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Best Hikes In Korea: The Hwaseong Fortress Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: The Hwaseong Fortress Trail
  • Where: Suwon, South Korea
  • Distance: 4.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 705 feet
  • TIme: 2-3 hours
  • Cost: 1,500 won ($1.50)
  • More Information: Suwon Cultural Foundation

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Google Earth Map of the Trail

Hwaseong Fortress Hike Map

Hwaseong Fortress Narrative

I recently traveled to South Korea for work and found some time on a day off to go and hike around the Hwaseong Fortress Wall in the city of Suwon just south of Seoul.  Hwaseong is listed with the United Nations as a World Heritage Site due to its historical significance in South Korea.  Here is a brief synopsis of the fortress from the Suwon Cultural Foundation website:

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress was constructed by king Jeongjo (reigning 1777~1800), the 22nd king of Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) after moving the tomb of his father Sadoseja, Crown Prince, who had been victimized in faction struggles in the court, and put inside a rice chest and had died in it, from Mt. Baebong, Yangju, to Mt. Hwa, Suwon. and the moving of the local government headquarters from near Mt. hwa to the current location under Mt. Paldal, Suwon. The mountain was considered as the best place to build tombs according to the theory of geomancy in those days.

There were multiple reasons for constructing the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress. The most important reason was King Jeongjo’s filial piety to his father. But, there were other reasons: his political strategy to eradicate faction struggles and establish the king-led politics; use of it as a fortress of national defense to the south.  [Suwon Cultural Foundation]

To get to the fortress from Seoul I rode the subway train to Suwon Station which was about a one hour ride.  From there I exited the station and followed the very noticeable signs to the Hwaseong Fortress.  It is best to take a taxi, but I wanted to walk around and checkout the city.  So I decided to walk the 1.5 miles to Hwaseong instead.  Suwon is a very large city with 1.1 million people that has seem drastic modernization and urbanization in the past 20 years:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

I think Suwon is quite a nice town and Hwaseong Fortress is without a doubt the top attraction of the city.  I entered Hwaseong Fortress through a side entrance on its western side:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

I walked up the hill from the main road, passed through the tunnel and then walked up and on to the fortress wall:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

I then followed the path that goes around the fortress:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

As I began to walk around the path I noticed that it was very popular with joggers.  This would in fact be a great workout for a jog considering the various hills this trail climbs along its 4.5 mile long length.  As I walked along the trail I made sure to stop and check out some of the guard posts positioned at strategic positions along the fortress wall:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

The guard posts were painted in the traditional Korean royal color style:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

I have always found the Korean royal colors to be quite beautiful:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Here is a picture looking back into Suwon city from the interior of one of these guard structures:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

I couldn’t help, but think how different this view must have been over 200 years ago when the guards would have likely only seen a few huts and farm fields instead of the great city that Suwon has become today:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

The old city of Suwon was completely enclosed inside the Hwaseong Fortress walls, but today none of the old structures remain and instead have been replaced with modern buildings to include Christian churches:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

As I walked down one of the many hills along the path I spotted the major gate called Hwaseomun:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

The gate had a half circle walled that extended out away from it that would allow defenders to shoot arrows in the back of anyone trying to break down the door of the gate:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Here is a panorama picture I took while standing on this exterior wall:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Inside of the gate where the guards would be stationed there was nothing fancy to be seen:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

After passing the gate the path turned into a dirt trail:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Below is a picture looking back into the old city of Suwon where in the background Mt. Paldalsan can be seen which is where the command center for Hwaseong Fortress was located at:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Something I noticed as I walked along the wall was this strangely shaped Korean restaurant that if the owner was attempting to have his building standout from the crowd the owner definitely succeeded:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

As I walked along this section of the trail I also spotted one of the many cannons that were used to defend the fortress with:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

I next came to another major gate called Janganmun:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

This gate was adjacent to a very busy commercial area of Suwon:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Climbed down off of the wall and walked underneath the gate and saw some of the beautiful artwork visitors to the city would have saw over 200 years ago:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

I next climbed back up on to the wall and continued my hike in an easterly direction:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

