Bike’n Hike Update and Summary

The “Bike’n Hike” concept was born out of a failed backpacking trip to Jirisan National Park in February of 2014. The logistics of that trip, for whatever reason, weren’t coming together and out of frustration we got out our wall map of Jeolla-Do and started looking for alternatives.  Naejangsan National Park, the closest to Gwangju, was an obvious alternative choice.  Within about 15 minutes Jirisan was long forgotten, our bikes had replaced our car, and our first Bike’n Hike tour was organized and ready to go.
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Bike’n Hike (VII): Chuwolsan Provincial Park

Destination:  Chuwolsan Provincial Park
Cycling:  97km
Hiking:  4km
Days:  1

 Chuwolsan Park
Gamagol Eco-Park (용소)
  
Gamagol Eco-Park (출렁다리)
The destination and dates for Bike’n Hike VII bounced around a bit, but eventually focused on a one-day adventure exploring some of the parks around Damyang.  Specifically Damyang’s most famous mountain, Chuwolsan, and the neighboring Damyang Lake and Eco-Park.  Even packaged as a manageable one-day outing, it’s tough to find willing cyclists during the dead of winter.  Thankfully Geoff, a participant in the inaugural Bike’n Hike almost a year ago, was both available and interested.  You’re about to see a lot of photos of Geoff (clearly I had the only camera!).  
 
Leaving Jishil Village
We left from The Damyang House and headed toward Damyang (Eup) via the 887.  This is one of my favorite roads as it’s relatively free of heavy traffic, is flat and has awesome views of the surrounding mountains.  It also leads directly to downtown Damyang (20km) or connects you with other important cycling roads. 
 Road 887
 
 Road 887
Navigating through Damyang (downtown) is pretty simple as it’s well marked in terms of signage for both the roads you need and Chuwolsan Park.  I recommend staying on 887 until you arrive at 13 where you’ll take a right.  Shortly after you’ll take a left on 29 heading toward Chuwolsan Park.  If nothing else just look for the mountain as it’s usually visible from just about everywhere around Damyang!
    
Chuwolsan Mountain
 Chuwolsan Mountain
 Chuwolsan Mountain (fall)

As you get closer to Chuwolsan you’ll be met with a few different climbs, varying in length and difficulty, but nothing to worry about.  Be thankful you’re heading north because it’s more challenging coming from the other direction.  You’ll also get your first views of Damyang Lake, which like most lakes in Korea is a dammed river that fills in the valley creating a giant amoeba shape. 

Getting Closer
Damyang Lake

 Uphill
 Damyang Lake
After you pass through a small tunnel, you’ll be pretty much right in front of the mountain and it’s all downhill to the park entrance where you’ll find a few restaurants, an information center, trailheads and a series of boardwalks around the lake.  There isn’t much open in the winter.  During the summer this place is packed…especially on weekends. 
Chuwolsan (summer)
 Damyang Lake Boardwalk
 Damyang Lake (Boardwalk is just above the water line)
We opted to cancel our attempt to summit Chuwolsan for a variety of reasons.  First, it was colder near the mountian/lake and much windier.  Second, Chuwolsan is much bigger than it looks and getting to the top would not have been quick or easy.  We were on a pretty tight schedule as it was (short winter days!) so instead pressed on past Chuwolsan and Damyang Lake towards Gamagol Eco-Park.  Getting to the Eco-Park from the base of Chuwolsan is easy as it’s located at the north end of the lake.  Continue north on 29 and take a right on 792.  Of course there’s another climb heading this direction.
 Leaving Chuwolsan
 Take a Right onto 792
Gamagol Entrance 

The park entrance will be on your left and is hard to miss.  The roads leading into the park are scenic and during this time of the year, extremely quiet.  Judging by the plethora of riverside restaurants along this road, I’m guessing this is not the case during the summer months. 

 Heading into Gamagol

At the end of this road you’ll find a parking lot and a park office.  The park itself is small and you can see a lot of the highlights in less than an hour.  Grab a map at the park office and explore!

