Hallasan Mountain is the highest point in South Korea, located off the southern coast. Hallasan’s volcanic activity millions of years ago is what created its home, Jeju Island, and it now stands tall and dormant at the heart of Jeju. There is a national park surrounding the summit, and the area is deemed a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site.
Four hiking trails go up Mt. Hallasan to the upper crater, but only two trails reach the very summit – the top of South Korea. The best trail to hike Hallasan is a combination of these two hiking trails. It’s an experience you won’t regret.
Four Main Hallasan Hiking Trails
If you look at a map of Hallasan National Park, there are four Hallasan hiking trails that run up to its crater. Note that only two of these trails actually reach the summit.
- Seongpanak Trail – 9.7 km
- Gwanemusa Trail – 8.7 km
- Eorimok Trail – 4.7 km
- Yeongsil Trail – 3.7 km
- Donnaeko Trail – 9.6 km
The Best Trail to Hike Hallasan Mountain Summit
Answer: Seongpanak Trail + Gwaneumsa Trail
The Seongpanak Trail is the best Hallasan hiking trail to go up for most hikers. It’s the longest Hallasan hiking trail at 9.7km, but it starts gradual and is a walk in the park (plus some stairs) for the majority of it. The steepest part of the Seongpanak trail is near the summit, where you just have to take flights and flights of wooden stairs. Easy peasy.
The best Hallasan hiking trail to take down from the summit is the Gwaneumsa Trail. The Gwaneumsa Trail connects to Seongpanak at Hallasan’s summit, so it’s easy to navigate hiking up Seongpanak and down Gwaneumsa Trail. This trail is 8.7km long, for a combined 18.4 km day of hiking Hallasan!
For me to hike Hallasan up the Seongpanak Trail took 3 hours, and and down via the Gwaneumsa Trail took 2.5 hours. Expect this exact Hallasan hike to take about 6-8 hours, including time for resting at the summit.
The Second Best Trail to Hike Hallasan
Answer: Gwaneumsa Trail Up and Down
If you don’t mind hiking Hallsan via the same trail up and down, then I recommend taking the Gwaneumsa Trail to do exactly that. The Gwaneumsa Trail is known as the most scenic. Walking over lava-rock rivers and down into ravines will remind you at every step that you are hiking Hallasan, a UNESCO Heritage Site.
The only thing to note is the Gwaneumsa Trail is much more difficult than the Seongpanak Trail, and going up and down will take much more time. Expect an 8-9 hour day of hiking Hallasan if you decide to take the Gwaneumsa Trail up and down.
Note: If you’re staying South of Jeju Island, the popular Hallasan hiking trails are to the Donnaeko Trail and the Yeongsil Trail. You can combine these two in one Hallasan hike, by going up the Donnaeko Trail and down the Yeongsil Trail.
Important Safety Things To Know Before Hiking Hallasan
There is no place to stock up on water or food along the Hallasan hiking trails. When I visited in October, 2019, buildings were under construction along the Seongpanak Trail to provide this in the future. For now, bring everything with you from Jeju city before you start hiking Hallasan.
Weather at Mt. Hallasan can change dramatically when at higher elevations. Be prepared for rain and cold even in the heart of summer. Bring sunscreen to protect from the UV rays near the Mt. Hallasan summit.
After a day of rain or when the clouds are thick on the mountain, many rocks are slippery. I recommend wearing hiking boots to help mitigate against falling or misstepping on the slippery lava rocks while hiking Hallasan.
Hiking Hallasan Turnaround Times
A strict turnaround time is in place for all Hallasan hiking trails. You cannot continue your Hallasan hike if you have not reached the designated shelter before a certain time (dependent on the time of the year).
For the Seongpanak Trail, if you have not reached Jinailaebat Shelter by 1:00pm in the summer, 12:00 in the winter, and 12:30 in the fall, you’ll have to turn back without reaching the summit.
A strict descending time is also in place. In the summer, start descending from the summit by 2:30pm. In the winter, by 1:30pm, and in the spring and fall, by 2:00pm.
Hiking Hallasan Packing List
Tip: Bring water in a reusable water bottle. There are some springs along the Seongpanak Trail where you can refill (but don’t rely on this because they are easy to miss). Bring at least 1.5 liters of water per person.
Starting Your Hallasan Hike: Getting to the Seongpanak Trail
From Jeju City Center, near Jeju City Hall, there are two direct busses that will take you to the Seongpanak Trailhead for the Hallasan hike: bus 181 is an express bus, and 281 is the local bus.
Before 8-8:30 in the morning, the time it takes for both of these busses to reach the trailhead station is about the same (just under 30 mins).
Tip: Whenever going around Jeju Island, check out the app Kakao Maps for near-accurate estimates on when busses will be arriving and departing.
On the Seongpanak Trail: Hiking Hallasan
The reason why the Seongpanak Trail is the best Hallasan hiking trail is because it’s the easiest. Although a little endurance is necessary to make it up all 9.7km to the summit, most of the Seongpanak Trail is gentle slopes and wooden staircases.
There are two large shelters and rest areas, and there are several benches along the trail where you can break away for a breather too. Many locals brought picnic mats to lay out while they were having lunch or snacks along the Seongpanak trail.
Much of the start of the trail is covered in a rope-material carpet, which makes it easy to walk on compared to Gwaneumsa Trail’s slippery lava rocks.
Halfway Point: Seongpanak Trail Gets Steeper
Once the Seongpanak trail reaches the “normal” and “advanced” difficulty sections, it theoretically gets a bit steeper (see graphic below). There may be more staircases with fewer straightaways in between.
Near the end of the Seongpanak Trail, you reach a forest clearing where you’ll see a massive wooden staircase to the Hallasan summit. You’re basically at the top here!
I found that the view from the platforms along this staircase were some of the best of Jeju Island – better than the summit itself, so don’t shy away from taking breaks just before the top.
Mt. Hallasan Summit
The summit of Mt. Hallasan is mostly covered in wooden walkways. A commemorative rock lets you know that you’ve reached Hallasan’s summit, which you’ll have to wait a loooong time in line to take a picture with.
Peek down into the volcano’s crater, a grassy area off-limits to hikers. A beautiful lake sits in the middle, which changes colors and shapes depending on the season.
Right at the end of the Seongpanak trail, at the beginning of the summit platform, is where the crowds like to picnic. There are some walkways a little further down, towards the start of the Gwaneumsa Trail, where I was able to find some peace and quiet.
Hiking Down the Gwaneumsa Trail
Hope your knees are prepared for this brutal down-hill. The 8.7km Gwaneumsa Trail is mostly downhill without straightaways, and much of it is over rocky stairs. One difficult section close to the summit even has ropes to hold on to as you go down large stone steps.
Luckily the view on the Gwaneumsa Trail is amazing, starting with the razor-sharp cliffs that jut out from Hallasan’s summit, to suspension bridges over deep ravines. Especially in the autumn season, the fall foliage is in bright red and yellow bloom.
Tips for descending to make it easier on your knees: quicken your pace when you’re going down stairs so your knees don’t feel the full impact of each step. Take frequent breaks. Move down larger steps sideways and alternate sides.
Getting back to Jeju City from Gwaneumsa Trail
Bus 475 runs regularly from the road next to the Gwaneumsa Trail head. Take this bus to Jeju National University Station, a transit hub, then transfer to any of the other busses heading to Jeju City Center (212, 222, 232, 341, 342, 351, 352, and more).