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