용연1 폭포
가마골

                                                              용소

                                        

용소
출렁다리

출렁다리
출렁다리 & 용소

After a quick look around we hopped back on our bikes and returned to 792, the main road that brought us here.  Instead of backtracking the way we came, which is certainly an option, and a quicker one at that, we decided to continue on 792 and pick up 24 creating a loop back to Damyang.  The ride along 792 is scenic and relatively traffic-free, however it also hosted our biggest climb of the day.  You’ll eventually ride past another county park, Gangcheonsan, which we unfortunately didn’t have time to explore on this trip.

Gangcheonsan Park Entrance

Near Sunchang, home of gojujang, you’ll pick up 24 which will take you back to downtown Damyang.  This is by far the least fun 10km of the route.  The gojujang village is over-the-top ridiculous and has nothing to offer outside of this one famous ingredient (i.e. no marts to restock on supplies) and this section of road is pretty miserable with narrow shoulders, fast cars and construction.  Joy!

Gojujang
Gojujang
Once back in Damyang, you’ll pick up 887 downtown and basically head back the way you came.  Time permitting, I’d recommend grabbing lunch in Damyang as the options are plentiful.  We, of course, were in a race to get home before the sunset so instead chose to stop by the Bamboo Brewery (담주 브로이) and pick up a few pitchers of ‘to-go’ bamboo beer and bamboo sausages to enjoy once we arrived back at the house.  It’s a quick detour down 13, just outside of downtown, and only added an extra 15 minutes or so.  The ride back on 887 is always a welcome finish to the day and we were able to catch the sunset at the Gwangju Lake Eco-Park right as we arrived home. 

Gwangju Lake/Eco-Park/Mudeung Mountain
Once back at The Damyang House, we stocked the fireplace, poured some beers and enjoyed those tasty sausages!  
Victory Beers
Looking for a different route?  Something easier?  Something more challenging?  Plenty of other suggestions can be found here.

Bike’n Hike (VI): Naejangsan National Park

Destination:  Naejangsan National Park

Cycling:  120km
Hiking:  12km
Days:  2
 NaeJangsan National Park

The Bike’n Hike concept was born out of a failed backpacking trip to Jirisan National Park in February of 2014.  For whatever reason the logistics of that trip weren’t coming together so we opted to ditch the car, grab some bikes and head to a closer National Park.  That park was of course Naejangsan.  Since February we have done six Bike’n Hike trips to five of the surrounding National Parks…three of those trips were to this little park to the north.  It’s not by accident that we keep returning.

Traditionally these mini-bike tours have been a minimum of three days.  This was our first attempt to squeeze it all in a weekend.  Luckily we weren’t without willing participants.  Gibby and Jay were the first two to arrive from Seoul and after a bit of drama with cranky taxi drivers and unwelcome rain storms, we headed to a local 고기 집 to fill up on BBQ and booze and wait for the others.

“One Dish”
Once Sunghoon and John arrived in Gwangju we quickly met up and set off for The Damyang House,  which would serve as our home base of sorts for the weekend.  The slick (wet) roads prevented us from taking the scenic route through Mudeung National Park, but it was dark and getting late anyhow so it seemed a better use of time to head straight back to the house.  The ride itself is under 20km and less than an hour.  The rain had stopped at some point during dinner so we were able to avoid getting soaked on the ride home and had an opportunity to enjoy a campfire and the surrounding bamboo forest once we arrived. 
 Relaxin’.
The Damyang House

The next morning we scraped together a nice breakfast, got our gear in order and hit the road.

 The Crew
 Our Departure
Not everyone was happy about us leaving.
One of the (many) appealing aspects of the trip to Naejangsan is the roads that lead to and from the park.  They’re well maintained and largely underused so traffic is never really an issue.  There are two climbs during the 50km ride to the park entrance, but without them the day might be too easy.  Not to mention, the descent into the park makes it absolutely worth it!
 Moments before disaster…sorry Gibby!
A quick rest before the big climb of the day.

