Being dog owners ourselves, we’re constantly looking for dog-friendly hiking options. So, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite routes around the area to help take some of the guess work out of your weekend adventure in the countryside. As a rule of thumb, Eco-Parks and National Parks are typically NOT dog friendly (there are exceptions as you will see below). Also, please be respectful of other hikers that may not be comfortable around your “large” dog. Keep them leashed when necessary, clean up after them and don’t let them kill any of the wildlife 🙂
Destination: Naejangsan National Park
Cycling: 50km (one-way)
This is our fourth visit to Naejangsan National Park for good reason (see also Bike’n Hike I, II & VI). It’s not only a beautiful underrated park, it’s also extremely accessible in terms of cycling and hiking. At this point it pretty much acts as the “entry level” Bike’n Hike adventure for those on the fence about whether something like this would be fun or torturous.
We’ve covered this trip in detail in the past, so here is a brief photo essay of this most recent trip. When my friend wasn’t complaining about the cycling and my wife wasn’t complaining about the hiking it was a perfectly lovely two day adventure!
Seoul based artist Chung Park has left his mark on Jeollanam-Do, both literally and figuratively. Having two exhibits under his belt at the new up-and-coming Salt Art Gallery located in Gwangju, he’s no stranger to the area. We were happy to snag the “Beacon” piece at the first show and have it proudly on display in the entrance way of the house; it’s the first thing you see when you enter.
My increasing obsession with sotdae (솟대) is directly proportional to the amount of time I’ve spent in the countryside over the last couple of years. They’re easy to write off as “ducks on a stick”, but like most things in Asian culture have a much deeper meaning and significance. Disney, unfortunately, has done no favors for these sacred migratory birds in western culture. In contrast, here’s an example of one of many quotes on the Wikipedia page for sotdae, “It was believed that ducks travel to the world beyond the Earth and act as a messenger between the physical world and the realm of the spirits.” Damn.
It’s no secret Chung is a friend of The Damyang House, so convincing him to bring his talents back down to Jeolla-Do once more for a mural at the house was an easy sell. Finding time was another story. Alas, the planets aligned and it all came together this past weekend. Sotdae now guard both entrances of the house and add a splash of color to an otherwise empty outside wall space.
It was an action packed weekend at the house and we’re happy to share all the gory details. Special thanks to Jay Diaz for helping to both participate in, and document the madness.
Day 1 – Chung gets started:
Day 3 – Finished work.
Well deserved thank you’s to Chung Park for the mural, Jay Diaz for the photos and Riser for hosting…and the whole crew for putting up with me for the weekend. Boom!
I’ve spent a lot of time at this restaurant over the years so it goes without saying I’m a bit biased and probably couldn’t give an objective review even if I wanted to. However, judging by the reaction of family and friends I think I’m justified in giving this no-frills restaurant an enthusiastic two thumbs up.This place is well known amongst locals, mostly due to the cheap prices and pungent flavors (seriously the kimche at this place is beyond “fermented”!), but also has it’s fair share of signatures on the wall from visiting local/national celebrities. Famous or not, this place is packed with customers during mealtimes, mostly ordering the star of the show: the kimchee jiggae. The kimchee jiggae (see photo above) is made with the aforementioned “funky” kimchee, but is also chocked full of pork and homemade green tea tofu. Best 6,000 you’ll ever spend!
The green tea tofu can be ordered on it’s own (comes with dipping sauce) and will usually be served with the ban-chan before your main dish arrives. It’s fresh. It’s delicious. Order some to-go on your way out!
Speaking of ban-chan, the six pictured above are usually what you get…the portions are certainly representative of Jeolla-Do (read: large) and refills often happen whether you ask or not. The ban-chan (and food for that matter) is definitely on the salty side, but most good Korean food is. The menu has a few different options, all of which you would expect to find in a place like this, but honestly I never venture far from the kimchee jiggae. They are accommodating for vegetarians as well, but make sure you ask (everything except the tofu itself has meat and/or seafood in it).
Getting there from the house is easy. Head towards the Eco-Park (take a right on the main road and a left at the gas station) and continuing walking past the park entrance (it should be on your right) for another few minutes. The restaurant will be on your right and looks like this:
To learn that bamboo beers exists in this world and I didn’t know about it was a bit heartbreaking. To learn said beer is being made locally and I’ve cycled within a 100 meters of the brewery at least a dozen times was absolutely soul crushing. What other bamboo themed treasures am I missing out on?
I ended up here with some of Damyang’s hardest working civil servants in order to celebrate both the end of the week and the end of our six-month long study group. The “bamboo beer brewery” was casually mentioned as a place to host our celebration. Mind blown.
The beer is made with actual bamboo leaves (or so says the owner), but let’s face it, it tastes nothing like bamboo. The novelty factor is off the charts though so I was instantly sold on the concept. You have your choice between a Weizen and a Dunkel. I was partial to the Dunkel, but can definitely see myself enjoying a few thousand Weizens on the rooftop patio (!!!) next summer.