I next came to bridge that crosses the stream that would have been the water supply for the fortress during any siege of the city:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Here is a picture of the Hwahongmun gate that was used to defend the city from anyone trying to access it by the stream:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

From the stream I continued in a easterly direction along the wall:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Along the way I came to one of the few secrets gates in the fortress wall that defenders would use to smuggle in supplies if the fortress was under a siege:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

This next picture shows an example of what the barracks buildings the soldiers would have lived in back then that were in charge of manning the walls:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Not far from the barracks was something those soldiers from long ago could have hardly imagined, a tourist trap filled with junk souvenirs and over priced food!:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

The tourist trap building even had its own archery range for people that wanted to try shooting one of the old style bows used to defend the fortress:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Here is a panorama picture I took from the wall looking back at the archery range:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Near the tourist trap building was another major entrance into the fortress called Changnyongmun:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

From the tourist trap building the trail around the fortress walls next heads south.  The view from the walls heading in this direction is dominated by the biggest church I have seen in Korea yet:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

I don’t know what denomination that church is, but its building is quite impressive.  I next came to the area on the wall where smoke signals were sent from to communicate with other walled fortresses and lookouts in the region:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

At the end of this section of the trail it next headed west down a hill and back towards the stream:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Here is a picture of the large gate that was used to defend this section of the stream from any attackers:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Here is the view looking into the old city from the gate:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

After crossing the stream the wall actually ends at the Suwon Young-dong Traditional Market:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

As I walked into the market I noticed this statue of a Korean king eating some food by himself:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

I don’t know what the significance of the statue is, but it appeared to be quite popular with many people taking pictures with it.  I next walked through the traditional market to access the next section of the fortress wall:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Along the way I ran into the Paldalmun gate that is today surrounded by a major roadway into the old city section of Suwon:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

A short walk past the Paldalmun gate I then had to ascend up a steep staircase that heads up to the top of Mt. Paldalsan:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

The steps were sturdy and I was able to give myself a little mini-Incline workout:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

At the top of the hill I saw a small gate that I decided to walk through and see where it goes:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

The gate led to a side trail that leads to a lookout that defenders would man to observe activity to the southwest of the fortress:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Here is the view of modern day Suwon from this 18th century lookout:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

After spending a few minutes at the lookout I retraced my steps and walked back towards the small gate:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Once I was back inside the gate I again began to follow the main trail which led to this memorial on top of the mountain:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

The monument was in honor of the March 1st Independence Movement in 1919 when Koreans uprose against the Imperial Japanese occupation of Korea.  A I continued to follow the hill on top of Mt. Paldal I next came to this marker which declared Hwaseong Fortress as a UNESCO World Heritage Site:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Near the sign was this large bronze bell:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

This is called “The Bell of Filial Piety” it rings on the hour three times.  The 1st toll is to show gratitude and respect to your parents.  The 2nd toll is to wish your family good health and harmony.  The third toll is to wish for the realization of your dreams:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Near the bell I also spotted another secret entrance through the fortress wall:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

On the very top of the mountain is this command post called Seojangdae:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Near the command post was this raised platform which was used by archers armed with crossbows to shoot down on enemies below the mountain:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

From the top of mountain it is clear why this is where the command post and crossbow platform were located.  It is because of the unobstructed views over most of the Hwaseong Fortress and the surrounding land:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

There was also a clear view of the royal palace situated just below the mountain within the old city:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Here is a panorama of the view centered on the royal palace down below:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Here is another panorama picture of the view with the royal palace visible on the far right:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

After spending about 30 minutes taking in the views on the top of the mountain I went ahead and began the descent back down the mountain towards where I started the hike from:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

I reached the small tunnel I started my hike from and walked back down to the main road.  Here is the final picture I took from my hike looking back at the walls of Hwaseong Fortress:

Picture from Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Conclusion

The hike around Hwaseong Fortress was 4.5 miles long and took me 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete.  This is not an overly strenuous hike, but is still enough to give visitors a nice workout especially if jogging it like some people were doing.  If visiting Suwon I highly recommend checking out the fortress because it is in my opinion really the only reason worth making a trip to Suwon for.  For people who do not have an interest in historic fortresses this may be a boring trip, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think most other people will as well.

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