Bike’n Hike (XI): Naejangsan National Park

Destination:  Naejangsan National Park
Cycling:  50km (one-way)
Hiking:  5km

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!

 Early start to the day.  Perfect weather.

Continue reading “Bike’n Hike (XI): Naejangsan National Park”

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.
Continue reading “Bike’n Hike Update and Summary”

Bike’n Hike (IX): Jirisan National Park

Destination: Jirisan National Park
Cycling:  164 km
Hiking:  20 km
Days:  3

Jirisan National Park, the destination of the 9th Bike’n Hike, is downright intimidating. It commands a lot of superlatives (biggest, oldest, highest) and having cycled and hiked there on separate occasions, I knew exactly what I was in for. I could have easily canceled the trip for any number of reasons; thunderstorms were on the way and it wasn’t exactly the best time for a three-day bike tour. Truth be told, I was just afraid I wouldn’t make it to the finish line! In fact I did make it and it wasn’t all that dramatic.  Fun actually.  Here’s all the gory details:

Day 1 (cycling): TDH to Jirisan National Park – 84 kilometers

Leaving the village
Day one and three could easily be switched as they are nearly equal in terms of length and difficulty.  Together they make a nice loop around Jeollanam-Do and avoid having to back-track.  I chose to take the “southern” route first, which takes you towards Dongbok Lake and then Suncheon, before turning north towards Gurye, just outside of the park.  Here’s the cyclemeter link.
Like all rides from the house you start on road 887.  Take a left out of the village and head up the mountain where you’ll briefly enter Mudeung National Park.  There’s a tunnel at the top so it’s not much of a climb.  It’s a nice valley, decent roads and very little traffic.  Not a bad way to start the day. 
 Road 887
Around the 12km mark you’ll need to find the sign below for the turnoff…the road is unnamed on my maps.  This takes you through a small village and around the northern tip of the lake.  It’s easy and scenic and a HUGE time saver.  Cycling around the southern tip of the lake is much more challenging with at least three climbs of varying size and difficulty.  Wish I would have found this shortcut sooner!
Turn right here
 Countryside village bus stop

Dongbok Lake

It’s all much more scenic than it looks…the weather wasn’t cooperating and the early morning light wasn’t helping either.  Just past the lake you’ll pick up 15, but it’s not long after (7km) that you’ll need to jump on 22.  You need to follow 22 until you find 18, which takes you directly to the park entrance (Hwaeomsa), where you’ll find accommodations and food.  Sounds confusing, but these roads are all well marked…just keep heading towards either Suncheon or Gurye.  Additionally it’s top-notch cycling!  Gorgeous valleys and no major climbs to worry about.  Wind is more of an issue than elevation. 

The photos above and below are the same valley.  Weather makes a big difference!

Heading to Jirisan
 Heading to Jirisan 
 Just outside Gurye
After you pass through Gurye (easy…just stay on 18) you’ll eventually need to turn off and head up towards Hwaeomsa Temple.  These last 4km are by far the hardest!  It’s a slow finish, but once you’re there you just need to sort out accommodation and food.  Both of which will be at your fingertips.
There are quite a few pension/minbak options.  I settled on the first pension I walked into because: A) I was tired and hungry.  B) The owner was friendly and willing to let me keep my bike indoors.  Not to mention the room had cable and wifi…I was on my own and there isn’t much nightlife so this was an added bonus.  화엄각팬션 can be found right behind the main parking lot.  You can’t miss it.  The room was 40,000/night. 
 The room
 The view
The pension
The business card
There are a few restaurant options available right across the street from the cluster of pensions.  The menus are all pretty much the same and feature all the countryside classics you would expect in a tourist area just outside a national park.  But unless you’re traveling with a group, you’ll be limited to two or three (at the most) options on the menu.   Traveling solo SUCKS in this regard…bibimbap and pajeon were on heavy rotation because everything else was for groups of four or more.  Thankfully they don’t apply these rules the dongdong-ju.  
 동동주
 산채비빔밥
 산채전 and a thunderstorm

Day 2 (hiking):  Hwaeomsa to Nogodan Ridge

Day 2 of course started out with more bibimbap, before entering the park and walking the kilometer or so to Hwaeomsa Temple.  The trail up the mountain starts just behind the temple, and while you do have the option of simply walking around the temple, I highly recommend walking through the temple instead.  It’s an impressive temple.  Very well maintained and very active.  Chanting and drums at 9am is a pretty fun start to any day of hiking.  Once you walk out the small back gate of the temple, turn right and look for the wooden bridge.  For the next 3+ hours you will be hiking uphill!

 1500 meters straight up!

 화엄사
 Monk chanting
 화엄사

Unfortunately this park entrance, the closest entrance in terms of cycling, doesn’t offer anything in terms of a “loop” hike.  You don’t have much option but to hike 10km up to the top and then head back down the way you came.  It definitely isn’t an easy hike and takes a solid three hours to get to the top (at least two heading down).  The last two kilometers are by far the steepest and slowest.  Not very many people on the trail during this trip so it was nice to have the forest to myself for once.

