Hike to Geumseong-Sanseong Fortress in Damyang, Korea

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We love Damyang, South Korea! There are so many things to do in the area, the food in the region is fantastic and there is bamboo everywhere. Over the years we have visited a fair number of times but had somehow completely missed Geumseong-Sanseong Fortress (담양 금성산성) until Compass Korea included it in the list of 7 Must See Places Near Gwangju This Fall. We had been feeling pretty frustrated recently because each time we wanted to go to the fortress it would either rain or one of us would be really sick. Those delays were fortunate though because we couldn’t have asked for better weather than what we had this weekend!

How to Get There

Geumseongsanseong Fortress is about a 45 minute drive from Gwangju in Jeollanamdo, South Korea. Alternatively you can take a bus to the Damyang bus terminal and then catch a local bus to the Damyang Resort and Spa. If you are facing the resort there is a street to the right heading up to the trail start. Just past the trail start you can find parking on the right. Entrance to the fortress is free but there is a 2,000 won fee for parking.

Avoiding the Crowds

The leaves in this area of Korea are just starting to change colors at the beginning of November so the popular treks are getting a bit crowded with hikers on their way to see the fall leaves.  Visiting during the week rather than the weekend is the best way to avoid the crowds but if you must go on the weekend try to avoid lunch hour. 

The mountain was fairly quiet when we went despite it being a Sunday except when we got right to the gate. Suddenly we were surrounded by busloads of hikers in all their gear!

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Many tours time their trip so that hikers can all rest within the gates and have their lunch together before continuing on. Around 30 minutes later the fortress was nearly all ours as they went further down the trails!

Lunch Damyang fortress

All About the Hike

It takes about 30 to 40 minutes to hike to the gate but since we were making the climb with a 3 year old it took us around an hour. For about half of the way up, the path is an easy tree lined gravel road that is not terribly steep.

Before entering into the forest you’ll find a rest stop with a few tables, and snacks and drinks to buy. This seems to be a popular spot for men making the hike to stop for a couple of rounds of makkoli (a traditional Korean alcohol). We thought we were nearing the top at this point so we kept on going. In fact, it was about the half way mark.

Once you pass the rest station the pathway enters into the forest and becomes a bit more challenging. Roots become nature’s steps and near the top there is a bit of a climb up some rocks. It was a bit difficult for a 3 year old to make it up this part and we had to help him a lot in this area but he wasn’t the only kid making the climb. We saw about 10 other children during the day though most were around 8 years old or a bit older. We even saw a grandmother in her 80’s making the climb! So if they can all make it, you probably can too!

Preschooler mountain climb
view from geumseong fortress

There are two routes you can take. The both start out from the same place and go up into the fortress gate. If you want to take the short route, just head back down the same way you came up.

fortress gate damyang korea

The fortress wall though continues around the entire mountain and so you can do the complete loop if you wish. This route has some fantastic views but is quite challenging with steep drop-offs and rocky trails so we just did the short one.  Also hidden among the trails are some small temples and a hermitage to check out.

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view from geumseong fortress

view from geumseong fortress

7 Must See Places Near Gwangju this Fall

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This summer has been a long and unbelivably hot one but fall is in the air! Maybe you're looking for a place to see the fall colours or somewhere to visit over the Chuseok holiday. The Damyang House, Compass Korea  and Family in Faraway Places  have you covered with our favorite places to visit near Gwangju, Jeollanamdo during the autumn season in Korea!

1. The Gwangju Lake Eco-Park (광주호수생태원)

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The interconnecting boardwalks and walkways inside the Eco-Park offer spectacular views of the lake and are designed to accommodate visitors of all ages.  The park is very popular and can get busy, especially on the weekend during mid afternoon.  The secret is to arrive just before dusk when 90% of the visitors are leaving, sneak in a bottle of wine and your dog, and enjoy the sun setting behind the mountains on the far side of the lake.  Better yet, arrive in the afternoon and explore the rice paddies adjacent to the park before catching the sunset.  Follow the service road behind the 7-11 in the parking lot into the rice paddies and enjoy the uninhibited views of Mundeung National Park and the surrounding mountains.  Not only are these small farming service roads pet friendly, they are virtually empty except for the occasional farmer.   Even still, for some of the best views of the lake and Mudeung Mountain, you can walk up road 887 (main road following the lake) and find one of several trails used to access the lake by the local fishermen.  Bring your camera AND your fishing rod because the bass fishing is just as good as the views.  


