Cheonseong-san 천성산 Nakdong-jeongmaek ridge. Yangsan, Ulsan Cities
Royal Azaleas in bloom from Cheonseong-san (Wonhyo-bong) looking north to Cheonseong2-bong
The long, high ridge of Cheonseong-san runs parallel to the east of the Yeongnam Alps ridge, joining it at Yeongchuk-san via one of the lowest mountain passes of the Nakdong-jeongmaek ridge, at Sinpyeong, the entrance town of Tongdo-sa (and my current home), on the border of Yang-san and Ulsan cities.
Cheonseong-san is not generally considered a mountain of the Yeongnam Alps, but I've included it here; it shares the same bus service running from Yang-san to Eonyang and living as I do in the eastern alps it's the view I see every day - I'm looking at it now out my classroom window as I write.
Sanhadong-gyegok (valley) 산하동계곡 - North Naewon-sa entrance
From the northern suburbs of Yangsan city to the southern countryside of Ulsan, no roads cross the ridge of Cheonseong-san, although a number of old unsealed military roads weave up its valleys and along its ridges. This makes for some good, uninterrupted hiking, and the possibility of long ridge walking between the three peaks; Cheonseong-san (Wonhyo-san) to the south, central Cheonseong-2-bong and Jeongjuk-san to the north.
Either side of Cheongseong-san are busy highways, National Highway 35 and National Expressway 1 to the west, and National Highway 7 to the east. In this zone between the large cities of Ulsan and Busan a lot of small factories, towns and villages flank these major transport arteries, and from almost every one a hiking trail makes its way to the Cheonseong ridge. Here I'm going to focus on the premier circuit trail from the major temple of Naewon-sa, set in the most beautiful part of the mountain, the deep gorges of the west, about 15km north of Yangsan city proper. I'll touch on some other major trailheads below.
Looking west over Naewon Valley to Yeongchuk-san: Trail to Cheonseong2-san
trail sets off across the bridge from Naewon-sa following the stream
south-east on a wide path. Over the first few hundred metres the stream
is crossed twice, there are stepping stones to keep the boots dry but
after rain this can be a shallow ford. After the second crossing the
trail stays left of the stream and begins to climb, and before long
becomes very steep - thankfully (or not) the climb is largely made on
new staircases, with sections of rope-fenced path in between.
Love'em or hate'em these new staircases have made a world of difference to the trail up from Naewon-sa; before their construction a couple of years ago, it was a slippery eroding mess! From the last staircase the trail begins to open up as it meets the shoulder-ridge leading to the peak, and there is a great rocky viewpoint to your right, with sweeping views back down the valley and up to the high ridge. From the next few corners there are opportunities for views west over to Yeongchuk-san and the Yeongnam Alps, such as the one seen above.
As the trail takes a turn to the east it meets a junction, a track heads to the right from here, cutting across the valley to the high ridge just north of Cheonseong-san. This is an option if you'd like to bypass "2-bong" and head straight for the main peak. I wouldn't recommend it, it doesn't save much, if any, time, and "2-bong"- just 900 metres up the trail - is the only true peak you'll summit on this hike, as the top of Cheonseong-bong is fenced off for military purposes. Junction: Naewon-sa 1.9km - Cheonseong2-bong 0.9km. South-east track to Cheonseong-san 3.1km. The remaining 900 metres to this summit is moderately steep but farly easy going, you'll see the stele on top of the summit to your right just before you get there.
Looking back to Cheonseong2-bong from the trail to Cheonseong-san
From 2-bong tracks head north off the peak down to Yangsan University on Highway 7, East to Soju-dong on the same road. Our trail heads south along the high ridge toward Cheonseong-san, we initially follow a mountain road before leaving it at a picnic table under a tree and heading southwest into the forest, dropping to the pass of Eunsu-gogae, before rising out of the forest into the open Grassland and Azalea fields of the ridge running to the peak.
Its worth enjoying this open area, don't save any breaks for the peak because it is off limits, at what would be a few hundred metres short of the peak the trail hits a razor wire fence.
The northern side of Cheonseong-san, trail heading west to Hwaeom-neup
Cheonseong-san saw its fair share of action during the Korean War, and large areas of its high ridge are still mined and off limits, including Cheonseong-san's peak, ringed with razor-wire and some pretty heavy warnings to keep out. The razor wire continues for quite a few kilometres along the Nakdong-jeongmaek trail headong south from the peak toward Busan, and in many places is EXTREMELY close to the trail, I've torn clothes on these coils - its worth being very mindful of how close you're getting to them, especially in the wet.
The trail forks at the razor wire with options of going left, around the eastern side of the peak, or right around the northern side.
