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 autumn leaves in South Korea 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 fall season to see autumn leaves in South Korea!
1. The Gwangju Lake Eco-Park (광주호수생태원)
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.
Check out more about Gwangju Lake Eco Park, from The Damyang House here!
2. Baegyangsa (백양사)
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 autumn leaves in South Korea 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.
Check out more about Baegyangsa from Family in Faraway Places here!
3. Guemseong-Sanseong Fortress (담양 금성산성)
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.
Watch a video of Damyang and the Geumseong Fortress by Compass Korea here!
4. Shikyeongjung (식영정)
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 when the autumn leaves in South Korea 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.
Read more from The Damyang House about what you can find around Shikyeongjunjg here!
5. Suncheon Bay (순천만습지)
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.
To see Suncheon Bay upclose, watch this video by Compass Korea here!
6. Songgwangsa (송광사)
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 some autumn leaves in South Korea. 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.
Check out more about Songgwangsa from Family in Faraway Places here!
7. Sosaewon (소쇄원)
Descriptions 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!
A big thank you to The Damyang House and Compass Korea for collaborating on this article and sharing their recommendations about where to find the best autumn leaves in South Korea!