What is Jeju Olle Trail?
422 kilometers of continually connected walking trail spreading out over Jeju Island, South Korea, via 26 routes. 21 of these routes are considered part of the main trail while the other 5 are considered spur routes. The spur routes are mostly located on smaller, nearby islands, with some exceptions.
The philosophy behind the trail is to take a break from every day living, slow down, have some time to breathe. Life is hectic here in South Korea. It is a chance to leave that all behind for a time. Therefore the trail should be enjoyed at a leisurely pace and not considered a trail that must be completed as quickly as possible.
“It all started in September 2006, when Suh Myung-sook, the editor-in-chief of South Korean current affairs website OhmyNews, decided to pack up her newswoman notebook after 23 years and fly to Spain for a pilgrimage trek at El Camino de Santiago. Believed to be the path of Saint James (Santiago), it has attracted countless pilgrims in search of spiritual healing and rejuvenation.
As has been chronicled, while walking the trail, Suh met a British girl called Henney, who then gave her some food for thought, “If the journey was so great for us, why not build our own El Camino de Santiago in our homeland when we go back?”
This jolted her memory of Jeju with its beautiful and serene Olle, or narrow walking paths, around the island. She resolved to recreate the Santiago route in South Korea. Upon returning home, she embarked on the restoration of the old Olle and the creation of new ones. The first Olle trail was opened in 2007…”
Where is Jeju Olle Trail Exactly?
Jeju Island is the biggest island in South Korea. The island is about 73km from its western to eastern tips. It is about 30km from its northern to southern points. It is one of the most southerly islands in the country with the tiny places of Gapado, Marado, and Iedo being the only pieces of land further south.
When should I walk Jeju Olle Trail?
This is a difficult question to answer for walkers. Later in April and into May are considered the best months earlier in the year. The summer in Jeju is hot and humid, so thru-hikes should be carefully considered at this time. It is not advisable to be out on the trail in July and August. From September and into October are probably the best months for walking with October being THE best.
How long will it take me to walk Jeju Olle Trail?
Well, walkers doing one route a day should take 26 days in total. But Route 18-1 on Chujado requires an overnight stay in a guesthouse or hotel so that’ll stretch the trip to 27. Walkers need 21 days if they are only walking the main routes on the main island (no break days). Some walkers have done two routes in a day and covered up to 40km. But the philosophy behind Jeju Olle Trail is to go slow and enjoy the break from every day life.
What level of fitness do I need to walk the trail?
There are so many factors involved with trying to answer this question. Each route has its own difficulty level, so please check this before departing. Also check how many oreums (small parasitic extinct volcanoes) each route has. These hills all vary in size and steepness. Though in most cases de-tours exist to take you around them. What we can say say is that Jeju Olle Trail is not a wilderness trail with hikes above tree lines and extreme weather to deal with.
Can I bring a tent and camp on Jeju Olle Trail?
It is a kind of difficult to give a definitive answer. There are no routes that have a camp site at the start or end point. Then you’ll find the routes that do have a camp site, well, the sites are in the middle, which is just not practical because you have to walk back from the end of a route. Camping rules are generally not hard-and-fast. It really depends on who happens to be around at that time and where you are exactly when you decide to camp. So at the end of the day if you can find a quiet, secluded corner, in a farmers field or a rest pagoda you will generally be fine. And if anyone does show up flash them a friendly foreigner smile and say ‘Jeju Olle’. Hopefully that’ll be enough for you to spend the night wherever you are and move on in the morning.
What about the extra ‘-1’ routes. Should I do these too?
We have 21 main routes on Jeju Olle Trail. There are five small routes, which are optional extras each with their own characteristics.
Route 1-1 on Udo Island is a mixed bag due to heavy tourist traffic. There are cars, buses, and ATVs. Actually Jeju Olle Trail advises against walking this route during the summer (it will also be hot and there is a lack of shade on 1-1). If you can hike on a weekday or start with an early ferry you’ll be okay.
Next up is Route 7-1. This is a walk from the World Cup Stadium in Seogwipo and actually takes you back in the Seogwipo direction to Oedolgae Rock. It is uphill at first with an oreum hike too and then down hill for the ending part. Yes, this route is worth adding in.
Route 10-1 on the small island of Gapado. If you walk fast you can get this done in under 2 hours. The point of this route, however, is to go really slow and just take in the uniqueness of small island life. Plus you can stop off at the school and have your picnic or prepared lunch on the grass field.
The best extra route on the main island is Route 14-1. This inclues the Gotjawal Forest for much of the day. The only taste of real civilization is the O’suloc Green Tea Fields in the middle. You’ll be spat out into a tourist mecca. However, it is a welcome place to re-charge with coffee and brunch (the lunch set boxes are 15,000 WON in the building behind the main tea house where the middle stamp box is).
