Ansan – The mountain, Not the city
Ansan isone of Seoul’s smallest mountains, but it’s rocky and offers fine views of the neighbouring peaks of Inwangsan and Bulgaksan. Hiking Ansan is a pleasant way of taking in some of the major tourist sites in this part of Seoul. A trip to the mountain can easily be combined with visits to the wonderful Bongwon-sa temple and the haunting Seodaemun Prison Museum.
Ansan is not one of Seoul’s highest peaks, in fact it doesn’t even come close, but it is a pleasant recreational area very close to the city centre with a number of unique and interesting tourist attractions located nearby. Ansan stands virtually next to Inwangsan, the recognisable rugby ball shaped peak visible from downtown Gwanghwamun. The busy Dongnimun area cuts between these two mountains making them completely separate. There are plenty of trails that criss-cross the mountain, and it’s so small that it’s unlikely you will get lost here.
Whilst the mountain can be climbed as a walk in its own right in around an hour, Combining your visit to the famous temple complex of Bonwongsa and the thought-provoking Seodaemun prison museum might be prove worthwhile. Both places offer quite different insights into Korean culture and combined with the walk, could occupy you for about half a day.
Where is Ansan?
Ansan can be found in the Seodaemun-gu suburb of Seoul, with access most convenient from Dongnimun or Seodaemun subway station. The trail heads can be hard to find, as they’re often obscurely located down alleyways and behind apartment blocks.
What peaks are there to climb?
There is only one peak to scale up here, Ansan’s prospect point, which can be seen clearly from below at Dongnimun’s Independence Gate. The east side of the mountain displays a large visible rock face, providing the mountain with a dramatic appearance if you’re looking at it from that direction. From the west, the view is less impressive, as the mountain rises very gently from the area of Seodaemun-gu around Ehwa Women’s University and Sinchon station. There are plenty of routes up here, not all of them signposted in Korean, let alone English.
What is the landscape like?
On the western side of the mountain, after exiting Bonwongsa temple, the landscape rises only very gently through a pleasant forest park. There are plenty of outdoor recreation areas and gym equipment popular with the elderly. Flex your muscles if you like before continuing to the peak. After summiting prospect point, the terrain becomes sandier and rockier. You can follow the course down steps or the gravel path before exiting through a quiet suburban area of Seodaemun-gu.
Are there any dangerous parts?
The trail isn’t particularly difficult, but you may want to exercise caution on the descent part down the east side. Here, the mountain descends steeply and the path can consist of slippery gravel or sand. Tripping or falling is possible. Thankfully or not, the local authorities have been building staircases down this side of the mountain, taking most of the risk (and some say fun) out of Ansan.
When is a good time to visit?
The landscape changes seasonally with quite significant differences in the nature of the paths, depending on which season you visit in. In winter, the mountain gets cold and windy, but there is seldom any serious snow. If you do want to see snow here, make sure you get out the day after a major snow fall or it will soon melt away. May to October is the best time to come up here. You will want to visit on a sunny day and during these months you’re most likely to have a clear view. In July and August, Seoul gets seriously hot and you may find a walk in Ansan’s forest humid and sticky. Coinciding your visit with the Buddha’s birthday celebrations in May would be an excellent idea if you want to see Bonwongsa in all its glory.
What should I bring with me?
Being one of Seoul’s easier walks, there is absolutely no need for any specialist supplies or equipment. You probably won’t even be frowned at by elderly locals for not wearing hiking garb. There are plenty of great photographic moments along the way; most significantly Bonwongsa, the stunning views from prospect point, and Seodaemun prison museum.