Following the Sun on the Haeparang Trail (해파랑길)

It’s August 2016. It’s a beautiful summer day that is full of excitement. Hundreds of hikers around Korea have gathered together near Jujeon Beach to celebrate the official opening of South Korea’s longest walking trail, the 해파랑길. Before this day, I’d never heard of the Haeparang Trail, and I’m fairly confident that nearly 100% of you, the readers, haven’t either.

The trail often hugs the coast as closely as possible with endless views of the East Sea. This is near Jinha Beach.

“Wait. Hold up, lady. Why are you talking about some trail in Korea? I only care about trails in the US.” Well, dear reader, not many foreigners, or Korean citizens even, have thru-hiked this trail. Since English resources about the trail are limited to almost nonexistent, I went on a mini-hike last month to gather more information for myself and anyone else interested in thru-hiking it in the future. On this trip, I focused on how the trail is marked for both northbound and southbound directions to help others find their way and not get lost. But before we begin, let me introduce you to Korea’s AT.

While other sections wind through forested areas near the sea.

Korea’s AT: 770 Km from Busan to the DMZ

Overview map of the Haeparang Trail. On the Haeparang.org website, click on each colored section to get a more detailed map and information about that section. Photo credit: Haeparang.org

The Haeparang Trail is a 770 kilometer (478 mi) trail that spans from Busan to the DMZ line near Jejin, South Korea, that hugs the east coast of the country. It’s stunningly beautiful, as most trails are, and takes the hiker through various towns and cultural landmarks along the East Sea. For 665 kilometers of the trail, you can thru-hike the whole way up until that point. In order to finish the last five kilometers, hikers have to arrange a military escort from Jejin Checkpoint to the Observatory a week in advance since North Korea and South Korea are still, technically, at war. From my understanding of the English translation at the haeparang.org website, the military escort will drive you to the end of the trail and back. Once that leg is completed, you’re officially a Haeparang Trail thru-hiker!

How to Find Your Way and Not Get Lost? Follow the Sun

Blue is SOBO to Busan. Red is NOBO to the DMZ line near Jejin.

Although Korea has a fantastic LTE system that works from the top of their tallest mountain all the way down in their subway systems, it’s still a great idea to know how the trail is marked so you can find your way and not get lost. In short, just follow the sun.

Red sun signs or red arrows mark the trail going northbound to the DMZ. Blue sun signs or blue arrows mark the trail going southbound to Busan. You will find one of these at most trail crossings or turns. For the rest of the trail, especially where it’s harder to post an arrow or sun sign, the trail is marked with burnt orange and yellowish ribbons that say 해파랑길.

OK. I’m Hooked! Where Can I Find More Info?

These ribbons won’t show a hiker if they are traveling NOBO or SOBO since they are just there to mark the trail, so keep an eye out for the other markers along the way. You should see ribbons about every 100 to 200 feet along the trail.

Great question. As I mentioned before, English resources about the trail are limited. I’m currently working on a proper trail profile for any future thru-hikers who would like to complete this trail. In the meantime, here are a few resources that I’ve found to give you a general overview of the trail and what it’s like. The official trail website does provide hikers information about each of the sections of the trail, how to get there, the distance of each section, maps, and such. It is geared more toward day/section hikers, so info about camping/where to stay is not included as most hikers in Korea head out for the day and then go home or to one of the many, affordable motels. If you have any questions, please let me know below. I’ll do my best to answer them. Happy hiking!

^Official Haeparang Trail Website: Click on the orange language box for the English version of the website. Also, most websites in Korea run on Internet Explorer, so it’s best to view the website in IE.

^Annyeong Andrea! of CBC; a short vid about the trail found here.

^Korea.net wrote an article about the trail, including pictures of the breathtaking scenery:

If you’d like to watch a video of my mini-hike on the Haeparang Trail, you can view it below

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Comments 4

  • John : Jan 12th

    Very refreshing! Thanks for posting. Another option that many wouldn’t be able to consider. The thought of being captured by the N Koreans might be a deterrent for many but probably less probable than a sprain ankle.

    Reply
    • Runa : Jan 12th

      Thanks for reading! 🙂 I’m sure some hikers might be worried about N Korea since they don’t know much about the country or how the country interacts with S Korea, but they shouldn’t be. To help clear up some confusion: 1. The DMZ line is a set of electrical fences that is an excellent deterrent for both sides crossing it. 2. N Korea’s major base is near Seoul; the other side of the country from this trail. 3. The hiker will have a S Korean military escort with them the whole time. S Korean military escorts are common for all of the tourist places along the DMZ. 4. N Korean and S Korean leaders are on excellent terms with each other. 5. The only time they should worry about being captured about N Korea is if they get on a plane in Seoul or Busan, and fly into N Korea for a visit. There is still a risk of them not coming back out if the hiker chooses to visit N Korea after their time in S Korea.

      Hopefully that helped assuage some of the potential worries a future hiker might have. 🙂 I’m currently working on a more in depth trail profile about the trail in case there are hikers who are interested in thru-hiking.

      Reply
  • Natasa : Jul 30th

    Hi Runa, are you still in Korea? I wish I would have found you before I went. I walked the Haeparang Trail in Pohang and it is like you said, not a lot of info in English at all. I went mainly on satellite images. I did, however, write a blog post about where I went, with maps and links and photos, I dunno if you want to add it to the list? The trails are amazingly maintained and really nice to walk on. Did you end up doing the whole 770 km? I also noticed the http://haeparang.org seems to be down, I tried several times (thought it was my ad blocker). I’ve seen they are planning to put more signs in English on the trail, but it might take a while.

    Reply

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