Hiking in Daegu, South Korea: Apsan, Gatbawi, and Palgonsan Mountains

Daegu offers a variety of captivating hiking trails, with three standouts: Apsan Mountain, Gatbawi on Palgonsan Mountain, and Gumi Mountain. Apsan Mountain promises lush landscapes and rewarding panoramic views, Gatbawi features Buddhist statues along a cultural-rich trail, and Gumi Mountain offers breathtaking vistas and a challenging ascent. These trails contribute to Daegu’s vibrant hiking scene, catering to outdoor enthusiasts with diverse landscapes and difficulty levels.

Hiking the Daegu Trails: Apsan, Gatbawi and Palgonsan Mountains- featured image

Hiking is popular in South Korea, and although I complain while doing it, I enjoy it. I like a challenge, pushing myself a little, and enjoying nature simultaneously. Mountains surround Daegu and are the only way to see famous temples and historic monuments. Hiking in Daegu is a very popular activity because of its location between several mountain chains. Easy, Intermediate, or Difficult. The city has three of the best scenic mountains & hiking the Daegu trails in South Korea. Hiking Daegu South Korea: Apsan, Gatbawi, and Palgonsan will allow you to experience all three difficulty levels.

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Hiking in Daegu South Korea

Daegu boasts a multitude of captivating hiking trails, inviting outdoor enthusiasts to explore the natural beauty that graces the city. Among the myriad options, three noteworthy trails beckon adventure seekers to immerse themselves in the scenic wonders of the region. Apsan Mountain stands as a prominent choice, offering hikers an exhilarating journey through lush landscapes and rewarding panoramic views from its summit. For those seeking a unique experience, Gatbawi on Palgonsan Mountain unfolds as another captivating trail, where the mesmerizing sight of Buddhist statues perched along the path adds cultural richness to the trek.

Additionally, Gumi Mountain is one of the best hiking trails in Daegu, South Korea. Gumi itself is an appealing destination, promising breathtaking vistas and a challenging ascent that culminates in a sense of accomplishment for those who conquer its heights. With diverse landscapes and varying levels of difficulty, these trails collectively contribute to the vibrant hiking scene within the city of Daegu, providing an array of outdoor adventures for nature enthusiasts.

Easy

Apsan Mountain

The only stroller-friendly hike of the three, the first hike was actually an accident. I heard about Apsan Mountain while we were in lodging on Camp Walker. You can either hike to the top or ride the cable car. The latter was what I intended to do, boy, were we in for a surprise. Take the first right out of gate 6. Then keep walking up to the T junction, take the right into the park entrance and look straight up. That’s the entrance to the 4 km hike up 790 meters (2,592 feet) to the mountaintop. And that’s where we started. However, if you want to take the gondola, you bypass the entrance.

Apsan Trail

But back on the mountain. It had to be 90 outside when we started up the hill. No water, no map, no idea what we were in for. It’s a paved trail that weaves around the mountain, mostly under heavy tree cover. There are vistas everywhere where you can look down into the city. You can see landmarks like Suseong Lake and the Boeing 747. They serve a popular Korean spun ice treat that melts in your mouth like cotton candy.

 

The Apsan Gradient

And while it’s paved, there are several turns that are a steep 6% gradient. And its actually easier to walk backward or at an angle. You’ll also see people out there with alpine sticks. It’s a lovely walk, jasmine blooms on either side perfumed the warm air. During the first hour, there were plenty of people on the trail. And we anticipated seeing the gondola around every bend. Thirty minutes later we were pretty skeptical. The crowds had dissipated, gnats swarming around our heads but still no gondola. Thirty minutes after that, we were sweating profusely and in dire need of some water. And we knew we weren’t in the right place. After cresting the mountain, we saw the gondola on one of the other mountain ranges. Damn.

You’d think the walk down would be more relaxing, easier even, but the steep gradient is hard on your calves and knees. You have to be careful or you could hurt yourself, so it still took 90 minutes to retrace our footsteps back down the mountain where we found a policeman who told us how to get to the gondola.

