Adventures in ultra-running, nature-loving, plant-eating & travel

Cheongnyangsan Provincial Park

Getting to this provincial park involved three bus transfers and braving some stormy weather. But I’m so glad we made it to this hidden gem! Cheongnyangsan Provincial Park contains a truly beautiful mountain and some very exciting hiking. And behold, the loveliest of classic East Asian scenery!

A beautiful image reminiscent of a classical East Asian painting. The gnarled roots of a pine tree break through rocks that are a slightly lighter shade of brown. The tree itself springs up from the rocks at an odd angle, and it is accompanied by a small black summit stele. Beyond this peak, another rises, steep and jagged, from the misty forest below.
One of my favorite photos from one of my favorite summits!

We had a miraculous rain window for our ascent. After running about a kilometer from the bus stop, we crossed a bridge and under a big temple gate. We found a large map and studied our route options from under an umbrella. There was an ascent option right in front of us, and we decided to go for it! As we climbed some slippery, muddy steps, the rain stopped completely. The clouds even lifted, giving us incredible, misty views high over a river valley. The trail wound its way up on a cliff’s edge: tall trees or huge rocks on the right, a metal railing and plunging drop-off to the left.

An image taken from a cliffside trail. This image is sliced neatly along the diagonal by the green slope of the mountain. On the left, a cloud rises up from the valley floor. An empty road threads along beside a river that's a deeper shade of slate. Neighboring mountains rise up the sides of the frame. To the right, some sheer rocks protrude from the greenery of the forested mountainside.
Valley views…
An image of the author and her husband on the cliffside trail ascending Cheongnyangsan. Kent is in the foreground, wearing a white t-shirt and running vest, smiling at the camera. The author is standing a little ways behind him on the trail, one arm raised; a big smile on her face and an umbrella poking up over her shoulder out of her running backpack. A jagged cliff wall runs down the left side of the frame, and a green railing frames the drop-off to the right.
…as seen from this great trail!

The main peak was one of those cozy ones, familiar from several of our recent provincial park expeditions. Changinbong was surrounded by both bushes and the clouds that had rolled back in, blanketing our adventure. Colorful ribbons adorned trees everywhere, brightening the summit view. After some of our usual celebrations, we carried on. We’d been filled with anticipation for the 90m suspension bridge, and it did not disappoint. Stretched over a rocky chasm, it was literally whistling in the wind. Gusts pushed it hard to one side, and it would drop suddenly back to the center when the wind stopped.

An image of the author posing with the damp summit stele of 870 meter Cheonginbong. The stele is a large, oblong rock inscribed with Chinese characters, and it is darker grey on top from the rain. The author is standing with both hands resting on it, one foot kicked up. Behind the stele is a small flat patch of bare earth, ringed by trees festooned in colorful hiking ribbons.
With the summit stele!
An image of the author on the suspension bridge spanning two peaks on the rocky ridge of Cheongnyangsan. The bridge is painted green, with high railings and long support cables. The author stands on the bridge with a fist raised in the air...but her running backpack and umbrella in the other hand, because she was afraid of a lighting strike.
The big bridge!
Another image of the suspension bridge. This image shows the bridge in profile, with the many cables that maintain its suspension. The bridge is long enough that the far end is nearly lost in mist, as is the deep canyon that drops away beneath the bridge.
From another angle

One wild and windy crossing and several photo stops later, we had a bit of a ropes course misadventure on the opposite side. Turns out, you can descend below the bridge, skipping it on a much gnarlier route if you choose. For us, this meant traveling almost in a circle before realizing our mistake. It was already slow going on the steep terrain, and slower still in the rain – but it was all just another adventure on a really special mountain.

Back on the ridge, we continued along the rolling path. I dashed off to one side for a quick solo summit of one of the most scenic peaks ever. But the storm was increasing in ferocity, so we quickened our pace.

An image of the black summit stele on 840 meter Jasobong. The angle is low, so the stele rises upwards, framed by the jagged and inaccessible peak itself. The author's reflection is just visible on the shiny, damp black surface of the stele.
Another sweet summit
An image taken on one mountain peak of another mountain peak. The peak is stark and stands alone, high above the green of the forest. It's grey and rocky and all sharp angles. Mist carpets the ridge and mountain slopes in the distance.
Magical, misty mountains

All too soon, we were descending. But the way down was also memorable and photogenic. We stopped to appreciate a cave and a tree growing beneath a mini waterfall. We lingered at a temple to snuggle a couple of kittens and watch the behavior of a dozen older cats.

An image of a cave in the mountainside. It is surprisingly light, and only gets dark in its inner recesses. There is a green vine adding a splash of color to the rocks near the entrance. Piles of smaller rocks are stacked up just inside the entrance to form wish towers.
Natural meditation chamber
An image of the beautiful scenery at Cheongnyangsangsa temple. The author's husband stands beneath a large gate in the center of the frame. He is dwarfed by the massive, two-storey burgundy building beneath a sloping slate roof. Another building sits above and to the right, on a terrace, and there is a stone pagoda reaching upwards from another terrace to the left. Above it all, one of the rocky peaks of Cheongnyangsan rises into the mist.
Cheongnyangsangsa temple
An image of an orange adult cat and patchy kittens. None of the three are looking at the camera. Instead, all three clamber around the rocks and benches outside a temple building.
Temple cats and kitties!

