Halla Mountain. Its beauty dominates Jeju’s skyline, and affects our weather, water, and more.
At 1,950 meters, it is South Korea’s tallest mountain and it may look like a daunting hike to the top. This may be true for most visitors, but the good news is that you don’t have to climb to the top to enjoy hiking the mountain. There are a number of easier trails that still give you spectacular views.
There are seven hiking trails, six shelters, one camping site and six parking areas. The summit crater is called Baeknokdam, and has an average radius of 400m and a depth of 108m.
The season will certainly determine which route you should take on the mountain. Seongpanak Trail in spring to see the pink azaleas and Yeongsil Trail in fall to enjoy the autumn leaves.
In addition, Hallasan National Park has a lot to offer besides just the summit. In total it is 153 square kilometers of protected park land. There are two visitor centers, one to the south and the other near Jeju City in the north.
In summer, the increased rainfall creates some substantial streams and waterfalls, but it can be a bit uncomfortable temperature-wise at lower altitudes. Once you get up above the 1,500 meter mark or so, though, there’s always a cool breeze.
Autumn, perhaps the most comfortable of the four seasons for climbing. The air is cool and dry, so visibility-wise it’s a great time to enjoy pristine views of the entire island from up top.
And by contrast, winter is the most difficult time to hike Halla. Many times the authorities have to shut down the trails to keep climbers safe. One exception is at the New Year, officials do try to open the mountain to hikers who want to see the first sunrise from up top.
In terms of the ecology of the mountain and the park in general, there is a wide range of animal and plant life to keep an eye out for. Halla Mountain has what is called a vertical ecosystem, resulting from a drop in temperature as the elevation increases.
The park has over 2,000 kinds of plants, 90 of which are indigenous. As for birds, there are 380 species, including the fairy pitta and white-backed woodpecker. There are 30 species of mammals, including roe deer and the Jeju weasel, among others. And insect life is particularly rich, with over 4,500 species.
Culturally, one can consider Halla to be the heart of the island and its people. Fortunately, it has received a remarkable level of protection in the last 50 years, including being designated a natural reserve back in 1966. Four years later, in 1970, it became a national park.
This, in itself, is remarkable, at that time there wasn’t much of an environmental movement.
More recently, Halla Mountain was designated a UNESCO Biosphere in 2002, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage in 2007, and part of the Jeju Island Geopark in 2010. And in April 2008, in order to promote awareness and education about the nature of Halla Mountain, the Hallasan National Park Visitor Center opened at Eorimok.
The Center has three exhibition halls, where visitors can learn about the mountain’s creation myths, its ecology, geography and geology. It takes about 40 minutes to go through the center, and admission is free.