to Biseulsan National Recreation Forest around 8am, parked, and searched in vain for a place that sold gimbap. No luck. Nothing was even really open that early except for a convenience store that sold mostly chips and cookies. Mrs. C, who didn’t bring anything for lunch, picked up a few Korean style hard boiled eggs and some orange juice. None of us had been to this mountain and we were a bit confused as to where to begin our hike. Mrs. C asked the guard at the gate how to get to the azalea field. “Just go straight…then keep going up.”
Our other option was to take a shuttle bus to the top. For the briefest of moments our laziness kicked in and we contemplated doing just that. After looking at a map of the zig zag bus roads combined with the fact that the bus didn’t leave for another hour, we decoded it would be better to hike the entire way. I mean, that’s why we came right? To hike? Sometimes we are not so sure.
From the parking lot we walked up the road, past a Buddhist temple and across a bridge.
See that mountain in the back? That’s where we were headed…
Along the river we spotted some cabins…then a campsite…then even more cabins nestled in the woods. I took photos of my favorite cabins and campsites (and chipmunks — because apparently I take photos of chipmunks on every hike). We will definitely be staying in these cabins sometime in the near future!
I’ll take the one on stilts, thanks
This part of the trail was rather developed — there were even more facilities and rental condos and houses along the road, as well as picnic areas, some shops, and what looked to be a communal dining hall?
Huge block streams or stone runs could be seen on both sides of the trail.
According to a sign posted in the park:
The Blok stream means that the big gravels or round and squared mass of rocks ran down and piled up at the mountain slope or valley as a group. The Biseulsan blok stream is presumed that it took shape in the late Ice Age, about 10,000 to 100,000 years ago, and it is consisted of the huge granite stones of the Mesozoic Cretaceous. It is really rare and valuable granitic topography because not only it has a unique view but also its development scale is very outstanding.
Some of these boulders were re-used as landscaping materials, while others were left as they were…except for all the balancing stone structures people built on top. WHY DO PEOPLE DO THIS? IT DRIVES ME NUTS.
We noticed a huge patch of flowers (azaleas?) and crossed over one of the block streams to take some corny photos.
This photo looks like it could be my senior portrait…well, if I were 18…
The trail was all fun and games for a while as we leisurely strolled along a paved road, ogling cabins and posing in fields of flowers.
The rest of the trail cut straight up the mountain as if we were climbing up the side of a waterfall. Did I mention that Koreans don’t do switchbacks?
I managed to take a few photos of flowers when we stopped (one of many times) to catch our breath. Mrs. C — who didn’t eat breakfast but instead drank too much orange juice on the way up — was feeling kind of queasy. I started to wonder if she was going to make it to the top.
We hiked up to the stone structure.
The “stone structure” turned out to be a Buddhist temple, decorated with hundreds of bright colorful lanterns in celebration of Buddha’s birthday.
Behind the temple, through, up, and over some huge rocks, the trail continued…
…and opened up into a field surrounded by mountains.
Were we still in Daegu? In Korea?
The view was breathtaking and so peaceful. It felt like we were in the Alps or somewhere far far away.
Just after we came over the rocks behind the Buddhist temple we saw a picnic platform with tables and benches. We skipped over that picnic area and headed for one further away — one without people.
We stopped here to rest and eat our meager rations: granola bars, packets of fruit and nuts, and hard boiled eggs — both regular and Korean style.
Our outdoor ‘cafe’ came with the best views.
Does this look real or fake?**
From the azalea fields we could continue on to the peak of Mt. Biseul, go down to Yuga temple (an alternate route to get up the field) or we could go back down the way we came.
We chose to hike back down the same trail we came up so as not to risk getting lost and/or having to hike a zillion miles back to our car or wait for a bus to shuttle us there.
We patted ourselves on the back for hitting the trail early. On the way up it had been cool, breezy, and overcast. We rarely ever ran into another person on the trail except for maybe a couple that were heading in the opposite direction. The opposite was true on the way down: humid, hot, and lots of people.
At the base of the mountain the parking lot and the restaurants surrounding it were now a flurry of activity. Buses arrived and left in a steady stream. Long lines waiting for the buses had formed. And vendors had popped up everywhere, selling all kinds of goodies from underneath their colorful umbrellas.
Back at our car we engaged in our post-hike ritual of popping open the hatchback and changing into flip flops. Then it was on to another post-hike ritual: gorging on tons of food and a nearby restaurant.
** The second photo in front of the field of azaleas is fake! At the base of the mountain they had several “photo zones” consisting of huge backdrops meant for posing in front of to take photos. We thought they looked super corny and fake and because of that, thought it would make for a good photo. After we took the photo we realized that somehow the backdrop looked… kind of real — even more real than some of the photos we took on the actual mountain! We posted it on our Facebook pages thinking for sure someone would realize we were in front of a backdrop — but so far everyone has been fooled!
DETAILS | HIKING THE WILD AZALEA TRAIL AT BISEULSAN
Biseulsan Wild Azalea Hiking Trail | Moderately difficult — short hike, but very steep. — approx 1.5 hrs to the field // There are a couple ways to get to the wild azalea field (the patch of hot pink on the above map). 1. Start from Yuga Temple. or 2. Start from Biseulsan National Recreation Area entrance. (You could also hike there from Mt. Apsan, which is behind Mt. Biseul in the map above. Have fun with that.) We started at the recreation area. parking lot around 8:15 am and there were hardly any cars or people. The same was true the entire hike up the mountain — we didn’t see anyone — and it was awesome! The first shuttle bus leaves at 9am and, if you look at the map above, winds around on a road to the right of the trail we took. My advice for attempting to do anything where crowds are involved in Korea is to plan on leaving by noon. In other words, if you think the hike will take you 4 hrs RT then you should start at 8am. Koreans love picnicking (and drinking makkgeoli) outdoors, typically in large groups. Because there is a shuttle that drops off here, it makes it easy for people to bring coolers and booze up the mountain. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but if you like hiking to be alone with nature, then try and get to the top before the first shuttle arrives — which would be around 9:45-10am. It took us about 1.5 hrs to get to the field from the parking area. From the map above, we followed the white line with all the circles, then continued straight up to where you see the temple (large oval in front of the azalea field).
TIPS + NOTES | There are bathrooms at the top by the temple // Parking at the forest is about $3, but you can park just outside the gates for free // From the azalea field you can continue on to the summit of Biseulsan as shown in the map above. We decided to save that (gulp) for another day. // The best time to see the azaleas is mid/late April – early May. There is also a festival at this time. I think we *just* missed the peak blooming season. Beware that if you go during peak bloom there will be lots and lots and lots of people.// Camping and cabins can be found at the base of the mountain and in theory can be reserved online. The site is entirely in Korean. // There’s a bunch of other stuff to do at the recreation area site — like wading holes and spas and in the winter, an ice cave sculpture.