South Korea’s tallest mountain happens to also be the most difficult to reach. Located on Jeju Island south of the mainland, Hallasan reaches a height of 1,950m and should absolutely be ridden if possible.
I have ridden Hallasan twice, once from the north and once from the south, and loved it both times. The climb from the south is slightly more difficult as it is a bit steeper overall and doesn’t have as many “steps” where the steepness levels off or even descends a bit as it does on the road from the north. And this is why I actually preferred the south slope. Well, that and my love of suffering.
The road in both directions is some of the best maintained tarmac I’ve seen on a Korean mountain. I don’t think I saw even a single pothole or crack in the pavement in either direction. Because of this, the descents are fast and fun, and you can have absolute confidence in the road ahead. Add to this the fact that there aren’t many technical sections and you can really go all out.
Not only are the climbs long and well-maintained, the vegetation is amazing. At the lower slopes the forest is thick with a lot of pine, but about half way up the pines disappear all at once and are replaced by moss-covered deciduous trees whose branches stretch out like wrinkled, bony fingers. There aren’t many vistas to be seen, just forests really, and a nice view of the mountain peak from the top of the climb, which is at 1,100m of altitude. But Hallasan isn’t done for the views. It’s done just to be done.
Now, about the climbs.
The north to south segment is 8.9km at 6%, gaining 499m of elevation. The south to north segment is 9.95km at 7%, gaining 667m of elevation. They are both long climbs, but they are only part of the experience, as they both require about 10km or more of pre-climb climbing just reach the starting points, which are both at over 400m of altitude. In the end, assuming you’ve begun at the coast, you have do the 1,100m of elevation gain minimum to reach the summit. But in addition to all of this, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can add the Yeongsil climb a few kilometers from the summit on the south slope for an additional 4.9km of climbing.
In my opinion Hallasan is one of the ABSOLUTE-MUST-RIDE mountains of Korea. It has the highest throughway in Korea at 1,100m and the highest of any road (the Yeongsil Road) at 1,233m. And it’s South Korea’s tallest mountain and most unique. And after the climb you can enjoy descending back to the coast where you can refuel and relax on a beach somewhere. Seriously, what could be better than that?