Friday, August 16, 2013

An English Guide to Osaek Hot Springs and Seoraksan National Park

Osaek Hot Spring at Namseorak has it all: Its much quieter than Dong(east) Seorak, you can easily access Daecheongbong (the highest peak in the park), AND, here’s the kicker, It’s got a HOT SPRING.

Sadly, its not very well known (although IMO this adds to its charm). My lonely planet mentioned it briefly as an alternative to Dongseorak, but English information is scarce. So I'm going to write it all out here in hopes that it will be useful to someone else considering this trip. Also see my impending blog post with my own experience on the trail, which I'll post next week!

Getting there and away:

From Dong Seoul, you can simply take a bus to Osaek. Seoul buses go through Osaek to get to Yangyang and Sokcho. Just ask for Osaek at the ticket counter or, if the attendant has no clue what Osaek is (its very small), buy a ticket to Yangyang and tell your driver to let you off at Osaek. You can do the same thing from Chuncheon, as it is on the same route. 

I approached from Gangneung. I took an intercity (Shi-way) bus from Gangneung to Yangyang. They run about every 20 mins and they take an hour.

Once in Yangyang, you have a number of options. There are city buses that go out to Osaek (1500w, bus #9) from the stop across the road from the intercity terminal (I think Osaek is the final stop). They are not particularly frequent (every 1-2 hours)

City bus times: Leaving Yangyang on the left, leaving Osaek on the Right. 
You can also take an intercity bus to Osaek. Kind of. After buying a ticket at the counter in Yanyyang's intercity bus terminal, they will put you on one of the big express buses headed for Seoul or Chuncheon. In case it wasn't clear, that means that there is no dedicated Osaek bus. The station attendant on the bus driver can help you get on the right one. Make sure the driver knows where you're headed so you don't end up in Chuncheon.

At Osaek you will be let off on the side of the highway. About 10m from where you're dropped off there is a little general store which serves as the ticketing counter. You can buy return tickets to Dongseoul, Sokcho, and Chuncheon here. They DO NOT ACCEPT CARDS, so bring cash! 

You can also find city bus schedules posted here, and you can catch the city bus back to Yangyang or Sokcho (as above, in reverse). 

Once you arrive at Osaek, walk down the road to find the tourist info centre and a foot bath. There is a "Y" in the road at the info centre (info centre has really useless not-to-scale English maps. There does not appear to be a portable hiking route map or even a local map for the Namseorak area. The attendant did not speak English but was very helpful and friendly!).

Where to Stay:

At the Y, Up the hill to the right is where you’ll find restaurants and motels and the Daecheongbong Trail Head.

At the very top of the hill you’ll find the Green Yard Hotel. The hotel is on the ground level. I asked for the price for a room and was told 120,000w. There are a number of decent (cheaper) motels lining the road that leads up to the Green Yard. I stayed at Green Beach Motel (50,000w), but Lonely Planet recommends Osaek Hot Spring Motel, and in hind sight I wish I'd stayed there. It looks very cosy, has an Oncheon in the basement, and the owner knows a little English. Its a red-brick place just off the main drag behind Green Beach Motel. Lonely Planet lists the price at 25,000w, but LP is usually wrong on prices and its more likely 50,000w by now.

Green Beach Motel
Room at Green Beach
Bathroom at Green Beach Motel
The hot springs are in the basement of the Green Yard Hotel, and you can visit them regardless of where you stay! It is w9000 to get in. Its set up just like a jjinjibang (women and men separate, bathing is naked). There are gorgeous outdoor pools, the usual hot and cold baths, cedar and stone saunas, theme baths, and a special hot spring bath. The hot spring water itself was NOT what I expected. The water is cool and murky and smells like iron. It left my skin feeling tingly and good. 

At the Y, Across the bridge to the left you'll find more restaurants and a cold-water mineral spring at the river, where you can drink the water and go for a swim. Just past the mineral spring you'll find the trail head for the Osaek River Valley. 

There are basically two hikes you can do from Osaek. 

1. Osaek valley - it's about 5kms through stunning rock towers and tumbled boulders, and a clear blue creek runs through the bottom. There are several notable waterfalls and temples en route. If you're nervous about hiking, this is the route for you. The way is wide and well-maintained and there are plenty of board-walks and stairs built into the rocks, particularly in the lower sections.

