South Korea vs Japan: Which Country Is Best For Adventure Travel?

Updated: March 6, 2024

Both South Korea and Japan are filled with adventure opportunities alongside the rich cultural experiences they offer. Deciding which country is best ultimately depends on what adventure experiences you’re looking for.

In this guide, we’ll explore some of the main adventure travel activities you can do in each country to see where you should travel next.

Wherever you go, make sure that you soak up the unique culture as well!

Joining small group or private tours to Japan is a great idea if you want to see the absolute best this destination has to offer. The same can be said of South Korea tours - having the logistics handled and a professional guide to show you around allows you to experience the country like a local.

If you love mountains, hiking, and outdoor adventure in general, then you’ll have a great time in either country. Just make sure that you plan your trip carefully to visit at the right season for the activities you want to do.

South Korea: Hiking Options

Jirisan National Park: Hiking for All Levels

Jirisan National Park is also a hiker's paradise with trails for everyone. The Baemsagol Valley Trail is perfect if you're up for a challenge, winding through lush greenery and offering a real sense of accomplishment.

For a more relaxed hike, the Nogodan Trail provides breathtaking views without the intense climb. It's a great choice for families or beginners.

This national park is covered with lush green mountains and epic views wherever you look. It’s the perfect escape into nature while you’re in South Korea.

Seoraksan National Park: Epic Hiking in Nature's Beauty

Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan National Park is a dream for hikers. This park is filled with beautiful hiking trails, which are suitable for hikers of all experience levels.

The Dinosaur Ridge Course is one of the most popular trails. It’s like a rollercoaster for your legs, with steep climbs and rocky paths that keep your heart pumping. But the reward at the top is unbeatable panoramic views and a thrilling adventure.

For those who prefer a more laid-back hike, there are easier trails like the Ulsanbawi Rock Course, offering stunning views of the park's unique rock formations.

Hallasan Mountain on Jeju Island: South Korea’s Tallest Peak

Hallasan Mountain is the king of peaks in South Korea. If you’re going to go hiking in this country, then this is the peak you’ll want to conquer.

The Eorimok Trail is a favourite among adventurers, taking you through diverse landscapes to the summit. The views from the top are mind-blowing.

If you're into volcanic landscapes, the Manjanggul Cave nearby is a fascinating exploration. A day in Jeju can easily mix hiking and visiting unique natural wonders - a top recommendation if you’re visiting this part of South Korea.

Japan: Hiking Options

Mount Fuji: Japan's Iconic Peak

Mount Fuji is the star of the show when it comes to hiking in Japan. This is Japan’s tallest peak and the country’s greatest natural icon; it’s often considered one of the best hikes in Asia.

There are a couple of different routes available if you want to climb Mount Fuji. This includes variations for hikers of all levels. The Yoshida Trail is a classic route, offering a challenging yet rewarding climb. The sunrise from the summit is legendary and attracts adventurers from around the world.

For those seeking a less crowded experience, the Subashiri Trail provides a more serene journey through forests and volcanic landscapes. Both trails promise stunning views and a sense of accomplishment.

Being one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, Mount Fuji is an incredibly rewarding hiking experience. From the base to the summit, hikers are rewarded with some of Japan's most amazing views and scenery.

The Japanese Alps: A Haven for Hikers

If you’re going to hike in Japan, then you’ll also want to experience the Japanese Alps.

The Japan Alps, divided into Northern, Central, and Southern ranges, offer diverse hiking experiences. The Kamikochi Valley in the Northern Alps is a picturesque destination with easy trails suitable for beginners. The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route in the Northern Alps combines hiking with breathtaking scenic views.

The Kiso Valley in the Central Alps boasts the Nakasendo Trail, connecting historic post towns. It's a perfect blend of cultural exploration and moderate hiking. The Southern Alps, with the Senjojiki Cirque, present a challenging yet mesmerizing alpine environment.

Hikers can spend weeks here exploring the many different trails on offer. The scenery also changes dramatically with each season, with hiking being at its best during the Spring when the cherry blossoms are out.

Yakushima: Mystical Forests and Coastal Wonders

Yakushima, a UNESCO World Heritage site, invites adventurers to explore mystical forests and coastal wonders. The Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine is a highlight for hikers, with moss-covered trails and ancient cedar trees creating a surreal atmosphere.

The challenging trek to Jomon Sugi, one of the oldest cedar trees in Japan, is a must for experienced hikers.

The island's diverse landscapes make Yakushima a unique destination for nature enthusiasts. Whether you want to go on a challenging hike or just want to soak up Japanese nature, then this is one of the best places to do it.

Japanese Via Ferratas: Scaling New Heights

Japan offers thrilling via ferrata experiences, combining hiking with rock climbing.

The Daikanbo Via Ferrata in the Northern Alps provides stunning views of the Chubu Sangaku National Park. It's an adventure suitable for both beginners and seasoned climbers.

