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Bear Gulch Reservoir Hidden behind Mountain at Pinnacles National Park California from the High Peaks Trail

Pinnacles National Park California

~K~

We’ve visited Pinnacles National Park previously about two years ago, but this time around we decided to take a slightly different route through Bear Gulch cave and then up to the High Peaks pass. Pinnacles is just under a two hours drive south of San Jose and makes for a great day trip, and we’d been itching to go since we arrived back in California.

Rock formation at Trailhead

The park itself offers more than 16,000 acres of dramatic spines of rock and and fallen boulders. And this time of year is a great time to visit because the weather compliments the location pretty well. In the summer it can get hot and the sun brutal. But spring is great because the recent rains have turned the landscape green and vibrant with wildflowers and the temperature allows for a comfortable climb.

Creek In Pinnacles National Park

We arrived at a seemingly inopportune time; as this is the best time of year to visit, the park can get crowded pretty quick, and with us arriving at noon we had to wait about fifteen minutes before we could get parking, but that was about our only set back.

We parked near the trailhead for Bear Gulch and began making our way towards our first destination – Bear Gulch caves. The path gently rose, through the well shaded riparian forest and rising monoliths of stone.

Rock Formation near trail head
Path to Bear Gulch

We could see numerous rock climbers taking advantage of the excellent climbing conditions here as we approached the cave. Just before entering the cave, we could feel a strong cool breeze blowing out from the entrance. The breeze was refreshing, but quite decidedly chilly.

Rock Climbers near Bear Gulch at Pinnacles National Park
Tunnel on the way to Bear Gulch Cave
Passage on the way to Bear Gulch Cave
Entering Bear Gulch

The caves themselves are Talus caves, formed from rock falls in valleys and canyons, where the falling boulders would become wedged in the narrow spaces and form the roof and interior layout of the caves.

Talus Rock Roof Inside Bear Gulch Cave

Bear Gulch cave was a little bit larger than Balconies Cave (which we had previously visited) and was a little more challenging to get through as well. We enjoyed the challenge though. The primary obstacle was the water, as a small stream flowed through the cave and many times the stream crossed the path or even was the path.

flooded path in Bear Gulch Cave
Part of the path inside Bear Gulch is the River itself

Numerous waterfalls were inside the cave as we proceeded through the roughly half mile cave, and we steadily climbed up the rocks. The passages were quite narrow and ceilings low, so scrambling on rocks and wedging into tight spaces was a must. The most difficult part (for me at least) was getting through a small passage that could only have been maybe 3 feet high at the max and shimmying up a stepped waterfall.

Waterfall inside Bear Gulch Cave
Pool inside Bear Gulch Cave
Light from above in Bear Gulch Cave

After about thirty minutes we emerged from the cave, miraculously completely dry, although I suffered a few bumps on the head from the low ceilings. The caves are home to Townsend’s big-eared bats, and are closed throughout the year to allow them to raise pups in peace. Due to the narrow nature of the caves, they can also close due to rain.

Exiting Bear Gulch Cave

Upon exiting the cave, we came to Bear Gulch reservoir. The reservoir is a nice lake, home to the endangered red-legged frog. While we could have stayed here for a while, as others were, we knew that we still had a long hike to go and only so much daylight, so we proceeded on up the path towards High Peaks.

Bear Gulch Reservoir

The rocky trail winds its up way steadily up for several miles, passing through meadow, sparse woods, and ridge line. The floor falls away pretty quickly as you climb and you can begin to see the surrounding landscape.

Rising Above Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park was originally established in 1908 by President Roosevelt as a National Monument and later converted into a national park in 2013 by President Obama. Pinnacles sits squarely atop the San Andreas fault, and as such the park and surrounding areas have been dramatically shaped by the seismic activities. The dramatic formations of the park are part of what remains of the Neenach Volcano, which erupted 23 million years ago, down near Lancaster. The fault has since moved the roughly half the rock 195 miles north to it’s present day location in the Salinas Valley.

Rock Stack on way to High Peaks

After an hour or so, we began to near the High Peaks area. The spires of stone stand with a dramatic hue of orange and red against the green hills. Within another thirty minutes or so, we finally made it to the “top”.

Approaching the High Peaks
Climbing towards High Peaks

This isn’t really the top of the mountain, rather it’s a convergence of several trails at a scenic overlook. Here, you can often see falcons and other birds going about their business. We had stopped here our previous time for lunch, but had to run down the canyon due to an abrupt lightning and hail storm. This time however, the skies were completely clear.

From this point, where you’ll also find a restroom if you should need it, you can proceed multiple ways. Our direction was through the High Peaks trail, which follows the ridge line of the mountain.

The hike through here is a lot of quick up and down, climbing very steep and narrow stairs. There are also several tight walkways to maneuver. Luckily, the park has installed railings to assist you through here.

More Stairs at Pinnacles National Park
Steep stairs at High Peaks Pass

You can also find tons of multi-colored lichen and slime molds on the rocks throughout the park.

Lichen at Pinnacles National Park

As we were finishing our way through the High Peaks area, we came a stunning view of the resident Californian Condor. Brought back from the brink of extinction, all the birds present are descended from the original 27 birds that were left on earth. The breeding program has been a huge success and brought their numbers up now to 435. Pinnacles serves as a release site for the Condors and if you look closely, you can even see the tag numbers and find out who they are.

Narrow Paths in the High Peaks Paths
California Condor

Most of the Condors were a little too far away from us to get a real good look at, but there was one in a tree near the trail that decided to pose well for us. The tag reads 00. This Condor was laid in the wild, and hatched (under care of researchers) in April 2015. You can find more information about the specific Condors here.

California Condor Landing on a Tree
California Condor No. 800 at Pinnacles National Park

After spending probably twenty minutes watching the Condors (if not more), we steadily made our way towards the Condor Gulch trail. By this time, the sun was starting to get low, being that it was already nearly 6, so we knew we needed to pick up the pace to get down the mountain and make it back to the car before sun down.

Along this route, we encountered the numerous wildflowers present along the trail. There are also numerous bees in the area, due to the flowers. In fact, Pinnacles hosts the highest density of bee species in the world with 400 different species. Most of them are solitary bees though, not hive-dwelling, so you don’t need to worry about being stung.

wild flowers at pinnacles national park
wild flowers at Pinnacles National Park
Wild flowers at Pinnacles National Park
I call them Bee Bonnets

Condor gulch made for a nice walk down as the sun set and the temperature began to drop. The flowers, fresh air, and gurgling streams made for a nice end to a pretty strenuous walk. We were pretty happy for the route we chose as well, because I don’t think we would have been quite as up for traversing the caves at this late a point in the day.

Finally we got to the car, as the Condor Gulch trail put us out right at the parking lot that we had left roughly 6 hours previously. Tired, but happy, we started our long drive back to San Jose.

