Scale Seoul’s Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views
Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Namsan Mountain - Panoramas from Downtown's Backyard
Nestled right in the heart of downtown Seoul, Namsan Mountain provides easy access to panoramic city views and fresh mountain air without leaving the urban jungle. At just under 800 feet tall, Namsan may be diminutive compared to the other behemoth mountains surrounding Seoul, but it packs a scenic punch.
A network of hiking trails wends its way up and down the mountain, passing by historic pavilions, ancient fortifications, and tranquil gardens. For those short on time, the Namsan Cable Car provides a speedy five-minute ride up to the summit. But for the best experience, lace up your hiking boots and stroll up the meandering paths, soaking up the orchestral sounds of birdsong and cicadas along the way.
At the top, the Seoul Namsan Tower and its observation deck offer 360-degree views over one of the world's largest metropolises. On clear days, you can see all the way to the DMZ to the north and Incheon's harbor to the west. The N Seoul Tower has become an iconic landmark, especially when lit up at night.
After admiring the panorama, wander over to the Namsan Traditional Garden, a meticulously landscaped oasis of ponds, pavilions, and pine trees surrounding the ruins of a 500-year-old Joseon Dynasty fortress wall. It's easy to forget you're still in the city while strolling under the shady boughs and arched bridges of the garden.
For those craving exercise, the 8-mile Namsan circuit hiking trail wraps around the entire mountain, diving into forested sections where the cacophony of the city fades away. The route passes by ancient gates, pavilions, and even a water purification plant built during the Joseon era.
The best part about Namsan is its accessibility. Located right in central Seoul, it takes just a few minutes to walk or take the subway there from downtown. You can hike up, enjoy breathtaking views of Seoul, and make it back in time for dinner, without ever leaving the city. It's the perfect quick nature escape for urbanites.
What else is in this post?
- Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Namsan Mountain - Panoramas from Downtown's Backyard
- Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Bukhansan National Park - Escape the Concrete Jungle
- Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Dobongsan Mountain - See the City From All Angles
- Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Achasan Mountain - Rustic Views Above the Palaces
- Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Suraksan Mountain - Sweeping Vistas Near the DMZ
- Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Gwanaksan Mountain - Wilderness Above the University
- Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Inwangsan Mountain - History and Horizons
- Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Buramsan Mountain - Rocky Clifftop Outlooks
Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Bukhansan National Park - Escape the Concrete Jungle
Just a short drive north of Seoul, Bukhansan National Park transports you from the steel and glass of the big city to the granite cliffs and pine forests of the mountains. At over 56,000 acres, it’s South Korea’s largest national park and offers a variety of hiking trails to satisfy beginners and advanced hikers alike.
For those with just a half-day to spare, the Baegundae Trail is relatively easy at just under 4 miles roundtrip. It follows a valley stream past historic Buddhist temples and meadows filled with wildflowers in the spring and summer. Highlights along the way include the serene Sansingak Shrine and the photogenic Baegundae Terrace overlooking Seoul. Even though it’s a shorter hike, you still get to experience the magic of leaving the city behind and entering the peaceful mountains.
If you have a full day, make the tough but rewarding 8-mile trek to the summit of Munsubong, the highest peak in Bukhansan at just over 3,000 feet. The trail winds uphill through thick forest, with mossy boulders and trickling streams providing excuses to stop and catch your breath. The steep ascent rewards you with an unbeatable 360-degree panorama over Seoul and beyond from the rocky Munsubong summit.
For even longer multi-day hikes, Bukhansan offers plenty of backcountry camping options. The 11-mile trail from Dobong Seowon Temple to the Uiryeonggak Valley lets you pitch a tent and fall asleep to the sounds of frogs instead of traffic. Or test your stamina with the 22-mile hike from Dobong Seowon to the remote mountain temple of Sangunsa, sleeping under the stars along the way.
In addition to hiking trails, the national park has cultural attractions worth a visit like the Dobong Seowon Confucian Academy from the 1500s and Sanbanggulsa Temple with its millennium-old gingko tree.
Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Dobongsan Mountain - See the City From All Angles
Rising over the northern suburbs of Seoul, Dobongsan Mountain delivers lofty views in all directions across South Korea’s capital and beyond. At 1,740 feet tall, it may not be the tallest peak around, but Dobongsan’s unique location and shape gives it a front-row seat to panoramas many other mountains miss out on.