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Check out more about Gwangju Lake Eco Park, from The Damyang House here!
Fishing Trails


2. Baegyangsa (백양사)

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Part of Naejangsan National Park, Baegyangsa was established in 632 AD. Once you arrive it is a short and easy walk from the parking area to the temple. The walkway takes you along the river and past little shops selling fresh persimmons and roasted chestnuts in the fall. As you approach the temple you are greeted with the spectacular image of the temple at the end of the river with a backdrop of red, orange and yellow leaves framing the mountain’s rock formation. This spot is a favorite location for tourists and locals during the autumn season and during the best weekends to view the fall colors it can get busy! There is plenty of space to find a nice little quiet place to yourself and paths to hike but take the crowds into consideration. The first time we went we were a bit naïve about how bad the traffic would be on a peak weekend. The trip that usually takes 35 minutes to an hour, took us nearly 3 hours! Arriving early or on weekdays can help you to avoid the crowds nearly all together.


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Check out more about Baegyangsa from Family in Faraway Places here!
Baegyangsa


3. Guemseong-Sanseong Fortress (담양 금성산성)

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I’ve hiked and traveled all over South Korea – and lots of Asia – and the Geumseong Fortress in Damyang is a spot that continues to impress me to this day. I can still vividly remember climbing out the trees the first time years ago – not knowing what to expect – and coming face to face with the imposing stone gate towering over me. Just awesome. The appeal of Guemseong is that the reward is so high for such a short hike. After 30-40 minutes on a gradual ridge you get to explore an impressive mountain fortress. I definitely recommend it to everyone coming to the area.


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Watch a video of Damyang and the Geumseong Fortress by Compass Korea here! 
Geumseong Fortress


4. Shikyeongjung (식영정)

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Shikyeongjung is a small group of pavilions just across from the Eco-Park and right next to the Poetry and Literature Museum.  This small park doesn’t look like much at first glance, but keep in mind these are functioning pavilions.  Grab some snacks from one of the cafes or a bottle of makoli from the 7-11 and find an empty pavilion to relax in and enjoy the fresh air.  The pavilion on top of the hill even has a working Hwangto-Bang during the colder months (red clay brick room heated via small cast iron stove under the floor).  This park is especially popular with the local photography clubs during the fall months when the trees offer a colorful backdrop for the traditional pavilions.  What most visitors don’t know is that there is a pet-friendly trail behind the aforementioned pavilion on the hill that leads up the mountain to a scenic overlook offering beautiful views of Mudeung National Park and the surrounding valley.  It’s a steep 25 minute climb, but well worth it.  


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Read more from The Damyang House about what you can find around Shikyeongjunjg here!
Jishil Valley


5. Suncheon Bay (순천만습지)

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One of the best day trips in all of Jeollanamdo is to explore the beautiful eco park of the Suncheon Bay. Stroll on boardwalks just above the mudflats and listen to miles of reeds swaying and rustling in the breeze. In the summer the six-foot reeds are a vibrant green, but in the fall, when the feathery seed heads are full, they change to brown and gold, looking more like wheat than tall grass. Plus, if you go in the fall you get to see the flocks of migratory birds that rest and feed in the Suncheon Bay.


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To see Suncheon Bay upclose, watch this video by Compass Korea here!
Suncheon Bay


6. Songgwangsa (송광사)

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Songgwangsa is one of Korean’s best known temples! Found in Jogyesan Provincial Park, the temple is only about a 45 minute drive from Gwangju and is a popular destination to celebrate Buddha’s Birthday, join a temple stay program or to just enjoy the autumn scenery. When you arrive at the parking area you will find some small restaurants and vendors where you can grab a meal or a snack. The main gate where you purchase your ticket is also there but the temple is about a 15 minute walk away! We were not expecting such a long walk but the pathways follow a beautiful river and take you through a quiet pine forest. We found ourselves wishing that we had packed a picnic lunch to enjoy under the trees like many hikers were doing. Songgwangsa is quite large with many buildings to explore and lots of space to spread out in and so it never seemed crowded. 


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Check out more about Songgwangsa from Family in Faraway Places here!
Songgwangsa


7. Sosaewon (소쇄원)

sosaewon 2Descriptions of this private garden tend to be overly dramatic, but the fact that's it's 500 years old, has been passed down for 15 generations, and the current owner lives in our village just two doors down is pretty impressive.   It’s also included on just about every “top 10” list focusing on Damyang so it’s worth checking out.  The entire garden is surrounded by a bamboo forest and is split by a small stream, with pavilions on either side.  Small walkways and bridges connect everything and guide you through the park.  It's not big and is unfortunately made even smaller by the unusually large crowds.  Sosaewon is only about 1km from Shikyeongjung, but walking along the main road isn’t always the most comfortable.  To avoid this, start your afternoon here and after checking out the park exit Sosaewon via the little-known and underused back entrance.  This trail will follow the ridge up the mountain and around the valley and take you to the overlook previously mentioned and ultimately down to Shikyeongjung and the Eco-Park!  


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Check out more near Sosaewon, from The Damyang House here!
Rice Paddies


A big thank you to The Damyang House and Compass Korea for collaborating on this article!