Balwangsan Mountain has more than just skiing

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Jun 7, 2019 - 10:24
  • Updated : Jun 7, 2019 - 10:24

Daegwallyeong county in Gangwon Province is mainly known for its ski resorts and sheep farms, but its 1,458 meter-high Balwangsan offers beautiful natural scenery and an opportunity to relax all year round.

The 12th-highest mountain in the country has trekking courses, but one can also reach the top via one of the longest gondola rides in Korea, which departs from Yong Pyong Resort. This makes the experience more of a pleasant stroll than a challenging mountain hike. 

Sunrise seen from atop Balwangsan (Yong Pyong Resort)

A gondola at Balwangsan (Yong Pyong Resort)

On the 20-minute, 7.4-kilometer ride to the top that was blessed with clear skies, I was able to gaze at the full spectacle of the Taebaek mountain range in the distance.

The name Balwangsan comes from the legend that it is where eight kings are to be born. Surrounding the mountain are Janggun-bong -- general’s peak -- Kal-bong -- the knife peak -- and the accompanying “subjects” to the kings.

If one decides to hike instead, resort officials said it would take about 2 1/2 hours to reach the top.

The gondola stopped at the mountaintop Dragon Castle alpine center, just 30 minutes or so from the peak. It had a restaurant where both Western and Korean-style dining was available in addition to spectacular scenery.

I started toward the top and came across a yew colony consisting of some 260 spreading yew -- or Japanese yew -- some of which are thousands of years old. 

Balwangsan (Yong Pyong Resort)

According to Yong Pyong officials, the forest boasts some well-known trees. Some were rather corny -- a bent-shaped tree that looks like the gate of Korea’s most prestigious Seoul National University, and a “victory tree” in the shape of the letter “V” -- while others were remarkable.

One such example was Mayumok, referring to a rare case of a Japanese rowan tree seed falling inside a Siberian crab apple and growing inside it. The bizarre parasitic relationship did not result in either tree’s demise but an almost symbiotic bond that allowed the “mother tree” to survive far past its usual lifespan.

Also near the gondola station are three natural springs that have mineral water some 300 meters underneath the mountaintop. Stories claim that drinking from two of the three would make a wish come true. Drinking from all three, however, would render your wish moot.

Shin Dal-soon, president of Yong Pyong Resort, said his company is planning to launch products using the mineral water, which he said had positive health effects. This includes using it in locally brewed beer, and launching a beer-and-chicken festival at the resort.

Balwangsan (Yong Pyong Resort)
Balwangsan (Yong Pyong Resort)

The day was coming to an end, and I was at the prime spot for a perfect view of the sunset. As visitors often come to Balwangsan to view the sunset or sunrise, the resort provides the expected time for both events.

The sun disappeared into the mountains, soaking the skies with a scarlet gleam before dipping beyond the horizon to rest -- truly a sight to behold.

The resort officials said they are planning to build outdoor observation decks at the Dragon Castle facility that will provide a 360-degree view of its surroundings. They hope to finish this by the end of the month.

A zip-line ride is also to be installed on the mountain, with officials slated to start drawing up plans in the second half of this year.

By Yoon Min-sik