South Korea: An Unknown Nature Mecca and a Great Location for the Winter Olympics

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Tourism in Korea will explode because of one untapped resource – nature.

When foreigners (non-Americans) think of New York, they think of uncompromising skyscrapers, broad avenues, plush shopping and a city that never sleeps.  They, like most Americans, forget that New York is a massive state that offers much more than a singular city.  New York is a state of nature, mountains, and a beautiful drive on many of the scenic byways.

When individuals in America think of South Korea, they think of North Korea.  The slightly more informed might envision Seoul. However, like New York City, Seoul is a very small part of Korea. While nearly 50% of Koreans live in the Seoul Metropolitan Area, the area only accounts for 12% of the country.  Furthermore, close to 70 percent of South Korea is mountainous and unsettled, with most of the population being densely packed in the lower regions.  Although the Internet lists statistics determined to make Korea look like the most densely populated country in the world, people are surprisingly sparse where nature thrives.

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With this in mind, a potential tourism boom in South Korea may not stem from amusement parks, cities, cultural experiences, fashion showcases, plastic surgery, or typical sightseeing.  South Korea’s tourism boom is likely to come from the one undeveloped resource that has existed all along- Nature. This is precisely why the Lonely Planet voted South Korea as the third best country to visit in 2013. According to their article,

 South Korea has quietly developed into an outdoor recreation destination with untapped potential in golfing, hiking and fishing. Though not quite undiscovered, few people outside the country know about it. That anonymity will likely fade away in 2013 as it bursts onto the world stage hosting a series of major sporting events.

South Korea looks poised to strike as the new, outdoor capital of Asia.  However, there is a small problem.  South Korea’s outdoor wilderness lacks international exposure and accessible information available to foreigners.  As noted by the blog Korea in the Clouds,

 I’m continually surprised by the number of foreign residents I meet who have never explored the park system (in Korea). And yet, it’s understandable, considering the lack of easily accessible, accurate, English language information.  Before setting off into the hills, most people want to know what they’re getting into, how to get there, how long it will take, how much it will cost, and where to stay.

In regards to increasing outdoor tourism, South Korea must improve both its exposure and accessibility to foreigners.  Fortunately, there is an even greater sporting event on the horizon that will likely garner massive investment in these areas.

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The Lonely Planet mentions sporting events in 2013, but these events are marginal compared to South Korea hosting the Olympic Winter Games (Pyeongchang) in 2018.  The New York Times stated the major reasons for Pyeongchang’s overwhelming popularity included the potential growth for winter sports in Korea and Korea’s ability to host all events within a 30-minute commute from Pyeongchang.  There is little doubt the tremendous economic growth of Korea and its financial commitment to the games influenced the decision, but the convenience provided by Pyeongchang’s surroundings and Korea’s surplus of options for outdoor activities reinforce the notion of Korea’s potential to become a powerhouse for outdoor tourism.

With the Winter Games in the near future, South Korea appears determined to make the proper investments to propel outdoor tourism to new heights.  Nature has always been in Korea, but financing and proper exposure have not.  The right pieces seem to be falling into place at the right time for South Korea to become the new king of the great outdoors.

 Photography from Seoraksan


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Sources Cited

The Independent – Where to go in Asia in 2013

New York Times- Winter Olympics go to South Korea

Korea in the Clouds – A Guide to Hiking Korea’s Mountains

Additional Links

Korea National Park ServiceThe best guide for information regarding Seoraksan National Park.  Make sure to check out the hiking trails.

Skiing in Korea– Busan Haps wrote a great piece on the all of the skiing options in Korea.  This includes skiing locations, directions, and contact information.  Click on this link to learn where to ski and stay in South Korea.


12 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks for the mention! I’m surprised I’m number one for any search term 🙂

    Beautiful photos, by the way!


    1. You were Chincha approved- that means you are a celebrity like me lol!


  2. Ulick Magee says:

    Sure, the Korean greatr outdoors are freaking GREAT!!!
    ‘cept if it wasn’t for the crowds of jabbering, spitting peasants!!! i.e. Koreans, that is~


  3. busan says:

    Interesting post. Personally, I love hiking the mountains in Korea, and have had a blast going to the ones around Busan and out by Jirisan as well. I’m planning on going to Seoraksan next week, and am really looking forward to it.

    I have to disagree about South Korea becoming the new, outdoor capital of Asia though. If you’re coming from North America and have lived near the Cascades, the Rocky’s, or even the Appalachians, Korea’s peaks, while cool in their topography, are really just too small to warrant a trip around the world to hike them (I’m from Washington State, so we have many mountains that dwarf anything in Korea, though they may seem extreme if you’re from Florida). Most North Americans (and, to a lesser extent, Europeans) have so much on their back door step, that if they were to come to Asia for trekking, they would most likely opt for a place in India or Nepal in the Himalayas, which have treks that are several days long and epic beyond words. That, coupled with paucity of information labeled in English (or easily navigable/foreigner friendly websites, for that matter) make it difficult to come to Korea from across the world just to hike it’s mountains.

    Even China, Taiwan, and Japan have far larger mountains and longer hiking routes than Korea; the best/longest/most challenging route I know of is the Jirisan Ridge, and even that can be done in 1.5 day if your a hard core hiker.

    All that being said, I’m really happy and grateful that I have all this hiking at my doorstep, and for me, as a semi-avid hiker, Seoraksan and Jirisan still make for fun trails and I enjoy them greatly. Even the smaller trails are really fun; just finished a 30k around Busan that was incredible (although feeling a bit sore!)


    1. I think you are equating everything to hiking. My arguement would be that all of outdoor life in Korea should be promoted, not just the beauty or majesty of its hiking trails which as you admitted are certainly longer and more majestic in other parts of the world.


    2. Also, I would love to have any contributions on your thought of the subject! Great response, thank you.


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