The last thing you want to do is board a ferry. You fear being stuck on a boat if the wind picks up and the sea becomes rough. There’s no other way to reach Ulleungdo, though. So you take a train from Seoul to Mukho—the harbor with the shortest travel time to the island—in Donghae, board the Ocean Flower, and hope for the best.
Ulleungdo lies 85 miles off the Korean Peninsula in the Sea of Japan. The volcanic island—it’s the top of a big stratovolcano—is breathtaking. Its steep, rocky cliffs make it look like one of the Hawaiian islands. They’re surrounded by dramatic rock formations and deep blue water. While the interior’s hills are ablaze with red and yellow foliage right now.
Colorful leaves aren’t the only things you want to see on Ulleungdo. The ferry arrives in Dodong, the port and the main town, on the island’s east coast. Squid are usually drying in the sun outside of fishermen’s houses. The Haengnam Coastal Walking Path, a 1.5-mile walkway, snakes around the shoreline, through the forest, over bridges, and up a spiral staircase en route to the white Haengnam Lighthouse.
Nari Basin, the only real flat spot on the island, is inland. It’s where locals, who live in thatched-roof houses, pick medicinal plants. Bright red rowan berries, used to make wine, are also ripe right now. From here, there’s a perfect view of Seonginbong, the highest peak. The three-tiered Bongnae Waterfall, Punghyeol (natural air vents), and the Dokdo Island Observatory Cable Car—take the ride for the panoramic view—are in the center of Ulleungdo, as well.
Then there’s the Gwaneum Island Hiking Trail on the northwest coast. The one-hour hike crosses a blue pedestrian suspension bridge. On Gwaneumdo, a separate island, there are reed forests, a mineral spring, and observatories that overlook Bamboo Island and the Samseonam (Three Fairy) Rocks. Ulleungdo is simply enchanting—and completely worth the long ferry ride.