HIKE 1: Haeinsa to Sangwang / Chilbul Peak - 8 km roundtrip / 3 hours
Difficulty Rating: 2 - Moderate
This hike starts at Haeinsa (temple) and winds through the lowland forests to the top of the mountain. Maps show two peaks--Sangwangbong (1,430 m) and Chilbulbong (1,433 m), but they are nearly identical in height and only 5 minutes hike from each other. Sangwangbong is more famous and usually listed as the highest point on Gayasan even though Chilbulbong is actually a tiny bit higher (by 3 meters). Total elevation gain is 833 meters with an average of 207 meters gained per kilometer of trail. The elevation gain is very even until the last 200 meters, where the terrain grows slightly steeper.
This is a perfect hike both for beginners, who don’t want a long, strenuous climb, and experienced hikers who keep coming back for more of Gayasan's raw beauty. The hike is easy-to-moderate, climbing gradually at the beginning, going up some wide wooden steps, and then following a rocky trail for most of the rest of the way. The lush forest beyond Haeinsa is magical early in the morning when rays of sunlight angle down in the mist.
Most of the hike has good tree cover. After about 90 minutes things open up and you begin to see sky above. The trial briefly breaks out onto a huge mass of rock (Bongcheondae) with great views of the valley. The remainder of the mountain towers up above this. The last kilometer is the steepest, ending below an exposed, rocky slope. From that point, it’s only another half kilometer to Sangwangbong. Views from the top are fantastic in clear weather. You can see in every direction. To the south, the sharp, dramatic ridges rise up like the dorsal fin of some strange sea creature rolling in the clouds. To the north, the mountain falls steeply to the hilly terrain, villages, and towns of Seongju County.
It took us about two hours to reach Sangwangbong at a nice, gentle pace, and an hour to get down. Another trail runs directly from Chilbulbong, past Yonggi Falls, and out the eastern park entrance at Baengundong (2.9 km).
Try to get to the peak for sunrise. You won't regret getting up early. Technically, Gayasan is open to climbers from two hours before sunrise to sunset. The hike is one that's quite easy to do in the dark with a flashlight or headlamp. Locate the starting point the day before so you don't have to search around in the dark.