Unlike the isolated rocky spires jutting up in the middle of the city, Dobongsan sits right on the edge of the urban boundary. This allows unobstructed views to the west and north that aren’t blocked by other mountains, making it one of the best spots to take in sunsets over Seoul. The valley below morphs from dense apartment blocks to patchwork farms as you gaze outward.
The other advantage of Dobongsan is its ridge-like orientation, running east to west instead of a standalone summit. This elongated shape means you can see the city and river winding away to both the east and west from the same spot. Seoul’s endless expanse stretches beneath you in a 180-degree arc when standing atop the ridge.
But it’s not just the Seoul views that make Dobongsan memorable. To the north, you get front-row seats as the urban density suddenly stops at the DMZ, giving way to the forested mountains of North Korea beyond the border fences. On exceptionally clear days, you can even make out Kaesong City’s buildings glinting in the distance in the North. It’s a stark reminder how close Seoul is to the tension of the DMZ.
While less visited than other peaks, Dobongsan still offers plenty of hiking opportunities ranging from short walks to multi-day treks. The 5-mile circuit to the main ridge and back is a great option for soaking up panoramas of Seoul. Or test your endurance climbing up the northern 9-mile trail from Dobong Park.
Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Achasan Mountain - Rustic Views Above the Palaces
Tucked behind the sprawling grounds of the Changdeokgung Palace in eastern Seoul, Achasan Mountain offers a rustic escape into nature just steps from the manicured lawns and ornate pavilions of Korean royalty.
While not the tallest peak at just under 1,200 feet, Achasan’s heavily wooded slopes and rocky cliffs feel far removed from the bustle of the city. The gnarled pines and ancient boulders along the trails evoke a primeval landscape, transporting hikers centuries back in time. As you climb higher, the distant views open up over Seoul’s endless expanse of concrete and glass, providing an interesting contrast with the wilderness atmosphere of the mountain itself.
One of the highlights of Achasan is how the summit viewpoint literally looks down on the world-famous Changdeokgung Palace from above. The sprawling palace grounds unfurl beneath you, with the ornate painted roofs of its halls and pavilions nestled amidst tranquil gardens and ponds. It’s a unique perspective to take in the intricate designs of a UNESCO World Heritage Site from high above. Far below, you can observe tiny groups of tourists admiring the architecture you now gaze down upon like a bird.
The mountaintop vistas also showcase the towering peak of Bugaksan Mountain across the valley, which was once festooned with fortified stone walls snaking along its ridge during the Joseon era. These iconic defenses protected the northern flank of the capital. On Achasan’s summit, it feels like you can practically reach out and touch the rocky ramparts of Bugaksan, even though they are miles away.
For travelers with limited time in Seoul, the highlights of Achasan can be reached via a relatively short 3-4 hour roundtrip hike. Starting from the Achasan entrance gate just behind Changdeokgung Palace, the trail zigzags uphill under the shade of oak and pine before emerging onto open granite faces. Sturdy wooden steps help hikers ascend the steepest sections. The path ends at Samcheonggak Pavilion, built into the cliffside overlooking downtown Seoul in the distance. After admiring the views, hikers can retrace their steps back to the palace.
Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Suraksan Mountain - Sweeping Vistas Near the DMZ
On the northern limits of Seoul, Suraksan Mountain offers hikers a front-row view of the tense but scenic DMZ dividing North and South Korea. At 1,950 feet tall, Suraksan’s summit looks out over abandoned villages and military fortifications scattered near the heavily guarded border.
For a moderate day hike under 6 miles roundtrip from the Suraksan parking lot, the Uiam Rock Course takes you up a steep ravine bursting with waterfalls and rock formations before emerging onto the exposed summit. As you climb higher, the sounds of the city fade away, replaced by bird calls and rushing water.
At the top, sweeping vistas open up over forests and farmland, with the snaking Imjin River marking the border. On clear days you can see all the way to Kaesong City in North Korea shimmering in the distance beyond the DMZ. The sprawl of Seoul unfurls below you to the south. During autumn, the slopes blaze red and gold with changing foliage.
