Hiking Busan's Mountain Fortress: Geumjeongsanseong
Updated: Jul 16, 2020
It should come as no surprise that travelling the world with your family (kids 5 & 7), full time, is a big change from my old routine. This is why we do it. It is great to share these new experiences and see the world through the eyes of our children, but sometimes we all need a break.
When I heard that the largest fortress in South Korea (Geumjeongsanseong) was here in Busan, I knew I wanted to check it out. When I found out it is on top of a mountain and has 17km of partially eroded walls without much of a fortress to speak of, I knew the kids would not be super-impressed and we wouldn't be able to see that much of it together.
At the base of Geumjeong Mountain is beautiful Geumgang Park. Packed with Buddhist temples and shrines, a Busan Marine Natural History Museum and the Busan Folk Art Museum, this park could be a destination onto itself. It is also where you can catch the cable car up the mountain. There are trails up the mountain but I opted to spend my time hiking around the top and save my knees from the descent. For 8,000 won ($7 US) return, I thought it was reasonable and it provided great views of the city. There is a restaurant, snacks and vending machines at the top if you are hungry or thirsty.
On a weekday there were no line-ups at the cable car but there were plenty of local hikers, decked-out, head-to-toe in hiking gear. I made my way to the South Gate (the closest) and was met by an impressive reconstruction of the original gate built in 1703 and later demolished during the Japanese occupation (1910-1945). There are trails that follow the 17km of wall, most of which is in ruins, to West, North and East Gates.
The restored wall on the LEFT & the original wall on the RIGHT
I followed the wall along to the West gate of which remained 4 walls of stone that likely formed the base of a tower. What surprised me was the ridge that extended from that point. It was covered in jagged, rocky, outcroppings that looked like stone statues of people from a distance. The 360 degree views were breathtaking and emphasized what I find so special about Busan: the proximity of natural wonders of mountains and sea, to a large, modern, bustling metropolis.
Realizing I didn't have to stamina to walk to all 4 gates, I retraced my steps back to the South Gate. From there I decided to take a different route back to the cable car and was rewarded by stumbling upon a small Buddhist temple, set against the stone cliffs that had a few Buddhas carved into them.
According to the app on my phone, I walked 16.1 km (10 miles) from our AIRBNB at Haeundae Beach and back. So walking the length of the fortress would have been a lot more than I was prepared for. It is also important to note that it was quite warm, in the upper twenties, celsius, on a mid October day, which may come as a surprise to some. This mountain, its' park, temples and museums do not usually make most top ten things to see in Busan. This is a testament to how much there is to see and do in this oft-overlooked city on the south coast of South Korea.