Heading right is the most direct way to continue the circuit, the trail drops into forest and crosses a mountain stream before rising to meet open grassland of Hwaeom-neup (above) , its a 1.7km walk from the beginning of the razor-wire to a stone cairn marking the western beginning of Hwaeom-eup.
Wonhyo-am and its Bodhisattva relief carvings
left from the razor-wire fork, takes you around the eastern side to
Wonhyo-am, the hermitage looking south off the summit, and only 900
metres from our junction. From Wonhyo-am you can cut around
to Hwaeom-neup from the trail which heads eventually down to
Hongryong-sa, or walk back along the same path to the fork in the coils
and cross the northern grasslands.
The trail heads west through the grass and azalea fields of Hwaeom-eup, joining a well formed path where tracks from all sides meet on the ridge. This area is extremely popular with hikers in late spring/early summer when the azaleas are in full bloom, and quite spectacular. To the right the path is fenced, this area is off limits not because of mines but for conservation, Hwaeom-neup is a sensitive ecological area, and home to some quite rare species of plant and animals. The shelter beyond the fence is not for rest, but is for monitoring the ecological zone, and is often manned in the busy season to keep people (photographers) behind the fence.
Aim for the cairn on the peak to the west, from here stay right along the fence, and join the trail into the forest for the descent.
Looking over the Naewon valley from the mountain road
to the right-hand trail, we reach the end of an unsealed road after
1.2km. Follow the signed trai lpointing to "Yongju-sa" and heading back
into the forest, after about a kilometre of gradual descent the trail
reaches a junction. The track to Yongju-sa heads left (west) while our
trail to Naewon-sa continues north, climbing to a mountaon road.
Turn right on the road, and follow for 600-700m, look out for ribbons to the right of the track, this is our trail which flanks the road for a short while before heading east away from the road, descending down to Naewon-sa. There is no sign marking the trail to Naewon-sa, and although the path flanks the road for a while, its worth sticking to it, so as not to miss the final turnoff. Our trail ends at Naewon-sa's lower carpark, about 900metres downstream from the temple.
Other trails to Cheonseong-san
Hongyrong-sa - Wonhyo-am
The famous Hongryong-pokpo waterfall, pouring into a deep pool aside Hongryong-sa's Yongwang-gak (Dragon King Shrine)
Hongryong-sa is one of Yangsan City's more famous tourist spots, located below Cheonseong-san's western face, some 5km north of the city.
The trail from Hongryong-sa to Cheonseong-san is the most direct route to the summit, 1.8km (1hr15min) to Wonhyo-am, from where you can join the Naewon circuit trail, or make a loop back down to the temple.
Getting there: Get off Highway 35 at Daeseong, following the signs to Hongryong-sa from Yangsan. Join the road heading toard the mountain, Hongryong-sa carpark is 3.5km up this road.
On the bus: Buses 12, 13, 63 and 67 will stop at Daeseong, you'll have to walk the 3.5km of relativley steep road up to the temple, unless there's a taxi floating around.
From the road heading to Daeseong to Hongryong-sa a paved road heads to the right up into the hills, this road serves Wonhyo-am and goes all the way to the top! You can drive up here (or mountain bike) if the gate is open.
Yongju-sa - Cheonseong-san
The huge cairn garden on the valley trail from Yongju-sa
Yongju-sa is located in a deep valley, slightly north-west of Cheonseong-san. The summit trail starts from the temple, located in thick forest, just off Highway 35, and follows a beautiful valley up to a mountain road, meeting the path to Naewon-sa and meeting the ridge at the cairn on the western edge of Hwaeom-neup.
Directions: Off highway 35, the turnoff for Yongju-sa is less than a kilometre north of Sangbuk,a northern suburb of Yangsan. Its a difficult turnoff to spot, and poorly marked. The small road heading to the temple crosses under the expressway. Yongju-sa is about 500 metres up the road.
Bus: Get off bus 12, 13, 63 or 67 in Sangbuk, at the Nanseong apartments. Walk a block behind the road to the right and walk north a few hundred metres to meet the small road heading up to Yongju-sa.
Map of the Cheonseong-san Mountain area.
Our circuit trail is marked in red, running clockwise from Naewon-sa.
Yongju-sa and Hongryong-sa to the west of the trail.
Trails from Northern Naewon-sa Entrance up the Sangri-cheon and Seongbul-gol Valleys to Jeonmang-bong, with connection to Cheonseong2-bong.
Also info for Mita-am trails, the high hermitage east of the Cheonseong ridge
Below: Seongbul-gol gorge, from the ridge trail to Cheonseong2-bong