If you plan on visiting Pinnacles, you should keep in mind that there are two entrances to the park. SR 146 approaches from both the east and west, but it is not a through road, and takes about two hours to get drive from one entrance to the other, so make sure you enter where you want to. We entered from the eastern side, which is just a little south of Hollister; whereas the western entrance is just east of Salinas.

west parking lot viewed from High Peaks trail at Pinnacles National Park

Both entrances are good locations with full access to the park, though the western entrance will put you closer to Balconies cave, while the east entrance puts you nearer Bear Gulch cave. As well, you make sure you bring enough water, especially in the summer. If on a relatively cool day in spring such as our visit, we went through six bottles of water and could (should) have drunk more.

Regardless, Pinnacles National Park is an excellent spot to visit for hiking, camping, or even night hikes.

National Park Service Website

 

Sunset near Hollister California

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California USA Pinnacles National Park

View of Pinnacles National Park California

Hike in the South Bay

Santa Teresa County Park Hike

~B~

Yesterday we went on a short hike in Santa Teresa County Park. Santa Teresa is only about fifteen minutes away from our place making it an ideal spot to hike. In the winter it’s nice and green, and this year it is especially so with all the rain we’ve been getting. Kyle gets home from work pretty early and with the sun beginning to set later, we are able to go on short weekday hikes if we want. It helps a little with curbing our wanderlust and gives us some exercise and fresh air.

Here is short video just for fun.

The main reason I took/made a video this time was for some fun experimentation. I knew this would be a good place because we had already been there and it’s both a nice backdrop and not very crowded (I assumed this would especially be true during the week).

If you want to see more hikes in our area, check out our South Bay Hikes post (though it hasn’t been updated in over a year!- we’ll get on that soon) or see our North and Central America page for even more hiking posts from the bay area.

Hike in Java, Indonesia

That Time We Climbed the Wrong Mountain on Java

~B~

How do you climb the wrong mountain (or hill)? I will tell you. We only recently discovered just where we went! If you are curious because you’d like to do the same (not climb the wrong mountain, but do the same hike) we think we went right here. After a quick search, I managed to find one person who did the same hike as us and their photo had a link to these coordinates.

Kyle had really been set on the idea of climbing Mount Merapi while we were on Java, but unfortunately we found it to be unrealistic due to a mix of cost, time (which also factors into cost- as we had to allot working time), difficulty, and danger. Okay, only I was worried about difficulty and danger but I read a TripAdvisor review where someone said that their legs were jello for days after the hike and Mount Merapi is an active volcano! We had hoped that it was something we could do without a guide so we wouldn’t have to pay, but after listening to a few horror stories from our hosts about others who had given this a try, we decided it wasn’t a good idea. Still, we were really in the mood for doing some kind of hike.

Morning Before Menoreh Hill

After a little research, I decided Kendil Mountain/Kendil Rock would be a good place for us to go. The actual hike I was looking at did not seem too difficult and I even had a second hike just past it (Suroloyo Peak) planned for afterwards if that one went well. Our hosts at the homestay recommended that we take a guide but we just wanted to do some independent exploring, and for us this takes away some of the fun because we no longer have freedom to go at our own pace, do little side explorations, etc. Plus, obviously, guides cost money and we already spent a lot of our activity budget on Borobudur. There also didn’t seem to be any specific major risks associated with doing these hikes solo like there was with Mt Merapi so we asked for directions, hopped on a motorbike, and off we went.

Getting Read to Ride Out

Well, the first problem was that Kyle could not hear me shouting directions at him from the back of the motorbike. He took a few wrong turns and we got a little lost. We got a bit off the path. We stopped to ask a couple random people we encountered for directions but it didn’t quite work out due to language barriers. The maps didn’t seem to completely match up with what we thought we were looking at and Kyle and I had different ideas about which direction we should go. Kyle is more stubborn than me and he was driving so I eventually conceded and allowed him to just take us wherever he seemed to feel like going. He took us on what he thought (though I wasn’t quite sure about it) was the right path but then we came to a closed road on this path. We asked the two men guarding the road for directions but their English was extremely limited.

Road To Menoreh Hill

Well, Kyle thought we must be in the right place and that we should just hike up from there! I said something along the lines of, “Are you serious?! This is nowhere near the mountain we are supposed to be climbing! Even if we could somehow find the way, which I highly doubt we could, it would take a very long time to hike all the way to Kendil from here and there is no way we could make it to Suryolo Peak!” And he said something like, “This’ll take us there.”

Fine. So we parked the bike near these men and began to head up straight but the men pointed us to the right. We asked them again and they seemed to be telling us this was the right direction (only I knew better). We thought about motorbiking up this road but it would have been very dangerous because it was ridiculously steep. That actually would have been terrifying. Even walking up I felt worried about falling backwards. As we began our ascension, I hesitated because Kyle would be mad at the implications of such an assumption, as he often is in when I ask something like this, but I asked anyway: “You have the key for the motorbike, right? You didn’t leave it in the bike.. right…?” Kyle: “Of course n- oh, whoops!”

Well Kyle went and grabbed the key which he left in the ignition and we began up this road. Slowly it became more and more interesting.


Road Up Towards Menoreh Hill

We saw butterflies fluttering all over. We examined large colorful beetles. We stopped to look at interesting plants and flowers.

Perhaps a big cat

We also came across a couple pretty big spiders (you can’t tell from the photo, but this spider was as big as our hands).

Huge Spider Hanging In The Trees

There were also some mosquitos. We had some lengthy discussions about our (mostly my) concerns about dengue, Zika, and malaria on the way up. We kind of felt like we were going exploring a jungle (we kind of were?) so it seemed warranted.

bamboo
Green Path Java

As we climbed higher, we found some pretty great views looking off the side of the mountain. It was also pretty hot. I believe it was somewhere around 100 degrees so we got a little sweaty!

Pretty Hike Yogya
Plaque Commemorating Borobodur Region

Through our climb we encountered a variety of paths- including road, stone, dirt, stairs, stone steps, mud, etc. We didn’t really know where we were going (reality: I didn’t think I knew where we were going and Kyle thought we were headed toward our original destination and I’m only mentioning this because I found it extremely frustrating during our hike that he maintained this idea) but we were on the right path to a peak for a while. Eventually, though, as we do, we got off the trail to the place-we-ended-up-going-but-to-which-we-didn’t-know-we-were-going-and-hadn’t-intended-to-go-as-we-didn’t-really-know-about-it (though once there, we thought we thought we knew about it because of the name but it wasn’t the same place we were thinking of anyway). Anyway, at some point we reached a more level area which appeared to be inhabited and weren’t really sure where to go.

Living Area
Small Village Near Menoreh Hill

We ended up going on this dirt path. We were kind of just exploring, but were also hoping the path would lead up to a peak. We took lots of turns and forks and took pictures on our phone and camera which we hoped would be helpful if we got lost.

We Went Down The Wrong Path

I also took lead navigation for a while because I feel a strength of mine is my hyperawareness of my surroundings which allows me to better watch out for looming spider webs in front of us and gaps in land on the ground. I was pretty convinced a giant spider was going to get us.

Continuing Down The Wrong Path
The path got extremely narrow at times but I don’t have any photos to show it well, though, probably because those places were not the best to go around taking photos! At times, I also said things like “Kyle, I don’t think this is a well-traveled path. I really don’t think this is even a hiking trail! I think animals made some of these paths!” Still, we were both pushing to go just a little further, taking different paths in hopes we’d eventually see that a path that was leading to a peak.