UPDATE: I did in fact come back in the warmer months…the beer garden is indeed amazing!
Paragliders over the rice paddies
The food is the typical anju-ish stuff you would expect (don-katsu, salad bar, fried chicken, etc) except for two surprises: bamboo shoot sausage and bamboo shoot ddeok-galbi. I’ve raved about the sausages before, not realizing where they came from. The ddeok-galbi is so-so and the fried chicken was blasphemous. I wouldn’t wander too far from the sausages and the don-katsu, by far the best two things on the menu.
As we were finishing up our meal I asked the owner if they offered take-out beers, like any good brewery does, and sure enough they do! 10,000won per bottle (1000ml). They also sell the bamboo sausages and ddeok-galbi.
The biggest drawback to this place is the location. It’s not really near anything notable and is just outside “downtown” Damyang. You’ll certainly need to call a driver or get a taxi after your visit and it’s not cheap to get anyway from here. Your best bet is to wait until spring, hop on your bike, and enjoy the countryside views to and from the brewery.
The owner’s wife is an absolute angel and deserves special recognition. Turns out she is a childhood friend of the chairman of our village and immediately called him once she found out where we lived. This small coincidence made us instant BFFs and translated into copious amounts of “service”! Free sausages and booze for everyone. She even sat down with us and had a couple of beers at the end of the night. Pretty awesome.
UPDATE: So we’ve been back a few times since this orginal post and the owners have been very generous every time. Our last visit they even gave us a tour of the brewery. It’s impressive for the middle of Damyang…lots of expensive imported German brewing equipment!
Don’t like beer? Plenty of other restaurant suggestions can be found here.
For starters, it offers more “bang for your buck” than any trail in the area. It’s got a bamboo forest, a pine forest, giant boulders, ancient pagodas and a pretty amazing overlook just towards the end that acts as the cherry on top (it’s all downhill from there!).
Next, it’s extremely accessible. The trailhead is in the front yard (literally) and the trail ends just on the other side of the village. No need to walk along the busy main road, ride a bike or drive anywhere.
Lastly, it’s the perfect length; long, but not too long. At around 2 hours, it’s just long enough to make it feel like you accomplished something and earned that second helping of chicken pot pie. You can even cheat and head straight up to the overlook by doing the hike in reverse. From the front door you can be looking out over the entire valley and Mudeung National Park while enjoying a cup of makoli in less than 20 minutes (double that if you’re my wife).
In the front yard, to the left of the fence, you’ll find the trail. This trail runs behind the fence and out to the road in the village so it’s not uncommon to see hikers passing through.
At the top of the first climb, you’ll come to a small ridge and a trail marker. Here’s the secret to this hike: take a left EACH time you see one of these trail markers. That will loop you back around the valley to the other side of the village.
As I mentioned, after the first climb and at the first trail marker you’ll take a left (always a left) and continue up the mountain (if you take a right you’ll end up at Sosaewon). It’s a fair bit of uphill, but I promise it’s worth it. It gets rocky towards the top and you’ll start realizing how high up you are!
After a couple of left turns and a couple of climbs/descents, you’ll end up at the overlook. There are actually two overlooks. The one on the left overlooks the Jishil Valley and of course Mudeung National Park.
The overlook is a good place to relax and soak in the views. It’s all downhill from here back to the house so take a break and continue down the trail when you’re ready. When you reach the pine forest you’re very near the end of the trail and its ultimate destination: The National Heritage site of Shikyungjung.
As you exit the pine forest continue walking towards the pagoda and ultimately down the stone staircase.
This small park has four or five pagodas and is a popular tourist attraction for the bus loads of Korean tourists that visit during the summer. It also attracts a lot of photographers and can be very scenic with dramatic changes throughout the year. Here’s my best effort:
From Shikyungjung you will be able to see the poetry museum. Behind the museum you will find a small village road that will take you back to the house and offer one last glimpse of Mudeung National Park.
If you have a bit more time and energy, walk across to the Eco-Park and watch the sun set! Enjoy.
Update: This “trail” is also a pretty sweet off-roading adventure if you have a four-wheel option!
Here’s another suggestion for a shorter “bike’n hike” outing that can be done in an afternoon without leaving you exhausted at the end of the day. At around a dozen kilometers, this one is even shorter than the Wonhyosa Valley hike I previously suggested, yet still gets you off the beaten path and into some of the more remote corners of Mudeung National Park. Don’t be fooled by some of the gloomy weather and crappy phone camera…it’s a beautiful hike and besides a few local farmers, completely unknown and void of the day trippers swarming to the Eco-Park.
From the house you have a few options on how to get to the back entrance of the Eco-Park, where you’ll find the road leading to the trailhead. A bike will take you the 4km pretty quickly and is a no-brainer as you’ll be using the main roads. If time is on your side, I would suggest walking there via the rice paddies or by entering the main entrance of Eco-Park and walking through the park itself (ideally a combination of both).
