Located west of Gangneung, Odaesan National Park is nestled amid one of the best known mountain ranges in the country (along with Geumgangsan, Hallasan, and Jirisan), but doesn't draw nearly the same number of visitors. Less rocky and rugged than Seoraksan, its highest peaks still rise over 1,400m (4,593 ft.). Although its slopes are not very dramatic, its softer inclines make for good hiking trails through its thick fir forests. The name "Odaesan" means "Five Plains Mountain," named after the five high plains between its five major peaks. Admission to the park is W3,400 adults, W1,300 teens, W700 children.
Once an isolated retreat for meditating monks, this is where the practice of Seon (Zen) Buddhism in Korea began. Its two major temples are located in the central valley, and short paths lead from the temples to their associated hermitages. There are hiking trails throughout the park, though you'll find fewer here than in most of South Korea's national parks.
The area is home to 25 species of mammals, including the Korean deer and wild boar. Odaesan also boasts the largest natural forest in the country. It has about 860 species of alpine flora, including the nuncheukbaek (Thuja) tree and thick groves of fir, some over 600 years old. It is well known for its sansam, a wild type of insam (ginseng) that grows deep in its forest. This rare root is supposed to have wonderful health benefits and can live to be quite old (some roots over 100 years old have been found here). The water from the mountain streams are also said to have curative effects.
According to a legend associated with the area, Joseon King Sejo visited Woljeongsa to cure an unusual disease he had. On the way up to the temple, he saw the clean water of the valley and was moved to take a bath. Suddenly, a boy appeared and the king asked him to wash his back. The boy did and the king asked him not to tell anyone that he'd seen the king naked. The boy in return asked the king not to tell anyone he saw the Munsu Bosal (the young Buddha). Surprised, King Sejo turned around but the boy had disappeared. It was at that moment that the king realized that he was cured of his disease. King Sejo ordered a statue of the boy Buddha be built and described how the boy looked in detail. The statue is now in Sangwonsa.
A part of Odaesan is located in Pyeongchang-gun, the third-largest county in the country. Well known for its various winter sports, it has been repeatedly vying to host the Winter Olympics, but was once again rejected for 2014. Because of their continual bids, the area has been built up with wonderful ski resorts, sledding, snow trekking, and other winter options.
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