At 1,915 meters, Jirisan (지리산) is the second highest mountain in Korea. The highest is Hallasan (한라산) which is 1,950 meters and located in Jeju Island (제주도). Jiri literally means “a place where the foolish become wise,” and that makes sense because it’s a serene place where you’ll have a lot of time to think and ponder about life.
Jirisan National Park (지리산국립공원) stretches across seven cities and counties (Namwon, Jangsu, Gukseong, Gurye, Hadong, Sancheong, and Hamyang.) It was designated the first Korean national park in 1967. This was my first time there, and I went camping for four days in the Namwon (남원) side, which is the northwest portion of the park.
TRAVEL ITINERARY: DAY ONE
1. unpack at Dalgung Camping Site (달궁야영장)
2. Dalgung Creek (달궁계곡)
TRAVEL ITINERARY: DAY TWO
1. Baemsagol Creek & Visitor Center (뱀사골계곡 & 뱀사골탐방안내소)
2. Baemsagol Hiking Trail (뱀사골 등산)
TRAVEL ITINERARY: DAY THREE
1. Nogodan Hiking Trail (노고단 등산)
TRAVEL ITINERARY: DAY FOUR
1. Dulegil Course #1
It took me about 4.5 hours to drive to Jirisan. There are buses available, but if you plan on staying here a couple of days, I highly recommend coming here by car since local buses don’t run frequently.
Jirisan is a popular tourist attraction, so there are many hotels, motels, pensions, minbaks, and campsites throughout the park. Since the weather has been really nice, I decided to go camping. There are several campsites inside Jirisan National Park (Dalgung 달궁, Dukdong 덕동, Baemsagol 뱀사골, Naewon 내원, Somakgol 소막골, etc.) I went to the Dalgung Campground 달궁야영장 because it was the largest. This particular site has around fifty slots that are available through online reservation only, and a much larger area that is first come first serve. I went on a weekday, so I didn’t have to make a reservation ahead of time. There were no showers there, but the bathrooms and the sinks for washing dishes were extremely clean because park employees came and cleaned them every morning. It cost 16,000 won per night.
This general area that I stayed in is called Dalgung 달궁 which translates to “Moon Palace” because it’s the site of a palace that King Hyo (효왕) of the Mahan Confederacy built in order to protect himself from Jinhan invaders. The Mahan Confederacy (along with Jinhan and Byeonhan Confederacies) was one third of the Samhan Period which existed during the final century BCE and the early centuries CE. There is no longer a palace here, but there was a reconstructed hut made to look like a typical Mahan home.
In Dalgung (달궁), there is also the Dalgung Creek (달궁계곡) rights across the street from the campsite and a neighborhood of around 20 pensions and restaurants about 5 minutes north of the campsite by foot.
It got dark around 7:30 so after setting up my tent, wading in the creek, and checking out the area, I went to bed early.
The next day it was pretty sunny, so I decided to go swimming in Baemsagol Creek (뱀사골) which is only about fiteen minutes away by car. Near the entrance of Baemsagol Creek, there is the Baemsagol Visitor Center (뱀사골탐방안내소), which I checked out first.
The visitor’s center was pretty large. The first floor gave information on various trails in the park and the different kinds of wildlife that live in Jirisan as well as the history of preservation of the park. The second floor focused on life in Jirisan which consisted mostly of partisan guerilla warriors who hid in the mountain during the Korean War.
Baemsagol Visitor Center Admission Fee: free
Operating Hours: 8 am – 7 pm (June, July, Oct, Nov) / 9 am – 5 pm (other months
Average Viewing Time: 30-60 minutes
Contact Information: 063) 625-8914 jiri.knps.or.kr
English Accessability: first floor no English translation available, second floor very detailed English
From there, there was a pretty easy trail that followed the Baemsagol Trail. The area is called Baemsagol which translates to ‘dead snake valley’ because there was a legend originating from a nearby Buddhist temple called Songlimsa (송림사) that said a monk could become immortal if he prayed on a rock here. One day a monk tried this out, but the villagers only found a dead serpent that had failed to become a dragon. This legend doesn’t really make sense to me, but maybe that’s because I’m missing some of the details.
Along the way I saw this rock that is supposed to look like a resting dragon. It’s called Yoryongdae 요룡대.
There were a lot of places in the creek that were deep enough for swimming.
The third day I wanted to do some hiking. Originally I wanted to go to Cheonwangbong (천왕봉) which is the highest peak in Jirisan at 1,915 meters. However, Cheonwangbong is located on the opposite side from where I was camping, and after doing some research I realized that I probably wasn’t fit enough to climb it, so I opted for one of the easier trails.
Nogodan (노고단) is another popular peak and it was located only ten minutes away from the Dalgung camping site. Although it’s 1,430 meters above sea level, it was extremely easy because you can drive up to about 1,000 meters, and then from there there’s a dirt car road all the way to the top. It took under two hours to hike from the Seongsamjae Reststop (성삼재 휴개소) to Nogodan (노고단).
Here’s the parking lot of the Seongsamjae Reststop. There was a Cafe Bene, La fuma, a convenience store, bathrooms here, as well as a great view of the mountain.
The hike was fairly easy. There were these markers along the way letting you know how many miles left until the top.
Here’s Nogodan. The name means “the place where Nogo lived.” Nogo was an old lady who lived here during the Silla dynasty. At the time, a lot of Silla warrior came to Nogodan in the summer to train, because this was one of the coolest areas due to strong winds here. It was a good thing I wore long pants, because it was a lot colder here than it was at the bottom.
My last day day at Jirisan National Park, I decided to take one of the dulegil (walking trails). The circumference of the base of Jirisan is about 300 km and this is divided into roughly 20 trails which are refered to as dulegils. Any sort of easy walking path at the base of a mountain is called a dulegil (들레길). I took dulegil course #1 which starts in Jucheon (주천) and ends in Unbong (운봉) which are two neighborhoods in Namwon City (남원시). There course is 15.1 kms long, and it supposedly takes 6 hours, but I power walked through most of it and it only took me 4.5 hours.
Here’s the parking lot and the information booth at Jucheon (주천). Make sure to pick up a map here.
Throughout the path there were posts telling you how many kms you had left.
Course number one went through farms, small mountains, creeks, and half way through I stopped by at a makeshift restaurant to have some noodles (잔치 국수) and scallion pancakes (파전). There were quite a few hole in the wall type of local restaurants, so you don’t have to worry about packing food, but make sure to bring plenty of water, because there were a lot of uphill parts that will tire you out.
Usually when I go travelling, I’ll check out several places in each county or city each day, but in Jirisan I pretty much stayed in one area and did just one thing each day. I still feel like I did a lot here though, and hopefully by this time next year, I’ll build up my endurance enough to climb Cheonwangbong.