South Korea's first national park, Jirisan (tourist info tel. 061/780-2224) was established in 1967. Its highest peak, Cheonwangbong, is 1,915m (6,283 ft.) high, but several other peaks climb over 1,000m (3,281 ft.). Home to numerous historical sites and temples, the mountain range is surrounded by five cities/counties -- Namwon, Gurye, Hadong, Sancheong, and Hamyang (the latter three are in Gyeongsang-do).
Climbing Jirisan for more than a day without a guide is not recommended, since the national park does not have many amenities and there are many precipitous cliffs. There are, however, less difficult trails for nonprofessional climbers.
The easiest trail is the Nogodan course, which starts from the Seongsamjae rest area. The full course takes about 3 hours, but note that climbing the last 15 minutes to the top requires a reservation at least 3 days in advance. Since the National Parks' reservation site is only in Korean, call the Korea Travel Phone (tel. 1330) and ask the agent to make a reservation for you online at www.knps.or.kr. You won't be able to make a reservation, but you can access some information on their English site, http://english.knps.or.kr. Access to the summit is open only four times a day (10:30am, 1pm, 2:30pm, and 4pm). Take a bus from the Gurye Bus Terminal to Seongsamjae. Buses take only 30 minutes but leave every 2 hours, so plan accordingly.
The most scenic course also starts at the Seongsamjae rest area, but takes you up to Hwaeomsa. You can also take a 3-hour hike up a side road from Nogodan ridge. If you prefer a shorter walk, there is a promenade near the entrance to the path to Nogodan from the temple Hwaeomsa. The promenade takes about an hour round-trip. Additional information about Hwaeomsa is in the "Temples in Jirisan" section, below.
The third, longer trail is best experienced when the leaves show off their autumn colors. The trail starts at Jikjeon Village and goes to Piagol, where a Maple Tree Autumn Foliage Festival is held every year in late October or early November. You'll pass the largest temple in Jirisan, Yeongoksa, at the entrance to Piagol Valley. The full course to the top takes 7 hours round-trip, but you can stop midway and return if you don't have that much time. Take a bus to Piagol from Gurye to the last stop. The buses run every hour and take just under an hour.
Admission to Jirisan costs W1,600 adults, W600 teens, W300 children, free for children 6 and under and seniors 65 and over.