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On Walkabout On: Cheonmasan Mountain, South Korea

Basic Trail Information

  • Name: Cheonmasan Mountain (elev. 812 m / 2,664 ft)
  • Where: Namyangju, South Korea
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Difficulty: moderate (700 meter climb)
  • Time: 3 hours round-trip
  • More Info: Visit Korea website

Google Terrain Map of the Trail:

Narrative

Whenever I am in South Korea I always try to avoid hiking up the more well known mountains on weekends because of the I often heavy crowds that can clog the trails.  So that is why I often look to hike lesser known mountains on weekends to avoid these crowds.  One of the lesser known mountains that I was told was a really good hike that was only a short drive from Seoul was Cheonmasan Mountain in Namyangju, Gyeongi-do province.  This mountain is located 32 kilometers to the East of Seoul, which makes it less then an hour drive to reach by vehicle and slightly longer if taking a train:


View Larger Map

The east of Seoul is many large round mountains and Cheonmasan is one of the biggest ones topping out at a maximum altitude of 812 meters (2,664 feet).  In the below tourism map, Cheonmasan mountain is located towards the center of the greater Namyangju area:

There are many routes up the mountain from the various neighborhoods of greater Namyangju that surround Cheonmasan.  I hiked up the mountain using a trail from the neighborhood of Maseok where the Star Hill Ski Resort is located.  Below is the route I took up and back down the mountain:

Cheonmasan actually has a little bit of history to it since the name of the mountain was given to it by the Korean King Taejo who founded the Joseon dynasty in 1392.  The name Cheonmasan means a mountain that is high enough to touch the sky.  I figure King Taejo probably didn’t get away from his palace in Seoul much because there is much higher mountains in Korea then this, but for the area east of Seoul it is the highest peak in that area.  It is also popularly believed that the mountain resembles a Buddhist monk sitting and giving a calm impression.   In the below picture you can see what Cheonmasan looks like during the day time and it sure did not resemble any Buddhist monk to me:

The trail I took from Maseok followed the ridgeline on the left side of the mountain pictured above up to the summit and then I followed the ridgeline pictured to the right down it back to Maseok.   When I left to go on my hike it was early in the morning and the sun was just coming up as I stepped out of the Maseok Train Station.  The below picture shows the neighborhood of Maseok and the hill in the back ground is where the Star Hill Resort is located which nearby was the trail that led up to the top of the ridgeline that I would follow up to the summit of Cheonmasan:

As I walked through Maseok I found it to be a nice quiet country town who’s farm fields are slowly being engulfed by apartment buildings as the urban sprawl from Seoul continues to engulf the green belt around the city.  I just continued to follow roads towards the hills in front of me until I came to an apartment complex adjacent to the hill and found a trail.  I headed up the trail and it was actually quite steep going at first since the trail did not switchback at all:

As I walked down the trail I was totally engulfed with green foliage.  At one time this hill like most others in Korea was probably near treeless due to the past Japanese colonization, poverty, and Korean War that destroyed the country.  Since the war the country has not only recovered economically but environmentally as well as the mountains of Korea are as lush as anywhere else in Asia.  However, in Korea there always seems to be reminders that war could once again destroy this country such as the various old bunkers I saw once I got on top of the hill and found the main trail on the ridgeline:

As I followed the main trail on the ridgeline I walked right past the Star Hill Ski Resort which was shut down for the summer.  The resort was backdropped by Cheonmasan sountain:

I still didn’t see how the mountain resembled a Buddhist monk but I continued on anyway.  From the top of the ski resort I had a view looking down into the neighborhood of Hopyeong located on the opposite side of the ridgeline from Maseok:

Hopyeong has already been swallowed up by the sea of apartment buildings extending from Seoul.  Hopyeong also has a train station to get off at to access one of the many trails up Cheonmasan.  As I continued to follow the ridgeline this tree below caught my interest because it was a pine tree that was totally out of place from the mostly green leafy deciduous trees that cover the mountain:

I didn’t see much in the way of flowers during my hike but this one flower below caught my attention as well:

As I walked down the trail I hardly saw anyone else on the trail which made for a very pleasant walk:

However, the trail eventually comes to a very steep climb up the side of Cheonmasan.  During this portion of the hike some rock climbing is needed.  Fortunately the local government installed ropes for people to use that made the climb quite easy:

There was other sections of the trail that cable and footholds to assist hikers up the rocks:

Soon enough I was approaching the summit of the mountain that featured this big rock outcropping:

The summit was just ahead:

The summit is capped by this South Korean flag that a few other hikers were taking pictures with:

There was also a marker on the summit pointing out the exact height of the mountain at 812 meters (2,664 feet):

I sat back ate my lunch and enjoyed the view from the summit.  In the below picture the Star Hill Ski Resort can be seen plus the ridgeline I followed from the resort up to the summit of Cheonmasan.  It was a bit hazy out which is common during the summer in Korea, especially around Seoul, so my views of the area were not as sweeping as I hoped:

In the above picture Hopyeong is the city to the right and Maseok is the city on the left.  In the below picture is the ridgeline that I was planning on following to take me back into Maseok to where I would just walk back to the train station:

After hanging out on the summit for about 30 minutes that is when I decided to head down the ridgeline trail that would take me back into Maseok:

I made really good time going down the mountain because the trail was so steep for most of the way:

In fact my knee started to bother me from all the down hill walking that I had to slow down a bit.  Eventually the trail exits into a large park where there was a bunch of people exercising, having picnics, and drinking water from the spring that was located there:

I drank some water from the spring and it tasted quite good before continuing on down the mountain.  At this point the trail was very large to accommodate all the people walking up to the park:

As I neared the base of the mountain I came upon this bridge that was suspended up in the trees that allowed hikers to experience what the views are like from the tops of the trees:

This bridge kind of reminded me of one of the bridges used for the Tree Top Walk in Western Australia.  Anyway the trail eventually began to run adjacent to a small creek which this nice bridge was used to cross:

I knew I was a the base of the mountain once I started walking by some farm fields that are a common sight at the base of mountains in Korea:

The trail then suddenly just popped out in the parking lot of this restaurant:

From here it was just a simple walk back into town to the train station.  So as I began my walk back to the station I took one last look back Cheonmasan mountain that I had just climbed:

I still didn’t see how this mountain looked like a Buddhist monk, but I none the less enjoyed the hike up this fine mountain and did get a better understanding of why King Taejo gave the mountain its name.  From the summit I really did feel like I could touch the sky even it was a bit overcast with smog.

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