Yogy Quote 02Small stream

After it began to sprinkle, though, it was time to turn around as I was getting worried that we would slip on these narrow muddy paths. This entire way was devoid of people, aside from a person near a single path we found somewhere in the middle which led to someone’s home. We saw they had constructed pipes to their house that went along the mountain and found it pretty interesting.

We navigated our way back to the area from which we found this path and found a man. Either we asked him something or he just looked at us and pointed. I don’t really remember, but anyway, we then began our way up this cobbled road. We encountered a few friendly roosters and as we made our way we up, we saw a sign! A sign! It read: “Menoreh Hill.”

A sign-menoreh hillRooster in the mountains

That was a name I knew. It turns out, the whole thing is not as straightforward as you’d think, though. The map our hosts had provided with showed something called the Menoreh Hills (plural) but it appeared far on the map and I when I had looked into it online it also looked like it was an unrealistically far distance for us to go to which is why we had nixed the idea of going there. So this couldn’t be that, right? We could see our place from the top of the hill and weren’t far at all. I had also researched other hikes in the area and come across Menoreh Hill (singular), but everyone’s photos involved going and standing/sitting on this tall platform which you could reach via ladder (like this one, though this blog states Menoreh Hills plural, also). This advertised tour for a Menoreh Hill trek also does not resemble the trail we took. We definitely did not go to Kendill Rock or Suryolo Peak either. After some further research, expanding now to social media, I did find a couple other people (again, pretty sure locals) on Instagram who did get to this same place and they tagged their photos #menorehhills. (The other person I found through a quick google search- from which I got the coordinates in the intro, was from another site.) For this hashtag I found a variety of different views, a few which displayed photos from the path we took and some which clearly did not. My conclusion is that there are a bunch of Menoreh Hills. I mean Menoreh Hills is plural, but what then, is the Menoreh Hill or do they just call each of them Menoreh Hill? From our past hikes we are used to different peaks and hikes being given different names even if they are a part of the same mountain range which is part of what made it confusing for us. Also, when I try typing in Menoreh Hill or Menoreh Hills on Googlemaps, I’m not given anything.

Anyway, we continued up and came to this area which appeared to have a couple houses. This made us question if we were in the right place. We walked around and encountered a very sweet and friendly dog. It looked like it wanted to play with us.

Friendly Dog At Menoreh Hill Village
Kyle

We also saw a young boy and then we heard a family inside their house as we looked around. Soon we found another sign leading up.

House in the mountains
Village Near Menoreh HillSign To Menoreh Hill
Climbing Through Chili Pepper PlantationMuddy stairs

We climbed up some final muddy stairs and reached the top and I have to say, I ended up being quite happy with this alternative route we took.

Yogy Quote 01

The view was amazing. I think I may even have preferred to do this hike had I only known. Who knew our essentially random wanderings would lead up to this?

Overlooking Menoreh Hill
Overlook Picture

We took some time to just stay there and really enjoy our view. We were the only ones around and there was a little hut for us to sit in which I enjoyed until I saw a big spider weaving around the wood pole next to me. I also noticed one sitting on the backpack. How long was it there??

Shelter At Top Of Menoreh Hill

We pointed out various landmarks visible beneath the light fog and enjoyed some snacks. We had a nice view of Amanjiwo Resorts throughout most of our hike. At somewhere between $600 and $1600/night, the hotel was out of our price range (lol!) but it does look pretty impressive. It offers a number of suites, including one which offers you your own private pool and garden! There are some other nice hotels there, too, though, including one inside the Borobudur area (Manohara) where we had meals a couple times.

Overlooking Yogyakarta
Our AirBNB Is Down There Somewhere

We rested our legs while watching as the dark clouds rolled closer.

Looking At Borobodur
Clouds rolling inGetting Dirty

I said to Kyle (or something like this), “We need to get going or we are going to be slipping and sliding down those stairs until we are both a muddy mess!” He agreed and we took just a couple more minutes to enjoy our view before heading down.

Muddy path

It began sprinkling just as we finished our way down the muddy stairs and it rained on and off on our way back. It did make us more cautious on the way down as a whole, though but it was also quite lovely!

Bright Orange Flowers
Briana Overlooking Menoreh HIll

Kyle also picked up a couple more snacks for himself on the way back. (I did not partake.)

Roadside Chili PeppersI Ate The Chili Pepper

We saw very few people through the entire hike, and didn’t see any other hikers. Aside from the man who pointed us in the right direction and the boy with the dog, we saw some people working on a building to the right of the trail at the very beginning of our journey and then a woman hauling up groceries. On our way down we saw a woman and her child.

Once we made our way back to the motorbike we hopped back on, headed back, and then we each took a shower! Later we realized we were able to see the peak and platform from our place. While it started out a bit rocky, this turned out to be one of our favorite hikes we’ve done!

Kadisha Grotto, Lebanon

Qadisha Grotto

~B~

The taxi driver who found us on our walk to the Cedars of God offered to take us to our next destination: Qadisha Grotto.

Kadisha Grotto Switchbacks

Due to construction, our driver was not able to get very far so we decided to walk down the mountain ourselves (it’s not terribly far and this was my preference anyway).

Briana Overlooking Bcharre

While it was hot, it was downhill and the we had a constant view down into Qadisha Valley.

Picture Comparison Kadisha Valley
Kyle and Briana On The Way To Kadisha
Kadisha Grotto Thistle

After a little bit we rounded a corner and saw signs pointing in the direction of the caves.

Hotel By Kadisha Grotto Path Entrance

We followed them and found ourselves walking cliffside among lots of yellow flowers.

Kadisha Path Overlook
Kadisha Grotto Cliff PathMore Kadisha Grotto Flowers
Kadisha Grotto Flowers

When we reached a gate going into a cave, we thought we had made it, but not quite. The entrance to this area was filled with noisy flies so we ran through. We exited, walked further, and found another little cave to walk through. Then, we walked through a more man-made tunnel.

Entrance To Tunnel Towards Kadisha
Kadisha Grotto
Kadisha Tunnel
Briana On The Way To Kadisha Grotto

Eventually, we came to what appeared to be the Qadisha Grotto. The water here serves many of the nearby villages and also produces electricity for Tripoli City. It looked like there was a small restaurant just outside of the caves, but we couldn’t tell if it was operating. A man asked us for our tickets. We didn’t have any so we bought them. He told us they cost 10,000LBP/person even though we read that they cost 5,000 online. His English wasn’t good, and I wasn’t positive if that was what I had read so we didn’t feel like trying to negotiate. We also didn’t want to turn around at that point so we decided to pay the 20,000LBP ($13.20). He asked us if we had a light (we forgot one, but Kyle had a flashlight app on his phone) because the electricity (to the lamps/lights which guide/show you) sometimes would go out.

Kadisha Grotto Waterfall
Flowing Water
Water Treatment Kadisha Grotto

I have always liked caves: the smell, the chill (sweet relief in summer), the dampness. One of my favorite park attractions: Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney has it down and it always made me want to live in a cave.

