The West/South-western view from the summit of Cheonwang-bong, the highest peak of mainland South Korea (above).
The main ridge running from here to the big white peaks of Banya-bong (centre right) and Nogodan (distant centre pointy) is the beginning of the great Baekdu-daegan ridge trail.
Jir-san is Korea's oldest and largest National Park, covering an area of over 470km2 and extending into 5 of Korea's provinces. It's the largest wilderness area in South Korea and home to dozens of peaks well over 1000 metres high, with challenging valley trails leading to them. It is therefore impossible to "do" Jiri-san on a single day or a weekend, I'll therefore be splitting the Jiri-san section of this site into NSEW zones.
At 1915m, Cheonwang-bong is the highpoint of Jiri-san and all of mainland Korea, towering over the surrounding highlands from the eastern Gyeongseongnam-do side of the park. It's a challenging hike to the summit from any direction, but not out of reach for anyone of moderate fitness or a good ticker, as from the shortest trailhead you can be there in under 6km - albeit quite steeply.
Trailheads to the summit are located in Jungsan-ri (south 5.4km) Yupyeong/Daewon-sa (east 10km) Baekmu-dong (northwest 6.8km) and Chilseong (north/closed trail). Of these trailheads, only Jungsan-ri offers a true circuit trail of the summit and high ridge, while the others require returning the same way if you want to get back to your start point. It is possible, however, to walk between any of these trailheads in a day. In this section I will cover all these trails to the peak, with options for hiking one to the other and transport to and from each location.
Eastern and Southern Trails to Cheonwang-bong from Yupyeong/Daewon-sa and Jungsan-ri
Map showing the Eastern trails to Cheonwang-bong, with Jungsan-ri on the left and Yupyeong bottom right.
The eastern trails to Cheonwang-bong from Jungsan-ri and Daewon-sa make for a good loop when combined either for a very long day hike or an overnighter, staying at Jangteomok shelter on the high ridge, 1.7km east of the peak.
Whether starting from Jungsan-ri or the Yupyeong entrance at Daewon-sa you can expect similiar walking times from one point to the other. Both trailheads are at a similiar elevation but Jungsan-ri is 5.4km from the peak and Yupyeong is 10.2km away. The Jungsan-ri route is therefore much steeper but from Daewon-sa its a slow steady, much longer climb.
Despite the steep climb most day hikers opt for the Jungsan-ri option, the shorter climb wins out over steepness, and from the village a true circuit can be walked.
Also if the intention is to camp at the end of the day the Somak-gol campground down the road from Yupyeong is much nicer than the one at Jungsan-ri.
Cheonwang-bong from Jungsan-ri
Travelling to both entrances - either from the north or the south the easiest way is to take Expressway 35 running NW - SE from Daejeon down to Tongyeong.
To Jungsan-ri get off 35 at at the Danseong Exit, once in Danseong turn right on National Highway 20 and head to Deok-san. At the T-junction stay left, continuing to follow the 20 which ends at Jungsan-ri - the carpark/post office area looks like the end of the road, but if you drive above the village it continues on almost another 2km to the trailhead, where there are a couple more minbak/restaurants, National park info centre, and just beyond this the camp ground.
To Yupyeong - As the crow flies the Sancheong Exit of Expressway 35 north of Danseong, is closer to Daewon-sa, and it may be tempting especially coming from the north to get off here, but this involves crossing the Bammeo-ri pass - a notoriously high, windy treacherous passage which will not save any time.
Its best to get off at Danseong, head on the 20 to Deok-san and then turn right onto NH 59 - the road follows the Deokcheon river north for 10km or so before reaching the turnoff to Daewon-sa, well marked left at the Myeongseon junction, in a little village called Pyeongcheon. The road gets thinner and thinner as you approach Yupyeong, the bus will stop at the carpark of the Somak-gol campsite, if you're driving its possible to keep going up to Daewon-sa - and further still to Yupyeong village at the start of the trail.
Buses to Jungsan-ri run from Jinju Intercity Bus Terminal as well as Busan and Masan.
From Jungsan-ri buses leave for Jinju at 6:50, 07:10, 08:20, 09:50, 11:50, 12:50, 13:50, 14:50, 15:50, 17:05, 18:50
For Busan at 06:10, 11:00, 12:50, 17:50, 19:40