What is your favorite season of the year? Well, mine is Autumn, maybe because I’m Autumn’s child as I was born in the month of October. Though I live in the tropics where there are no seasons, I have experienced them all through my travels abroad. Autumn and winter are the seasons I love best because it’s something different and unique for me whereas it’s perpetually ‘summer’ for me at home. I just love the crimson and golden hues of autumn leaves and it’s no wonder why Autumn Leaves is my favorite song. Yes, the falling leaves of red and gold do remind me of that someone far, far away.
Autumn is also the best time of the year to visit Korea, I think I have told you that before. Today I’m going to show you the best spots in Korea to enjoy the vivid and vibrant colors of the Autumn leaves. In Autumn, all roads seem to lead to the mountains when it suddenly becomes very busy and crowded. Korea’s best autumn travel destinations are in the mountains where one can have a magnificent view of the crimson and golden autumn leaves in all it’s splendor. The sky becomes the bluest ever, and the crimson leaves create a beautiful color in contrast to the autumn sky. The leaves change colors at slightly different times each year, beginning usually in the northern regions in late September and then moving down south. So the first region to see the crimson leaves will be Gangwon Province, and from there it spreads down towards Jeju Island and the southern tip of the Korean peninsular ending in Jeollanam-do. Every year the Korea Meteorological Administration will issue the dates of the Autumn Leaves Season of the major mountains in Korea as a guideline so that people can go up the mountains to enjoy the scenic Autumn view. Koreans enjoy the autumn foliage during this season with their friends, families, and loved ones usually by organizing hiking trips.
Geumgangsan, is considered by many to be the most beautiful mountain range on the Korean peninsula but it is located within North Korea’s forbidden borders. The mountains were named Geumgangsan since their countless hard rocks and sparkling beauty are like a diamond, Geumgangseok in Korean. Diamond Mountains are highly praised worldwide for their magnificent beauty. .Four different names are given to them according to the four seasons.It is called Mt. Geumgangsan or the diamond mountain in spring, Mt. Bongraesan or the verdant mountain in summer, Mt. Pungaksan or the autumnal foliage mountain in autumn, and Mt. Gaegolsan or the skeleton mountain in winter.
When Koreans think of Autumn leaves, the first thing that comes to mind will be the Seoraksan Mountain. Also referred to as Seolsan and Seolbongsan, the mountain was named Seorak because the snow would not melt for a long time keeping the rocks in a permanent state of white. In November 1965, the Seorak Mountain district was designated as a Natural Monument preservation area. Afterwards in December 1973, it was designated as a park preservation area, and in August 1982, as a Biosphere Preservation District by UNESCO.
Here, the leaves begin to change color, and the crimson color goes all the way to Gongnyongneungseon Ridge. As the crimson leaves spread downwards, the entire Seoraksan Mountain looks as if it is on fire. Seoraksan is known as Korea’s “Cleopatra” because of the beautifully colored autumn leaves. It is also where Autumn’s seasonal changes can be first seen as it is in the northern province of Gangwon. But that does not necessarily make it the best place to watch the Autumn leaves though.
A one-day trip to Seoraksan is not recommended because it needs at least 2 days to really enjoy Seoraksan’s Mountain view itself, what more if you want to explore the nearby tourist spots like Naksan Beach, Gyeongpodae, and Yongpyong Resort (our Winter Sonata filming location) in which case you will have to extend your stay. Seorak Waterpia is the ideal place to stop by and enjoy the hot springs where you can rest your tired body after a day of mountain climbing and sightseeing and also to enjoy the freshest seafood in Seoraksan
Odaesan Mountain is especially famous for its beautiful autumn season compared to the rest of the four seasons. Its leaves begin changing colors as soon as Seoraksan Mountain leaves change. Although not quite as brilliant, the view from the top of Odaesan fills its viewer with a sense of serenity. If you take the Mt. Dongdaesan Course – Woljeongsa Temple District hiking route you will able to see the beautiful fir tree forests at an entrance to Woljeongsa Temple. In addition to that you can visit Woljeongsa Temple and Gwaneumam Rock (hermitage or monk’s cell). You can have a clear view of a ridge connecting the mountain peaks stretching out like a folding screen.
Whereas if you take the Birobong Peak Course - Woljeongsa Temple District Course, you can visit some famous cultural properties like Sangwonsa Temple which is famous for Sangwonsa Dongjong (one of the two remaining copper bells of the Silla Dynasty, the nation’s highly revered cultural heritage) and Jeokmyulbogung (palace) where a relic of the Buddha rests in peace. On top of that you will be able to see some scarlet maple leaves.
The soft crimson of the leaves set against the autumn blue sky seem to be in perfect harmony. The Odaesan autumn scenery reaches its peak in mid-October, and many visitors seek the mountain during this time. Odaesan’s surrounding attractions include Samcheok and Yangyang’s Hajodae Pavilion and Naksansa Temple, the film locations of the movie ‘April Snow’. Other attractions include Gyeongpodae and Seoraksan. Odaesan is famous for Hanjeongsik (traditional Korean table d’hote) and Bibimbap served with wild herbs found on Odaesan Mountain.
Chiaksan National Park is another place to view the beautiful autumn foliage. Along the hiking trail, one can also find historic Buddhist temples like Guryongsa and Sangwonsa which date back to the Silla Dynasty (BC 57∼AD 935).