“It was an amazing contrast, with the noisy hustle and bustle of Seoul behind me, but pure silence and nature all around me on the mountain,” said Ben S., a hiker from Australia. “The views north over the DMZ were eerie but captivating.”
The trail passes by vestiges of South Korea’s turbulent history, including numerous military bunkers and the ruins of Yeoncheon village, destroyed during the Korean War in the 1950s and now abandoned in the DMZ border zone. Informational signs document the heartbreaking history of a community wiped off the map by conflict.
After your downhill return, cap off your border zone adventure by exploring the nearby Odu Mountain Unification Observatory, where visitors can literally gaze into North Korea through binoculars. Videos and exhibits document life in the mysterious nation beyond the DMZ.
Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Gwanaksan Mountain - Wilderness Above the University
Rising above the campus of Seoul National University, Gwanaksan Mountain offers a peaceful natural retreat in the middle of the bustling metropolis. Unlike the small hills scattered throughout Seoul, Gwanaksan stands tall at just over 1,600 feet, with rugged granite cliffs and dense forests untouched by urbanization. SNU students and staff affectionately refer to it as their "backyard mountain."
Several trail options are available for hikers ranging from relaxed strolls to strenuous rock scrambles. For an easy 3-mile loop, try the Jeongneung Valley Course, which gently winds past ancient tombs and a sacred 600-year-old ginkgo tree along a stream shaded by Korean zelkova trees. During autumn, the trail blazes red and gold with maple leaves.
"It was incredible how quickly we went from the city streets to this hidden valley filled with fall colors and trickling water," said Esther L., an exchange student from Canada hiking the trail. "It felt so remote, even though the campus was right there."
For more ambitious hikers, the Seoninneung Ridge Course ascends over 1,100 feet via steep switchbacks and stairs to reach panoramic views over Seoul from the cliffs. The 6-mile roundtrip trail passes by the stone pile graves of Joseon Dynasty princes and princesses along the way up. Sturdy railings and steps aid hikers up steep rocky outcroppings near the top.
"The ridge views over Seoul were phenomenal," remarked Andre J., an American English teacher living in the city. "You could see all the way downtown and across the river. Hard to believe you're still technically in the city."
In addition to scenic hikes, Gwanaksan also offers glimpses into Korea's long cultural history. Along the mountain's slopes sit huge tombs or "neungs" for respected Confucian scholars and royalty. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Seokjojeon Hall also resides in the foothills, home to the preserved library and living quarters of revered Confucian scholars from the 1500s.
Gwanaksan provides a peaceful escape from the grind of Seoul and campus life for students and city residents alike. Trails cater to all skill levels and wind past historic sites. And the views from rocky cliffs never fail to impress, showcasing Seoul's massive scale. Best of all, the trailhead sits just a short bus ride from SNU, making Gwanaksan the perfect quick urban nature getaway.
"I loved coming here to decompress from my studies and explore the trails," said Hayoung K., an SNU graduate student. "Within minutes I could be among quiet forests instead of crowds and concrete. Gwanaksan was my sanctuary."
Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Inwangsan Mountain - History and Horizons
Rising behind Gyeongbokgung Palace in central Seoul, Inwangsan Mountain offers hikers a unique chance to immerse themselves in Korea’s long history while enjoying soaring city views. Though not as tall as nearby Bukhansan, Inwangsan’s modest 1,058-foot peak still affords fantastic panoramas over Seoul thanks to its close proximity to the palace.
Trails wind uphill through Inwangsan’s forested slopes past vestiges of bygone eras, giving hikers a vivid window into Korea’s past. Sections of the original 4-mile-long fortress wall snaking over Inwangsan’s ridgetops have endured since they were first constructed 600 years ago during the Joseon Dynasty. Hikers can walk alongside these crumbling ramparts, marveling at the ancient masonry craftsmanship still clinging to the mountainside after centuries of typhoons and earthquakes.
Inwangsan is also home to a number of Buddhist shrines and hermitages tucked away in remote valleys for monks seeking refuge from worldly concerns. Sansingak Hermitage’s tiny prayer hall teeters precariously on the edge of a cliff, surrounded by twittering birds in the treetops. Far removed from Seoul’s crowds, these serene mountain shrines offer glimpses into historic religious life.
