A hiker takes a break on the northern outskirts of Seoul. Photo: Tom Coyner

Raise your gaze above the cluttered cityscape of Seoul, and chances are good that your eyes will come to rest upon the peak of a hill or mountain.

These craggy, forested outcroppings are the environmental and aesthetic saving grace of the Korean capital – and, indeed, many other Korean cities.  As such, they provide the residents of these hectic urban spaces with a natural escape valve.

Northern Seoul from the ridge of Mt Inwhang. Photo: Tom Coyner

By the end of the Korean War in 1953, these projections were tree-denuded, making them tan and dusty in dry weather, dark and muddy during the rain. 

As such, they were yet another dreary eyesore on top of the ugly, functional architecture that sprang up during the first three decades after the war, as economic development was prioritized, Korea urbanized and cities expanded at a rapid pace. 

View toward city landmark Mt Namsan, surmounted by its tower. Photo: Tom Coyner

Fortunately, one of the undeniable achievements of authoritarian President Park Chung-hee’s regime (1961-1979) was his reforestation program. This program made the southern half of the Korean peninsula truly verdant, bringing wildlife back to their old haunts.

Spring blossoms. Photo: Tom Coyner

Today, while Seoul has not quite recovered from its utilitarian development phase – the city still contains much hideous architecture – it is possible, from within virtually 20 minutes of anywhere in the city, to escape up and into nature, complete with trails, flowers, birds, trees and exercise equipment. 

From the mountain ridges and peaks, one can see that a good proportion of the city, particularly its northern half, consists of green zones, making Seoul one of the world’s most livable cities for those people willing to don hiking boots.

A trail through greenery, above the city. Photo: Tom Coyner

It does not take much for a hiker to become temporarily lost in these wild landscapes – before coming to a break in the foliage, seeing a vast vista of apartment blocks, and recognizing that he or she is, indeed, still surrounded by one of the world’s largest cities.

An alpine bench overlooking apartments in northern Seoul. Photo: Tom Coyner
Wooden hiking trials hug the contours of Mt Inwhang. Photo: Tom Coyner
Buddhist nuns on their constitutional on Mt Inwhang. Photo: Tom Coyner
Cherry blossoms on the ground on Mt Inwhang. Photo: Tom Coyner
Vista of northern Seoul. Photo: Tom Coyner

To view a full gallery of related photos, please visit: https://seoulman.smugmug.com/Korea/Korea-Spring/