Gyeongju is home to many mountains and peaks that are perfect for hiking (as is the rest of Korea). The infamous Namsan is notably the go-to hike for locals and visitors alike and I've explored the "Museum Without Walls" a bunch of times. However, Danseokan is the tallest mountain in Gyeongju and what you get from this hike is totally different as it is unique in it's own identity.
While hiking Danseoksan, you get a completely different experience than you would hiking Namsan, or many other neighbouring mountains (such as Tohamsan). First of all, Danseoksan is the highest mountain in the Gyeongju area, with it's peak at 827meters. There are two courses that will get you to the peak and back, one takes about 4 hours while the longer course should last about 6. This obviously depends on the individual. I did the shorter course, which did take us approximately that length of time.
First off, backstory for the mountain. It got it's name, "Danseok" which translates to "cutting rock" after the legend of Kim Yushin (pause for suspense....)
Kim Yushin was a student of Hwarang (an elite group of soldiers during the Silla Dynasty that excelled in military) that was undergoing training with the intention of reunification of the three Kingdoms. A buddhist monk handed Yushin a sword with which he used to cut straight through a jagged stone. This particular stone is still standing, and is waiting for you at the peak of Danseoksan.
The course itself is quite steep, at least in comparison to the competing hikes in the area. It is wild and rugged, with narrow paths and fallen tree logs to climb over. I felt as if I was a child again, rustling through the wilderness on an exploration. Although this might not suit everyone's preferences, it ticked all the boxes for me. The mountain was empty of people, and having the trail to yourself can come as a novelty in Korea especially if you're on a mountain that is well known.
The scenery was breathtaking. Surrounded by lush green, tall towering trees that twisted and turned in all directions. The buzzing of insects and rustling of leaves was all the noise we heard for the day. I found it to be such an invigorating hike!
Sinseonsa Temple is located a kilometer from the peak of Danseoksan. You can drive up a certain distance, but you will still have to hike to the gates of the temple itself. The path is steep that doesn't make it easy for you, but if you do make your way to the temple it is absolutely worth it. The temple is home to an ancient grotto, with buddhist carvings that stands over 10 meters tall. It is said that this grotto is one of the first made during the Silla Dynasty, and so it holds serious significance. It is also pretty badass being located 700 meters up a mountain.
These buddhist carvings date back to the 7th Century, which even predates the very famous Seokguram Grotto on Tohamsan. This grotto has it's own unique qualities and though it may not be as aesthetically pleasing or defined as Seokguram, it is grand in stature, nestled on the mountainside with magnificent views of hilltops for miles, and so secluded you get sucked into the serene beauty of it all. Some of the Bodhisattva carvings have been chipped away over the years, while others are still clearly profound and proudly evident. You may walk through the open area and thoroughly take it all in. Look at the details up close and personal, without a sound around you.
You can proceed down the mountain from Sinseonsa Temple, or go down the other side. As always, the way down is a whole lot easier but make sure to be wearing decent footwear with fine grip, because that steep trail gets slippery at times.
There is a small restaurant with refreshments for sale if you're out of juice at the end (I mean this both the literal and metaphorical sense). The village and it's surrounding area is quite the picture, and it is worth having a look around if you have time or energy. It is Korean countryside at it's best. Enjoy the fine smells!
Get to Geongcheon which is north of Gyeongju. From the train station, grab any of these buses #350, #351, #352, or #355 that will take you to Songseon 2 Ri Jeolgol (송선 2리 절골). The bus ride should take about 30 minutes.