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Juwangsan National Park

One of South Korea's most isolated and least visited national parks, Juwangsan National Park, Sangeui-li, Budong-myeon, Cheongsong-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do (tel. 054/873-0015), is part of the Taebaek mountain range. Mt. Juwang (sometimes spelled Chuwang) is known by many other names, like Seokbyeongsan, Jubangsan, and Dedunsan.

From a distance Juwangsan doesn't look like much, but you'll see its gorgeous scenery once you arrive in the middle of it. It's best known for its mountain streams, waterfalls, and the limestone peaks that jut out from green valleys. The park is divided into three areas: Jubanggol (Jubang Valley) at the entrance, Jeolgocheon in the east, and Yaksutang (known for its mineral springs) in the west.

Many legends are associated with the mountains, including the story of King Juwon, the Shilla king, who supposedly lived here after handing over the Shilla Kingdom to the Goryeo Dynasty. Another legend, from which the name derived, has it that King Ju-do (the "Juwang" of the name, "wang" meaning king) of China's Tang Dynasty hid in the mountains when he was fleeing from revolutionaries after an attempted coup.

The curious-shaped peaks and rocks of Juwangsan were created by sudden volcanic activity (apparently about 70 million years ago, when dinosaurs were hanging out on the Korean peninsula) and many years of erosion.

There are six temples and hermitages inside Juwang-an. Located just past the entrance to the park is the largest temple, Daejeonsa, which was built in the 12th year of Shilla King Munmu (A.D. 672) and named after King Ju's son. The temple was later rebuilt in 1672 after being destroyed by war and fire. Gwangamsa and Yeonhwasa are also nestled in the mountains here, as well as the hermitages of Juwang-am and Baengnyeon-am, a hermitage of nuns dedicated to King Ju's daughter.

All trails in the park are good for day hikes. The main trail goes around Jubongcheon in a circular route. There are four other trails, all of which can be completed in 4 to 6 hours.

The park started seeing more visitors after Kim Ki-duk used Jusanji Lake as the setting for his movie Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring. Although the "island temple" set used in the film had to be dismantled for environmental reasons, you can still enjoy the changing seasons at this location, which is most beautiful both in the spring when the entire valley is ablaze with colorful blooms and in the fall as the autumn leaves create a gorgeous scene. The small, man-made lake (created in 1721) is located in the inner part of Juwangsan, whose trails and roads are not as well developed as the outer section of the park.

The closest town is Cheongsong, which is located about 13km (8 miles) from the park's entrance. Intercity buses arrive at the Cheongsong Intercity Bus Terminal from Yeongcheon, Andong, Daegu, Busan, and Dong Seoul. Buses from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal run five times daily starting from 8:40am and take about 5 hours. From Cheongsong, city buses go the park entrance daily, every 20 minutes or so, and take about 30 minutes. Admission to the park is W3,200 adults, W1,200 teens, W700 children. Parking is W4,000 to W6,000, depending on the size of the car.

If you're driving from Seoul, take the Gyeongbu Expressway (road 1) to the Shingal IC and go east on the Yeongdong Expressway (road 50). Take the Manjong IC exit to the Jung-ang highway (road 55) south toward Daegu, take the Seo-Andong (West Andong) exit, and take road 34 east, following it toward Jinan-dong and turning right on road 31, heading south toward Cheongsong. Pass Cheongsong and take road 914 east to Juwangsan.

Most people visit Juwangsan as a day trip, but you can rough it at the Sangui Campground (tel. 054/873-0014) near the entrance for only W3,000 to W6,000 per night You have to make reservations at least 5 days in advance (up to a month in advance during popular seasons). You can also stay at any number of minbak across from the bus terminal or the small inns near the park entrance or the Yaksutang district. The most upscale accommodation in the area is the third-class Juwangsan Tourist Spa Hotel, 69-2, Wolmake-li, Cheongsong-eup, Cheongsong-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do (tel. 054/874-7000), about 2km (1 1/4 miles) below the park entrance. They have doubles starting at a rack rate of W100,000, and discounts are not uncommon during the off season.

You can sample local mountain cuisine in Cheongsong, which is famous for its samgyetang, a chicken soup made with a whole young chicken, glutinous rice, garlic, ginseng, dried dates, and ginger from the Yaksutang area. You can also have sanchae bibimbap (wild mountain vegetable mixed rice bowl) or other dishes that feature vegetables from the region or songi mushrooms that grow in area pine forests.

You should enjoy the tranquillity of these mountains before the destination becomes more popular with the vacationing hordes.

Cheongnyangsan Provincial Park

The majority of Mt. Cheongnyang Provincial Park (tel. 054/672-4994) lies within Bonghwa County. The most famous temple in the park is Cheongnyangsa, 247 Bokgok-li, Myeongho-myeon, Bonghwa-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do, located at the base of Yeonhwa-bong Peak. Built by Buddhist Monk Wonhyso during the third year of the reign of Shilla King Munmu (A.D. 663), this well-located temple is best viewed in the fall when the leaves show off their color. A few hundred meters below the temple is Cheongnyang Jeongsa, a small retreat used by scholars for study and meditation in solitude. Above that is the Kimsaeng-gul, a shallow cave named after the famous Shilla Dynasty calligrapher who is said to have practiced his writing there a thousand years ago.

