The Jirisan Forest Trail

Jirisan is the highest peak on the South Korean mainland, and the National Park in which it is set is South Korea’s largest. Most of the park is in Gyeongsangnam-do, but in the west it spills in to Jeollanam-do and Jeollabuk-do.

For walkers, the park offers a wide variety of experiences. For the hardened hiker, the park is criss-crossed with a network of mountain trails, starting in the West at Hwaeom-sa and finishing in the East at Daewon-sa. For walkers who are less fit, the Korea Forest Service has an easy trail which skirts the north side of the park, starting at Jucheon in the north-west and ending at Sucheol in the north-east.

Forest Trail map

This forest trail passes in front of the Sancheong-Hamyang Massacre museum which commemorates the sad killings of innocent villagers by South Korean forces during the fight against leftist partisans in the Jirisan area. That was our first stop of the morning, after which we picked up the trail – in the sector approaching Sucheol – for a pleasant stroll through fields, crossing streams and climbing a gentle wooded gorge containing waterfalls and rock-pools. On one flat rock a group of eight locals were happily picnicking surrounded by the cool water.

There was nothing too strenuous in the section of the trail that we completed, in between the museum and the road leading down to the King’s Tomb. Pleasant views over the peaks, gentle breezes – and all rather less crowded than a weekend hike on Bukhansan in Seoul. It was a welcome break from sightseeing.

Sangsa Falls
The Sangsa Falls (상사계곡)

Apart from the picnickers, we only encountered one small party of hikers, professionally kitted out with walking boots, ski-like sticks to aid walking and rucksacks for daily necessities. For the short section we walked such gear was not necessary, though there were a fair amount of reasonable-sized stones on the path, and so a pair of decent lightweight walking shoes would probably have suited us better than the trainers we were wearing.

There was no guide to feed us information, so my Korean friends could take a break from interpreting for me, and we could go at our own pace. Walking is always a good way to relax with people – somehow the simple act of keeping roughly in step with someone seems to break down barriers and makes it easier to talk about just about anything. Once again though, we are at the mercy of our tight schedule: it would have been nice to have had a four or five hour hike, but we only had time for an hour or so. We soon arrive on a rough service road which enables forestry vehicles to gain access to the hills, and our driver is there to meet us. We don’t want to tear ourselves away from the trail, but it’s time to move on to the next appointment. Next time, I’ll be a bit more adventurous and venture up into the mountains properly.

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