Want to be hardcore? Want to test your endurance? Then why not climb a 1,157.2 m (3,797 ft) mountain in the middle of the snowy winter cold. And why not get lost in the mountain while you are at it, hiking through the fresh snow only to end up at a Buddhist temple where monks proceed to give you chocolate and drive you off the mountain. Yup, my hike on Yongmunsan Mountain (용문산) just 45km out of Seoul, definitely gave us an exciting day trip away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Thanks to Seoul’s new Junggang line, you can now take the subway out of Seoul to Yangpyeong, in Gyeonggi Province. Exiting at Yongmun station (same name as the mountain, now isn’t that clever), you can take a short bus ride or grab a cab and head to Youngmun Resort, which is the area around the mountain. Aside from the amazing mountain, the resort is also where you’ll find the oldest ginkgo tree among all of Korea’s specimens! There is also a beautiful Buddhist temple and for the kiddies, an amazing/creepy abandoned mini amusement park with the skeleton of a Viking-boat, a beautiful merry-go-round, and some rusty bumper cars.
On a beautiful snowy winter day we started our hike up, up, and up towards the summit of the mountain. The path was beautiful in the snow and the skies blue and clear. We passed the main temple with the 1,100-year-old ginkgo tree in its courtyard. According to the Official Korean Tourism Site: the “temple’s gingko tree is the largest, most stout, and oldest ginkgo tree among all of Korea’s specimens. It is believed to be about 1,100 years old and is the biggest gingko tree in the East measuring 60m in height and 12.3m in circumference.”
After our life changing experience of viewing the oldest ginkgo tree, we continued our hike to the mountain’s summit. It is a steep hike, on a rocky path, and usually a strenuous one, but today the snow added to our pain/pleasure! We had lunch just under the summit as the snow started to fall down and after visiting the first peak, we headed to the second one just a few kilometers away.
After following the trail for a while, we started to notice that no other hikers were on this path, which was pretty strange considering we had to wait in line at the summit to snap a photo. But fearlessly we continued on and on, in the snow that, well, was starting to cover over the trail but thankfully we could still see and find the trail marker ribbons on the trees.
After a few hours more and only descending about 100 meters, we started to get worried. It was 3pm, and with the winter sun, we only had about 2 more hours of light. We sang songs to keep our sanity, slid down hills, and hiked some more. Finally in the distance there was a beautiful temple AND a paved road! A monk was pulling out of the driveway and graciously agreed to drive us down to the 8km to the bus stop at the bottom of the mountain. SAVED! We were saved! And given sweet chocolates to munch on in the car!
We had taken a day trip to get away from the city and relax with a wonderful winter hike. We got a lot more excitement than what we asked for but it was a memorable day for sure! Youngmunsan is definitely a great place to visit no matter which season you go! If you travel there in the fall, you can see beautiful golden yellow leaves of the gingko out in full force!