This post is coming a little too late for the summer, but I’m posting it anyhow for those who might be interested in doing some camping this fall or are already kicking around ideas for their next vacation. For years I’ve heard that there there’s a campground at the Mt. Tohamsan at the Recreational Forest (토함산 자연휴양림), but I’ve never been up there to check it. Growing up in Virginia, I used to go camping at least a couple times a year, so I’ve been curious about it for a while now.
A few weeks back some friends of ours decided to go camping there for their summer vacation. They invited us out to their campsite for lunch, so I finally got the chance to check out the camping scene in Korea. It was about 10 degrees (that’s Fahrenheit, mind you) cooler up on the mountain than it was down in the city; a refreshing break from the steamy mid-August heat and humidity. After paying entry fees (1,000 원 per person) at the gate, we drove a few clicks more up the mountain, passing manicured boardwalk trails and rental cabins on our way.
The campground itself was packed, which was not surprising being a Saturday in mid-August. Overall, it wasn’t too much different to campgrounds back home. There was a covered pavilion with large sinks for doing dishes and hand washing clothes, plus modern toilet and bathing facilities across the road. Like with most of their hobbies, Koreans take their camping seriously and were geared up to the nines. Each and every campsite had the latest in high tech tents, tarps, thermal sleeping bags and camp stoves. For all their equipment, you’d be forgiven for thinking some folks were planning a climb up Everest.
There were a few other big differences with the camp ground that might be a turn off for some, especially those who go camping to escape the cramped hustle and bustle of city life. The individual campsites were little more than gravel squares, barely larger than the raised platform provided for your tent. This might not have been so bad except the sites were smack next to each other in a grid going at least four or five deep in either direction. This had the unfortunate effect of making the place look like a high class refugee camp. And as roasting marshmallows over an open fire, or even having a wee bit of privacy at night, forget it.
Our friends didn’t seem to mind the crowds though and we had a lovely afternoon regardless. Not too many people were hanging around during the day anyways. My friend stayed on for a few days longer and said that the campground had cleared out after the weekend. By Monday night he had the whole place to himself. So, for future reference, come during the week if you want to be sure to avoid the crowds.
At just 10,000 a night, the rates are reasonable. However, for those looking for a bit more privacy along with modern amenities and indoor plumbing, the Mt. Tohamsan Recreational Forest also offers a wide range of “Forest Homes.” These look like something between a cabin and more upscale Korean pensions. Their nightly rates start at 40,000 원 during week days and jump to at least 70,000 원 on weekends and during “High Season” (July 15th – Aug 15th). You can book the cabins in advance on the Mt. Tohamsan Recreational Forest website (the registration and reservation forms are only in Korean I’m afraid), or you could also try phoning the Recreational Forest at: 054-772-1254. The camp sites on the other hand cannot be reserved ahead of time and are rented on a first come first serve basis. Definitely get there early if you think it might get busy. The campground only operates from June 1st through October 31st, though the cabins seem to be available year round.
In spite of the cramped weekend conditions in the campground, the Mt. Tohamsan Recreational Forest is a pleasant spot for those itching to spend some time out in nature. With board walk nature trails, swimming holes, mountain overlooks, and even an aviary, it’s got something for the whole family. It’s also a good base camp for those looking to do more serious hiking on Mt. Tohamsan, like the 5 km hike over to Seokguram Grotto. And for those interested in sight-seeing around Gyeongju, historical attractions like Seokguram Grotto, Bulguksa Temple, Golgulsa Temple and King Munmu’s tomb are all within a 15 km radius.
To get to the Mt. Tohamsan Recreational Forest, take N.R. 7 going southwest out of Gyeongju heading towards Ulsan. After about 20 minutes , turn left going towards Bulguksa Temple. Continue past Bulguksa and follow the brown signs to Seokuram Grotto. You’ll soon be following a winding road crawling up the side of Mt Tohamsan. After about 15 minutes you’ll reach the ridge line and come to a “T” in the road. Turn right, heading away from Seokguram. Soon after the road starts down the other side of the mountain, the driveway to the Mt. Tohamsan Recreational Forest will soon veer off to the right. If you pass “Gyeongju Herb Land” on your left, then you’ve gone too far.
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