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Jiri-san (East) 지리산 - Trails to Cheonwang-bong (1915m)

Map of Eastern Jiri-san National Park, with trails to Cheonwang-bong from Jungsan-ri in the south (purple), Daewon-sa in the east (green), and Baekmu-dong to the west (orange). The Baekdu-daegan ridge trail is marked in light blue leaving Cheonwang-bong heading south-west. Note this is a north-west facing view.

Jir-san is Korea's oldest and largest National Park, covering an area of over 470km2, and extending into 5 of Korea's provinces. It's the largest wilderness area in South Korea, and home to dozens of peaks well over 1000 metres high, with challenging valley trails leading to them. It is impossible to "do" Jiri-san on a single day or a weekend, I'll therefore be splitting the Jiri-san section of this site into different zones, starting here with the east..

The West/South-western view from the summit of Cheonwang-bong, the highest peak of mainland South Korea. The main ridge running from here to the big white peaks of Banya-bong (centre right) and Nogodan (distant centre pointy) is the beginnings of the great Baekdu-daegan ridge trail.

At 1915m, Cheonwang-bong is the highpoint of Jiri-san and all of mainland Korea, towering over the surrounding highlands from the eastern Gyeongseongnam-do province side of the park. It's a challenging hike to the summit from any direction, but not out of reach for anyone of moderate fitness or a good ticker, as from the shortest trail head you can be there in under 6km - albeit quite steeply.

Trailheads to the summit are located in Jungsan-ri (south 5.4km) Yupyeong/Daewon-sa (east 10km) Baekmu-dong (northwest 6.8km) and Chilseong (north/closed trail). Of these trailheads, only Jungsan-ri offers a true circuit trail of the summit and high ridge, while the others require returning the same way if you want to get back to your start point, or traversing to another exit. 

Map showing the Southern and Eastern trails to Cheonwang-bong, with Jungsan-ri on the left and Yupyeong/Daewon-sa bottom right.

Of the three trails, the southern Jungsan-ri Trail remains the most popular, and there are a number of possible reasons for this. From here there is the possibility of completing a day-circuit trail, it's the most direct route to the summit, the trail passes the historic and beautiful Beopgye-sa temple - Korea's highest, there is a rest stop just over halfway at the Rotary shelter, and the beautiful open views are more frequent and spectacular on this southern approach.

There is a feeling that the Jungsan-ri route is the "traditional" way to climb the mountain. Jungsan Village certainly has the most restaurants, motels and minbaks of any approach, many of which have been around for decades, and transport options to Jungsan-ri have always been good, although bus access to the other trailheads has much improved in recent years.

From Daewon-sa and the Yupyeong Village entrance to the east the hike is much longer and quite tough over the rugged ridges and deep valleys of the Eastern side.

In this section I will cover all these trails to the peak, with options for hiking one to the other and transport to and from each location.