Boasting breathtaking views, Jirisan National Park was the first Korean park to be designated as a national park in 1967. Its glorious mountain range extends across three provinces and five cities. The magnificent mountains and exceptional scenery make this one of the most famous mountains in Korea. Roughly 1,915 meters above sea level, Cheonwangbong Peak, considered to be the pillar of heaven is the main peak. Jirisan also features Banyabong and Nogodan, and is home to over 10 famous temples. There are many species of animal and plant life, and is the first place to cultivate tea in Korea, herbal medicine cultivation still flourishes here. Mt. Jirisan was also where the Buddhist culture prospered, and there are also many cultural assets here, such as Silsangsa Temple (National Treasure No.7), Baekjangam and the Three-Story Stone Pagoda (National Treasure No. 26.). These regional cultural assets and the superb sceneries of nature give you a unique taste of local history and culture. The weather is temperamental and only 80~100 days out of the year are clear and sunny, but the mist and fog create rare, unparalleled scenes not found anywhere else. Seoraksan is known to be the more feminine looking mountain with its softer lines, whereas Jirisan Mountain, Korea’s most famous mountain, is considered the more masculine mountain with its larger and rougher lines. Jirisan’s autumn scenery begins in mid-October, and by the end of October, its crimson colors become more vivid than the red sunset. The valleys are connected from north to south, and the Piagol Valley and Baemsagol Valley are especially well-known for their colorful leaves in the fall. The Piagol Valley’s autumn scenery is noted as one of the top ten things to see at Jirisan. During the peak of the fall season, in the last week of October, the Piagol Valley Crimson Leaves Festival is held. Jirisan offers accommodations on its mountain slopes, allowing visitors a convenient several-days stay. In the spring, various wild herbs grow on Jirisan, and the local inhabitants pick them and dry them for yearly side dish ingredients. Jirisan area is known to be one of Korea’s cleanest natural environments, therefore the herb from the slopes are especially famous for their high quality. That's why many restaurants around Jirisan’s surrounding areas serve Hanjeongsik (traditional Korean table d’hote) with Jirisan herbs.
Naejangsan Mountain is a famous mountain in the Jeolla-do Province and is the best place in Korea for viewing the crimson Autumn leaves. Naejangsan is the second most sought out mountain in the fall season following Seoraksan, with its crimson beauty reaching its peak in late October. It has also been said that if you haven't seen the Autumn leaves at Naejangsan then you haven't seen the real beauty of autumn leaves at all. So that goes to show just how famous Naejangsan is for it's Autumn leaves. Naejangsan has nutmeg trees of more than 600-years-old and colonies of the natural treasure Daphniphyllum, which add to the beauty of the mountain scenery.
Surrounding attractions within a 1-hour radius of Naejangsan are Hanok Villages in Jeonju, Soswaewon and Sigyeongjeong in Damnyang. There are many traditional folk restaurants in the surrounding areas of Naejangsan. The prices are very affordable for a Hanjeongsik that comes with numerous side dishes.
Duryunsan Provincial Park
Containing many Buddhist temples and ruins as well as spectacular scenery, the 703m high Mt. Duryunsan is located at the southern most point of the Korean peninsula. Formed by subtropical green broadleaves and temperate deciduous broadleaf trees, the mountain is valued highly for observing plant chorology. Moreover, the Aegean Sea in the western and southern sea can be seen at a glance at the summit of eight mountains, although wide fields of reeds cover many areas.
During the fifth year of King Jinheung's reign (514), Buddhist priest, Ado, built Daedunsa Temple, which is a place of great historical value as it is also related to the Buddhist priest, Seosan. The temple is proudly among dense woodlands, consisting of maple trees and camellias. Breathtaking scenery of valleys and luxuriant trees can be seen on both sides of the 2km road leading to the temple.
Did I hear someone say that he won’t have time to go up the mountains to watch the crimson Autumn leaves? What a pity! Anyway, don’t worry; you still can see Autumn leaves in Seoul, only thing is they won’t be as colorful and beautiful as those in the mountains. Well, at least something is better than nothing isn't it? Try these places to catch a glimpse of Autumn leaves in downtown Seoul.
Changdeokgung Palace and its rear garden "Huwon," also called "Biwon" (the Secret Garden), is probably the best place in the Seoul to view Autumn leaves. You’ll find scholar trees, mulberry trees, oak trees and "darae" trees in a riot of colors.
Gyeongbokgung's recently restored Geoncheonggung -- palace grounds is also another place where you can catch the Autumn leaves. Starting from the stone wall road along Gyeongbokgung Palace, Samcheong-dong Road is particularly special as you are walking alongside a palace. In fall, the gingko trees turn the area a bright yellow, and the road is always being packed with people there to see the changing leaves.
There’s a stretch of road along Deoksugung Palace’s stone wall, a favorite spot for young courting couples. In fall, the yellow gingko leaves add to the romantic ambience. This road stretches from Deoksugung Palace across from City Hall to the Star Six Theatre. Better yet, step inside the Deoksu Palace for a particularly nice view of the maple leaves. In the garden of the Seoul Museum of Art there is a 500 year-old maple tree that shows off its spectacular autumnal foliage
Seonjeongneung comprising of the Seonneung Royal Tomb and the Jeongneung Royal Tomb in Gangnam-gu's Samreung Park boasts of the best night views of maple trees and it is open until nine at night.
Behind the man-made waterfall just off the Gupabal Subway Station, Line No. 3, is a walkway filled with chestnut trees, pine trees and Mongolian oaks. You can even stop for tea at an old teahouse inside the Jingwansa Temple.
Soweol-no is a walkway from the Seoul Hilton to Hannam-dong. Here ginkgo trees grow along the sidewalk. The fall colors of the trees are beautiful and if you are lucky, you can even catch the sun set over the Seoul skyline from here.
Remember Garosugil, the tree-lined street in Gangnam’s Sinsa-dong neighborhood? The rows of mature ginkgo trees look even more spectacular in autumn.
Other likely places are parks and university campuses where there are lots of trees planted.
Guess that’s about all for now.