Get ready to explore the best national parks in South Korea. From the rugged Bukhansan to Hallyeohaesang Marine Park, and the historical treasure trove that is Gyeongju, these are the top places to visit.
We love how South Korea has exploded in terms of popularity in recent years. We’ve long been shouting that it’s one of the best places to travel to, whether you love adventure or not.
Despite this, the country is still severely underrated when it comes to its national parks. But we’re here to spread the word about the best of the country’s 21 parks – from the many mountainous regions to the incredible marine parks dotted along the coastline.
Brilliant South Korean National Parks
Bukhansan National Park
It’s no secret that we’re huge fans of Bukhansan National Park – it’s easy to visit from Seoul and is jam-packed with epic hikes and scenic viewpoints.
If you’re feeling brave, you can opt to tackle Baegundae Peak, a gruelling trail that will take you the best part of a day. You can choose to go with a guide or head there solo, but make sure you pack your comfiest hiking boots and take plenty of water.
Or, if you would rather explore the cultural spots in and around the park, make sure to swing by Eunpyeong Hanok Village to snap some photos of the traditional hanok buildings that line the streets. Plus, Samgaksan Doseonsa Temple and Jingwansa Temple are both unmissable attractions within the park.
Seoraksan National Park
Another park not to be missed is Seoraksan, northeast of Seoul. This park takes its name from the winter snow that graces its towering peaks and offers up rugged granite formations, dense forests, and crystal-clear streams that weave through its valleys.
Amidst the natural wonders, Seoraksan harbours cultural gems like Sinheungsa, a Buddhist temple, and a giant bronze Buddha statue known as the Great Unification Buddha.
Intrepid hiker? One of the park’s main attractions is Daecheongbong, the highest peak in the Taebaek mountain range. We’ll warn you: the ascent to Daecheongbong Peak is challenging. But the trails are ridiculously pretty, making it worth the effort.
For those looking to take it easy, Seoraksan National Park offers a network of well-maintained hiking trails catering to all. From leisurely strolls along valley paths to challenging ascents to the peaks, there’s a route for every adventurer. We recommend tackling the Seoraksan Dinosaur Ridge Course… keep your eyes peeled for ancient dinosaur footprints!
Hallasan National Park
Let’s head to Jeju Island for the next South Korean national park, Hallasan National Park. This gem is home to the iconic Hallasan, a shield volcano and the highest peak in South Korea.
Most visitors are here to reach the peak, which is a rewarding challenge with its panoramic views of the island. The Seongpanak and Gwaneumsa trails are two of the most popular in the park. Plus, the Crater Lake at the top, known as Baengnokdam, adds an otherworldly touch to the volcanic scenery.
Hallasan National Park is a haven for biodiversity, showcasing the unique flora and fauna of Jeju Island. The lower slopes are blanketed with dense forests, home to a variety of plant species, including the iconic Hallasan Camellia, a symbol of the island.
Pssst… Keep an eye out for the native Jeju pony, an adorable breed that roams freely in designated areas of the park.
Gyeongju National Park
We adored Gyeongju on our last visit to South Korea, so we had to write about it in this guide to the most incredible national parks in South Korea. It’s often referred to as the “Museum without Walls” and is a treasure trove of cultural and historical wonders.
This park, steeped in the rich legacy of the ancient Silla Dynasty, transports you through time, with archaeological sites and ancient temples in abundance. One of the highlights is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bulguksa Temple. This architectural masterpiece showcases intricate carvings, serene pagodas, and beautiful bridges, surrounded by lush gardens. Another iconic landmark within the park is Seokguram Grotto, home to a striking Buddha statue and a testament to Silla-era craftsmanship.
Gyeongju is also dotted with royal tombs that pay homage to the Silla kings and queens. Tumuli Park, also known as Daereungwon, is home to various tombs, including the impressive Cheonmachong, named for its horse-shaped artefacts.
While the park is a haven for history enthusiasts, it also boasts natural beauty that complements the ancient structures. Anapji Pond, a serene artificial pond dating back to the Silla period, offers a peaceful retreat surrounded by flowering trees and historic pavilions.
Dadohaehaesang Marine National Park
Get ready to explore South Korea’s coastal beauty at Dadohaehaesang Marine National Park. This maritime haven encompasses over 1,700 islands and islets across the provinces of Jeollanam-do, Jeollabuk-do, and a part of the South Jeolla Province.
From the pristine beaches of Hongdo to the tranquil fishing villages of Heuksan, each island boasts its unique charm. For a taste of local life, visit the fishing villages scattered along the park’s coastline. Heuksan and Jindo islands both offer a glimpse into the traditional Korean fishing lifestyle, with traditional fishermen, bustling fish markets, and centuries-old temples perched on hillsides.
