For my second weekend in South Korea, I wanted to hike Goryeosan (or Goryeo Mountain), located on Ganghwa Island in Incheon. Just a few days before leaving for Seoul, I had discovered Goryeosan after stumbling upon an article about last year’s Goryeosan Azalea Festival. The festival happen in April last year, so I thought I would have a good chance of seeing these spectacular azaleas during my April trip as well.
A combination of one train and two buses got me a paved road, which finally led to the trail. In total, this journey took a little over 3 hours, after some confusion over the third bus. Ganghwa does not see nearly as many tourists as Seoul, so there were very few English translations. Google Maps had led me astray, but I found another hiker at the Ganghwa bus terminal who kindly helped me figure out which bus to take, using a map as our common language.
On the road leading up to the trail, there were a number of food stands, much like the road to Bukhansan. Unlike Bukhansan, this road did not have the vast selection of high-end hiking gear retailers. Instead, there were a handful of large farms and several tiny, old women selling herbs and vegetables on blankets spread out along the side of the road. One woman was slicing off pieces of an apple to share with hikers walking by. I accepted her offer with a smile and bought another apple for a snack later on. At another farm along the road, I saw a bunch of cows enjoying a snack of their own.
As the road neared the trail, I started seeing evidence of military presence in the area. Shortly after those first indications came large military buildings and vehicles behind high fences, with signs in front stating, (in Korean and English) “No photos of military facilities!” At first it was startling to see these cold, harsh features at the forefront of the lush, flowery scenery. Yet, the location of Goryeosan is actually quite close to North Korea. Only the Han River separates the two countries. As shocking as the juxtaposition of these two worlds is, I understand the reasoning.
After a fairly steep climb up several sets of stairs and intervals of burlap-covered tree roots, the trail winds into a relatively flat tree-covered area. This trail leads you to second paved road, which you climb to another large military compound. From here, with your back to the compound, this is the view:
You can see the trail toward the left side of the photo stretch up along another ridgeline in the distance. However, many hikers seemed to stop at this point, which is the geographic summit of Goryeosan. It was an odd sort of summit, as it was completely paved with a rather large, ugly building in the background, but folks were enjoying the view and their picnic spreads anyhow.
I was craving more of a hike and wanted to see the concentrated azalea area up close, so I continued on. The trail dips down quite dramatically from the summit before it rises back up. There are some steps here and there, though they are not in quite the strong, sturdy condition as the sets of stairs at the beginning of the trail. There are decks built out onto some of the flatter stretches along the trail, so you can step out to take some photos or have your picnic in slightly less company than at the summit.
When I got my fill of climbing up and down the hills along the trail and collected a satisfactory variety of azalea photos, I turned around to work my way backward toward the bus stop I had been dropped off at. It seemed like the trail continued on and might have even connected to other trails, but I had no idea where they might lead and how far I would have to walk to get to another bus stop, so I decided to play it safe.
The way down took only a tiny fraction of the way up. I stopped at one of the vendors at the summit to buy a melon ice bar for 1000 won (approximately 0.88 USD at current exchange rate), then jogged happily down the paper-lantern-lined trail all the way back to the main road.