Written and photographed by Stephanie and Ryan Hedger
South Korea’s most beautiful season is upon us, and no matter what other people claim as being the perfect autumn leaves destination, we’re convinced the splendor of this final flurry of color is best seen in North Jeolla Province. For our money, Naejangsan National Park is the most beautiful place in all of Korea to witness the dramatic change of color and season. Sure, Bukhansan and Seoraksan get all of the publicity – and justifiably so – but the mountains, location, temples, and population density of Naejangsan make for an incredible destination that we’re glad most people overlook. In the fall is the most crowded you’ll see this park, but the number of people is significantly less than the aforementioned parks that are more well known for their autumn foliage.
Harmony with Nature
Never before in my time exploring South Korea have we been as awestruck by seasonal landscapes as we were the first time we visited Naejangsan in fall. The landscaping of the initial park near the entrance, interspersed with the perfectly situated buildings and pagodas, makes for a jaw-dropping first impression. For people uninterested in hiking the mountains, a visit to Naejangsan National Park is still worth their time and energy, as every inch is teeming with color. Once inside the park, there are tree-lined pathways, a pond with a picturesque pagoda in the middle, and pathways leading to a couple of temples. The relationship between people and nature is perfectly balanced in these places, and the changing colors in the trees balances beautifully with the traditional style of the temple and park buildings.
The best way to experience the full depth of colors on display in Naejangsan during autumn is to hit the hiking trails in search of vertical clarity. Not only is hiking wonderful exercise, but it also transports visitors out of the main area of the park and deep into nature. With each upward movement, hikers are treated to new angles of an ever-expanding landscape, growing larger and vaster the higher they climb. The surrounding mountains and blanket of color that unfold the higher one hikes is truly stunning and is arguably the most beautiful hike in the whole country during the autumn period. Natural beauty equaling Naejangsan’s effortless autumnal display is difficult if not impossible to find, and it’s unlikely that I would waste a good weekend searching for another option when the obvious choice is to revisit such a lovely mountain range. The trails are moderate and anyone in decent health will be able to complete the circuit without too much difficulty. There are plenty of places to rest along the trail, and there are several flat peaks to congregate or spread out in groups.
Whether you visit Naejangsan for the first time this year or return for a yearly fall pilgrimage, immersing oneself in nature is such an important activity late in the season. With the cold of winter coming, there’s never been a more perfect time in which to experience our surroundings in their most spectacular state. A hike to the peak of Naejangsan National Park, visiting Naejang or Baekyang Temple, exploring the valleys, or simply taking a walk along the water’s edge and looking out at the floating pagoda…there’s no chance you’ll be disappointed. With a smile on your face and a gladness in your heart that can only come from experiencing nature’s beauty, I dare you to find a more perfect fall destination. If this park wasn’t located in North Jeolla Province, I would travel to any far-flung corner of Korea I needed to in order to bask in its colors and serenity.
The trees seem to be changing early this year, so be sure to set aside a weekend to visit, and I hope to see you there.
Ryan and Stephanie have lived, traveled, and worked in South Korea since 2013. Based out of Yeosu, they are the duo behind Hedgers Abroad, their blog, which documents their lives through photography, videos, and shared stories. They freelance in their spare time and are on the road constantly.