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

Dadohaehaesang National Park (Paryeongsan Provincial Park)

We saved the very best park for our very last adventure. Our mountain mission year was drawing to a close, and we had saved this unique national park-provincial park combo until the end. Paryeongsan Provincial Park in Dadohaehaesang National Park was, quite simply, one of my best adventures ever.

First of all, the setting was idyllic. Paryeongsan Provincial Park is a mountain on the jagged Goheung peninsula in the far south, surrounded by the blue seas and rocky islands of Dadohaehaesang National Park. Paryeongsan has eight dramatic, rocky peaks, which showcase views of each other and of the sea. Every step was simply breathtaking!

We arrived at the park in the early hours of the morning. It was misty, so initially it was hard to know just where we were between the sea and the slopes. But then we had our first glimpse of the mountain.

An image of the second peak of Paryeongsan. It's summit is lost in an ethereal, silvery mist. Grey rocks rise up sharply from the emerald forest. You can just make out a grey staircase and brown ladder affixed to the vertical rock surface.
First glimpse!

After a steep scramble up a rocky grey cliff, we were standing on top of our first peak! It was an incredibly dramatic pinnacle rising directly out of the forest. On three sides, there were plunging drop-offs. In one direction, the mist was clearing to reveal an even bigger spire, with metal stairs and ladders leading straight up its near-vertical surface.

An image of the author and her husband on the first peak of Paryeongsan. The author's husband is in the front left side, smiling into the camera. The author stands behind and to the right, leaning over slightly with her hands on the summit stele. A forested ridge is visible through the mist behind them.
First peak!

We lingered on our first peak, alone; taking in the sights and thanking the stars for the good fortune of being in this splendid place. Then we carried on: hauling ourselves up metal railings, clinging to ropes, finding footholds on slanted metal steps or on craggy rocks. This exciting ascent brought us to our second peak! Standing here, spinning slowly in circles, we could see back to the first peak, forward to still more craggy peaks, and down to the misty valleys and distant seashore. It was so beautiful and exciting that I had a kind of mountain drunkenness, and I couldn’t stop giggling.

An image of the author ascending the steep, thrilling steps up to peak number two. She is gripping the brown handrails on either side of the staircase, and her face is lit up with a smile. Behind her, the first rocky peak is visible above the forest.
Up!
An image of the author and her husband with the second summit stele. As always, her husband is on the left of the frame. The author crouches low to the ground, with one arm around and one hand on the face of the small stele. They both look happy and excited.
Second peak!

Over the edge of the cliff, and down from the second peak required using metal rings and chains, going backwards and facing forwards and even sideways. Then up again, clinging to the rock face, to a still-higher third peak! The thick mist was clearing as the morning wore on, and we had better and better views from our peaks. My heart was pounding, a cool breeze was pulling the sweat from my skin and I felt literally and figuratively on top of the world.

An image of a brown metal railing alongside a silver metal chain. The railing is bolted into the rock, and the chain hangs down over another rock. There is a flat metal slab fixed to the rock in between, meant to serve as a step. The rocks rise straight up, almost vertically, but their surfaces are craggy and good for purchase.
Options for ascent
And descent!
An image of the third summit along the Paryeongsan ridge. This image features the small summit stele on a sharp, rocky peak. A distant peak rises up from flat green rice farms,a dark hulking shape against the bright sunlit sky.
Third peak!

Down again, and up! The sides of each peak were so sharp, like the jagged teeth of a shark, with plunging valleys setting the peaks apart from each other. Now standing on peak number four, we could see peak number five only a stone’s throw away, but separated by two rocky cliffs and a forest-filled valley. Each peak was a little party of gratitude and photography as we carried on.