Inside Cave
Briana Inside Kadisha Grotto
Inside Cave
Kyle Inside Kadisha Grotto
Kadisha Grotto StalagtiteKyle Inside Kadisha Grotto

We made our way through and were able to explore it pretty much by ourselves. I believe we passed one other couple who was exiting as we were making our way inward, but that was it.

Stairs in cave
Kyle in the Cave
Kadisha Grotto
Red Room Kadisha Grotto

We admired the limestone formations in the cave and took our time. I think it was all a bit more dazzling (and sparkly!) in person. While we enjoyed our tour at the Natural Bridge Caverns in Texas, it was also nice to explore independently and at our own pace.

More Rock Formations Kadisha Grotto
Rock Formations Kadisha Grotto
Kadisha Cave Walk
Walking in Cave

We had a nice (long) walk down, as well.

Mountain on the way down

We had read that the Jeita Grotto outside of Beirut is far more grand but unfortunately we were not in Lebanon long enough to venture there as well.

Info:
Hours: The caves are closed from mid-December to mid-May. The rest of the time it’s open from 9:30am until sunset (though I’ve read the hours can be a little irregular).
Cost: It’s supposed to be 5,000 LBP/person (but they may try to charge you more). It’s also supposed to be cheaper for children.
How to get there: Follow signs to L’Aiglon Hotel (or look up its location on GoogleMaps and find it) and you will see signs directing you to the grotto from there (about 1.5km away).

 

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If you enjoyed this post, check out these posts we picked out for you!

Lan Ha And Ha Long Bay Vietnam

Ansan Trail Seoul South Korea

Pottery Village Yogyakarta

Cat Ba Island Vietnam

~K~

Our trip through Vietnam had been quite tiring and overwhelming. The cities are huge, bustling, and crowded. The air is smoggy and hard to breathe. We were getting quite ready to cut our stay within Vietnam short of our 3 month Visa, but we still had a few things we wanted to check out. Ha Long Bay was on our to-do list, so we decided that we would do that, then figure out what we wanted to do after that.

CatBaIsland_Kyle

Upon a little research, Briana found a much better way to experience Ha Long. Typically, most people will shuttle onto a junk for 2 or 3 days and explore the bay this way while paying upwards of $150 per person. What Briana managed to find, was Cat Ba Island. Cat Ba is the largest island in Ha Long Bay, residing in the southwestern edge of the bay, and has several small towns on the island. Upon checking it out, we realized that we could spend over a week on the island and still take a boat trip out from the island – for a cheaper price than the standard Ha Long excursion.

CatBaIsland_Hidden Views

With a little work, we managed to figure out the journey to the island. It required several buses, and a ferry to get there, as no planes service the island.

Upon arriving to the island, you immediately feel like you’re visiting Jurassic Park. Tall limestone karst cliffs rise from the sea, and dense, lush jungle clings to every surface. Swifts zip across the sky. We came in the off-season, at the end of February, and it was quite chilly upon arrival with a mist obscuring parts of the island – adding to the mystique.

CatBaIsland_Emerging from the Jungle
CatBaIsland_Roadside Orchard

The island has a few main settlements: Cat Ba Town, on the southern tip of the island; Viet Hai Village on the eastern tip of the island, accessible by boat; and the floating village, off the eastern coast of the island. Along the few roads that cross the island, you can find small homesteads and communities. Some of the larger valleys have rice paddies and small farms.

CatBaIsland_Cat Ba Town Bay
CatBaIsland_Rural Life
CatBaIsland_Small Garden

But all in all, the island remains a forgotten paradise. Although there is some tourism, the crowds haven’t really hit Cat Ba yet – but we recommend checking out the island soon, it’s bound to be found out sooner or later. Coming in the off-season, there were very few people here, and it wasn’t exactly beach weather. The water is pretty cool, and it’s overcast a lot, but it’s actually really good for exploring the island. During the summer, it can get sweltering and hiking could be miserable. As well, the waters in the bay can get very rough during the summer, while the off-season has very calm waters making for a more enjoyable tour of the bay.

CatBaIsland_Jungle Trail

A majority of Cat Ba Island remains undeveloped jungle and wilderness. It’s really not surprising either. Once you start to explore the island, you realize just how easy it is for the island to remain remote – steep, jagged, limestone karst mountains raise from floor throughout. It’s truly a scene that will send you back a few million years.

Most of the island in fact, is a part of Cat Ba National Park, with some communities living within the park itself. Established in 1986, the park covers 263 square kilometers, with 173 being land, and 90 of inshore water. The park is a special-use forest, as one of the world’s biosphere reserves. The park is home to 282 species of animal, comprising of 32 mammals, 78 birds, 20 reptiles, and 11 amphibians. The most famous of these is the Golden Langur, which is highly endangered with only about 60 individuals left in the world. The likelihood of running across one of these though is highly unlikely. The park is made up of three zones: a visitor zone, a research zone, and an off-limits zone. Most people visiting will only be able to go through the visitor zones, which encompass the hiking trails, zoo, and various other locations throughout such as the frog pond or the jungle village. The research zone can be accessed by rangers, researchers and some students, and it is here that park officials conduct preservation experiments and probe the jungle for more information. The off-limits zone, which is located in the north-east of the island, and very difficult to attempt to reach, is off-limits to everyone and only accessed by officials and researchers in a strictly observational setting. These protocols are established to help ensure the integrity of the forest and the park. Entering the park will cost 40,000 Dong per person, and parking (if you drove) will cost an additional 5,000. You can hire a guide as well for some excursions (recommended for some) but it is not necessary.

There is plenty to do within Cat Ba National Park and you could easily make a week of it if you so desired. Some of the most notable items you can participate in are: Specimen House, the zoo, Trung Trang Cave, Butterfly Valley, Frog Pond, Cang Viet Hai Trail, Hospital Cave, Waterfall Sunset Trail, and Lookout Tower Trail. While we did not do most of these, I can give a little explanation to them.

Specimen House: Almost immediately upon entering the park from it’s headquarters, there is a large two storied building to your left. Within the house are restrooms for you to use as well as several rooms displaying preserved or stuffed animals endemic to Vietnam. The specimen house seems to have seen better days, it is a bit in disrepair, and there are no signs in English. However, it is still worth a look for some interesting views.

The Zoo: There is a zoo at the end of a 30 minute trail. We began our way down it at one point, but as the day was getting on, we decided to turn back. Near the entrance to the trail however is a cage for rehabilitating monkeys as well as a large field for deer.

Trung Trang Cave: This cave you will actually come across the entrance to on the main road before you make it to the park headquarters if you are coming from Cat Ba town. However, the gates are locked and you will need to check with a ranger at the gate to get them to open it for you. Sometimes the cave is flooded or may need to be closed for various reasons. It’s recommended that you bring a flashlight as well.

Butterfly Valley Trail: This trail leads to superb rock climbing on the island. Prices vary, but you can rent the equipment from park officials at the cliffs and they will assist you in climbing the difficult faces. We did not do this, but overheard at dinner from someone that did that the gear is in top shape, and they know what they are doing. The trail is a 3 hour hike from the park headquarters. You can ride a bike down the trail as well, but as of this moment in time, construction is taking place on the road where you would normally access it via this route, thus it is not really possible to go this route. It is recommended to just organize a tour if you want to do this.