 

Apsan, Sanseongsan, or Daedeoksan Mountains

Once in the park, we bought a couple of bottles of water, the first of which I downed in two or three gulps. We visited the temple closest to the entrance before strolling up the hill to the gondola entrance where we paid 9,000 Won for a roundtrip ticket and 7,000 Won for a one-way ticket. We then filed into the crowded car for the panoramic ride to the top. At the summit, you can find a traditional restaurant, an observatory deck, and many spots to take in the view. From here, you can embark on a hike across the park to Apsan, Sanseongsan, or Daedeoksan Mountains—or even explore the trails while hiking in Daegu, South Korea. The paths vary in length from 2km to 4km, allowing visitors to choose the path that best fits their capabilities and preferences. In the end, I sweated a lot and we got a great workout, but I’ve had similar experiences running, so it was fun.

Medium

Gatbawi, Palgongsan Mountain

Hiking Up Gatbawi in Daegu, South Korea

Gatbawi is another beautiful Daegu hike. It was cooler than usual and the sun hid behind a thick blanket of clouds. Perfect weather for the longest hike yet of 1,192 meters or 3,911 feet of elevation. Gatbawi is a Buddha high in the Palgongsan Mountains. We were a little hesitant to make the hike before now because we heard there were a ton of stairs. There were.

We used our newly purchased Korean GPS and our recollections of our bus trip to the lantern festival at Donghwasa Temple the week before when that failed. It will take a little time to get the settings correct and navigate without getting turned around because of the duplicitous signage. This time we were prepared. We packed a backpack with snacks and water and I had purchased a pair of high-speed hiking boots that are more comfortable and provide better traction than my sneakers. Steven hasn’t been lucky enough to find a pair in his size yet. We followed the throngs of people up to the mountain.

It’s Pretty Steep

The gentle incline soon led into steeper and steeper one a kilometer up as we passed under the gate. Where I discovered we hadn’t even started the trail yet. Then we saw them… the infamous rock stairs. And there are literally thousands of them carved into the 3 hr hike up an 80-degree mountain face. You can take the stairs or you can take a much longer, much less strenuous winding trail up to the top. We opted for the former and started the strenuous climb, resting on wooden covered resting areas when necessary. But even those were few and far between.

The steps are not equally spaced apart or in height, and I have to stretch to mount some of them because I’m short. I quickly realized how out of shape I was when little old women passed me by on my left and my right. At one rest stop, I must have looked pretty bad because a sweet old lady offered me a sip from her cold thermos. Even though it’s very generous, the MERS scare made that a non-option, and I continued to sip from my now lukewarm water bottle and pressed on. Click here for a video of the serenity, chants, and views from the summit under the watchful eyes of Gatbawi.

Breathtaking View of Gatbawi

However, the view from the top totally rewards the conquerer with a breathtaking view of the Gatbawi and the valley floor below. You can grab a straw mat and join in with the throng of Buddhists worshippers and hikers as calming chats echo overhead and filter across the mountaintop. No matter what religion you practice or don’t practice, you can’t deny that the mountains surrounding Daegu exude a calming effect to the spirit… I always feel refreshed.

If you leave a coin in the rock, it is said that your wish will be granted. It is also said that he grants a least one wish daily, so there’s a good chance it could be you. We wandered around the summit a little while taking it all in before grabbing some more water and starting the trek downwards. This time the stairs work in our favor and I am able to enjoy the untamed nature that surrounds us. This hike was challenging for me. But it should have been and I may try to do it again when I feel like I am in better shape.

Difficult

Gumi MountainTell Me, Why Am I Upon this Mountain?

It may not be the highest at 976 meters (3203 feet), but it is a challenge for any hiker. It is a popular hike for the, let’s say, “gung ho” among us, but like any other mountain, the higher you climb, the thinner the air and the crowds. It’s all smiles at the base of Gumi Mountain. At 976 meters (3203 feet).

