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One doesn’t usually associate massive cities with hiking, but thanks to a ring of mountains surrounding the center of the city, Seoul, South Korea is one of the world’s best cities for urban hiking. While there are many mountainous areas to hike around Seoul, the unique Seoul City Wall & its trails make for a fantastic way to explore the city’s history & unique geography.
Central Seoul has mountains on all sides. These mountains formed a perfect natural defense. In 1396, work began on the Fortress Wall of Seoul, which formalized this defense. Eight gates were added to control access to the city.
Nowadays, the Seoul City Wall forms a hikeable path circling the city. There are six sections to this path, which makes for a great way to get between various tourist sites in Seoul. I hiked three of them while I was in Seoul. The first part of my hike around the Seoul City Wall was the Naksan Mountain Trail section.
Here is a map of all of the parts of the Seoul City Wall hiking trail. The route is well-marked, and there is also this nice map available from the official city website.
The Naksan Mountain Trail follows the mountains that line the eastern edge of Seoul. I began my Naksan Mountain Trail hike at University subway station, which is near the northern end of the trail. The trail begins at Honghwamun Gate. Although that gate is technically in the Baegak Trail on the north side of the busy street, I went up the stairs to see it. Unfortunately, there’s no bridge connecting the sections, so I had to head back down just to begin the climb of Naksan Mountain.
The paths of the Seoul City Wall hike are very well maintained. Beyond being a great hiking trail, many of the sections also incorporate larger parks. Locals use them for jogging & dog walking. Also, if you don’t want to complete an entire section of a particular trail, there are plenty of entrances and exits. South Korean parks have gyms in them, which must be a good motivation for working out in nice weather.
One issue in Seoul is the awful air pollution. The pollution is exacerbated by the mountains, which can trap the bad air in the valley center. In hindsight, this was not a day to be outdoors. After I was eventually done, it felt like I had smoked a couple of packs of cigarettes.
Heading to the south from Honghwamun Gate, the trail then winds up and down the hills a bit. The Naksan Mountain Trail isn’t a particularly strenuous hike. However, it’s not flat either. This part of the trail has a very large section of uninterrupted wall as well.
The first major stop along the Naksan Mountain Trail is Naksan Park. There are plenty of places to sit and look out over the city, including some viewing platforms.
At the top of this park is Mt. Naksan, the highest point on the Naksan Mountain Trail, but the lowest high point of the four inner mountains that surround Seoul. The Seoul City Wall connects these mountains. On a clear day, they all form a stunning background over central Seoul. On other days, you get this:
Despite the pollution, the views weren’t all bad. There were these pretty birds everywhere, and the leaves on the trees were starting to change color a bit.
In the lower reaches of Naksan Park, you’ll find the Naksan Pavilion & Hongseuk’s Farm. Keep in mind that if you head down to these & you want to keep going on the Seoul City Wall hike, you’ll have to climb back up the hill.
Naksan Park is around the midway pint of the Naksan Mountain Trail, but from there, you head downhill, no matter which way you are going. I continued my journey south. Depending on if you have left the park, you could find yourself either below the wall or walking along the top of it.
Just south of the park, there is a cafe with coffee & beer, along with a small steakhouse. The view from here is fantastic.
This neighborhood is called the Ihwa Mural Village. This steep neighborhood is filled with art galleries, small museums, little restaurants, and shops.
Murals are painted on walls of the village, hence the name. The murals were painted in an effort to regenerate the area, and it’s working.
It’s great that a cute little village like this exists in such a massive city. In many places, something like this would have been torn down to build condos so the rich can monopolize the views. Indeed, it was slated for demolition before the murals were painted. Instead, it’s now this bohemian-feeling place, a welcome little respite from the busy surroundings of Seoul.
Continuing on again to the south, the Naksan Mountain Trail heads toward the busy Dongdaemun area of Seoul. This entire trail is listed as taking an hour to hike, but this could easily by much slower depending on how many detours and photo stops you make.
Near the southern end of the Naksan Mountain Trail is the Seoul City Wall Museum. The museum is free, and it provides a nice overview of the history & refurbishment of the wall. It recently reopened after renovations, and like the wall itself, Seoul did a nice job with it. The City Wall Museum would make for a great start to your hike, so you could always do this trail in reverse of how I did it, or visit the museum before beginning on the next section to the south.
The southern boundary of the Naksan Mountain Trail is the Heunginjimun Gate. Here you will find one of the craziest intersections you’ll ever see. In order to continue along the trail, you’ll need to cross three times because the direct path has no crosswalk or tunnels. From here, the Seoul City Wall trail continues with the urban Heunginjimun Gate Trail section, which you can read about here.