Naejangsan National Park and Following Fall Leaves
Fall in South Korea comes and goes so quickly. It’s a busy time for people who love going outside for a hike or walk in nature. Going out grows more exciting and stressful from the crowds that come are also hoping for a glimpse at those beautiful maple leaves. It’s the one time of year when it’s really tough to avoid crowds. Fall is the last true time when people will go out in unison without thinking quickly to get back inside. This story details one of South Korea’s best places to see the fall leaves and after reading, I’ll show you how to follow the leaves here and throughout the rest of the country.
Talking to people about getting out and doing stuff always goes back to one point: the crowds. And fall in Korea’s national parks means a fever pitch of crowds following the leaves. Our quiet drive to Naejangsan in South Jeolla Province begins without too much traffic until the park entrance came into view. That’s when we run smack dab into lines of individual cars and those ubiquitous tour buses. After abandoning the car at a distant parking lot, we get out and mingle while searching for the right trail.
Reaching the Peak
We pick one that follows a ridge line and is most likely full of beautiful scenery yet at the same time, will bring back that pesky fear of heights I’ll never forget from Wolchulsan National Park. Though hard to choose which wins out sometimes, it’s better to go outside one’s comfort zone and see how far it can stretch. Reaching the park’s highest peak around lunchtime, we find spectacular views and a rock concert atmosphere. Everyone is sitting at the top and gobbling up bits of steamed pork (보쌈) and other treats. My taste buds swell at the smell of it all but the soju fumes quickly send them back to normal size. Beer cans crack open amid a chorus of chatter and laughter.
We’ve gone through series of steep stairways and climbed wet rocks to reach this. It almost feels like Christmas. Some people might think this was a mad situation. We brought kimbap, some cut fruit and chocolate power berries to hold over until dinner at the bottom. I think maybe they’ll give me some of their cooked food but don’t bother to ask, as we continue on towards the end of this trail.
Running Down the Mountain
Our time to leave the crowded peak comes. However, we’re not alone in any sense of the word. The tour buses must be leaving soon, considering the fact that some people are literally running down the mountain. Or maybe this is some sort of death sport, where the first one to fall and crack their head open wins. I also pick up the pace at one point and fall down some stairs, rolling my ankle as a result. A drunk woman beside me also fell and we were luckily too far away to clear the mountain. She’s too drunk to realize what’s even going on, I think.
I’m not too dazed to realize that we’re completely surrounded by red-orange maples and ginkgo trees mixed with evergreens and the beautiful blue sky. These perfectly colored trees mixed in with an adventurous yet gorgeous hike will make Naejangsan National Park one of my favorite places to visit. We come out at a temple that’s undergoing construction and look back and up at the peak where we just were an hour or so ago. I think back to that food and realize that I’m hungry again, craving some of that steamed pork from before.
A walk by a lovely pond and along a ginkgo-covered path helps me realize why so many people come to these places. I wonder why we complain so much about crowds and the chaos. Following the fall leaves in Naejangsan National Park forced us to meet the crowds and that’s okay. Everyone’s going to visit these wonderful spots at the same time. Elbows and noisy chatter might impose itself on natural places and the idea of peace but we’re all here to share these sights. Everyone comes for the beautiful and serene. We’re all the same.
Getting to Naejangsan National Park
(Courtesy of Korea Tourism)
From Seoul, take a bus to Jeongeup and from the city’s bus Terminal, you can get to Naejangsan by taking Bus 171 (내장산). Multiple Trains go between Yongsan and Jeongeup each day and from the train station there, take Bus 101 to Naejangsan.
First Fall Foliage in the north will be in Gangwon Province’s famed Seoraksan National Park where the leaves will start around September 28th and the peak will come on October 18th. Lots of parks throughout the rest of the country will start to change in October with peaks throughout the month. The month of October will be a busy time for those hoping to get a look at Korea’s wonderful foliage. Be patient and careful around the crowds and you should have a wonderful time.
There are tons of wonderful national parks and places to see fall foliage in Korea. Got a place you’d like to mention for seeing the leaves in Korea?
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