Frog Pond: Normally this pond is accessed via the Cang Viet Hai Trail, but for those who do not wish to partake in such a strenuous hike, there is an access road that looks like it can be mostly ridden by motorbike. The road is just beyond the headquarters on your right.

Cang Viet Hai Trail: This is the shining jewel of the hikes available on Cat Ba, but it is very difficult. It is 18km and climbs up and down the mountains multiple times. It is recommended that you take a guide, but it is possible to go it alone. With a guide, you begin at 8am and hike up to Frog Pond and enjoy the many frogs there. You will then continue on until you reach a native village deep within the jungle. Here you break and eat lunch. If you are going alone, you may rent a bed for the night at their bungalow (a mattress on a wooden deck with a mosquito net). After lunch you will proceed on until you reach the ocean on eastern tip of the island. There is a small town here, accessed on via boat. The guide will arrange for a boat back to Cat Ba town from there. If you go alone, it is difficult to get a boat back and if you do they are likely to over charge you, so you’ll most likely be hiking the whole way back to the park headquarters.

Hospital Cave: I’ve already covered Hospital Cave in another post, but you can access the cave via a hiking route from the park headquarters. The hike takes around a half day to get there and back at a length of 4 km. Or you can take our route and just stop off on the side of the road.

Waterfall Sunset Trail: This trail can be accessed  from the park headquarters and makes a steep 40 min climb up and down each. The trail is one of the shorter ones you can take, but will apparently give you a great view of some select waterfalls.

Lookout Tower Trail: This is the trail that we took, and we highly recommend it. For a more detailed look at this trail just go to the link here. This trail is very steep, and moderately difficult trail. You should allot yourself about 3 – 4 hours for this to thoroughly enjoy it. The trail winds its way through the jungle from the headquarters and culminates at the peak providing spectacular views of the park from a lookout tower. Be warned, this trail is hard on the knees and is not for those who aren’t fit.

CatBaIsland_View From the Top

Overlooking Cat Ba Town you can visit Cannon Fort – a Japanese installation from WWII as well as a monument dedicated to Ho Chi Minh. Cat Ba Town waterfront offers a nice selection of hotels and hostels to choose from, as well as many affordable restaurants and cafes. We frequented the Buddha Belly everyday – a wonderful Vegan restaurant. From the town you can also book excursions on the island or out in the bay. We booked ourselves a day trip of Ha Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and kayaking from Cat Ba Ventures.

The best way to really see the island though is to rent a motorbike for the day and go exploring. The roads are practically deserted, and in good shape. With a tank of gas, you can easily traverse the entire island all day and explore the mountains and valleys in the most fun way possible. Don’t bother with a Xe Om, just get on and ride – and if you’ve never ridden, there’s no better place to learn.

CatBaIsland_Briana Biking
CatBaIsland_Tall Grass Road
CatBaIsland_Look Back
CatBaIsland_Deep Jungle

Cat Ba Island means – Sandy Woman Island. According to legend, three women washed ashore upon the island having drowned. The islanders were saddened and built a temple to commemorate each one. Over time, the island came to be known as the sandy woman island – Cat Ba Island. There are three beaches on the island, aptly named Cat Co 1, Cat Co 2, and Cat Co 3. All the beaches are located on the southern tip near the town. The beaches have been dominated a bit by the only resort style hotels on the island, but they are still public access. If you want an even more secluded stay, you can make the jaunt over to Monkey Island. It’s just a ferry ride away, if you’ve made it as far as Cat Ba, it shouldn’t be a problem to figure out how to make it there.

CatBaIsland_Cat Co 1
CatBaIsland_Resort

We enjoyed Cat Ba immensely. It has probably been the highlight of our time in Vietnam. It was here that we got our taste of rural and secluded Vietnam. We got to traverse jungle, and see life outside the city. It was mostly quiet, and the air was fresh. People also seemed generally happier here than they did in the city – the dogs certainly were, they loved running up and down the streets. We liked it so much here, that we almost immediately extended our stay on the island by several days.

CatBaIsland_North Bay Road
CatBaIsland_Main Street

The island truly is beautiful, and we can’t recommend it enough. There is so much to do here, and it’s a much more relaxed Vietnam than you’ll find in Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi.

CatBaIsland_West Dock Road

Cat Ba Island Cannon Fort

~ K ~

With our gas tank nearly on empty and the sun beginning it’s descent into the ocean, we made our way back into Cat Ba town from Hospital Cave. But we had one last destination before returning to our room: Cannon Fort. We knew that atop the mountain overlooking the town lay a fort and some spectacular views of the island, so we knew we had to check it out.

CatBa_Cannon_Approach Overlook

We made our way down the waterfront street of town, and turned up the hill opposite the pier. As the road began to curve to the left a turn opened up the right and we took it. Almost immediately, there was a big sign saying “Cannon Fort” and a steep road going up. If you are inclined to do so, you can make the hike up to the fort from town in about 30 minutes. But we had a bike, so we gunned the throttle and headed up the mountain. The road made it’s way through the winding paths and eventually put us at the very top, which was an old helicopter pad – now converted to a makeshift parking lot, van drop-off, and (oddly) older women’s aerobics exercise spot.

CatBa_Cannon_Heli Pad

Map

We took a few minutes to marvel at some of the views this spot had to offer then proceeded on to what appeared to be the beginning. We passed a large howitzer installation set inside a deep pit, and a shell display and came to the East Observation Post. Here we paid our 40,000 Dong admittance each (~$4 combined) and began our tour of the facility.

CatBa_Cannon_Selfie

CatBa_Cannon_Artillary 2

CatBa_Cannon_Ammo Display

We started by looking through a set of binoculars, which gave us a great detailed view of a few islands of Lan Ha Bay and the floating village off to the east of Cat Ba. Monkey island was also well within view and we gave it a good look (no monkeys to be seen sadly). We descended past the cafe that resides at the top, and made our way down a path that ultimately disappeared a few hundred feet in. We turned around and made our way up, at which point a bunch of children came running up to us and gave us high-fives and took our pictures. They didn’t seem to really speak any English (many of the children here speak pretty good English) but they sure seemed enthusiastic.

CatBa_Cannon_East Observation Post Overlook

CatBa_Cannon_Floating Village

We finally found our way through to the rest of the “museum” and began to truly explore the cannon fort. The entire top of the mountain holds the remains of the military installation originally built by the Japanese in WWII. Narrow trenches meander through the hills taking you from one point to the next. The French and Vietnamese also used the fort for their purposes during the many subsequent wars.

CatBa_Cannon_Trench Walk

CatBa_Cannon_Staircase

We explored a U-shaped tunnel, that served some sort of purpose (obviously) though we could not figure out what. We also came across a small museum displaying relics from wars past as well as local art that could be purchased.

