Palgongsan Provincial Park

Located just 20km (12 miles) north of Daegu, Mt. Palgong is considered one of the most spiritually important mountains in the country, primarily because of the many famous temples and associated hermitages that are located on its ridges. Koreans believe that the spiritual energy that lives in the mountain will eventually bring about the reunification of the two Koreas.

This is the nation's largest provincial park and features a ridgeline that runs in an east-west direction and forms Daegu's northern boundary. If you hike the ridgeline, you'll be treated to beautiful views of the surrounding valleys on both sides of the mountains.

Offering challenging (though not at all dangerous) climbs, the mountain's numerous and varied trails are popular with hikers year-round, but they're positively packed in the fall when the maple trees are in full flaming colors. Give yourself a day to explore the temples, the hermitages, and the various stone statues around the mountain. The shortest hike in Palgongsan starts at Donghwasa (Donghwa Temple), which is the most popular attraction in the park. Follow the trail to Budo-am, then Yeombur-am up to Dongbong Peak, and then you can make your way back down to the ticket booth. The path takes about 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

A longer route takes you from Pagyesa (one of Donghwasa's auxiliary temples) through the Pagyejae pass up to Dongbong Peak. Then you can take a trail up to Inbong down to Bakhong-am down to Eunhaesa. This path would take you 8 to 10 hours, so I suggest starting early in the morning.

A less stringent route starts from Eunhaesa. From there, you can go up to Bakhong-am, up to Inbong peak, to the Gatbawi, and down to the parking lot. This route would take about 5 1/2 to 6 hours.

There are a variety of ways to get to Palgongsan from Daegu proper. To get to the main entrance and Donghwasa, take express bus no. 1 from either the Dongdaegu Station or across the street from the Migliore department store (it's about a 40-min. ride). To get to Pagyesa, take bus no. 401 from Hyanggyo Station. To get to Gatbawi, take bus no. 131 from the same station. Although there are plenty of restaurants and shops around, it's always best to carry at least some water with you (especially during the dog days of Daegu's summer).

Due to the influx of hikers, restaurants and sleeping quarters have sprung up in the area. The best restaurants in the area are in the popular southern side of the mountain as well as the west side near Pagyesa. There is also a good (and moderately priced) restaurant on top if you take the cable car. As for accommodations, it's probably best to spend the night in Daegu and just spend the day exploring Palgongsan.

Gunwi Samjeonseokbul (Grotto Statues) -- Said to have been carved in A.D. 700, these three sculptures are set within a natural grotto on the mountainside. These statues are of historic significance, since they illustrate the artistic style between the Three Kingdoms and the Unified Shilla periods. Similar to (but less refined than) the Seokguram Grotto in Gyeongju, the Buddha carved here (he's the one in the middle, flanked by two bodhisattvas) is said by many to have been the inspiration for and precursor to the one in Gyeongju, so it's often referred to as Seokguram II. The statues were rediscovered after Korea's liberation from Japan in the early part of the 20th century.

Associated with this unusual grotto is a small temple, said to have been originally built by Ado Hwasang in the mid-A.D. 400s, but the current buildings were constructed in the 1980s. The grotto is about 2km (1 1/4 miles) up from Daeyul village. You can get buses to Daeyul from Daegu's Bukbu Bus Terminal and then walk -- admission is free and the grotto is open as long as the park is.

Yeombul-am (Chanting Rock Hermitage) -- The Chanting Rock Hermitage got its name from a legend that a monk from the area heard the sounds of a chanting Buddha coming from a large boulder in the hillside. So in 928, Yeombul-am was built next to that giant rock and Buddha images were carved in relief on its two flat sides. Along the trail toward this hermitage is a smaller one, Budo-am, which serves as a retreat for meditating female monks.

Above Yeombul-am are two additional Buddha carvings -- the beautiful, seated Buddha of Medicine at Biro-bong (the highest peak in the mountains) and a larger, cruder Buddha at Dong-bong.

There is no additional fee, and the hermitage is open as long as the park is, but plan to spend about 90 minutes hiking uphill to get here. You can start your walk at Budo-am. Take express bus no. 1 from either the Dongdaegu Station or across the street from the Migliore department store. You can also take bus no. 105 from the stop in front of the former Hanil Theatre.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.