Because I had my dog (another dog friendly hike!), I opted for the rice paddy route on the way there and the main roads on the way back (2-3 hours total). Here’s the cyclemter link to help you get your bearings. And here’s instructions:
Walk out to the main road and take a right. Take a quick left across the small service road that crosses the river.
Take a left when it dead-ends on the other side of the river and take the first left after that down this service road into the rice paddies (these turns are all very quick).
Follow this service road around through the rice paddies until you reach the cows in the blue stable. It’s gorgeous out here in nicer weather!
When you reach the cows take a right up the little hill. At the top you’ll have views of all the surrounding mountains, including Mudeung.
Just after the top of the hill you’ll want to take the first left down towards the middle school and a right at the intersection in front of the middle school. Again, these are all quick turns.
This will take you around to the Eco-Park parking lot and this fancy 7-11 where you can grab some snacks and drinks to take with you on your hike.
At the main road in front of the 7-11 you should take a left…you should be walking away from the Eco-Park main entrance and parking lot. This road will take you toward the back entrance of the park (you could walk through the park itself if you don’t have a dog with you!). You’ll also walk past this restaurant (황가내), which is a good place to stop for lunch if you’re hungry before or after your hike (the tofu is made in-house and infused with green tea…the kimche jiggae is 6,000 and AMAZING).
Just past this restaurant you’ll see a small road and bus stop. Turn here (right) and walk up the hill to the back entrance of Eco-Park.
This road leading up to and past the back entrance of Eco-Park will take you around to the lesser known side of Gwangju Lake. It’s a quiet walk/cycle along this road with a few small hills. Great fishing on this side of the lake as well so keep that in mind when you see small trails leading off the road down towards the bank of the lake.
Keep walking until you see this road/trail on your left. This will take you to the hidden lake. Once on this road it’s a straight shot with no turnoffs so pretty easy from this point. This trailhead is only a couple of kilometers from the back entrance of the Eco-Park.
Follow this trail (it’s more of a road…probably used by local farmers) up through the valley. You’ll eventually enter Mudeung National Park.
Once you reach the lake, you’ll find a small trail in between the lake and the rice paddies which will take you around the lake (clockwise). Pretty easy as it’s not a huge lake. The trail on the opposite side from the rice paddies is more pronounced and easier to follow. The trail on the side of the rice paddies tends to get overgrown in the summer months.
From here it’s all downhill back to the house and you get to enjoy the scenic valley views the entire way! Enjoy.
I’ve documented a lot of rides around Jeollanam-Do, Damyang specifically, most of which can be found here. Be forewarned, I am not a fan of river path cycling in Korea and this ride is no exception. This particular course loops through the mountains and countyside roads of southern Damyang, just east of Gwangju (riding from Gwangju via Mudueng National Park would add an extra 20ish km each way). The cyclemeter link can be found here.
From The Damyang House the first 20km of this 55km/2.5 hour ride are on road 887…simply head out to the main road and take a left. You’ll climb up through the valley the house is in and ultimately pass through a tunnel.
After the tunnel keep heading straight on 887. It’s clearly marked and an easy ride. The local makoli bootlegger is up on your left, just across from the abandoned elementary school if you’re feeling thirsty.
You’ll eventually pass Aquana, which is the least fun looking resort/water park I’ve ever seen. You’ll also start seeing a lot of signage for the dinosaur footprint park that is close by…it’s a pretty park, but like all the other tourist attractions around here, it’s pretty much empty. Not a bad place to stop for a snack though, just don’t expect much out of those dinosaur footprints.
Keep riding until you see the sign for Daedeok. Take a left here and follow this road through the farming valley. Part of what makes this course so great is that these old valley roads have been left largely unused due to newer, bigger, and faster expressways built over the last couple of decades. Just you and the rice farmers!
There isn’t necessarily a climb to speak of, although you do sort of wind your way up through the valley. You’re met with a nice view at the top and a long decent you’ll feel like you didn’t earn.
Follow this down to the junction with road 60 and take a left towards Changpyeong. More downhill!
At this point you have some options. You could easily explore the “slow city” in Changpyeong, get some lunch and continue on road 60 until it reconnects with 887 which if you take a left, will take you back to the house. You might regret it though as the best has yet to come.
Personally, I recommend taking a left off of road 60 towards Yucheon-ri (유천리) and straight into the belly of this beast:
Even the photo came out scary looking! For good reason as this old unused road takes you pretty much straight over those mountains. It’s not long, maybe 30 minutes (if you’re in shape), but it’s steep (10%) with lots of switchbacks. This is what the road looks like from near the top.
As you slowly start climbing the mountain you will be rewarded with better and better views of Damyang and the surrounding mountain range. I really need to get a proper camera because these photos don’t really do it justice.
A bit mind-blowing, but from this mountain pass it’s downhill all the way to the house. Put on some headphones and enjoy the ride through yet another gorgeous valley. Just don’t forget to take a right when you intersect with road 887!
For the next couple of weeks these little guys will be popping up all over the countryside. By far the most psychedelic flower around these parts. Straight from Mars. They don’t stick around very long so get on your bike and head to the countryside soon!