Jarak-gil or “skirt road” trail marker — I *think* this indicates the wider paved trail that wraps around the base of the mountain
A precariously placed lounger on the downward sloping part of the mountain
our handsome reward
trail side vending machines
A couple weeks ago, while staring absentmindedly out of our window as I am prone to do, I noticed what I thought was a Buddhist temple nestled in the base of the mountain. I squinted my eyes and strained to see if I could make out a path via the maze of winding streets from our apartment. Instead I saw tiny people on what looked to be a trail that wrapped around the base of the mountain. My eyes traced the trail back around the mountain, down the hill, and… omg! Was it possible that there was a trail head right across the street from our apartment, hidden among all the buildings? I visually stalked the tiny people, watching them appear and disappear into the mountains, mapping out what I thought to be a trail.
The following weekend Sly and I decided to investigate the trail. We crossed the street and followed a little road past some stores selling outdoor clothing and some street vendors selling snacks and herbs and sure enough there it was: the trail head, plain as day. It’s funny how you can pass a place multiple times but never actually see something until you look for it. And once you find it, it’s obviousness makes it seem ridiculous that you didn’t see it sooner.
Once past a small parking area and through a gateway, the path opened up to a busier street lined with all kinds of restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, and more street vendors selling snacks, hiking equipment, water, pillows (???), and of course booze. I don’t know what it was but for some reason these shops along the trail made me feel like, for the first time, like I was in a foreign country. At the same time, being on the trail, smelling the dirt and the pine trees, feeling the briskness of the day slap me in the face — all felt so familiar; like being home.
We approached this trail without any planning or knowledge of where the path would lead, we figured we would follow it up the mountain and see where the trail took us. We found a map board of the trail and it confirmed what we had already planned: we were going to hike up the side of the mountain.
The first part of the trail was super easy — wide and paved and flat. It led us to a park-like area with benches and picnic tables. We kept walking, past one Buddhist temple, then three more, past a huge over-sized playground swing beside the river, and then another Buddhist temple. After the last temple, it was all uphill and it was brutal. A total stair master workout.
Hiking it super popular in Korea, and for many Koreans, dressing the part is equally as important as the hike. People wear head-to-toe matching high tech mountaineering gear complete with walking sticks, and matching hats. The older hikers also carry radios with them as they hike up and down the mountain, usually as daily exercise. In fact, there were probably more elderly people on the trail than any other, which is pretty baller considering the steepness of the trail. Meanwhile, Sly and I were dressed in whatever rag tag “athletic” ensemble we could scrape together as our stuff still had yet to arrive from storage.
The trail became steeper and steeper. We barreled up the mountain, fully winded and out-of-shape. After months of sedentary hotel living, our lungs and legs burned — and we loved it. We passed an outdoor amphitheater where a group of older men were drinking soju, past hikers eating lunch along the smaller trail that ran alongside the river, past several natural springs, and then finally we came to some steps. “This is it,” we thought. “We did it!” We rushed to the top, legs now on fire, and at the top, strutted around like we owned the place. For being the top it felt rather anti-climatic — why was there workout equipment here? Who in their right mind would hike to the top of something, decide that wasn’t enough of a workout, and then want to lift some weights? I drank some natural spring water using a plastic red hanging ladle. People stared at me like crazy. We caught our breath on one of the benches.
As I looked around I noticed a steep, rocky path off to the side. Probably just a side trail, nothing to be concerned about. Then I looked at the photo of the map I took with my phone — yeah we still had a ways to hike. Wishful thinking I guess.
Up until this point the trail, while steep, had been mostly paved. After reaching the fake top the trail became more trail-like. We climbed up and over rocks and trees, through a pine forest, and finally reached the top. The real one this time.
The best part: there was a guy selling ice cream Popsicles at the top! Genius! We rewarded ourselves with two over-priced melon-flavored pops and slurped them down as we continued on the trail to the summit of Mt. Sanseong.
Apsan Park / Trail to Mt. Sanseong: approx 5mi RT, Steep but short trail = overall moderate hike. Lots of food, drinks, picnic spots and bathrooms on the trail. // DIRECTIONS: There are so many trails and trail heads to the park. We entered at the trail head on the intersection of the Apsan Expressway and Hwy 11. On the side of the hwy/river closest to the mountain there is a small parking lot. Additional parking can be found along the street as well as in a bigger parking lot behind the shops and closer to the beginning of the trail. Look for the outdoor/climbing stores. // TRAIL: the trail to Mt. Sanseong was about 5 miles RT (I think). The first part of the trail is flat, wide, paved and passes several Buddhist temples, parks, picnic areas, and playgrounds. This part would be good for kids. Once you pass the last Buddhist temple it is a nonstop very steep incline to the top — there are no switchbacks, the trail just goes right up the side of the mountain. The trail to the summit continues to the left of the area with all the workout equipment (the “fake summit”). You can stop here (or several other places along the trail noted by the water icon on the map) to drink the natural springs water. At this point the trail is no longer paved. It continues again on a incline until you reach the top. The actual summit to Mt. Sanseong is about .6 KM to the left. You can also get to Mt. Apsan — probably the most popular summits by continuing on the trail to the right. // TIP: Bring some money and go early (before noon) — you can find lots of vendors selling snacks at the beginning of the trail and if you’re lucky you can buy ice cream (1500 KRW/$1.30) at the top!