You can approach the hike from Osaek itself and hike UP the valley to the ranger station at Heullimgol....but the easier way is to start from Heullimgol and hike DOWN into Osaek. You can catch a bus from Osaek to Heullimgol - check the schedule at the little general store/bus station at Osaek. Or just hitch a ride with a local. 

2. Daecheongbong. Daecheongbong is the highest peak in Seoraksan National Park and one of the highest peaks in Korea. The route from Osaek is the shortest way to reach it. The guide books/internet say that its the most popular and least scenic...but I did not see many people and it could only be considered unscenic if you truly don't like looking at gorgeous mossy forests, rare Korean alpine, bubbling creeks, and dramatic rocky ridge-lines. 

The hike is a little over 5kms and its more or less straight up. Not for the feint of heart. I did it in 3 hours and was not finished hiking when I reached the top at 1pm. Instead of going straight back down like I'd originally planned I headed out along  Kkeutcheong ridge (an additional 7kms). This trail crests one or two more summits as it winds up and down along a rocky, boulder-tossed ridge for ALMOST THE WHOLE 7KMS before dropping you straight down onto Hangyeryeong pass in the last 1km. It took me 3 hours at a brisk pace.

At  Hangyeryeong  pass there is a rest stop for vehicles with restaurants and gift shops. Lucky for me, they sell bus tickets there too. Again, they just put you on one of the big intercity buses that drive through anyway. There seems to be one every hour or so.

My original idea was to connect up with Osaek Valley trail from Hangyeryeong pass by walking down the road to looks close on the map, but it turns out that ts about 5k walking on the shoulder of a very narrow, very busy road. Its not really doable.

Trail Map with the Osaek course in red. 

Other stuff to know:

Many people hike the mountain in the darkness and arrive to watch the sunrise. That's a thing here. I don't know why. This essentially means that the trails are open all hours and you shouldn't really worry about getting caught in the dark. Pack a headlamp, and you'll be fine.

There are also cabins and ranger stations nestled high up there that you can overnight in. I would consider doing this next time. According to Lonely Planet only 1 of these is reserve-able, but you could conceivably spend multiple days up there wandering the hills. You can also buy water at these stations, although it is basically highway robbery at 3000w a bottle. 

Koreans hike slow. Don't take their advice about travel times/what is possible in a day. DO share your food and alcohol, and always greet other hikers with a big grin. They don't see many foreigners up that way (I didn't see ANY other foreigners while there). 

Pack lots of food and water and dress appropriately. High places, extreme weather, etc. 

BRING CASH. There is an ATM at the Green Yard Hotel, but it would not accept my Nonghyup card.

The best place for more information is this site:


  1. Hi! After loosing my comment two times when wifi broke up, I'm gonna make it short. Thanks so much for your post, it helped a lot as LP is really scarse about Osaek as well as the park, only providing this crapy map without terrain information (the one from the tourist info is not
    much better, but both together work fine) The red-brick building is not exactely the one recommended. It's the white two building one right behind green beach motel. Well the rooms are nice, clean and tidy (you got the choice between bed and onsen) and the owner speaks a little English. However, your room still looked a little nicer, wifi sucks (there is an unencrypted one at the market/restaurant area) and the answer upon my request about the oncheon was that I have mineral water on tap in my bathroom. I would still recommend this motel as it is pretty decent for its price but I think you haven't missed much. Do you think it would be worth it to carry all my stuff over Daecheongbong to Dongseorak or is the roundtrip with only little baggage the better choice? Cheers, Andy

    1. Andy! Thanks for your comment. I'm on a cell phone now, but I'll edit the info above as soon as I'm at a real computer to reflect what you've said about the accommodation.

      In regards to whether to go over to dingseorak: %100 personal choice. My nose wrinkles at the thought of trying to fund accommodation over there, and it really is SUCH a zoo with all the tourists. On the other hand, I've heard the hike down that way is nice, and it would be a lot easier to get back to civilization from that side, I'm sure. Anyway, I'm sure whatever you chose, you did already.

      P.s. If you have a blog or photos from your trip, I'd love to see them!

  2. this is really well written. I love your descriptions of the hikes & I am leaving gangneung tomorrow to go to the osaek area. thanks so much for the article & happy travels.