Hiking Gatbawi on Palgonsan Mountain

That’s when I discovered we hadn’t even started the trail yet and I knew we were in for a climb to Gatbawi. Then we saw the them… the infamous rock stairs. There are literally thousands of them carved into the 3 hr hike up an 80 degree mountain face of Palgonsan Mountain. You can take the stairs or you can take a much longer, much less strenuous winding trail up to the top.

hiking Apsan 3D trees

It was colder than usual, and the sun hid behind a thick blanket of clouds—perfect weather for the longest hike we’d taken since moving to South Korea. The hike would take a few hours, 1,192 meters, or 3,911 feet from the parking lot to the summit. Palgongsan Mountains, Donghwasa Temple, annual Lantern Festival, and Hiking Gatbawi, a Buddha who grants prayers for those who make the 3+ hike to the summit.

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temple-and-side-view-of-mountain Hiking Gatbawi on Palgonsan Mountain
Stop at the various temples as you hike to Gatbawi. You will pass Wonhyosa Temple, Cheonseongsa Temple, and Bulguksa Temple, each one slightly different and worth stopping to take a picture and a little breather from the climb.


Hiking Gatbawi on Palgonsan Mountain

Gatbawi or Stone Hat Buddha, which was carved during the Silla Dynasty, is 13ft tall and sits on top of Palgonsan Mountain just outside of Daegu, South Korea. The name Gatbawi refers to the flat rock (‘bawi’) on its head that looks like a traditional Korean hat called a gat. Legend has it that Gatbawi grants all sincere prayers. And every year at sunrise on New Year’s Day, people make the pilgrimage to the Buddha statue. Local hike to Gatbawi every year for good luck and the marvelous light in the mountains.

azaelas Hiking Gatbawi on Palgonsan Mountain
The park has numerous rocks and valleys and is carpeted with azaleas in the spring; Gatbawi isn’t the only reason to come to Palgonsan Park.

Lantern Festival at Donghwasa Temple

But you don’t have to wait for New Years’. It’s beautiful every day of the year. We used our newly purchased Korean GPS and our recollections from a bus trip to the lantern festival at Donghwasa Temple the week before.

This time we were prepared. We packed a backpack with snacks and water, and I had purchased a pair of high-speed hiking boots. They are more comfortable and provide better traction than my sneakers. Steven hasn’t been lucky enough to find a couple in his size yet.

Not knowing exactly where we were going, we just followed the crowds of people up the mountain. The gentle incline soon led into a steeper one about a kilometer up as we passed under the gate.

Follow Course 10: Seonbonsa Temple – Yaksaam – Gwanbong Peak (Gatbawi)

gatbawi Hiking Gatbawi on Palgonsan Mountain

3 Hours to the Summit

That’s when I discovered we hadn’t even started the trail yet, and I knew we were in for a climb. Then we saw them… the infamous rock stairs. And there are 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 uphill climb. We were resting on wooden covered resting areas when necessary. But even those were few and far between.

culture1-1 Hiking Gatbawi on Palgonsan Mountain
The climb to Gatbawi is open 24×7, so the lanterns are more than just pretty. They light the way after the sun goes down, so pilgrims can continue to make their earnest prayers to Gatbawi.

Rest and Restaurants

The steps are not equally spaced apart in width or height, and I had to work my abs to move forward. I quickly realized how out of shape I was. Several little old ladies passed me by left and right.

At one rest stop, I must have looked pretty bad because a sweet old lady offers me a sip from her cold thermos. Even though it was 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 Buddha on Palgonsan Mountain.

floral-temple Hiking Gatbawi on Palgonsan Mountain
In the fall, visitors come to the park to witness the autumn colors on the trees lining the 16.3km-long road in the park. There is a magical, blanketed snowscape in the winter. All of which makes Palgongsan Mountain is a lovely place to visit all year long.

There is a traditional “restaurant” near the peak. It serves a FREE soup and an entire meal for hikers. You can even share a meal with the temple monks. Now that’s not something that happens every day.

exercise Hiking Gatbawi on Palgonsan Mountain
You will never be alone. There are people, mostly men, who do the climb to Gatbawi every single day. Today, I was greeted by a little old lady who thanked me for our service and assistance to the country. Many of the older people know and appreciate us being here. They remember the chaos and poverty before the Korean War. They know that American soldiers (along with 16 other nations) have a lot to do with their continued freedom during this somewhat silent war with North Korea.

The Rewards of the Climb to Gatbawi

However, the view at the top rewards the conquerer. It’s a breathtaking view of the Gatbawi Buddha and the valley floor below. You can grab a straw mat and join the prayer. Crowds of Buddhists worshippers stand and bow as calming chat echoes overhead and filters across the mountaintops. It is relaxing no matter what religion you do or doesn’t practice. You can’t deny that the mountains exude a calming effect to the spirit and the soul.

prayer Hiking Gatbawi on Palgonsan Mountain
There is a particular way to pray; I don’t even want to pretend I understand fully. But you sit with your knees under you and palms facing upward, bow, stand and repeat three times.

Gatbawi-coins-1 Hiking Gatbawi on Palgonsan Mountain

Getting Your Wish Granted

If you leave a coin in the rock, it is said that your wish will be granted. Gatbawi grants at least one wish daily, so there’s a good chance if your desire is honest that it could be yours.

mountain-views Hiking Gatbawi on Palgonsan Mountain

We wandered around the summit a little while taking it all in. We bought a couple of bottles of water and starting the trek downwards. If you have a water bottle, you can fill it at several stations for free. This time the stairs worked in our favor.  And I can enjoy the untamed nature that surrounds us. This hike was a challenge for me. But it should have been, and I may try to do it again when I feel like I am in better shape.