The Karasawa Via Ferrata, also in the Northern Alps, offers a more challenging route with exposed sections and breathtaking alpine scenery.

Other Adventure Travel Activities in South Korea

Riding Rapids on the Donggang River

For water thrill-seekers, the Donggang River's white-water rafting is an absolute blast.

The rapids add an exciting twist to your adventure, and you don't need to be an expert to enjoy the ride. You can take guided white river rafting trips down the river to experience the thrill of these rapids in a safe environment.

Rock Climbing in Bukhansan National Park

South Korea's adventure scene isn't just about hiking - rock climbing is another well-loved activity here.

Bukhansan National Park is a rock climber's haven with challenging routes. Whether you're a pro or just starting, the varied terrain has something for everyone.

If you want to experience the best of this park, then consider doing the 5 Summits Traverse - a classic adventure day that leads you up to an intense ridge. There’s also the Seoninbong - a tall peak known for its difficult bolted slab routes.

Baekundae is the highest peak in the park at 836m. There are fewer routes up here and it can get quite crowded. Of course, the views from the summit are awesome.

Uiam is another climber's favourite. This is a single monolith with a few routes to climb up. It’s a more moderate climbing option for those who don't want to take on the more intense climbs in the park.

Ice Climbing in Cheongsong

South Korea's adventure scene doesn't hibernate in winter. Cheongsong Valley becomes an ice-climbing paradise. Of course, you need to prepare for the cold, but the thrill of scaling icy heights is a unique experience you won't forget.

You can take guided ice-climbing trips, which include all of the gear you need for this adventure activity. This is suitable for new and experienced ice climbers.

Scuba Diving

While there’s plenty of fun to be had in the mountains of South Korea, head to the coast and you’ll also find some amazing scuba diving opportunities.

Scuba diving is mainly done along the sojourn part of the country’s east coast, as well as around Jeju Island. The waters are warm, and you can experience a range of sandy bottom dives, beach dives and reef dives.

Experiencing New Heights

If you’re after some high-flying adventure, then South Korea has a range of adrenaline-fuelled options.

You could go sky diving or hot air balloon riding over the country. Bungee jumping the country’s highest jump at Jecheon City (62m) is another thrilling option.

Adventure travellers can also enjoy a seriously impressive ziplining course at the Hadong Alps Leports. It’s possible to reach 120km/hr on this 1.5 km-long ziplining trail.

And with all of the mountains comes plenty of paragliding opportunities. You can do this across the country, with many popular launch sites existing along booking trails.

Other Adventure Travel Activities in Japan

Ski and Snowboard the Mountains

Japan's adventure scene adapts to each season. In winter, the country transforms into a winter sports paradise, with skiing and snowboarding in places like Niseko and Hakuba.

There are plenty of great ski resorts around these parts of Japan, with slopes suitable for all experience levels. If you’re after some of the best winter skiing outside of Europe, then Japan should be on your list.

Shirakawa-go and the Noto Peninsula: Cultural and Coastal Adventure

For a unique blend of cultural exploration and outdoor adventure, head to Shirakawa-go and the Noto Peninsula. The traditional thatched-roof villages of Shirakawa-go are surrounded by scenic landscapes. Hiking through this cultural treasure provides a glimpse into Japan's rural history.

The Noto Peninsula offers coastal hiking with stunning views of the Sea of Japan. The Noto Kongo Coastline Trail is a great way to combine seaside exploration with outdoor adventure.

Surfing and Kayaking

Japan's extensive coastline provides excellent opportunities for surfing and kayaking enthusiasts. The beaches of Shonan near Tokyo and the Chiba Peninsula are popular surf spots, offering some great waves - especially during typhoon season.

For kayaking, the crystal-clear waters of Okinawa provide a serene yet exciting adventure. You can explore sea caves, coral reefs, and hidden coves, immersing yourself in Japan's coastal beauty from a different perspective.

South Korea vs. Japan: Which Country is Best for Adventure Travel?

So, which country is better for adventure travellers?

Both South Korea and Japan offer many thrilling activities, including plenty of mountains and hiking opportunities.

Overall, Japan is a more popular and iconic adventure destination, as it includes the impressive Mount Fuji, the tall Japanese Alps, and offers a greater range of winter sports activities.

However, South Korea still has plenty of amazing national parks, with beautiful protected mountains, and it tends to be cheaper to visit. Jeju Island is also the better option for sunny beaches and ocean adventures.

If you’re looking to tick off bucket list hikes, go to Japan. If you’re looking for a lesser-known adventure destination, consider South Korea.

About the author 

Alison Macallister

With a degree in Nature Conservation and experience working with wildlife including the Big 5, Alison used to work as a guide for a 5-star safari reserve in South Africa. Today she is a full time traveller and editor for Mountain IQ. She has travelled and hiked extensively in South America, including many solo hikes in Patagonia, the Cusco region of Peru, Ecuador and Chile.

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