Just south of Uijongbu on the opposite side of Dobongsan Mountain and just as accessible to any potential visitors is the lesser known Suraksan Mountain. Suraksan is not as picturesque as it’s western neighbor Dobongsan or as high, but does have its own type of charm and offers spectacular views of northern Seoul and the surrounding countryside. Much like Dobongsan, Suraksan has various trials to explore the mountain from, but I highly recommend tackling the 637 meter summit from the trail beginning near the Seoul Subway Line 7, Jang-am Station entrance I have highlighted below:
As you walk up the trail you will find that this mountain is not nearly as crowded compared to Dobongsan and other mountains in Korea. The transition from dense urban jungle to isolated forest is really incredible. Not to far up the trail you will come upon this picturesque Buddhist temple:
For those that have never visited a Buddhist temple before in Korea the Suklim Temple here on Surak mountain is very easy to access, the monks are quite friendly, and is worth a visit if you are planning on hiking the mountain anyway. This temple was first constructed in 1671 and was totally destroyed during the Korean War. It was rebuilt in 1960 and continues to operate to this day. The temple features this beautiful Buddhist statue lined with many mini-Buddhas:
I’m not sure if the monks are growing these peppers or not, but the multiple fields of vegetables near the temple can definitely make you wish for dwenjangchigae or some deokbokki:
Here is a scenic view looking towards the west and back at Dobong Mountain from the area near Suklim temple:
Once you pass the temple the trail narrows off, becomes rougher in some spots, and is surrounded by thick foliage that is only broken up by the occasional large boulder:
The trail will then become steeper and ascend up the side of the mountain and breaks through the thick foliage, providing you with your first views of the upper peaks of the mountain from the trail:
Eventually the trail ascends high enough up the mountain to offer you your first views of northern Seoul and even Pukhansan Mountain far to the west:
As you continue up the mountain eventually views of Uijongbu will eventually open up as well:
When you reach the upper peaks of Suraksan, that is when the real fun begins because you then have to do a bit of rock climbing to reach the top of the mountain:
Fortunately the park service has ropes installed to help climbers. I always pack leather gloves when hiking because to protect my hands when climbing ropes like the ones you need to use to climb this mountain. Additionally you must wear an adequate pair of hiking shoes with good traction to help you scramble up these large rocks towards the summit of the mountain. Here is a view of the ridge line the trail follows up the mountain and the many large boulders and rock faces that must be climbed to reach the summit:
Once you have climbed up to the upper reaches of the mountain, it is just a matter of picking a peak you want to climb. There are a number of rocky pinnacles on the upper reaches of the mountain that climbers go for to get away from the crowds heading for the summit:
If you look closely on the above picture you can see the climbers sitting on top of the rocky pinnacle.
Often hikers in Korea, like the ones you see in the above picture, bring a lunch with them and have a picnic on the summits of mountains here. Surak mountain is no different and if you didn’t bring a lunch there is of course always an enterprising odashi willing to sell you one:
High up on the mountain there is a group of odashis that sell snacks, ramen noodles, Gatorades, water, etc. to hikers. These guys are making a small fortune by, for example selling ramen noodles for four dollars a bowl and their other items are similarly over-priced. You have to admire them though for carrying all those coolers of stuff up the mountain early in the morning every day and then hiking back down the mountain at the end of day with their coolers and whatever they didn’t sell.
What else you have to admire about these guys was that they actually have trash bags to put everyone’s garbage in, instead of leaving it up on the mountain as is commonly done in Korea. These guys actually went around with the trash bags and picked up people’s trash from them. They actually do a fairly good job keeping the upper reaches of the mountain clean considering the amount of hikers up there every day.
Anyway, if you are determined to reach the actual summit of the mountain, just follow the crowds towards it. The mountain actually does get crowded towards the summit compared to the trail you hiked up the mountain on because all the trails leading up the mountain in various directions converge on the summit.
Here is view looking towards the summit from the trail:
If you look closely you can see the Korean flag, known as a Taeguki waving on the summit. Once up on the summit you will have to wait your turn to stand on top because there is literally a long line waiting to reach the mountain’s summit and have their picture taken with the Taeguki. When you eventually reach your turn to stand on the summit, you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of Uijongbu to the north:
Additionally you have a dramatic view from the summit of Dobong mountain to the west:
If you look really closely on the above picture you can actually see Camp Jackson where the USFK Non-commissioned Officer and KATUSA training academy is located on the slopes of Dobong mountain just above overpass.
Here is the view from the summit looking towards the south:
Once again if you look closely you can see hikers sitting on the various rocky pinnacles of the mountain. Also notice the increased smog towards the south because of the polluted air over Seoul. Uijongbu has plenty of smog as well, but it’s air is noticeably cleaner than Seoul’s.
From the summit you have the option of taking a number of different trails back down the mountain or just retracing your steps back to Jang-am Station. If you are a US military servicemember an option for you is to hike down the eastern slope of the mountain towards Camp Stanley. The middle trail on the mountain’s east side pictured on the prior map actually ends right next to Camp Stanley. At Camp Stanley you can grab a military bus to Camp Red Cloud where you can transfer to another bus back to which ever military installation you are stationed at.
Overall, the mountain is easy to access from both Uijongbu and Seoul and offers spectacular scenery, multiple waterfalls, and even a bit of rock climbing for those looking for a challenging day hike. The mountain may not be quite as picturesque as it’s more popular neighbor Dobongsan, but is definitely worthy of sharing the same neighborhood with it.
You can view more pictures of Suraksan Mountain on my Flickr page located here.