The Yeongnam Alps are a small mountain range in south eastern Korea, so named because its beauty supposedly reminds locals of the beauty of the European Alps. While this comparison may be a bit of stretch, given the sheer size difference of the two mountain ranges, there is no denying that the Yeongnam Alps are beautiful and a great place to capture some stunning images of Korea’s natural beauty.
Located a less than an hours drive west of the industrial city of Ulsan, the Yeongnam area is easily accessible and provides a number of options in terms of accommodation. Motels and pensions are located throughout the area and are available in a range of prices.
During autumn the passes between the peaks are renown for their silvery grass plains. This was the reason for our own ascent. Photographers wishing to capture the beauty of the alps should be able to find decent shoots at both dawn and dusk, with sunrise lighting the more populated eastern side and sunset the more rural west.
In my opinion, the shots of the grass plains at the Ganwol pass is likely better at sunset then sunrise, although I haven’t been there at both times to confirm this. One thing is certain, regardless of when you go they be something great to see.
While there is most certainly a way to reach the Korean Alps via public transport, we opted to drive. Still the alps is a big place, has numerous trail heads, hiking routes and places to shoot. For our trip we knew we wanted to shoot the silver grass plains (some of which are marked in light green and by a small circle in the map below) between Ganwol mountain and Sinbul mountain at sunrise. This meant a nighttime ascent and a very early morning. Thus we selected a trail with the quickest and most direct route to the plains.
The trail we chose began in Dungeok-ri and ran up through the forest, about a 1/3 of the way, before meeting a paved road. At the trail head there are number of shops and stalls selling refreshments and inexpensive/cheap hiking gear, although they weren’t open as we headed out. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow. We had no problems in the dark. The rest of the ascent can be made by road but there are few less well marked trails that will cut between large bends and shorten the route, though this doesn’t really shave that much time off of the climb. In total the ascent took us just over an hour and half.
Another option is to arrive the day before, book a room at one of many motels near the trail head or camp between the mountains. Camping appears to be free, and there are a couple buildings in the pass that have bathrooms and showers.
Getting the Shot
Shooting on the mountain peaks was fantastic. We had gorgeous weather and other than a few early rising hikers we had the sunrise to ourselves. There were a couple of photographers around but they seemed to keep their distance, took a few shots and moved off. No elbowing for position here.
Shooting the sunrise and over the distance mountain peaks was the big plus in this location. We were fortunate enough on our morning excursion to have mist rolling through the valleys below. The silver grass plains however, proved a larger challenge. With a few large buildings (the restrooms), a paved road, numerous tents scattered about and the plains mostly on the side of the mountain facing away from the sun, getting that perfect angle was hard work. Perhaps sunset may have been the better time.
Ironically, the descent down the mountain took significantly longer than our ascent. The Yeongnam Alps is a popular local destination in Korea and the crowds making their way up the mountain were significant. This wasn’t a problem on the paved road, but the trail through the forest took ages to get through as we were often pushed to side of the trail to make way for literally hundreds of people climbing up to the pass. My advice, get there early in the day or later if you’re spending the night on the mountains and avoid this frustration.
How about you? Do you have any favorite breathtaking locations in Korea?