An image of the author standing on some boulders to take in a beautiful view. Her back is to the camera, and she is looking at a huge rocky peak to her right. A long ridge begins behind that rocky peak and extends out of the frame to the left.
What’s to come…
An image containing three peaks! The stele of the fourth peak, a grey stone slab with black engravings, is in the foreground. Behind it, in the center of the frame is the tiny shape of the stele on top of the fifth peak. The fifth peak appears more lush and less rocky than the fourth peak. The sixth peak looms very large in the rear left of the photo.
Fourth peak!
An image of the author with the fifth summit stele. This stele is slightly larger than the ones on the first through fourth peaks, and is a darker grey. The author crouches behind it so that her legs and body are invisible. All that is visible are her arms, folded across the top of the stele, and her smiling face, resting on her hands.
Fifth peak!

Peaks number five and six were divided by the deepest and steepest valley we’d seen yet. After slipping and sliding our way down to the bottom of peak five, we saw the jagged rocks and metal handrails that we would need to use for scrambling to our next summit. So awesome! And then, of course, from the height of peak six, we could see peak seven still higher above us! We looked back over the five crazy pinnacles we’d just climbed, and forward to the mountains ahead of us. What an adventure!

An image from below the tricky ascent up the sixth peak. There are several silver metal railings, top rungs wrapped in a green cloth, set at angles to one another. Between them are jagged boulders, set one on top of the other. Some small trees and green plants are growing out of the rocks.
Heading up again
An image of the author mid-ascent. One of her hands grips a railing, and the other hand holds a boulder. One of her feet is visible, braced against the sheer side of another boulder. The top half of the photo shows a dense green forest underneath the steep cliffs of the fifth peak.
Climbing!
An image of the author and her husband on the rocky summit of peak six. The author's husband is in the bottom left corner, wearing a bright smile. The author stands behind the summit stele, making a heart shape with her hands. Rocky peak number seven and eight are visible immediately behind her, and the ridge levels off to the left of the frame.
Sixth peak!

From peak number seven, we had possibly our best views of the day over the Dadohaehaesang part of the park – in other words, the distant rugged edge of the peninsula surrounded by sea! Closer to us, the Paryeongsan range ran down into the farmland, the deep green slopes contrasting with the lighter rice fields. This wound up being the highest peak of the eight (by a few meters). We found the similarly lovely eighth rocky peak shortly after. Once again, being in the lead of the day’s hiking crowd allowed us the luxury of enjoying our peaks in peace and solitude. And gratitude.

An image of the author and the seventh peak of Paryeongsan. This is a great image for showing the scenery. The bottom half of the image shows the sloping seventh peak in the mountain's grey and tan rock. The summit stele is shorter and wider than the previous ones, and the author is crouched beside it. She has one arm draped over it and appears to be examining it. The upper half of the photo is a mosaic of bright rice fields and dark mountain slopes. The shoreline is just barely visible in mist. There top of the photo is lined with a row of white clouds.
Seventh peak!
This image shows the author and her husband on Paryeongsan's eighth peak. He is smiling into the camera but squinting at the bright sunlight in the bottom left. The author is standing bent over, embracing the summit stele, high up on the rocky peak.
Eighth peak!

Finally, we arrived on the gentler slopes of the final peak beyond the rocky bongs. This was the highest peak in the park, and with its position slightly off to the side of the rocky ridge, we had incredible views of the mountain spine we’d just traversed. We relaxed on the flat, grassy surface of this broad peak, gazing back over the eight lovely peaks in one direction, and down at the sea in the other. It was a stunning place, and I never wanted to leave.

An image taken from Gitdaebong, looking back at the steep, rocky peaks rising out of the forest. Each peak is a distinct and separated from the others, separated by tracts of forest and steep cliffs.
The eight peaks of Paryeongsan
An image of the author, seated on some flat rocks. She is holding her knees to her chest and looking at the camera. Behind her, the mountain slopes run down into the sea. Little dark green islands rise out of the sea into a bright white sky.
Dadohaehaesang views

When at last we did, we were motivated by the idea of exploring literally every trail in the park. That meant a descent into the forest parallel to the high trail over the peaks. In the forest, our hike took on a completely different character! It was cool and damp, with moss and fungi growing in abundance. We found little frogs and big toads, and wandered among tall, lime-green bamboo shoots.