CatBa_Cannon_Tunnel Entrance

CatBa_Cannon_Gallery

More wandering through the jungle paths brought us to a second gun installation, this one “manned” by life-size mannequins. Descending into the pit, we were then able to walk through some of the deep trenches and come to the munitions storage alcoves. It would certainly be easy to get lost among the maze of trenches here. But we found our way back to the gun and climb out of the pit.

CatBa_Cannon_Into The Grass

CatBa_Cannon_Artillary

CatBa_Cannon_Descending The Trench

Proceeding on down, we came to the West Observation Post. There were no binoculars here, but it wasn’t necessary. What we found instead were spectacular views of the small cove before Cat Ba Town, as well as the town itself. The sun was setting, and we could see the dozens of boats and floating restaurants sparkling on the bay. We stayed here for a bit before we began to make our way back towards the bike. We actually did not really know how to get back properly, but we found what looked like a path and climbed our way out, where we found ourselves a few hundred feet down the road from the helicopter pad. So we made our way to our bike and then proceeded to ride down the mountain road once again.

CatBa_Cannon_West Observation Post

CatBa_Bay_Sunset

With a full day behind us and the sun setting, it was a great end to the day.

CatBa_Cannon_Ho Chi Minh Monument Overlook

CatBa_Cannon_Jungle Overlook

 

Ngu Lam Peak- Cat Ba National Park

~K~

We started off our Cat Ba day by eating a meal at the Buddha Belly in Cat Ba town, in preparation for our hike to come. We then returned to our AirBNB, gathered our things, and rented a motorbike for the day from our host for 120,000 Dong (~$6) before making our way up the hill towards the town center, getting two liters of gas for 30,000 Dong (~$1.50) and continuing on the road. We followed the main road for about 20 minutes (we took a few stops for pictures along the way) and then came upon the park headquarters and main entrance to Cat Ba National Park. We parked our bike in the parking lot adjacent to the entrance and paid the entry fee of 40,000 Dong (~$2)  each and a parking fee of 5,000 Dong.

Normally, you can get a guide from the entrance, but this being the off-season, it didn’t seem like there was anyone there who would assist us – not that we wanted a guide, though. The person manning the entry gate told us, without prompting, that we would just keep going and there would be a sign that would point us to the trail.

Originally, we thought we would be hiking the Lookout Tower Trail which is a very popular trail as it provides great views, a decent hike, and at a reasonable length. The guy at the entrance also assumed that this is the trail we were wanting, luckily he was right. While we did hike this trail (we think), we did took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up climbing to Ngu Lam Peak instead of the Lookout Tower. This was no disappointment, though. 

Upon entering the park, we came almost immediately upon the Specimen House. We decided to go in and take a look – and use the bathroom.

Big White Building/House
In front of the museum area

The house was pretty interesting, though a little bit in disrepair. There are two floors of rooms, each containing preserved animals endemic to Vietnam. Each room had it’s own theme: birds, reptiles, mammals, insects, and fish. While very interesting, it was also a little bit creepy. I would have liked to know a bit more, but unfortunately nothing was in English. On the first floor is a giant relief map of the island that is worth a few minutes checking out.

Inside the white building
Jars of dead things
Butterflies

We exited the house and then proceeded on down the small paved road. We passed by small homes with front gardens.

Along the path
Drying laundry

A few people were working the plots, and an old lady was selling drinks to hikers. We also passed by many dogs just lazing around in the dirt.

Cat Ba National Park

We continued on the road for a bit, wondering where the trail was going to be, and finally came to the end of the road, and the start of the trail.

The road culminated at what appeared to be a restaurant / bungalow. It appeared to be empty, but during peak season, we imagine it could be full of hikers taking a break or sleeping through a long trek. You could get food or drinks here. We ultimately didn’t get anything until our return (mistake, we were thirsty the whole way and hadn’t brought any water).

We climbed a few steps and then proceeded off to the left of the Lookout Tower Loop Trail. Almost immediately you dive straight into the jungle, climbing over twisted roots and navigating dangling vines. We visited in very early March on a somewhat cooler day, but in the summer the humidity and heat of the forest could certainly be too much to handle for some. But for us, the climb just had us take off our jackets a short way in.

The hike up

Nearly the entire way was a pure climb up rough stone steps. There were barely, if any, flat parts. Luckily, the path was pretty clear and it isn’t difficult to get lost. But be prepared to take breaks as you climb so that you don’t exhaust yourself. Good shoes are also a must, especially if there has been a recent rain. The limestone rocks are very jagged and very sharp. It would be very easy to trip, or twist an ankle and fall. A fall on these rocks will almost certainly result in some nasty cuts and injuries. Luckily we had no problems along the way.

Hiking up

The climb up is pretty straight forward, although there are a few turns that veer off in directions that we weren’t sure about. But when in doubt climbing a mountain, you can’t really go wrong with “up”. So we continued to climb up. In places, the trail devolved into just a scramble of jagged rocks that required all hands and feet to navigate. About an hour or so into the climb we came to a spot that gave us a little bit of confusion – the trail seemed to veer off to the left and right, but both ways were up. We heard voices off to the left, so we chose left. This may have actually been the wrong direction, as we never actually made it to lookout tower, but instead we got to Ngo Lam Peak. At ~550 meters (~1705 feet), you get some great views.

In the tower
Looking outGreen beauty
First Area

Near the top, a few steep stone staircases presented themselves and allowed us to climb out of the tangled underbrush and break through the canopy to spectacular sights. At the top of stairs and rocks, there was an observation tower (not the lookout tower) that made for a wonderful panoramic view of the park. We sat here for a few minutes enjoying the views before we noticed that there was yet another peak just a little bit further up the trail.

Great View

With a little convincing, I managed to get Briana to accompany me to the top of that peak. Here we were presented with even more great views, situated about a hundred feet higher than the previous peak. We sat on the ridge and rested for a few minutes.

Ngu Lam Peak
Beautiful

I saw a cool little perch a ways over and took a (dangerous) climb over to it. I was very carefully climbing my way along the edge of cliff face, with roughly a 300 foot drop on my left before it began to slope out to the floor about a thousand feet down. Once at my perch though, I got a nice view, and a couple good shots. When I was ready, I carefully made my way back to the ridge and then we proceeded on down the trail.

Out on the ledge
Yikes!

Ultimately, we spent around an hour at peak, it’s really not too difficult to do so. But if you visit in the summer, be warned that the peak is completely exposed. So make sure to wear sunscreen and bring water. Also, pay attention to any storms that could pop up, as the peak is sure to be a magnet for lighting.

At the top

Our descent went rather quickly, but was just as difficult as the way up. Descending had to be done very carefully, and required a lot of assistance from trees, railing where available, and at times just turning backwards and literally climbing down.

At one point, there was a lot of rustling off tot he left, but we could never quite make out just what it was we were hearing. We thought we saw a bushy tail or two, but the forest creature(s) were elusive. We had thought about trying to go up the trails that we had passed on our way up, but our legs were pretty tired, and we were very thirsty, so we just went down instead.

Along our way back we passed several more dogs out relaxing in the sun, and later a dog interested in some monkeys (caged for rehabilitation) we passed by at one point. We heard some commotion as we went past this area and think one of the monkeys may have reached through the cage to provoke the dog.

