A Summit for civilized folks. Sure, you could chase your summits with ropes and spikes and 70-pound backpacks but sometimes you just wish there was a staircase. Mireuksan Peak has that staircase. And a cable-car. And a restaurant with meat-on-a-stick. If you are looking for your mountain triumphs to come with flush-toilets, Mireuksan is the peak for you!
Mireuksan (in English; “Mireuk Mountain”), on Tongyeong Island, is a 1,512-foot peak overlooking the ocean and has been an observation point for Korean Naval forces since the Silla Kings ruled in the 5th century. Mireuksan’s summit has a commanding view of Tongyeong’s surrounding ocean, islands, harbors, and city --- the very word “Tongyeong” means “command post” and Mireuksan Peak is has been an integral part of the town’s enduring strategic importance. Mireauksan played a vital role in 16th Century Korean hero Yi-Su Shin’s crazy victories over Japanese invaders. From this observation post Yi-Su Shin plotted a huge rolling ambush in and around the islands that enabled 12 Korean Turtle Ships to sink 141 Japanese galleys during the 1590s. Once on top of Mireuksan, you’ll easily see why this mountain has profound strategic advantages.
Mireuksan itself rises from the ocean to 1,512 feet of prominence. The mountain covered in dense forest. If you choose to hike bottom to top, there are two hermitages (small Buddhist temples) along the way. The path is clearly marked, well maintained and around 4.5 miles round trip, bottom to top and back. The vast majority of tourists take the cable car most of the way up but the full hike is also a very good option. It’s a worthwhile hike; Mireuksan Mountain was voted as one Korea’s top 100 scenic sites by the Korean Forest Reserve. The long route up has great views and seeing the sunrise from the mountain top is a bucket-list experience. The summit is marked by a monolith with the peak’s name and height inscribed on it. From the summit, you’ll see Tongyeong city, harbor, and out over the ocean. The area in view has over 150 islands dotting the Hallyeo Marine National Park.
Mireuksan is located within Tongyeong city limits. Tongyeong is a bustling city with 140,000 souls located just west of Pusan. It is well off the Westerner tourist path but is extremely popular with Korean tourists. As such, there is a vast amount of tourist support available (e.g. hotels, restaurants, shopping). Getting to the cable car trail head is normally a very short drive from the hotel (you most likely will not be camping).
The Tongyeong area can get a little soggy. It is directly on the ocean and gets 55 inches of rain every year (in perspective, Seattle gets 37 inches a year). That amount of rain, coupled with the mild temperature, make the forest lush and area green. January tends to be the coldest month (36 degrees average) and August the hottest (78 degrees average). Humidity, while tempered by ocean breezes, can be oppressive during warmer weather.
Getting There and Red Tape
Ride The Cable Car
The Mireuksan Cable car station is located at 349-1, Donam-dong in Tongyeong which is about 20 minutes from the Tongyeong Bus Terminal. Directions in Korea are kind of convoluted; recommend using navigation devices if you are driving.
If you are taking a taxi, ask to go to “Tongyeong-Hallyeo Waterway Observation Cable Car”
Admission for the cable car was 9,000 won ($8) round trip or 5,500 won ($4.50) one-way for adult in 2015. There are discounts for children, elderly, and active duty military. Sadly there are no veteran’s discounts as almost every adult Korean male is a veteran.
Show up early. The lines get long! The hours are as follows:
Closed every second and forth Monday
Winter: 09:30 ~ 17:00
Spring/Fall: 09:30 ~ 18:00
Summer: 09:30 ~ 19:00
Couple of red-tapey notes. Korea went green sometime in the past 10 years. Garbage is sorted and cans are collected. Don’t throw your trash just anywhere because the Koreans get annoyed. In addition, smoking in public is punishable by fines; seriously…you don’t see any cigarette butts on the ground anymore. If you indulge, take a cue from the locals and do it where they do
On Route to the summit
There are two ways to the top of Mireuksan peak…the easy way or the hike way.
The easiest method costs actual money and requires a little planning---you can simply take the cable car up most of the mountain and then climb stairs for around .75 miles to the top. The cable car, one of the longest in Asia, is 6,480 feet long starting at the bottom of the mountain. Go early, make sure it’s open (closed every 2nd & 4th Monday), and ride to the top!
The other way, the real hiking method, starts near the cable car station, follows a forest path up the mountain and goes past two hermitages up to the top. Round trip up and down is around 4.25 miles (my GPS failed so I’m not exact). The route is well maintained, forested, and not particularly steep. The two hermitages along the way, Yongwha-sa and Mirea-sa, are over 1, 000 years old and are worth a look. You can still hike even if the cable car is closed.
Maps are available at the Cable Car Station.
My GPS was in malfunction mode, so these are rough orders of magnitude
Up and Down Hiking~ 4.25
Cable Car ~ 1.5
Hotels and Dining
View of the Bay
There aren’t any camping locations in the area. Tongyeong has the whole battery of Korean hotel options (in order of price) Minbaks (sleep on the floor), Yogwons (either floor or bed), Motels (beds) and Hotels (beds). There are also some reasonably priced resorts in the area. As a westerner, the best bang for the buck are most likely Korean “love Motels” as these tend to be bedded, air conditioned, and have a really kick-butt shower room. Consult your tourist book for recommendations.
Western dining choices in Tongyeong are limited. The Korean food in Tongyeong is spectacular. A Tongyeong trip would be a great time to put the hamburger down and try the local cuisine. The seafood in the area is normally fresh caught, so you can’t go wrong. My wife, an expert in Korean food, highly recommends Tongyeong’s famous Kimbab dishes (Kimbab is sort of like sushi with a Korean spin…good stuff). Get either or both the Chungmu or Ggulbbang Kimbab. Oyster fans will probably also enjoy Tongyeong’s Oysters.
There is a restaurant at the top of the cable car near the mountaintop that serves basic Korean fast food like ramen, udong, meat-on-a-stick, and such. Not a bad thing scoring some Chilsung Cider, slurping some noodles and enjoying the view.