CONTRIBUTED BY JANVIKA SHAH
The more you walk, the less you need. The less you need, the stronger you become.
If you love hiking, Jirisan’s National Park is certainly worth a visit. Hiking in Jirisan can be enjoyable throughout the year. However, fall is an especially wonderful time to visit to marvel at all the lustrous fall foliage. The Japanese maples were especially beautiful with their burning red leaves.
The name ‘Jirisan’ roughly translates as ‘even a fool becomes a wise man.’ Jirisan mountain was the first mountain to be designated as a national park in Korea and is considered one of the three sacred mountains in Korea, a guardian of spiritual wealth. The park is huge and is spread over seven cities: Namwon, Jangsu, Gokseong, Gurye, Hadong, Sancheong and Hamyang.
There are several trails and peaks to choose from. In early November 2014, my friends and I chose to hike to Nogodan Peak (1507m) on a Saturday with a plan to stay overnight at Nogodan shelter and to return Sunday. This link shows you the multiple trails to choose from.
Due to popularity of hiking in this park, you do need to make a reservation at the shelter ahead of time. We had to get a Korean coworker to call and make the reservation for us at Nogodan shelter. You can pay in cash upon arrival. You should also bring your ARC card or some form of identification.
We left Daegu at around 8:30pm and luckily my friend had a car during her time in Korea. However, there are directions to Jirisan from this site if you need to use public transportation.
We began our hike at around noon at the entrance of Piagol Valley, named so because the leaves of the abundant maple trees turn crimson red in autumn. The valley is located in the western side of the park and between Nogodan and Banya peak. The trail followed the river for a few kilometers and was rocky, crowded and not all steep. I noticed multiple signs of varying illustrations, warning us not to feed the bears. Yes, seeing a local bear is possible in this park! The park boasts a variety of plant and animal diversity.
The rain became steady, the temperature dropped and once we passed the Piagol shelter, the number of hikers significantly dropped off. All of a sudden, the trail became steep and we were giving each other pep talks to reach our destination before sundown. We still had 3.8km to go before we’d reach Nogodan Pass. We were cold, wet, tired and hungry but still found ourselves appreciating the misty and serene ambiance of the forest.
When we reached the shelter at around 5:15pm, we were thrilled to discover that the sleeping area was heated! We put our belongings away and feasted on the dinner we brought in the kitchen area before returning to the warmth of the sleeping room. For an 8,000 won reservation, you are issued a blanket and number, denoting the wooden bunk where you’ll be sleeping.
The sleeping room was crowded yet quiet as lights were out by 9pm. When we rose at 6:30am to trek back down, we noticed there weren’t as many hikers on the same trail. We were frequently greeted by jolly Korean hikers as foreign hikers were few and far between. Although we took the same route, the view looked different in the soft morning light with blue skies and glistening dewy vegetation. The trail began to get crowded again once we passed Piagol shelter. At the bottom, you have many options to buy local treats such as berry Makgeolli, red bean cakes or dried persimmons.
All in all, this is a fantastic park to hike in and to think that we only sampled a tiny portion of the vast and expansive park! Jirisan is open year round! Just check out the official government website for notice on trail closures.
Address: 922-18 Sari Sicheon-myeon Sancheong Gyeongnam 666-934
GPS Coordinates: 35.3002946, 127.85653679999996