Dog lazing

Finally we came back down and arrived at the little bungalow again. And here we bought ourselves a lemon green tea. It was very good, and just what we needed.

Stop for a drink

We did explore another area which did not involve any steep incline on the way back.

Cat Ba National Park

The climb was good, and it was a great journey through the jungle. It’s certainly not easy, and if you have knee problems you may want to avoid the hike – but if you can handle a little workout it’s certainly worth the trip.

Made it!

Seoul City Wall

~K~

Our last excursion out into Seoul we decided to make be a physical and historical one – hiking the Seoul City Wall. The wall was built back in 1396 at the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty to protect Seoul and the palaces within. The wall completely surrounded the city, with four main gates, one to the North, South, East, and West. A good portion of the wall remains standing today, but various parts of it no longer exist either due to disrepair, damage, or in the most unfortunate case, due to highways being built.

We decided to hike the Baegak Mountain trail. We began by taking the Metro on Line 1 up to Jongno-3(sam)ga Station and transferring to Line 3 and taking it up to Gyeongbokgung Station. From here we hopped onto the 1012 green bus and proceeded up to the Changuimun Gate. Changuimun gate is the area where Beagaksan Mountain and Inwangsan Mountain meet. Unfortunately, I did not hear the bus stop, and we went well past our stop. So we had to get off and get onto the 1022 green bus to make it back to our desired stop: Jahamungogae Ridge. You can then walk up to the visitor office and begin to sign in.

The Table
Forms for the gate

If you want to hike this section of the wall, the northern stretch between Changuimun Gate and Hyehwamun Gate, you will need to bring your passport or national ID. This is because the wall in this section is an active military zone, which was only opened up to the public back in in 2007. It is very much controlled by the military, and there are armed guards all over the place. Cameras will watch you the entire way, and are placed about every 50 feet. The guards in the towers holding assault rifles and eyeing you menacingly is a little disconcerting. This section of the wall is open only during select times as well (Mar. ~ Oct.: 09:00 – 16:00, Nov. ~ Feb. 10:00 – 15:00). And it will be closed on holidays and every Monday.

Changuimun Gate

All that aside though, the hike is pretty enjoyable (Briana disagrees a bit here, mainly because she was feeling a little sick at the time and the exercise was not making her happy). The sights are great, and there are many people hiking the trail along with you. The main thing is that you really can’t take pictures, except at designated points, for national security reasons.

Seoul Fortress
On the wall

View looking back in the beginning of the trail:

View from the Wall

Back in January 21st, 1968, a North Korean squadron managed to make it to the wall, and engaged in a firefight, where a tree was shot numerous times, now famously enshrined as the 1.21-tree.

Bullet TreeSign about the 1.21 tree

The beginning of the hike begins with a steep climb up Baegak mountain, 342 meters. Once you reach the top of the peak though, the majority of the rest of the wall is downhill or flat, with the occasional short uphill trek. To the right is Seoul and to the left you will find many smaller communities, that butt up right to the wall in many places.

Shortly after you pass the second Sukjeongmun Gate (North Gate) you will exit the military zone and return your pass.

Sukjeongmun Gate

There are also bathrooms here.

Bathroom

From here on, you can continue at a much more leisurely stroll and take pictures.

Seoul City Wall
Seoul Fortress Wall

We passed some picnic-ers at one point. They had quite the setup and Briana stared at their food a little too long when we stopped near them for a snack break so they offered us some but we declined.

Picnic-ers

We came to a certain part where the path seemed to split in two directions, one down a wooden boardwalk on the front face of the wall, and one down the back side. We chose the backside, and this was not the right choice. It took us steeply down the mountain side, and through a park. We were wondering where the wall had gone (we knew that we were supposed to veer off for a short bit, but not this far) and soon found that we had taken a wrong turn when we came up on a map. Luckily, we were able to walk up a winding road, uphill, and after a twenty minute detour we came back to the wall.

We saw a couple pretty birds along the way and also passed a sign for a very old university.

Korean BirdOld university

The wall continues its way downhill until it meets Bukchon Hanok Village where the wall literally becomes a part of the town. From here, you can walk along the city streets following the wall and see more of the local life through the Village. Oddly, many of the homes we noticed were lined with huge spiked fences, barbed wire, and embedded glass shard walls. We aren’t sure why, considering most of South Korea is pretty safe. We enjoy looking at the Korean buildings and decorations, especially on the doors.

Doors
Wandering in town

We continued on until we came to the end of our walk, the Hyehwamun Gate.

View from Seoul FortressHyehwamun Gate

If you look up inside of it:

If you look up

At this point, we were feeling pretty worn, so we hopped on the metro Hansung University Station which was just a few hundred feet from the gate, and proceeded home.

We only took a short stretch of the wall – the northern stretch. However, if you’re feeling up to it, you can hike the entirety of the wall, which comes out to about 27 km. It will take you all the way around the city, and to other notable landmarks as well. The N Seoul Tower is connected to the wall on the southern end as well.

We recommend that you take the route that we did though, because it begins with a short steep uphill climb, and then the rest of the way is gently slopping down hill. Otherwise, if you go the other way, you’ll have a long way of constant uphill, with a very short bit of steep downhill, and it will probably be easier on your legs the way we went.

Our trail

Ansan Trail and the Yonsei University Campus

~B~

Trip primary goals: Get a great view of Seoul from the top of Ansan Mountain, explore the Sinchon area and get something good to eat.
Verdict: Success
Trip other interests/sub-goals: Explore Yonsei University, see the Seodaemun Prison History Hall, check out the Yeongcheon Market, visit the Bongwonsa Temple complex, possibly go to the nearby jimjilbang, check out Sugyeongwon Tomb, get a scrumptious dessert food.
Verdict: I would have liked to explore the prison hall area more and see the tomb and we did not quite do all of the other sub-goals but we were happy with what we did do.

This article will focus on our trip up Ansan Trail and there will be separate articles for Bogonwonsa Temple and our Journey to Sinchon.

Our trip began like most, with a walk to the metro station. We took the train to Dongnimmun Station. Ansan Trail has many starting points and therefore we could’ve begun at a number of stations but this one made the most sense in regards to the rest of our plans. At our transfer at Jogno 3(sam)-ga (yes, quite a strange name) we grabbed a snack. We had shared some ramen for breakfast and I had had some cookies as well but Kyle was a little hungry and I thought the snacks looked interesting and tasty. We are not sure what they were called but they were warm, fresh-made little bread pieces with pictures of fish on them and lemon filling inside. We got 9 for KRW2000 (~$1.70) and thought they were really good.

Korean Fish DonutLemon Filling

Once we arrived at Dongnimmun Station, we headed over to the Yonsei University campus area.

Arriving to Yonsei

Coming into Seodaemun Independence Park, we first saw this memorial thing which I have since identified as the Patriotic Martyr Monument.

Patriotic Martyr Monument

Next, we looked to our right which to see Seodaemun Prison History Hall area.

Fall at Yonsei UniversitySeodaemun Prison Hall

We looked at the remaining buildings and some plaques with information, though we could not read all of it. It certainly looked interesting, though. Seodaemun  is a museum and former prison.

