South Korea has a number of national parks and all of them contain some form of a mountain on which you can hike. When my friends and family came over for my wedding, they thought national park just meant a park. So they went in casual clothes and wearing normal shoes (some with heels) and were surprised that they had to climb so much. How they managed to climb to the peak of Bukhansan in those shoes is still a mystery to me. Anyway, Songnisan National Park (속리산국립공원) also contains a mountain, but if hiking isn't your thing, there are plenty of other things to enjoy.
I went with my family to Songnisan National Park and because we have a very young daughter, hiking isn't something that is in the cards. Besides, my daughter is in love with water, so swimming in the river and chilling in a tent under the shade of the trees was a much better idea. We didn't really camp, as in spending the night in a tent, because we stayed in a hotel in the park. There are a few in the area, but whatever you do, do not stay at the Lake Hills Hotel. On the front of the hotel it is proudly announced that they are in business since the 1960s, but apparently that is also the last time that they did any maintenance on that building. Everything looks just the same as it was in the 60s, but then used for over 50 years. The building was so damp that I had trouble breathing and I suspect the building had something to do with the cold that I developed there. Avoid the place if you can. An alternative to staying in a hotel can be doing a temple stay at the nearby temple, which I will address below.
Just next to the hotel on the other side of the river is a Hanok that has a cafe and gallery in it. It is located just in front of the ticketing booth of the temple and hiking trail, so it is hard to miss. I like these kind of styled cafes, even when it is clear that this is a fairly recent building. I bought us two iced lattes every morning, which tasted like heaven compared to the crap the hotel gave us with our overpriced breakfast.
Songnisan National Park also has a fairly large temple called Beopjusa (충북 법주사). To get there you have to pass a ticket booth where you are supposed to pay 4000 won to enter. Although I think I discovered a back route so I wouldn't have to pay, I decided to be a law abiding citizen and just pay the entrance fee. If you're there for several days and you want to visit the temple multiple times or hike every day, that ticket price can be a pain in the ass.
The temple itself is fairly close to the entrance and the terrain is all level, so you don't need to strap on your hiking shoes. You just follow a path through the forest and it will lead you to the temple. You could also skip the temple and just go hiking, but since I was with my family and wasn't feeling well, I stuck to visiting the temple.
Beopjusa itself looks like your run-of-the-mill Korean Buddhist temple, except for the gigantic golden Buddha statue that looks over the complex. The architecture of Korean Buddhist temples is almost the same at every temple, with just a few exceptions. Beopjusa isn't one of them. As with most Buddhist temples in Korea, it is the scenery that sets them apart. Beopjusa is surrounded by mountains and has some very nice scenery. There is an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, unless there is some Korean Pop festival going on while you are visiting. A problem that my fellow travel bloggers Scott and Megan at boboandchichi.com encountered when they did their temple stay here. So if you decide to do a temple stay at Beopjusa, please inquire if there isn't a party going on when you are planning to live like a monk in peace and tranquility. You can read about Scott and Megan's experience here, it's an excellent post with some more info and pictures of the temple.
As I said above, the real attraction to this temple is its surroundings. There is a huge rock with Chinese characters carved in it, as well as some smaller shrines here and there. Its a very nice place to photograph, although the inside of some buildings are off limits. Try to respect that when you decide to visit.
All in all it was a nice escape from daily life. However, I feel there are other temples that I visited that are more to my liking.
Sangpan-ri, Songnisan-myeon, Boeun-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do
(충북 보은군 속리산면 상판리 , 괴산군/ 경북 문경시, 상주시)