Jungsan-ri to Cheonwang-bong / Circuit Trail
Cheonwang-bong (1915m) from the trailhead at Jungsan-ri (right)
Jungsan-ri - 5.4km - Cheonwang-bong - 1.7km - Jangteomok Shelter - 5.3km - Jungsan-ri / 12.4km, 6.5 - 7hrs (allow for an extra hour if starting from Jungsan-ri bus stop)
The most popular starting point for Cheonwang-bong is the trailhead at Jungsan-ri in the south-east, from where its only 5.4km to the summit and hikers have the option of a true circuit trail, walking the ridge to Jeongteomok shelter and down the Jungsan-ri gorge back to the starting point.
Jungsan-ri is a small but vibrant village about 45 minutes drive out of Jinju City and has a number of restaurants and minbak accomodation. The main village where the bus stops looks like the end of the road, but is in fact still over 2km from the trailhead - the road continues left through Jungsan-ri and skirts above the village before heading to the National Park office and trail entrance, where there are another couple of restaurant/minbaks and a large carpark.
Those coming in on the bus will have to walk up the hill from Jungsan-ri proper, which will add close to another hour onto the hike.
Park Entrance - 3.4km, 2hr - Rotary Shelter
From the upper park entrance the trail begins as a paved road past the National Park office and information centre. Follow this road, crossing a bridge over the Kalbawi Gorge, from where you can see a good view of Cheonwang-bong (above). Soon after the bridge the trail leaves the road, heading northwest into the forest following the right hand bank of the stream as you climb. The first section of the trail is a good easy warmup for the tough ascent to come, you'll enjoy moderate climbing along the riverside before reaching Kalbawi (knife rock) and the Cheonwang-bong circuit junction shortly thereafter. The junction is where the two trails coming down from the high ridge above Jungsan-ri meet. The track to the left follows the Kalbawi gorge up to it's source at Jangteomeok shelter. Our summit trail to the right moves away north-west from the gorge, and climbs very steeply for the 2 kilometres or so to the rotary shelter. It's a tough climb on heavy rock, but there are some very good view points over the east and south-east along the way.
Rotary shelter is located in the only moderately level section of the trial, where a trail coming from the east (extension of the road the summit trail left earlier) meets the main summit trail. It has picnic tables outside and a toilet block. The shelter sleeps around 40, but if you want to stay book online first! This place gets extremely packed most weekends.
Winter on the high slopes
Rotary - 2km, 2hr - Cheonwang-bong
Only a hundred metres or so on from Rotary shelter is Beopgye-sa temple, one of Korea's highest (and toughest to get to) Buddhist temples. The grand main gate is on the side of the trail, and it's worth heading in for a look around before heading up the hill. It has fantastic sweeping views and beautiful fresh water.
Beopgye-sa has been around since 1544. From its high vantage point it faces south-east, toward Japan, emanating the force it take from the Baekdu-daegan ridge to its neighbour across the sea. Legend tells that if Beopgye-sa prospered, it would defend against Japan, so unsurprisingly it has been destroyed a couple of times by invading Japanese parties. On display outside Beopgye-sa's administration building is a heavy pure iron rod. This was removed from the ridge above the temple in the past decade, and there is a pervading belief amongst Korean's that rods such as this were drilled into the mountains of Korea by Japanese imperialists in the early 20th century, to stop the flow of energy along the peninsula - whether this is true is up for debate, but it's an interesting thing to see.
The relatively flat ledge around Rotary and Beogye-sa ends soon after leaving the temple, and the serious business of getting to the peak begins. It's steep, and fairly unrelenting, but the canopy is low up here and there are frequent and awesome views off to the east. Although only 2km from the shelter, this walk can easily take 2 hours, and gets extremely steep toward over the last 500 metres which has traditionally been a scramble over the loose rock, but in the last couple of years staircases have been introduced to make the going a little bit easier, and to cut down on surface erosion.
View along the Baekdu-daegan ridge from the summit, the first section of which
circuit hikers follow to Jangteomok Shelter
The trail arrives on the eastern side of the summit and its a scramble up a rocky pile to the left to the peak. You'll see a sign to Daewon-sa (10.3km), dropping off the peak on your right when arriving. If you want to complete the Jungsan-ri circuit you'll want to walk past the peak and follow the Baekdu-daegan trail south-west.
Cheonwang-bong - 1.7km, 1hr10-1hr30min - Jangteomok Shelter
The trail to Jeongteomok heads southwest along the line of the Baekdu-daegan, and if time allows I can highly recommend the 1.7km walk to the gorge trail rather than heading back the same way. It's a short walk but don't be fooled it can easily take more than 1hr30 to the shelter, especially on a busy day, as some sections are single file and slow going - most notably through the Tongjeon-mun natural gate some 500m from Cheonwang-bong and the climb to Jeseok-bong (1806m) shortly after. This walk though is a beauty, you're on the highest section of ridge in the land, with awesome views over the high peaks and even to the ocean. There are stands of twisted Jumok-namu, the native highland hardwood Yew Tree, and very often you're above the clouds. Allow time and add this small section to your walk from Jungsan-ri.
Jangteomok Shelter (right) sleeps about 150 people, but on a good day scores more turn up looking to stay - BOOK ONLINE - if you want a floor space and don't fancy standing around in the kitchen/toilets or the open air all night.
The shelter is on a four way junction with the Baekdu-daegan trail running up to Cheonwang-bong and southwest along the range. The trail to the west heads down to Baekmu-dong entrance and campsite (5.8km). The return trail to Jungsan-ri heads off to the east, right in front of the main door to the shelter - it is down this trail a short distance where the fresh water source is located, so you'll likely see people popping down there to fill up bottles.
Jangteomok - 5.3km, 2hr30min - Jungsan Park Entrance
The spring below the shelter is the headwater of the gorge which the return trail follows down to the junction near Kal-bawi and on to Jungsan-ri. Unlike the Beopgye-sa trail, the gorge route disappears into the forest quite early and you're under canopy for the vast majority of the time, except for on occasion when the gorge is crossed at wide rocky areas. This is a good trail, but occasionally a little tricky over the rocks which make up the gorge, particularly in winter when there is a lot of ice cover, and in the summer rains. Features of the trail are the Yuam and Beopcheon Waterfalls, Yuam pokpo is about 1.5km down from Jangteomok, and Beopcheon roughly 700 metres before the Kalbawi Junction.
Traveling and Transport
By car - 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 (see road map at bottom of page).
The schedule opposite shows bus times leaving from Jinju Intercity Terminal for Jungsan-ri and vice-versa.
Buses leave for Jungsan-ri from Sasang Terminal in Busan at 6:10, 8:20, 16:05 and 18:05.
Buses from Jungsan-ri to Busan leave at 06:10, 06:50, 11:00, 12:50, 17:50, 19:40
From Seoul Nambu Bus Terminal. Buses leave for Jinju Terminal, about 60% of which also stop at Wonji Terminal in Sancheong, in the east of the park. Buses leave Nambu every 30mins or so from 6:20am to 9pm, with late buses at 22:10, 23:00 and midnight.
Buses also run from Wonji (Sancheong) to Jungsan-ri at 6:40, 7:25, 8:25, 9:25 and every hour from 10:20 to 20:20, with a late bus at 21:25.
Jungsan-ri to Wonji: 6:15, 6:55, 7:35, 8:15, and every hour from 9:05 to 17:05, with a late bus at 19:40.
Below: Road Map of Eastern Jiri-san (Jungsan-ri/Daewon-sa) entrances.
Bottom: Trail Map of Eastern Jiri-san, Jungsan-ri on the left.