Seodaemun PrisonInteresting structure

We could not immediately figure out how to enter the area and wanted to get up the Ansan Summit before it got dark, so unfortunately we did not explore this as much as I would have liked.

Tree and Execution Building

After looking for just a little bit we tried to find a trail head.

Ansan Trail Map

Yonsei Campus was very pretty and signs of Fall were everywhere.

Tennis shoes and Autumn LeavesLoving Fall

We passed a park on the way to the trail. Exercise equipment is at many of the parks in Korea.

Exercise Equipment Outside

Eventually, we made it to stairs which led to Ansan Trail.

Stairs to Ansan Trail

The trail goes all around the mountain, but we wanted to reach the summit, not walk around the mountain so we were careful to consult the maps which were throughout the mountain, all with a “you are here” arrow. This was very helpful.

Map of Ansan Trail

It was also helpful in that the main boardwalk trail(s) going around the mountain were in red, while the dirt trails going off places were in white.

We made our way up in a little under an hour which was shorter than I expected. The climb definitely was not as difficult as the one at Bukhansan National Park, but still was pretty steep. The whole way up had great views and top was amazing.

View on the Way Up

Once we reached the top, we could see all of Seoul. A single picture cannot capture all the directions you can look towards from up there.

View of SeoulAnsan Summit

We stayed up there for a while, taking pictures and just enjoying the view (and taking a break) before deciding to head down.

Ansan MtnKyle at Ansan Summit

We wished we had explored the other area better because the climb took nowhere near as long as we had anticipated. We headed down a different way though because there was another area we wanted to explore: Bongwonsa Temple.

Bukhansan National Park: Dobongsan Mountain

~B~

This is one of the first things we did in Seoul. The hike is one we wanted to make sure we did while it was still Fall because the park is known for being beautiful at this time of year.

Fall Leaves

Bukhansan is a national park just north of Seoul. There are many trails and peaks to climb with several starting points. We chose to climb Dobongsan Mountain because it would mean we would not have to transfer on the Metro or take a bus. At this point so far we only taken the metro to Pyeongtaek (we are in Songtan) and did not want to get lost on the way to the park. The most popular (and the highest) peak is Baekundae and if we have time after doing the other activities we want to do, we may return and climb that one (or another.) We would also like to see the Bukhansanseong Fortress which is located in another area of the park.

Our Journey there: First we walked to the Songtan Station (~20 minutes). Around 6am we got on line 1 heading towards Seoul. Lucky for us we were able to sit. We thought it would take us straight there but even though this was not the case, it wasn’t too difficult. The train (for reasons unknown to us) just stopped at a station- I believe it stop was Kwangoon University at which point we got on another train on Line 1 and followed it to our exit: Dobongsan Station. I read that you can also get off at Dobong Station or Mangwolsa Station but saw more people recommend Dobongsan.

I had found directions online for getting from the station to the park but we could not figure out how to implement them. Later, when we did get close to the area, I realized the directions would have applied to what seemed to be an entirely different station- a while down the road and on the other side (maybe it was the train switch?- the subways are kind of confusing.) After exiting the station Kyle thought we should head beyond the buses towards the mountains at first. I voted against it- this is a popular mountain to climb and no one was heading this way. There are also supposed to be lots of places to eat and shops at the base, also not true of this way but we checked it out, anyway. Well after we walked a while and I convinced him this was wrong, we walked another direction which also turned out to be wrong.

Finally, we turned around and went another direction and found an area with food vendors (though most were not open yet.) This was the right direction. We saw some people in hiking gear heading down another road past this area and followed. They know how to market here. A good deal of the way to the park is filled with shops and street vendors selling all kinds of hiking gear ranging from clothes and shoes to backpack and sticks (there is also food and water.) The Koreans on the mountain all looked like they must have shopped in this area (heavily/obviously adorned in hiking gear.)

Korean Hikers

We continued heading up and eventually reached the entrance.

Bukhansan National Park

We decided to go the Jaunbong Peak Trail because we wanted to do a peak.

Signs in Bukhansan

At the very beginning, the trail was paved and we wondered if it might be that way the whole time (nope.) In the beginning we took a couple detours on little side trails and then would return to the main trail. It just felt like a good place to do yoga.

Yoga on DobongsanYoga in BukhansanCheonchuksa Temple

We saw Cheonchuksa Temple but did not go inside.

Cheonchuksa Temple

We eventually got to an area where there were two ways to go to the peak and we accidentally took the way which was longer and more difficult. Though there were areas with regular stairs, most of the way up was basically climbing rocks. Most people had hiking sticks and we could see why. Jaunbong Peak is 740m tall.

The hike up was quite the leg workout and very exhausting, but there was lots of nice scenery along the way to distract us.

Fall in KoreaFall at Bukhansan

We really got to see all the beautiful colors of Autumn

Autumn in KoreaFall Hike in Bukhansan

We took turns passing this person who was carrying a lot of tech gear. We are not sure what they were doing.

Untitled

As we were getting closer to the top we saw a kitten and then as we got closer came upon even more kittens with their mother. They appeared to be domestic cats (they were small) and came up to Kyle because he acted like he had food for them (he was filming them) but we did not have any food for them, unfortunately. We brought peanut butter sandwiches, chips, cookies, and a nut candy, most of which we had eaten, and none of which cats enjoy. We also could not just run down the mountain and grab something and bring it back. I think future travelers should bring some suitable snacks for the cats.

Cats on Dobongsan Mountain

Anyway, the peak was just a little bit farther past the cats and for the final part we had to use hand rails.

Jaunbong Peak

It was a great climb and the top had gorgeous views. We could see mountains, rocks, and even Seoul (though it was a bit hazy through the smog.) We sat up there for a while before heading down.
Jaunbong PeakView from Jaunbong Peak

People were pretty friendly the whole time. Many would try to speak to us in Korean but we didn’t really know what to do. We have translator apps but can only use them with wifi. We were supposed to have data here, but unfortunately that turned out to not be true. We just tried to communicate the best we could. One man spoke some english (I think he was trying to practice it with us) and gave us some gum.

Hanging in Bukhansan

Usually on a pure ascent-descent/peak hike like this, the way down takes somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 the time for us. In this case, the descent took just as long, if not longer. It was difficult climbing down the rocks covered in gravel and not slipping.

The Climb Down

We both slipped many times but were not injured. As we neared the end we were about out of water but passed an area where water was coming out of rocks with cups nearby. We were not sure if the water was safe to drink so we sat and waited for someone to do something with it. The first person came and filled up a cup and then poured it on his hands. We went up and did the same thing. The water was cool and refreshing. When we went to leave we saw a group of people come up to the area and some were filling up their water bottles with the water so Kyle did that too and drank it.

Water Fountain on Dobongsan Mtn

We then found our way back to the metro station and tried to make another stop which ended up being unsuccessful because we were too tired to find our destination off of the stop and so we proceeded back to the Songtan station. The metro was extremely crowded and we had to stand the rest of the way back until we were about two stops from Songtan. (We also make a transfer once because of the destination of the train.) Can’t wait for our next trip up!