Take our advice – Dadohaehaesang is best explored by boat, and island-hopping is a must. Better yet, there are ferries connecting major islands, making it easy to create your own itinerary.
Add wandering through the bamboo forests of Hongdo, spotting the natural rock formations of Heuksan’s Oenaro, and enjoying the sweeping views from a cliffside trail on Baekdo to your bucket list.
Naejangsan National Park
Naejangsan National Park is an unmissable addition to this South Korea national park guide. It’s perhaps most famous for its autumn foliage, which transforms the entire landscape into a kaleidoscope of colours.
Naejangsan offers a network of well-maintained trails – a couple we adore are the Geumseon Valley Trail, known for its picturesque bridge and waterfalls, and the Naejangsa Temple Trail, leading to an ancient temple nestled in the mountains.
Don’t miss out on Naejangsan Temple, founded over a millennium ago. Surrounded by ancient trees and embraced by the mountains, the temple provides a serene escape for those after a little bit of spiritual contemplation.
And the tranquillity doesn’t end there; this park is adorned with lakes and waterfalls, adding to its serene ambiance. Take the picturesque Uhwajeong Pavilion, which offers you another spot for reflection.
Jirisan National Park
No guide to the best South Korea national parks is complete without the country’s largest national park, Jirisan.
Nicknamed the Mountain of the Oddities, it truly lives up to its name with a diverse topography that includes towering peaks and deep valleys. The iconic Cheonwangbong Peak boasts expansive views of the surrounding landscapes, while the likes of Hwaeomsa Valley showcase crystal-clear streams and lush greenery.
The majestic Hwaeomsa complex is one of Korea’s most significant Buddhist temples. Founded over 1,200 years ago, the Main Hall, adorned with intricate carvings and paintings, is the perfect photo spot.
Or, if you would rather head out into nature, the Ssanggyesa Temple Trail takes hikers through ancient forests and leads to awe-inspiring vistas.
Hallyeohaesang Marine National Park
The southern coast of South Korea is one of the most underrated parts of the country. And here lies Hallyeohaesang Marine National Park, where the azure waters of the Korea Strait meet the vast expanse of the East China Sea.
Like with Dadohaehaesang Marine National Park, this region encompasses a network of islands, rocky cliffs, and secluded coves. The park is home to almost 2000 islands, each with their own unique charm. Some notable jewels include Hongdo, Heuksando, and Baekdo.
If, like us, you love heading out into the ocean, you’ll be right at home here as the park is a critical habitat for a variety of marine life, including rare sea turtles. Snorkelers and divers can explore vibrant coral reefs, underwater caves, and a kaleidoscope of fish species inside this park.
Or, for those who prefer to stay on dry land, the coastal trails of Hallyeohaesang offer mesmerising views of the sea and its surroundings. The Daraengi Village Trail on Geoje Island is a popular choice, leading hikers along coastal cliffs, with the glittering ocean below.
Deogyusan National Park
Deogyusan National Park is another park not to miss when you visit South Korea. And, at its centre, stands the majestic Deogyusan Mountain. The park’s crown jewel, Hyangjeokbong Peak, can be reached on a challenging but enjoyable hike.
One place not to miss is the historic Guinsa Temple, which you’ll find in the lush Sobaeksan Mountain. This is a serene retreat showcasing intricate architecture and Buddhist relics. As one of Korea’s largest temples, Guinsa is a cultural pilgrimage site and a peaceful sanctuary for spiritualists.
This South Korean national park also offers an extensive network of well-maintained hiking trails suitable for most people. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll through ancient forests or a challenging ascent to a mountain peak, there’s a trail for everyone.
Whatever you do, we highly recommend booking a day tour to get the most out of Deogyusan National Park. Bonus points if the tour includes strawberry picking like the one we recommend below.
Odaesan National Park
Odaesan National Park is one of our favourite National Parks in South Korea, named after its five high peaks that resemble five folding screens.
Visiting Odaesan National Park is like stepping into a painting – it’s one of the top South Korean national parks all-year-round. In spring, the hills come alive with a burst of cherry blossoms and azaleas, while summer brings greenery and a myriad of hiking trails. And, in autumn (our favourite, in case you were wondering), Odaesan transforms into a canvas of fiery reds and burnt oranges.
For the adventure seekers, Odaesan offers a network of hiking trails catering to various skill levels. One of the most popular routes is the Daecheongbong Peak trail, which leads to the park’s highest summit. The ascent is challenging but rewarding. Expect panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, including glimpses of the East Sea on clear days.