▲ The Yeongsil hiking trail is the shortest route ascending Mount Halla and offers views of Jeju’s legendary‘ 500 generals’. Photo courtesy Jeju Provincial Government
The shortest route to the upper slopes of South Korea’s tallest mountain, Mt. Halla, is a steep climb, but well worth the effort. Yeongsil is one of four hiking trails currently open on Mt. Halla and the shortest, at just 3.7 kilometers. However, with a steep grade and much of it being up steps of stone and wood, don’t expect to hike it quickly. Take plenty of breaks, enjoy the view.
Yeongsil trail is known for its deep mountain valley, streams and iconic stone pillars. The hiking trail begins along this deep valley surrounded by maples and Korean pines. After climbing through the forest the trail rises above the treeline to provide views of the valley and western Jeju all the way to the sea. But the stars of Yeongsil’s valley are its iconic “500 generals” stone pillars dotted amongst the trees.
The pillar-like volcanic rock formations along Yeongsil have inspired many legends about the area. The most famous and moving legend involves a woman with 500 sons. While her sons were away, the mother made a soup and accidently fell in and died. Upon returning home her sons unknowingly ate the soup and were devastated when they learned what had happened. In their grief they turned to stone.
Some Jeju residents believed that the winds that howl down Yeongsil valley past the pillars are the cries of her sons. The mysterious mists that often move through the valley also add to its eerie atmosphere. Other legends name the pillars as 500 generals standing alert and guarding Jeju or as 500 Buddhist disciples who have reached nirvana and are reaching high towards the sky.
Another feature of the trail is its mountain streams. The name Yeongsil even means “permanent stream.” Many of Jeju’s streams are only seasonal but the Yeongsil area has flowing water year round. The Yeongsil trail includes several bridges over some of these streams. Climbing up along the trail hikers can sometimes even glimpse silver waterfalls across the valley.
After the Yeongsil trail climbs up the steep valley it levels out and the last third of the trail is relatively flat. Few trees grow this high and the landscape is one of desolate beauty, except in the spring when the area is awash in azalea blooms. The Yeongsil trail ends at Witseoreum “noodle shack” rest area where it meets the Eorimok trail. The two trails once joined at this point to continue to the summit of Mt. Halla but this trail is currently closed for restoration. Hundreds of hikers from both trails converge here to dine on ramyen noodles, or picnic lunches.
Yeongsil is a hiking trail for all seasons. Most visitors hike the trail during the summer tourist season and enjoy the warm weather and deep green landscape. But the trail is open year round and offers a different experience for each season. The trail is very popular for its vivid fall colors when the maples and other trees make the valley a blaze of reds, oranges and yellows. Hikers visiting during the spring Azalea Festival will see a blaze of bright pink azaleas covering the mountain. In winter hardy hikers are required to use special snow spikes that fit over their boots as they hike up the ice and snow to enjoy the winter wonderland.
Yeongsil Trail is located on the southwestern slope of Mt. Halla and accessible from Highway 1139 (also known as the 1100 road). Note that the trail has two levels of parking lots and the second higher lot is at the trail head. There is a bus stop at the lower parking lot. The lower parking lot also has a short half hour hiking trail to the secluded Chonja-am Buddhist Hermitage.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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