The climb begins.
We arrived at the park in under four hours, which gave us plenty of time to tackle the “hike” portion of the Bike’n Hike adventure.  The relatively easy ride to the park is quickly forgotten once you hit the park trails…they’re unforgiving and head pretty much straight up to the mountain ridge that circles around the park.  We were in a race with time (sunset) so completing the ridge hike was out of the question as it takes pretty much all day to hit all eight peaks.  It’s highly recommended if you have the time though…it’s an incredible hike.  Our goal was simply to get up to the ridge, grab a few photos and bask in the sense of accomplishment.  After four hours of cycling that’s easier said than done.  
 Getting closer.
 We made it!
Feeling accomplished!
 Taking a break.
 Our view.
 Exploring.
 Time to head back.
After climbing down the mountain we hopped back on our bikes and rode the 2km back to the park entrance where you’ll find a street of restaurants, a minbak neighborhood and a bit of nightlife (read: a CU Mart).  There are loads of cheap minbaks (about 10,000/person) clustered together at the top of the hill.  The lady at 촛불 is especially nice and her minbak sits highest up on the hill with a red sign.  You can’t miss it.  
   촛불민박
The restaurants around aren’t really anything to write home about honestly.  They are loads of them, but they oddly all serve the same menu.  I’ve been to five or six of them and can’t say anything really stood out enough that I’d recommend it.  If nothing else it’s a good place to catch your breath with some 동동주 and 파전 post-hike.  
We hit the CU after dinner for a few beers and made friends with some of the local wildlife.  As the temperature dropped and fatigue slowly set in we said goodbye to our new friend and got some much needed rest.
Praying Mantis
The next morning we headed towards the nearest town, Jeong-Eup, to get breakfast at a restaurant we found last time we were in the area.  This place is much cheaper and the food is a thousand times better…sadly I didn’t get a photo or even the name of the place!  I can say it’s on the right side of the road, just past the turnoff for road 21 that leads you back towards Damyang (and up the biggest climb of the day!).  The turn for road 21 isn’t clearly marked when heading north on road 49 towards Jeong-Eup so look for the big red love motel…this is where you’ll need to take a right!
Big Red Love Motel
The ride home to Damyang (or the Gwangju bus station) is about 70 or 80kms and starts off with a bang.  This climb through the valley is actually really enjoyable and while it’s quite long, it’s not as steep as some of the other climbs on this route (four in total).  And of course once you’re at the top, you’re met with a nice downhill to catch your breath.  The whole afternoon is filled with valleys and underused roads.  It’s gorgeous.

Selfie at the top of the mountain.
 Valley roads.
 Headed to Damyang.

Bike Trouble!
After fixing John’s bike, we turned off on road 29 which heads south through Damyang “city” and back to The Damyang House.  This road is scenic in its own right as it passes by Damyang Lake and the iconic Chuwolsan, which overlooks Damyang and can be seen from miles away.  Of course there’s another scenic valley to pass through as well.  
 Chuwolsan
Chuwolsan
Valley to Damyang.
We eventually ended up in Damyang and stumbled upon the Namdo Food Festival, which looked pretty damn fun, but was much too big of an endeavor to take on this late in the game.  We instead headed to one of Damyang’s famous Galbi restaurants which didn’t disappoint.  It’s embarrassing how much BBQ’d pork they gave us.  
 승일식당
 Always packed. 
Namdo Food Festival
At this point in the trip it sort of felt like someone hit the fast forward button.  Certainly one of the bigger down-sides to trying to accomplish so much in a two-day weekend.  I think we’d all agree that another night/day to soak it all in would have been nice.  Regardless, it was an action packed 48 hours and I look forward to doing it all again soon (Wolchulsan anyone?)!!!
*all photos by Sean Walker, Sunghoon Cho, Jay Diaz, John McDermott and Mark Gibby Johnson…thanks for sharing guys!