At the summit, Seoul’s endless expanse unfurls beneath hikers like a concrete tapestry. Inwangsan’s vantage point behind Gyeongbokgung Palace provides views looking south over the palace complex not visible from many other peaks. Gyeongbokgung’s meticulously maintained grounds sit just below, with majestic Mt. Bugaksan as a backdrop behind the palace.
To the east, Namsan Tower punctures the skyline, while the meandering Jungnang Stream slices through urban neighborhoods on its way to the Han River. Highways snake out from the capital in all directions, eventually fading into the distant mountains enclosing Seoul. The panoramas showcase both nature’s beauty and humankind’s audacity in building a megacity amidst forested ridges.
In addition to scenic overlooks, Inwangsan also offers glimpses into modern Seoul life through opportunities to interact with locals. Village markets at the base of trails sell snacks, while tiny neighborhood restaurants dish up sujebi hand-torn noodle soup and other homemade Korean fare to hungry hikers. Kids practice taekwondo kicks and old timers play janggi chess in pocket parks along the paths.
“I loved seeing Seoul residents just living everyday life on Inwangsan’s slopes,” said Candace P., an avid traveler from the U.S. “It felt like an authentic behind-the-scenes look compared to the polished downtown atmosphere.”
Scale Seoul's Peaks: The Top 5 Hiking Trails with Epic City Views - Buramsan Mountain - Rocky Clifftop Outlooks
Though overshadowed in popularity by neighboring Dobongsan, the rocky cliffs and wooded peaks of Buramsan Mountain provide equally stunning panoramas of Seoul and beyond. At 1,700 feet tall, Buramsan rises higher than Dobongsan while retaining accessibility via public transportation from Seoul's Hongik University district. Visitors can choose from a variety of hiking trails ranging from laidback walks to strenuous rock scrambles leading to windswept precipices.
For those short on time, the moderate 3-mile circuit to the summit offers lofty views with minimal effort. The trail winds gently uphill through shady oak and pine forests, providing glimpses of the valleys and ridges surrounding Seoul. Sturdy wooden staircases aid hikers up short steep sections. At the top, jagged granite cliffs drop precipitously away, showcasing unobstructed panoramas over the northern half of the city.
On clear days, you can see the meandering Jungnang Stream carved through apartment blocks on its way to meet the mighty Han River. Highways slice through the landscape, branching out from the dense downtown core and eventually fading into the distant mountains flanking Seoul. The vista highlights both the enormous scale of the city and the natural beauty of its topography.
"I was amazed to find this stunning cliffside perch overlooking Seoul so close to the city center," remarked Lukas K., a German expat living in Seoul. "It rivaled some national park viewpoints but barely took over an hour to hike."
For adventurous travelers, the demanding 6.5-mile course to Manwolbong Peak rewards persistence with even more breathtaking clifftop vistas. The trail's constant steep ups and downs past rocky outcrops and exposed ridges push hikers' stamina to the limits. But jaw-dropping views of Dobongsan Mountain, Suraksan ridge, and the cityscape below provide excuses to stop and catch your breath every few minutes.
The panoramas stretch from downtown Seoul in the south to the DMZ forming the border with North Korea in the north. On exceptionally clear days, observers can even make out buildings shimmering faintly beyond the border. Standing atop Manwolbong's precipice makes you feel like you're floating above the capital, free from its hectic energy.
"The sweeping views over Seoul were magnificent, but it was the solitude and total silence despite being so close to millions of people that struck me," said Maya S., an avid hiker visiting from Melbourne. "It was an oasis of tranquility."
For history buffs, the network of trails also winds past the gates and walls of Old Maseok Fortress, a 17th-century mountain citadel overlooking Seoul's northern approaches. Visitors can explore the crumbling ramparts while enjoying views of the surroundings the fortress defenders once guarded. The remains of ancient earthworks snake across ridge saddles, giving hikers a living glimpse of Korea's history.
In addition to epic outlooks, the Buramsan trails also offer a chance to catch your breath, enjoy a snack, and chat with locals at the tea houses and restaurants found at trailheads. It's the perfect spot to recharge before descending back to the hustle and bustle of the big city.