Taejongdae Park is one of the most famous tourist sites in Busan. Because of how old and famous the park is, it tends to fly under the radar for many tourists who are familiar with Busan. However, the park actually holds a secret that even the most knowledgeable Busan native may not know. It is a place where one can encounter a primordial slice of nature, unsullied with human touch: The Taejongdae Secret Forest. Let’s journey into the heart of this mysterious forest!
Taejongdae Secret Forest
Taejongsan Mountain makes up the majority of the Taejongdae Recreation Area. Due to its status as a protected area, even the natives of Busan often have no idea that this place exists, compounded by the area being closed off to public for half a year for forest fire prevention. It is truly a “Secret Forest” known only to the select few.
The gateway to Taejongdae Secret Forest is hidden near the entrance to the Taejongdae Recreation Area, in the form of an unassuming stone staircase that I have never recognized throughout my many visits to Taejongdae Park. I climb the stairs and follow the forest trail along the right-hand side to find the Taejongdae Secret Forest trail.
The forest trail, which starts from the entrance to Taejongdae Park, goes through the forest behind Beobyungsa Temple to reach the cliff, from which one can see the Korea Maritime & Ocean University and the Oryukdo Islets. From there, it leads one to Taejongsa Temple. The total length of the trail stretches 3.5km, laid out in a circle around Taejongsan Mountain, taking about 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours to complete.
Just as I feel my brows cooling from my sweat, I notice the salty sea breeze entering my nostrils. This is the starting point of the cliffside road, which overlooks the shoreline.
This narrow road, fenced in with barbed wires, takes one into a forest that seems to be completely untouched by the human hand. One runs into a massive fernbrake colony, then a mossy valley, with large boulders blocking one’s way. An interesting feature of the forest is the prevalence of pteridophytes, which gives the forest an exotic scenery rarely found in Korea I simply find it surprising that such forests still remain in Busan.
As one enjoys the mysteries of the primordial forest along the narrow and winding path, one comes to an open space where one’s left-hand side is no longer blocked by barbed wires. Here, one has a panoramic view of the North Port, Sinseondae Pier, Oryukdo Islets, and Haeundae, with the Korea Maritime & Ocean University appearing so close that one feels as if one could grasp it.
One cannot help but stop in one’s tracks to enjoy the view. The breeze brings with it the fresh scent of the sea. I never expected to find such a wonderful view in Taejongdae. Come to think of it, I don’t recall running into anyone in the Secret Forest. It feels as if I had the entire trail to myself.
I turn away and follow the road to find a steep slope. Here the dirt trail turns into a rocky path, and the surrounding environment also become unwelcoming. For these reasons, I recommend visitors to make some preparations for their safety. At the very least, water and a sturdy pair of hiking shoes are a must. One must be especially careful near areas that lack wire fences, as one careless step could send one plunging below.
Just as I feel short of breath, I find myself once again on the gentle forest trail, with a small cave to the right. This is no work of nature; it is a work of human hands. Despite its small size, barely housing three or four people, the cave seems bigger than I expected inside.
Past the cave is Taejong Guard Post, just before the end of the trail. When one arrives at the wire fences, confusion settles in seeing that the road disappears. Here, one needs to step toward the right side along the wire fence to find a paved road, which leads to Taejongsa Temple.
Taejongsa Temple, the final stop for the mysterious trip in Taejongdae Secret Forest, was established in 1970. Daeungjeon Hall, Sansingak Hall, and other buildings of the temple blend into the surroundings of the alluring Taejongsan Mountain with their dignified atmosphere.
While this temple lacks the history other more famous temples have in the area, Taejongsa Temple has received nationwide fame thanks to its bigleaf hydrangea colony. Every late July, the bigleaf hydrangea bloom into brilliant colors that transform the area into a completely different world. The sheer number of bigleaf hydrangea flowers makes the temple appear to be buried in the flowers. These flowers draw visitors from all across Korea and even from abroad during the Hydrangea Festival.
When one climbs down from Taejongsa Temple, one meets Taejongdae Scenic Road. One can find the entrance to the Taejongdae Recreation Area to the right, while the left side leads to Yeongdo Lighthouse, the observatory, and eventually to the Taejongdae Recreation Area entrance area. If you have some time to spare, take the road on the left to enjoy the view of Yeongdo Lighthouse and the observatory: they are great places to enjoy the view of Taejongdae’s shoreline, which has even been designated as a UNESCO Geopark.
Following the road to the left of the Recreation Area entrance brings one to Gamji Beach. Gamji Beach is one of the pebble beaches located around Taejongdae Park, appreciated for its open view and the blue sea. Here, one can take a cruise ship to enjoy the view of Taejongdae Park from the sea. Don’t miss the grilled clam restaurants nearby for a romantic experience of dining by the sea, especially with a cup of soju.