Gatbawi is less than an hour away from Daegu. 229, Gatbawi-to, Dong-gu, Daegu. Travel Hotline: +82-53-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese).

Hiking-Gatbawi-519x778 Hiking Gatbawi on Palgonsan Mountain

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50 thoughts on “Hiking Gatbawi on Palgonsan Mountain

  1. What a wonderful article, I had never heard of Gatbawi. I have always wanted to visit Korea. Thank you for sharing your experience in such detail.

    1. Thank you for reading duffelbagspouse travels. Thank you for taking the time to read. The view at 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 pilgrimagers as a calming chat echoes overhead and filters across the mountaintops. No matter what religion you practice or don’t practice, you can’t deny that the mountains exude a calming affect to the spirit and the soul.

  2. I didn’t hike any mountains the last time I was in South Korea. I only managed to explore the more mainstream attractions in Busan and Seoul. Hiking should be on my list if I get the opportunity to visit the beautiful country again. And thanks to this blog post, I’ll know which mountains I should start with.

    1. Yeah I understand. Its hard to visit and go hiking because its so time consuming and there are so many things to see and do. Hopefully you’ll have more time the next time you visit or find a great hike closer to home.

  3. Oh i always wanted to go in Korea. My mom is in korea for 3 years because of work so i really wanted to visit there to see her and to visit these wonderful place.

  4. wow! such beautiful photos! but those steps oh my goodness, well done for tackling the uneven steps. I bet the view was rewarding enough! Thanks for sharing

    1. Hi Kiyshia yup to everything you said. Lol. Climbing steps that are as high as your knees sometimes is no joke. Which is funny because Koreans on average are pretty short so it couldn’t have been on purpose.

  5. This looks like a beautiful and tranquil place to visit. I’ve always wanted to go to South Korea and hoping to visit someday. It sounds like you had lots of fun hiking there.

    1. There are so many beautiful trails here in Korea, its a huge past time that they enjoy their entire lives and its addictive because the rewards are wonderful.

    1. It is. I enjoy hiking all the mountains surrounding the city of Daegu. There are so many hikes, I couldn’t finish them in the 2 years I will be here.

  6. I am not a hiker but those views look like quite the reward after so much physical effort. It still looks like a place I would love to see though.

    1. There is a non hiking route to the top thats more like a stroll for people who can’t or don’t want to do the hike. The view is exactly the same either way you reach the summit.

    1. Thank you Terri, I appreciate your support. Gatbawi is just one of the beautiful hikes here in South Korea, but its one of my favorites.

  7. That looks like a very peaceful place to visit. I love your photos, thank you for sharing them. One day, I will get there 🙂

    1. Hi Jenny, thank you. I hope you do make to to South Korea one day. Its very inexpensive with tons of great things to see and do.

    1. There are so many beautiful trails here in Korea and the Koreans start walking them almost from birth. It’s nothing to get passed up by an old man or old woman on the hiking trails. I complain a lot, but I actually prefer it to being in the stuffy air of the gym as long as its not too cold or wet.

    1. Hiking is really popular in South Korea and although I complain while I do it, I honestly really enjoy it. I like a challenge, I like to push myself a little and enjoy nature at the same time. Daegu is surrounded by mountains and is the only way to see some of the popular temples and historic monuments. Daegu has some of the best hiking in South Korea and we’ve done three of the popular hikes since moving to Daegu.

    1. However the view at the top totally reward 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 a calming chat echoes overhead and filters 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 affect to the spirit… I always feel refreshed.

    1. It was a gorgeous hike. I also loved the legend that 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 theres 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 a challenge for me. But it should have been and I may try to do it again when I feel like I am in better shape.

    1. You are so right Carol. It is truly an awe inspiring location. The chanting echoes in the valley between the mountain ranges. You sit above the clouds sometimes and it feels other-worldly and so tranquil. I’ve made the hike a few times and its special every single time I do.

    1. I bet you have a ton of interesting things in your backyard. We tend to overlook things right in our faces every day. But you are right, its wonderful to live outside our comfort zones and experience cultures in situ.

    1. Thank you. We have been fortunate to explore so much of the world together and serve our country at the same time. The view at the summit of Palgonsan under the watchful eyes of Gatbawi totally rewards the conquerer with a breathtaking view of the valley floor below. You can grab a straw mat and join in with the throng of Buddhists worshippers and pilgrimagers as a calming chat echoes overhead and filters across the mountaintops. No matter what religion you practice or don’t practice, you can’t deny that the mountains exude a calming affect to the spirit and the soul.

    1. No matter what time you go, you will never be alone. There are people, mostly men, who make the climb to Gatbawi every single day. as do the people who work there. It is quite the climb and the locals have no problem making it day after day.

    1. Thank you, serving is an honor we’ve enjoyed for more than 20 years. When we learned we were traveling to Daegu I searched for information about military life, apartment hunting and what to expect in South Korea but found very little. I hope my blog helps ease the transition anxiety of military spouses and civilians who find themselves moving or traveling to Daegu, South Korea or any of the beautiful countries in Asia.

    1. Not knowing exactly where we were going, we just followed the throngs of people up the mountain. The gentle incline soon led into a steeper one about a kilometer up as we passed under the gate and knew we were in for an adventures

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