There are numerous routes to take however we started our journey at exit 1 of Oncheonjang Station so I will be giving directions to follow should you ever wish to complete this the same way. Here goes…
A short walk from Oncheonjang, guided by Kakao Maps, leads you to Geumgang Park. Take the path furthest to the right, follow it around until you reach the cable car base (look for the ropeway signs). Pass the office and turn slightly left on to a pathway with a small incline that stretches out in between the parkland.
On and on along this path you go until you reach the trail; you know you have reached the trail when you get to a clearing on your right surrounded by the bushes of the park with a few steps across from you. Up you go, walk a little further along the level ground and then the real hike starts, for 80% of the hike up to the cable car platform are super steep stairs. Climb up, up, up. Even when your thighs are screaming out for you to stop, keep on going! You know you’re halfway up once you reach a small temple stowed away between a few rocks.
Onwards and upwards you go; the stairs start to level out once you reach a whole bunch of oversized rocks through which you climb, come out the other side and take an immediate left. From there you will find yourself on a muddy surface, still there are some steps but they aren’t as steep as the ones further down the mountain. Follow them through and you’ll find yourself at the cable car platform; a relatively flat area where there are shops, restaurants and restrooms.
The path to Seokbulsa also lies here; look for the signpost pointing the way to the South Gate (남 문) for these will be your best guide for quite some time! The path to Seokbulsa can become rather confusing, but you will know once you reach the South Gate, for it is a large decorative archway with a set of double wooden doors. The trail towards the South Gate is on a decline; a muddy route where the gate itself stands at the bottom but then has a sharp turn downwards to the left.
Start to look for different signs at this point; either Seokbulsa (석불사) or Seokbul Temple. Bear in mind that the signs always lead you in the right direction however they tend to give you varying estimations of the distance left to travel. We set off from the South Gate with information from a signpost that the temple lay 3.1 kilometres away; the next pointer told us we were 3.3. Drove us all a little mad but made us laugh nonetheless!
The majority of the route to the temple is super easy; a mixture of muddy and rocky paths lead you mainly downhill through Nammun village where again there are numerous restaurants and a restroom. Given the time of year we went, in the midst of winter, the trees were extremely bare and looked parched of life, however, it still made for pretty surroundings and I can only imagine how lush the trek would be in spring and summer time.
The compound itself is extremely unique and superbly pretty; it lies nestled atop a ridge on the mountainside with nature rolling out beneath it. Another characteristic of Korean temples, indeed older ones, is to be situated atop a mountain; the seclusion and therefore impeccable quietness only adds to the peaceful, serene quality Buddhist worship evokes. However, Seokbulsa was only founded in 1930; the particular location was chosen by the founding monk due to the sandstone surfaces that were made of use for purposes I will explain below.
Within the compound are numerous buildings and structures showcasing traditional Korean architectural style and displaying a multi-coloured paint job said to ward off bad spirits thus protecting the place of worship. A stone pagoda stands outside the main hall; this is extremely important for it represents the Buddha and the teachings but also houses a symbol of significance, a relic of the Buddha, an important sutra or other religious artefacts.
After marvelling at the wonders of Seokbulsa, you can make your way down using the same winding pathway and there on out follow the signs for Mandeok (만덕). The descent itself, as always, is shorter than the ascent and we found ourselves at Mandeok station almost exactly five hours after we began our adventure. Sure, that sounds like a hell of a long time but it was worth every second!