As South Korea's most popular national park, Seoraksan (Mt. Seorak, sometimes spelled "Sorak") attracts many visitors on the weekends. But when the leaves change color in the fall, traffic basically comes to a standstill. If you want to avoid the crowds, aim to come on a weekday.

Since its declaration as a natural monument by the government in 1965, Seoraksan, which means "Snow Peak Mountain," became South Korea's fifth national park in 1970 and was declared a conservation area by UNESCO (the only one in the entire country) in 1982. Since then, the government has tried to protect the 360 sq. km (140 sq. miles) of natural habitat and the unique plants and animals that are found here, while updating the facilities to meet international standards for visitors.

In the spring, blooming azaleas, dogwoods, and forsythia carpet the slopes in vibrant yellows, purples, and pinks. The summer brings lush green slopes and full streams and waterfalls as the melted snow makes its way down the rocky slopes. Fall is the most popular, with the brilliant colors of the autumn foliage in a riot of greens, yellows, reds, and oranges. Even in the winter, the snow blankets the hushed landscape, bringing serenity and a quiet beauty.

Seoraksan is divided into three parts: Outer (Oeseorak), Inner (Naeseorak), and South (Namseorak). Outer Seorak is part of Sokcho city and is the spot where you'll find the best lodging, leisure facilities, beaches, and spas. Outer Seorak has more dramatic scenery, since this is where the craggier, higher peaks can be found. It is closer to the ocean and has steeper slopes.

Less accessible is Inner Seorak, deep within the Taebaek Mountains. The slopes are mellower, but there is thicker vegetation. It boasts beautiful scenery and famous temples, like Baekdamsa and Bongjeong-am. There are fewer tourist spots, but more opportunities for hiking (trails range from short ones that take a few hours to lengthier ones that take days to traverse). The area at the south of the main ridgeline of Seoraksan is South Seorak. A popular starting point for hikers, it is the most direct route to the Daecheongbong, the main peak of the mountain range, and is also where you'll find the Osaek Hot Springs and other carbonic acid spas in the area.

The mountains and waterfalls of the region offer spectacular views, and not just for serious rock climbers but for those willing to take a casual hike. Admission to the Osaek/Changsudae area in the south is W1,600 adults 18 and up, W600 teens 13-17, W300 children 12 and under. Admission to the park from the Baekdam region (accessible from Inje) or to the Sinheungsa area in Oeseorak (accessible from Sokcho) is W3,200 adults, W1,300 teens, W700 children. Additional fees apply for individual temples and other attractions within the park.