A nine hour layover in Korea is cleverly planned (I hope!) to allow enough time for a quick hike to Manisan Mountain on Ganghwa Island, between flights. I’ve never been to Korea and have no idea what to expect. But I don’t have a lot of time, when researching what hikes are near Incheon airport, Manisan Mountain came up as the best option. One of three sacred Korean mountains, Mount Manisan is located on Ganghwa Island on the west coast. It’s less than an hour from Incheon airport, and connected by two bridges to the mainland.
At the base of Manisan Mountain are the three emblems for the 2014 Incheon Asian Games: three seal siblings named after “Barame”, “Chumuro” and “Vichuon” (meaning wind, dance and light).
The “track” heads straight up the side of the mountain, with a combination of a steep dirt trail and even steeper wooden stairs. My taxi driver joins me for the the first part of the walk up the mountain before giving up! (I’ve negotiated with him to wait for me and take me back to the airport after my hike.)
As the trail gains altitude, there’s a view over the surrounding hills.
There’s also views towards over farmland and rice paddies of the Gyeonggi region and toward the West Sea – although I can barely make out the ocean through the haze.
The trail keeps climbing, and consists mostly of never-ending stairs…
Eventually, the Manisan Mountain summit is in sight… just another few sets of stairs away…
At the summit is Chamseongsdan, an altar where Dangun (the founding father of Korea) performed ritual ceremonies. Regarded as the “grandson of heaven” and the “son of a bear”, Dangun was said to have founded the kingdom in 2333 BC. Signage at the Chamseongsdan altar states the stones steps were renovated in 1270 and again in 1717.
From the top you can see the ridge line stretching east: it’s not actually a very long “mountain range”, but looks like it stretches a long way due to the hazy conditions.
From here it’s back down a different path that forms a loop, re-joining near the base of the mountain. Although it’s late autumn, there’s still a bit of colours in the trees, which have already lost a lot of their leaves.
What I wasn’t expecting on the way back to the airport was for my taxi driver to take me to a historic dolmen. Used as grave markers and for ritual purposes during the first millennium BCE, there are hundreds of stone dolmens in Korea (supposedly Korea has more than 40% of the world’s dolmen, predominantly in three sites). The dolmens on Ganghwa Island are are believed to be the earliest ones made – and the one below is the biggest stone in South Korea, measuring 2.6 × 7.1 × 5.5m and weighing between 150 and 225 tons.
When to hike Manisan Mountain
The temperature varies significantly, from below-freezing days in winter, to warm and rainy weather in summer. Spring and autumn are the best times to walk; you can do the Manisan Mountani hike year-round.
Accommodation near Manisan Mountain
Although there a huge range of accommodation in Seoul (which is about an hour away by car), if you’re visting South Korea and want to avoid the city, there’s some interesting and affordable accommodation on Ganghwa Island.
- Visit Korea – Chamseongdan Altar