Finally, we hit the road back to the village. We were seated inside with bowls of bibimbap when the worst of the storm hit: lightning, loud thunder, and torrential rain. Just in time! With nowhere to go fast, Kent drank a local maekgolli. Hours later, we got a bit of a local tour when one of the workers offered us a ride to a different bus stop. What an adventure!

An image of the author, her husband and a local man they met at a restaurant in the tourist town. He offered to drive KnC to a bus stop. When they accepted, he took them on a bit of an area tour in his truck. One of the stops was at a brand-new pedestrian bridge over the river, where this selfie was taken.
Fun with friendly locals

Know and Go! Cheongnyangsan Provincial Park

Transportation

This park is about as remote as it gets. The nearest major center of civilization is Andong, which is saying something, because Andong is not otherwise considered a major population center! Googling the directions there is liable to make you either laugh or cry, with estimates averaging around 9 hours. But don’t let that scare you off. First, the travel estimates here are not always accurate, and even if you do have to make multiple hops, you’ll be happy you did.

As far as I can tell, no matter where you’re starting from, you’re going to need to get to Andong. From Seoul, you can take a bus or a train. There’s no real advantage to taking the train here (unless you especially like trains) because the trains that ply this route are the slow Mugunghwa ones – not the speedy KTX. Outside of Andong Station, you can take local bus number 67, which will take you directly to the park! …in about 60 stops and slightly over an hour.

Yes, Cheongnyangsan Provincial Park is remote and tricky to get to. But it is well worth the effort. I fell in love with this little park and it’s classical, photogenic scenery. I suspect you will too. It’s remote location is actually a blessing, because you could find yourself completely alone there – all the better for contemplating the landscape and meditating at the temple. And why not combine your adventures on this mountain with the sorta-kinda nearby-ish beauty of Juwangsan National Park?

Hike

There are three main hiking options of varying lengths, all along the rocky spine of this provincial park. But bear in mind that wherever you come down, you will likely need to hoof it back to the tourist village (just out of view to the left on the map below) to exit the park via public transit, so add on a couple of kilometers to every route.

An image of the trail network in Cheongnyangsan Provincial Park, The trails are color coded, and described in more detail in the following paragraph.
Cheongnyangsan Provincial Park trail map

With my apologies for the poor picture, I will reiterate the main options here:

  1. The longest route, shown in yellow, climbs up onto the ridge immediately after the bridge and temple gate. This route is 12.7k in length and takes in all 12 scenic peaks. It forms a loop, traversing the north ridge, crossing a highway tunnel and then climbing again onto the south ridge. This route takes in Chukyongbong and Milseongdae peaks. This was the route we would have taken if we hadn’t been enjoying this particular park on a very stormy day.
  2. The most popular route – and the one we took. Starting alongside the yellow route, this route climbs up to follow the ridge over the main peak and several others, as well as the suspension bridge, before descending to a cave and waterfall. There’s an option to visit two mountain temples. This hiking course, in red, is 6.4k.
  3. For those short on time, this course is a shorter version of course two. Hikers can take in the main peak and bridge in just 5.1k, but spend less time on the ridge: climbing up to it later and leaving it earlier. Somewhat confusingly, this course is also depicted in yellow.
  4. On the opposite side of the valley, this route (shown in blue) bypasses the main peak in favor of its less-visited and only slightly smaller sibling, Chukyongbong. It starts on the opposite side of the road from the yellow and red routes, just after the bridge and temple gate. It’s a 5.1k point-to-point course, ending at the other end of the road that bisects the park.
  5. The shortest of all options. Course 5 is depicted in white and is just 2.3 kilometers long. It is a short loop to and from the temple and stays below the ridge. Probably not recommended if you want a hiking experience, as it’s mainly on roads.

Stay & Eat

In this regard, Cheongnyangsan Provincial Park really shines, probably thanks to its remote location! It has an abundance of great mountain food restaurants, all with a welcoming and friendly feel. There are also a bunch of small, homey minbaks (Korean style rooms for rent). The tourist village opposite the park is actually bigger than most. I think that’s partly because it needed to exist to serve the hikers and pilgrims who undertake the epic journey just to get here!

However, it is definitely possible to do the hikes in this park in a single outing, so you might not need to avail yourself of the accommodation. Hop right back on the public transit if you’re tight on time. If you do have time, stay for lunch at least, and enjoy the ambiance.

Other Notes

Kent and I had a steller, albeit stormy, 10.2k hike in Cheongnyangsan Provincial Park in July 2016.

The highest peak in this park is 870m Changinbong, but the whole ridge is an exciting roller coaster of pretty peaks. I’d definitely recommend making the most of your time there and visiting some of the other stunning summits along the way.

Here’s a little bit of background¬†about this mountain, for further reading if you’re interested.

Please come with me to more national parks and provincial parks!



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