Hiking to the Summit of Gumi

The final Daegu hike was a doozy. Looking back, I still can’t believe that we actually CHOSE to spend our WHOLE Sunday hiking to the summit of Gumi. The route was straight UP steep wooden and stone steps and boulders. We hated it and will NEVER do it again. But it was beautiful and I was with my baby and other great people, so I’ll say it was a blast.

At 976 meters (3203 feet) it may not be the highest, but it definitely is a challenge for any hiker. It is a popular hike for the let’s say “gung ho” among us, but like any other mountain, the higher you climb, the thinner the air and the crowds.

Botanical Garden

At the base of the mountain, there is a Botanical Garden with lots of places to eat and relax over a beer. Steven still hasn’t found hiking boots yet, something he will “mention” a few times before we return to the base of the mountain. It’s also something I think you should have before attempting to make this climb, which starts almost immediately after you park your car. I carried the pack up to Gatbawi but quickly handed it over to my husband as we left the parking lot. First, you get hit by a lot of wooden stairs, covered in rubber with a very convenient railing on one side.

Then you get clobbered by rock stairs, uneven and slippery, with no rest stops in between. You simply move over and stop to get a breather when you need to.

There are narrow areas where only one person can fit, and you have to climb over boulders or up a rope bolted to the mountain face. And there is usually a little Korean lady climbing over your back because you are far too slow.

On the Edge of a Cliff

More stairs than enough steep stairways that end in a dead-end or temple and you have to retrace your steps to keep heading to the top. But there was a temple I am glad I didn’t miss. It sat precariously on the edge of a cliff and had the most glorious view of the foliage on the adjacent side of the mountain.

A monk chanted as faithful worshippers prayed in a palace-styled hut with golden Buddhas, the scent of burning incense filling the air. Candy-colored paper balloons gently swayed in the breeze, momentarily distracting from the jagged stone steps ahead. Seated on the mountain’s edge, I found the peace such places offer the brave.

At a little temple with a magnificent view, paper lanterns added festivity to Gumi, offering a rest stop with facilities. Success—I reached the summit of my fourth mountain after a challenging four-hour hike. The descent took nearly as long due to the terrain. I won’t do it again, but the satisfaction of conquering the mountain lingered. It was a hike I probably had no business attempting, but for those venturing up Gumi, know what you’re getting into.

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7 thoughts on “Hiking in Daegu, South Korea: Apsan, Gatbawi, and Palgonsan Mountains

  1. The poetry with which you wrote this is beautiful. I currently live in Daegu and am trying to find a hike to do with friends on New Years. Your post was so helpful and a delightful read.

    1. Thank you Allison for taking the time to leave a comment. I really miss the hiking in Daegu– actually I miss the hiking in South Korea. Please come back and let us know which hike you decide to explore on New Years.

    2. Thanks Allison. I hope you are enjoying the hiking around Daegu. I hope to join you in March when we PCS there again.

  2. Very nice post. I too live in Daegu and would be hiking with my soon to be five-year-old and wife were it not for the rain this morning. We have done Gotbawi and Apsan. There are a few odd trails in Apsan that I haven’t done yet. I write for the Daegu City Touch Daegu site and have a half dozen or so posts about hiking.

    1. Thank you Pete. It was a beautiful day for a hike in the end. I took my umbrella just in case, but thankfully I didn’t ned it. I also explored a trail I hadn’t done before in Apsan, starting from the bus parking lot to the Kosangol Valley. It was beautiful, with all the creeks you had to cross over, yet muddy in a few places… not sure I’d take an almost 5 year old. But I’m going to do it again and make it all the way to the Beopjang Temple. I look forward to reading your articles, thanks for sharing and come back again soon.

    2. Hello! Do you still live in Daegu? I am visiting soon and wanted to do am overnight backpacking trip in or near Daegu. Do you know of any where u can spend the night at the top ?

      1. I don’t know of any overnight hikes in Daegu, the mountains aren’t that high. But there are quite a few great trails to hike on Apsan and Palgonsan Mountains. And there are quite a few temple stay options where you can hike numerous trails and live the life of a monk for a few nights in a traditional hanok. Take a look at Donghwasa or Bulguksa Temples.

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