Several trails start from the park's main valley road. Major trails are marked by signs, but many of the tiny trails above the temple are not. Most of the trails up to the temple are steep and difficult, but the easiest and most pleasant one is the Ipseok trail, which heads around the side of the hill near Cheongnyangsa. The trail splits into two directions, the upper trail going up to the cave while the lower trail goes to the temple.

The park is open daily 24 hours year-round. Entrance to the park is W1,000 adults, W600 teens, W300 children, and seniors 65 and over and kids 6 and under are free.

The nearest town is Bonghwa, from which you can take a bus bound for Bukgok and get off at the park. The bus runs four times a day and takes about 30 to 40 minutes. From Andong (use the bus stop in front of the Gyobo Building between the train station and the bus terminal), take bus no. 67 (runs six times a day) to Cheongnyangsan, which takes about 50 minutes.

If you have extra time in Bonghwa County, take a visit to the Dakshil Maeul (tel. 061/472-1524, 171-1 Yugeok-li, Shingbuk-myeon, Yeongam-gun), a 500-year-old, traditional village, where the yangban class used to live. Sometimes called Jeongtong Han-gwa Maeul, the homes are a glimpse into how the upper crust of ancient Korea used to live.

Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park

The Mungyeong Saejae, which overlays Joryeongsan, has always been the highest and most dangerous mountain pass in the country. It was created during the reign of King Taejong of the Joseon Dynasty and was used as the principal way to get past these mountains until a new road was built through the Ihwaryeong Gyegok (valley). The Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park (tel. 054/571-0709) has three entrance gates, which were built here with castle walls after the Japanese invasions in 1592 and 1598. They were damaged, like so many other historic relics, but were restored in 1976.

To get to the first gate, Juheul-gwan, go 2km (1 1/4 miles) west of Sangcho-li and 3.5km (2 1/4 miles) farther along a deep gorge to the north. The second gate, Jogok-gwan, is located about 3km (1 3/4 miles) from the first gate, at the opening of a small valley. The area between Juheul-gwan and Jogok-gwan is known for its birch trees and the most beautiful path in the park. The Mungyeong Saejae Revolt Monument is on the left side of the road. The third gate, Joryeong-gwan, is 3.5km (2 1/4 miles) past the second gate. If you take the small trail (following the sound of the stream) instead of taking the large road to Joryeong-gwan, you'll pass the Yeogung Waterfall, the Hyeguksa (a temple of female monks built over 1,100 years ago), and the Royal Palace before reaching the peak of Juheulsan, which has a fantastic view. It takes about 4 hours to get to the third gate from the first one. The three entrances collectively are called the Mungyeong Samgwanmun (The Three Gates/Doors of Mungyeong).

The KBS TV channel has an open-air studio inside the park, from which they shoot most of their historic dramas. It includes three palaces and many houses styled after those from the Baekje and Goryeo periods. Entrance to the KBS set is W2,000.

To get to the park, take the city bus bound for Mungyeong Gwanmun from the Mungyeong Intercity Bus Terminal and get off at the park's parking lot (about 10 min.) or take a taxi. The park is open daily from 8am to sunset and admission is W2,000 for adults, W1,000 for teens, W750 for children, free for seniors 65 and over and kids 6 and under. Parking costs W2,000 to W4,000 depending on the size of your vehicle.

There are plenty of minbak and eating options all along the road on the entryway to the park. A cheap sleeping option is the Ongdalsaem Hwangto Minbak (tel. 054/572-3555, 345-10 Hacho-li, Mungyeong-eup, Mungyeong-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do; www.come2mk.com), a family-run place that has Korean-style rooms starting at W30,000. Look for the friendly orange building on the right side of the road on the way up to the gates.

Geumosan Provincial Park

About 5km (3 miles) west of the small industrial city of Gumi is the Geumosan Provincial Park. Local legend claims that a monk was walking through here and was looking for a place to build a temple. As he was passing the mountain, he saw a crow lit with the golden rays of the setting sun, hence the name "geumo," which means "golden crow." The temple he built at the base of the mountain is now gone, but the name stuck.

As you make your way up the mountain, you'll know you're halfway to the top when you reach the Myeonggeum Waterfall. It used to be called the Daehye Waterfall until 1931, when the Myeonggeum characters were etched on the cliff to the east of the falling water. To the right of the waterfall is Doseon Cave, where legend has it that Monk Doseon achieved enlightenment. Nearby (just below the cave) is the temple Haeunsa, which was originally constructed in the late Shilla period, destroyed in 1592, reconstructed in 1925, and restored in 1980.

Another hour's climb from the waterfall leads to the standing statue of Buddha carved in relief on a large rock. Not the best Buddha carving in the country, it was made during the Goryeo Dynasty. Nearby is the hermitage Yaksa-am, built to honor Monk Uisang's attainment of nirvana. Although it was reportedly built during the Shilla Dynasty, no relics have been found to support that claim.

At the entrance to the park is a small tourist village with a cluster of restaurants, a small amusement park for kids, and a few yeogwan. Admission to the park is W600 for adults, W400 for teens, W200 for children, free for seniors 65 and older and kids 6 and under. The park is open daily from March to October, 9am to 6pm, closing an hour earlier November through February.

The best way to get here is to take bus no. 12 or 12-1 from Gumi; both run daily, every 10 to 15 minutes. For those who don't want to hike up the mountain, a cable car now runs up the incline to the entrance to Haeunsa. The ride costs W4,500 round-trip, W3,000 one-way. It runs daily, every 15 minutes from 9am to 4:30pm.

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.