Jeju Island is a creation of intense volcanic activity and the sea. Long sandy coastlines, dense forests, parasitic cones (oreums), cascading waterfalls, and South Korea’s pride: Hallasan, dominate this natural gem — situated off the coast of the Korean Peninsula. Not surprisingly, Jeju is one of the ‘New 7 Wonders of Nature’. But, very few foreign tourists make it to Yongmeori Geo Trail — tucked in the southernmost part of Jeju Island. It doesn’t receive as much attention as the other sights of the island. Perhaps, Yongmeori Geo Trail is one of the many Korean secrets kept away from prying eyes. And those who venture here: are rewarded with fables of dragons and stunning views of rock and sea.
Sanbangsan to Yongmeori Geo Trail (Course A)
After hiking up to the Cave Temple in Sanbangsan, we walked along the narrow dirt trail that lead to the start of Yongmeori Geo Trail. En route, we passed Canola fields and few local restaurants. We were tempted to grab a bite to eat before starting the Geo Trail. In hindsight, it would have been wiser to eat our lunch before attempting the long walk along the coast.
As we walked closer to the coast, Sanbangsan steadily rose behind us. Sanbangsan’s beauty can be truly realised only when you walk away from it. The canola fields hadn’t bloomed yet and we missed the opportunity of capturing the rocky mountain with yellow flowers. The outline of the exhibit of Hamel’s ship, De Spewer, was sandwiched between the coast and fields.
Geo Trail A
There are multiple direction boards and paths to follow. We decided to follow the stairs that lead to an elevation and probably, another lookout point.
Geo Trail Course A is littered with historical nuggets along its route. In 1653, Hendrick Hamel, a Dutch sailor, and his crew, were stranded on Jeju Island due to a turbulent storm. He documented his life in Korea in a journal titled: Hamel’s Journel. Hamel’s Monument was built to recognise his contribution to Jeju.
Somewhere along the path, the trail split into two. One path lead to Hangmandae and the other to the smoke-signal station. We took this opportunity to share a Hallabong orange and kill those hunger pangs. The views were stunning and it was a tough choice to make. We decided to explore the smoke-signal station first and then come back to explore the beach.
Sanbang Yeondae Smoke-Signal Station
The gradient to the smoke-signal beacons is quite deceptive. The stony path to the top looked easy from below, but I was out of breath by the time I reached the narrow entrance to the old wall. As the name suggests, the smoke-signal stations were built to communicate important military or political news by sending smoke signals.
The views from Sanbang Yeondae Smoke-Signal Station are stellar. Sagye-ri Village spread in the plains below and the coastal road hugged the black sandy trail of Hwangwuchi Beach.
We walked back to the point where the trail split into two. This lookout point is called ‘Hangmandae’ and it gets its name from the Korean word for port: Hangman. During the Korean War, this beach was used as a port by US Military.
Geo Trail Course C
Geo Trail markers can be found all along the trail. These markers are attached to shrubs or trees and help you to stay on the trail. It’s quite similar to the Jeju Olle Trail. We followed the blue & green ribbons and walked till we hit the sand.
We were tempted to continue walking (& slide along the incline of the beach) after the trail stopped. We saw few footprints in the sand, but there weren’t any locals to follow. If we chose to continue, we would have explored Course C of the Sanbangsan-Yongmeori Geo Trail that highlights the geological aspects of the location. I didn’t want to miss the tuft ring of Yongmeori Coast and we turned back.
The Route to Yongmeori Tuft Ring
We retraced our steps and followed the trail that lead to Yongmeori Coast. It got windy as we approached the coast and it was a much needed break from the sun.
Entry Point from the Cave Trench
There are two entry (exit) points to Yongmeori Coast. The cave trench entry looked steep and was lined with uneven stone steps. I wasn’t confident about this path and we decided to go to the other entry (follow the arrow to Hamel’s ship exhibit) and hoped it was easier.
Hamel’s Ship Exhibit
The life-size exhibit of Hamel’s ship blocks the entrance to Yongmeori Coast. We didn’t waste our time exploring this replica and chose to continue walking towards the coast.