Finally we have Route 18-1 on Chujado. These islands are about one hour from Jeju on a fast ferry. Walkers require a one night stay to do the hardest Jeju Olle Trail route properly. With a bit of planning you can do one of the best routes with some of the best views in Korea. Chujado is a rugged, hardy, and beautiful place for any foreign visitor who manages to make it that far. Please check the weather forecast because ferry services are often canceled. The fast ferry can also be vomit inducing.
Which route is the best?
Every walker has their favorite route on the trail, so it is difficult to give a definitive answer. If you only have a day or a couple of days to walk then please consider these routes:
Route 1, 6, 7, 18
These are routes recommended to foreign walkers over the years.
Route 1 gives you a standard introduction to Olle and Jeju Island. Walkers get a countryside feeling at first followed by Seongsan Sunrise Peak towards the end. This route isn’t super long either. Plus the bus stops are really close to the start and end points. You’ll have three oreum climbs in this day (one optional).
Route 6 takes walkers through Seogwipo and has a lot of cultural sites along the way. If walkers have to finish early drop off the trail in downtown Seogwipo with transport links to the rest of the island.
Route 7 is considered Olle trail’s most popular route. Certainly the first part is very popular, however, I’m not a huge fan myself. I’d probably choose Route 6 over Route 7. I would do Route 7 on the following day.
Route 18 is a personal favorite of mine. You’ll see a different side of Jeju Island that many tourists don’t see. The landscape on this northern route is different to that of the tropical, exotic, feeling of Seogwipo. Route 18 starts in Jeju City, but slowly leaves it behind. Move into Samyang for lunch and then along country roads and paths for the afternoon. That is quintessential Olle. Start points and end points have easy bus access. Though Route 18 is quite long. Keep that in mind.
Should I do the trail in order?
Yes, in my opinion, if you’re looking to do the whole trail then start at Route 1 and work your way all around to 21. Picking and choosing will leave you with no overall sense of how the trail changes throughout the varied landscape of the island. That is important.
Walking clock-wise or anti-clockwise?
Jeju Olle Trail can also be walked in either direction. Blue painted arrows denote a clock-wise direction. The yellow arrows denote a counter-clockwise direction. However, I have never known of any walkers going counter-clockwise on their first walk. Everyone usually goes from Route 1 around to Route 21 in a clock-wise direction. Those who live on Jeju Island tend to walk in reverse after completing the whole loop for a fresh approach.
Should I reserve accommodation for every day on the trail?
Unless you’re walking in high season (during the summer when it’s really hot too) then you should be able to find suitable accommodation at the route start and end points. Consult your guidebook that you hopefully picked up free of charge from our airport information desk or downloaded from this site. Consult the accommodation guide here too. It’s really hard to answer this question because most walkers don’t know if they’ll do one and a half routes in a day or where exactly they will end up. Don’t worry, you will find somewhere.
Is there a porter service or system that can send heavy bags on to my next place of stay?
Yes, the first option is the Olle porter system a.k.a. 옮김이(010-2699-1892, www.olleh_omgimi.blog.me). This is a qualified porter system by Jeju Olle Foundation, but English is not available. However, if non Korean speaking hikers wants to use this service, they should ask someone who can speak both Korean and their foreign language (usually hikers ask manager of accommodation where they stay) to check the fee and pick-up time/place, make a reservation.
Are there any events for solo walkers?
Yes, we have two events in a month that might be of interest. Clean Olle is the second Saturday of every month. An officially sanctioned volunteer group chooses one route and tidies up the trash found along the way. Trash tongs, bags, and other support materials are provided. Then there is the Walk Together (extra link here) event on the fourth Saturday of every month. Walkers start together. Then go off as they please. Shuttle buses run from Jeju City and Seogwipo City. Please contact us for specific event route information and start times.
Do I need to send resupply and food packages to myself for this trail?
No, you do not. Jeju Olle Trail does not have remote sections without food or water for days. This trail is not as challenging as the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trail in that respect at all. Routes start, pass through, and finish near bus stops and villages throughout the day. There are modern convenience stores selling typical snack foods and beverages. You’ll never be more than a short walk or short ride from being able to resupply or eat. The challenge is more about overcoming the language barrier and finding somewhere to eat that is agreeable with your tastes (especially if this is your first time in Korea with Korean food).
Can I walk with my dog on the trail?
The trail is open to pets as well. However, walkers use typical dog owners common sense. Especially in sections where routes pass through fields with livestock (cows and horses).