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

Yeonhwasan Provincial Park

In this park, we had a real, wild adventure. Yeonhwasan Provincial Park is remote and rather difficult to access by public transit. But, as experience has shown us, that tends to just mean we’re in for an especially good time. And indeed we were!

We successfully caught the first of two buses we’d need to get to the park early on a Sunday morning in July. After waiting around in a little village for a second bus that never showed up, we opted to run down the highway to the park instead. A few kilometers later, we spotted what seemed to be a little-used trailhead behind a gas station. Although it was overgrown and covered by a large banner in Korean text, we decided to go for it.

An image of a trailhead? The author and her husband began their hike here - an inconspicuous opening in a sea of green trees and bushes. There is a red sign with Korean text at the edge of the frame.
This is it, right? The trail from the highway…

And so began an epic morning of bushwhacking through prickly, chest-height bushes. Sometimes the faint remnants of the path nearly disappeared in the lush rainforest growth. Even at the best of times, it was only visible as the least grown bit of the forest, and even then, only by looking at our feet could we determine that! We smelled strange animal smells. Forest pigs grunted warnings to us, and with pounding hearts, we kept up a louder-than-usual conversation punctuated by occasional bouts of clapping. We thought we’d seen spider forests before, on Jeju, but boy, was this another world altogether. Not only were we certainly the only humans on the trail that day, but we might have been the only humans to use this particular trail all year.

An image depicting the state of the trail. The trail seems to cut through a stone fence, back into dense foliage. It is visible as a narrow band between thick bushes.
Still a trail, I think…
An image of a directional signpost almost completely engulfed in greenery. Vines and branches wrap around the central pole and curl over the signs. But one of the signs reads 3.7km towards Yeonhwabong, reassuring the author and her husband that they are on track.
Definitely still on the trail!
An image of the author, waist deep in the weeds. She's holding onto a large blue sign supported by two wooden posts with on hand. She has the other arm raised, her hand in a fist. She is wearing a running vest, with an umbrella tucked into it and popping up over her shoulder.
Let’s do this!

We scrambled up a muddy hill to reach our first peak – only to find a sign proclaiming a peak of the same name was a further 2 kilometers on. Ducking under branches, twisting around the sharpest thorns and pushing great clusters of foliage out of the way, we made our way there.

Suddenly and surprisingly, we burst out of the bushes and into the open. We were now on a main trail, it seemed, and on our way to the summit! The downpour that began as we set off on this new, well-traveled trail, couldn’t have made us any dirtier or wetter than we already were.

An image of the author and her husband taken atop a peak named Yeonhwa 1-bong. As usual, the author is standing beside the summit stele with one arm raised, while her husband takes the selfie.
Proud at a peak!

We were, as usual, all alone on the summit! We took our time investigating the wooden sculptures and savoring our journey. Although just 6 or so kilometers long, the path we’d taken to get here had been incredibly tough! We were ravenous, and wound up demolishing our food supply at the peak.

An image of the author and her husband. As usual, he stands closest to the lens. His hair and t-shirt are wet from the rain, and he's wearing a running vest. The author stands behind him, leaning with both forearms on the Yeonhwasan summit stele. Tall trees surround the summit area, mist woven in between their trunks.
The summit!
An image of two wood carvings rising out of a cairn of rocks. One of the carvings is all hard angles and sharp edges. It looks angry. The other one is carved with a smile, and has a head that could be either a mushroom or part of the male anatomy.
Classic Korean woodcarvings…

Just beyond the peak, we found a cloth map lying in the mud. It wasn’t for this park, but for Sobaeksan National Park. Looking around, we couldn’t see anyone that it could belong to. Maybe it was luck – after all, this was one of the only parks we were missing in our scarf collection. We decided to hold onto it and offer it to anyone we met on the way down – but we didn’t meet anyone the whole way down!

The route down involved stops a little hermitage, nice temple and a lotus pond. The remainder of our day’s trail was completely unlike the start: well-groomed, wide and trodden. A friendly park ranger at the base of the mountain, the first person we’d encountered all day, was eager to chat with us.