Then, to our delight, we found a climb to another peak! And what a view it had! We could see all the jagged pinnacles we’d clambered around earlier in all their rugged glory. Although I normally cling to my favorite experiences furiously, after half an hour spent in contemplation, I acknowledged that we’d just had the best experience. Back down the slopes near where we started, we strolled slowly through the grounds of a beautiful little temple, before bidding this incredible park goodbye.

An image of the author and her husband on a rocky outcrop above a forest. Behind them, cutting across the image like a serrated knife are the eight jagged peaks of Paryeongsan. They are both grinning delightedly and the day is bright.
Spectacular spines
An image of the main hall at Neunggasa temple. It's colorfully painted walls and sloping black tiled roof are classical Korean architecture. The ground in front is mainly pebbles, with a trail of large slabs of rocks leading up to the open door of the temple building. To the left of the temple are the eight jagged peaks of Paryeongsan rising out of the forest.
Neunggasa Temple and its beautiful backdrop
An image of a small, pink flower with five petals. It is growing out of the gravel of the temple grounds. The author's green and grey shoes enter the frame from the left.
A single temple bloom

Know and Go! Dadohaehaesang National Park (Paryeongsan Provincial Park)

Transportation

This park is a ways off the beaten track and even off the main transportation grid. I am pretty sure that no matter where you are coming from, you will need to transfer buses, then take a taxi to the park. Gwangju and Suncheon are good transit hubs, where you can change buses and catch one bound for the small town of Gwayeok. From Gwayeok, it is possible to take a public bus to the park entrance, but the buses seemed extremely infrequent when I was researching this area. Luckily, the taxi ride is not far and relatively cheap. You can get the taxi driver’s card and give him/her a call for your return journey (or ask someone at the park office to help you if you aren’t confident in Korean).

Hike

This is just a fabulous hike, so to do anything other than the whole ridge would be doing yourself a grave disservice. Not only is access easier from the first peak side, but I believe going in the correct direction (that is, from the first peak to the eighth peak) is the most scenic and exciting way to go. Each peak is higher than the last, allowing you to look both forwards and backwards over the incredible ridge you’re climbing. After the eighth peak, a short and easy walk away is another peak with great views of the whole ridge. We also really enjoyed coming back through the park to get some bonus views of the ridge before ending where we started.

A map of the trail network in the Paryeongsan area of Dadohaehaesang National Park. Regrettably, this is image was taken from far enough away as to fit the whole map and sign into the frame - but too far away to clearly read details on the map.
Dadohaehaesang National Park (Paryeongsan Provincial Park) trail map

*My apologies for this rather unhelpful map. But go anyways! Go hike this ridge!

Stay & Eat

Aside from some possible once or future camping in the forest below the ridge, there didn’t seem to be a lot of options around the main park entrance. We spotted a few open marts, but a peek inside revealed mainly rows of cans and dry goods. There were no restaurants or hotels in the area that we could see. However, there was a small selection of motels and shops in little Gwayeok, so you could successfully base yourself there. Of course, with bus links to Suncheon and Gwangju, you could also base yourself in one of those larger cities if you’d like more options when it comes to staying and eating.

Other Notes

Kent and I visited this beautiful duo of parks in mid-September 2016. Our 11.6 km loop comprised running, hiking, stairs and scrambling!

The highest peak in the park is 609m Gitdaebong. I believe it’s essential to visit the progressively higher series of super steep peaks numbered one to eight.

I initially researched this park on the Korea National Park Service website, but found little information about this hike. This could be because the mountain is classified as a provincial park, while the area surrounding it is part of the national park. But have a look at this helpful blog as well.

Come explore more mountains with me: national parks and provincial parks!