There’s an entry fee to Yongmeori Coast. We had already paid it at the ticket counter at Sanbangsan. Tickets can also be purchased at the ticket counter — at either entrance — to the coast. A giant board spells out the geology behind the formation of the coast. It makes sense to read about it before entering the Geo Trail as there aren’t any description boards beyond this point.
Local tourists were swarming the narrow trail of Yongmeori Coast. Clearly, this wasn’t a secret for local tourists. Patience is the key to photography in places like these.
Geo Trail Course B
It’s also possible to walk along the black-sand beach. This walking path is also called Geo Trail Course B. We could have walked along the shore and reached our pension house from this point. The sand is black in colour and reminded us of the black-sand beach in Vik (in Iceland).
Sculpted by the Elements
Giant pieces of rock are continuously chiseled by wind and sea creating shapes that could fuel your imagination. Not surprisingly, Yongmeori loosely translates as Dragon’s head.
Love on the Rocks
It’s hard to escape selfies here. Always be careful where you’re standing because the wind can be terrifying. By evening, the wind picks speed and the coast is shut after five.
Around the Curve
The towering rock structures are a lesson in humility. We become more aware of our own limitations as humans and our vulnerability to the elements.
Countless seashells were lodged on the rocks that got lashed by waves. It can be tricky to walk along this bit because of the water and sharp shells.
The tuft ring rises above the coast and dwarfs anyone or any being below. Jagged rocks jut out from the face of the remnant of the volcano and give form to a grotesque creation of nature.
The trail is undulating with slippery spots created by residual water from the retreating waves. A good pair of walking shoes will save you the trouble of struggling to get a grip.
The Yongmeori Volcano is the oldest volcano on Jeju Island. The eruption is believed to have occurred around 1.2 million years ago. The volcanic eruption spewed from three shifting vents — at successive intervals in time. Yongmeori Coast (and its iconic tuft ring) is the result of the quickly collapsing volcano — from each vent — being eroded by the sea, before it could cool down.
The tuft ring, with Sangbangsan in the background, is a stunning sight. Sadly, it’s not easy to capture the epic scale of Yongmeori Coast and fight the wind at the same time.
The biodiversity of a volcanic island is amazing. Green and pink algae thrived in pools of water created in the craters.
The tuft ring is quite unique and looks spectacular from all angles. It’s hard not feel overwhelmed by the scale of rock all around you.
The sea is a treasure trove of hidden lifeforms. There’s so much we don’t know and that’s alien to us.
Local women sell live (fresh) seafood along the trail. I was hungry to the point that I thought I’d collapse. But the thought of eating squirming fresh catch didn’t appeal to my taste buds and I tried to ignore my stomach.
Just when you think the trail couldn’t get better, the ginormous volcanic rocks will take your breath away.
Beyond the Bridge
The section beyond the first bridge is truly spectacular. The expanse and magnitude of the tuft ring is hard to capture on camera.
Twists and Turns
A narrow inlet of water percolated under the second bridge.
The last stretch of the Yongmeori Geo Trail took me to another world. It was hard to associate Korea with these sandy hued, weathered rocks. It’s harder to convince the photographer to pose for a picture at the end of a trail.
The End of the Road?
We had reached the end of the Geo Trail Course A. There was a narrow path that would eventually join Hwangwuchi Beach (Course C). None of the local tourists took the trail and we didn’t want to take a risky path to get to the other side.
Up the Cave Trench
I dreaded climbing up those uneven steps. I struggled at certain portions and hoped that my knee would support me to the top. It was worth the effort and every hunger pang that I had tried to suppress.
2. Sanbangsan Mountain & Yongmeori Coast Geo Trail Route ( JTO Website)
3. Jeju Geo Trails (Jeju BnB Website)
The trail courses in the links above (2 & 3) are named differently from the trail course in the pdf below. I’ve followed the trail course from the pdf because it matched the boards along the Geo Trail during our visit. It’s possible, the trail courses will keep changing over time and it’s best to look for the most recent update before your trip.
Geo Trail (PDF with Maps)