An image of a seated Buddha in stone. The pedestal is covered with moss in several shades of green. There are three tiny Buddha figures sitting at the foot of this larger Buddha. The carving has closed eyes and tightly curled hair, and is sitting in a lotus position. There are green plants surrounding the Buddha. An image of a temple. The image was taken from the corner of one temple building, so the view is along the outer front wall. A series of latticework wooden doors are alternately open and closed. There are colorful paper lanterns in the shapes of fish hanging from the traditional overhanging roof. A close-up image of a wild tiger lily. Its petals are bright yellow in the center, tinged with red in the middle and fade to a light orange at the edges. The face of the flower is covered with shiny droplets of water.

We opted to splurge on a taxi back to the nearest town after a very memorable adventure. No peak panoramas, thanks to the stormy weather, but we had an awesome, wild forest adventure.

And in fact, our adventure was not yet over! Back in Jinju, and apparently still starving, we went straight to a Subway. While enjoying our veggies, the largest tick I’ve ever seen emerged from the mud on my leg! I panicked and a huge scene ensued while Kent stomped it into oblivion. Not my best vegan moment, I’m sure, but in the end I was just grateful to have avoided getting bit!

Know and Go! Yeonhwasan Provincial Park

Transportation

This adventure will take you to a distant, little-explored corner of the ROK! Yeonhwasan Provincial Park is located between the towns of Jinju and Goseong in the far south of the Korean peninsula. The nearest metro is Busan, a little over an hour away to the east. Jinju and Goseong both have direct bus connections to points north (such as Seoul) and other locations in Gyeongsangnamdo.

I won’t kid you: getting from town to the park might be a little tricky using public transit.¬† Staying in Goseong might give you better options, as it’s arguably a little closer and there appears to be a public bus. But even this bus doesn’t deliver you straight to the park – so brace yourself for a bit of road walking. Another option: simplify your life and just take a taxi!

Coming from Jeonju after our Maisan and Moaksan adventures the day before, it was easiest for us to catch a bus to Jinju. Plus, we lived next door to Jinju during our mountain mission year and happen to really like the town – making it an easy choice for our base, even if we did have transit troubles!

Hike

Yeonhwasan Provincial Park is home to three peaks:¬†Ongnyeobong, Seondobong and Mangseonbong. They’re all set deep in a lush and tranquil forest, which really is the main attraction of this park.

An image showing a signboard and map in Yeonhwasan Provincial park. Trails are indicated with yellow and red lines. Peaks and temples are also marked on this map, which has a simple, illustrated, green background.
Yeonhwasan Provincial Park trail map

I think most folks visit Okcheonsa, and make a loop from the park’s main entrance in the east. But there are longer, wilder routes too…venture out on one of those and plan on a funny mix of road running and slogging through the undergrowth!

Stay & Eat

I have a bias, but I’d like to recommend Jinju! Great access to different kinds of eats and tiers of accommodation. Also, it’s a pretty little town with a historic fortress and a nice river to explore.

Yeonhwasan Provincial Park is definitely not as developed as the majority of other parks we visited. While there were hints of commercial activity at the main entrance, nothing on the scale of other parks. I’d advise packing some provisions for your Yeonhwasan adventure!

Other Notes

In July 2016, we ran a 13.4 kilometer point-to-point route in Yeonhwasan Provincial Park. We began on the side of highway 30 and ended at Okcheonsa temple.

The summit of Yeonhwasan is 582m. It’s a cozy peak, with wood and rock sculptures. The view encompasses a thick forest from which the locals harvest mushrooms and berries; this park has a gentle, understated beauty.

Heading here for the first time, I had no idea what to expect! Here’s a little more information on this little-known park.

On this same wild weekend, Kent and I also visited Maisan and Moaksan Provincial Parks in Jeollabukdo. Consider joining us for even more provincial parks or Korea’s incredible national parks!