 Bridge leading into the park

     
Jirisan
Jirisan

 Jirisan
At the top you’ll find a ranger station, and area to cook your noodles and even a little shop to buy ice cream.  The trails near the peak are well maintained and oddly busy.  It took me a minute to figure out that everyone else had driven nearly to the top via the service roads and “hiked” only a kilometer or two.  Cheaters.  
The top of the mountain was covered in clouds when I arrived so I was only able to see just enough to let me know I was missing out on some killer views!  Bummer.  Still pretty though.  
 Trail to the top
The trail
 The top!
 
The view

 The trail back down
 Blue flowers

Day 3 (cycling):  Jirisan National Park to TDH – 84 kilometers

Getting home via the “northern” route is a great way to end the trip as it follows a scenic river valley the first half of the day.  There is even a semi-decent bike path if you want to avoid the quick trucks on the road (recommended).  Here’s the cyclemeter link.  

When you head out of Guyre, stay on road 17 and follow the river to Gokseong.  Pretty easy!  If nothing else look for this MASSIVE bridge.

 Leaving Gurye
 River valley
 Bike path
 River valley
Bike path
In Gokseong you’ll pick up road 60, then 27 and finally back on 60.  Follow signs to Gwangju and then Damyang and when you’re closer, look for signs to Soesaewon, which is the National Heritage Site next to the house.  Again it sounds confusing, but it’s pretty easy with the maps linked above.  It’s all quiet countryside.  

With stops for lunch and snacks it took me a little over five hours to get home.  Plenty of time left in the afternoon for a nap and a BBQ!

Already been to Jirisan?  Plenty of other suggestions can be found here

Bike’n Hike (VIII): Geumseongsanseong Fortress Wall (담양 금성산성)

Destination:  Geumseongsanseong Fortress Wall (담양 금성산성)
Cycling:  62km
Hiking:  9km

Days: 1

 

 


The original Bike’n Hike trip to the Damyang Fortress Wall was scheduled during a weekend back in January, but it was actually snowed out.   Fast forward a couple seasons and it was finally time to pull the trigger on this one day adventure.  Glad I did because not only was the weather perfect, but the fortress wall itself is way more impressive than I anticipated (or remembered).  To top it off, we stopped at DamJu Brewery (bamboo beer!) on the way home and the owner gave us a private tour of the place and free beers!  Win.Getting to the fortress wall from the house is fairly painless and only takes about 90 minutes.  Disregard what Naver Maps will tell you and avoid road 29 until after you reach “downtown” Damyang.  Instead take road 887…that’s the road our village is on and it’s a much more scenic ride (and considerably less traffic…in fact road 29 south of Damyang is borderline dangerous).  Here’s the cyclemeter link to help with directions.

 

Leaving the village.

 Damyang countryside.

887 will take you into Damyang where you will pick-up 29.  Follow the signs.

Once through Damyang you’ll have Chuwolsan to keep you company (the big rocky mountain).

Chuwolsan.

This is the small farming road you’ll need to turn right onto.  It’s unmarked so check the map.  This will bring you out just north of The Damyang Resort, where the park entrance is.

Just past The Damyang Resort (or just before if you arrive from the other direction) you’ll see this sign pointing to Geumseongsanseong.

Head up the road 2km to the park entrance.

Once you reach the parking lot, you can lock up your bike and get a look at the map.  It’s a pretty simple park, but you still have options.  Basically you will hike up to the “South Gate” and from there you will either take the trail hiking the perimeter of the park, essentially walking along the fortress wall and hitting all the “Gates”, or you will cut through the park via the valley trail and then hike back to the South Gate by using either the east or west mountain fortress wall trails.

I chose to hike down through the valley and back around via the eastern fortress wall trails, only because I had seen a bit of the western half of the park in the past.  Here was my route: 보국문 – 충용문 – 보국사터 – 서문 – 북문 – 운대봉 – 동문 – 내성 – 충용문 – 보국문.  This particular route was 9km in total (~4 hours).

The park isn’t labeled very well in certain areas, at least compared with your average National Park, but it’s difficult to get truly lost because it’s simply not a very big park.  At times we thought we had lost the trail because: A) we were hiking on the fortress wall which just seems wrong considering it’s a billion years old (seriously it was reconstructed in the 1400’s) and B) it was at times pretty dangerous with rocky trails, and steep drop-offs (“This can’t be the trail!”).  Having said that, we were never “lost” for more than a few minutes.

 Hiking into the park.

 First entrance into the fortress wall.  보국문.

Approaching 보국문 from the other side.

The second entrance.  충용문.

충용문.

충용문 from further up the western fortress wall trail.

The view from this second entrance, 충용문, is where you can really start to see how high up you already are.  It was a bit hazy this day, but the views of the valley and surrounding mountains are pretty impressive…and this is only the first kilometer of the hike.  From here you can also see the iconic views of the first entrance, 보국문.  This is pretty much what pops up if you google image search Geumseongsanseong.  Wish I had a better camera!

 보국문.

 보국문.

 보국문.

From here I headed down into the valley and followed the signs toward 서문.   The valley is a quick easy hike, which is good because the next section from 서문 to 복문 was by far the most difficult.  You have to hike back up to the ridge line which is pretty steep.  It’s amazing to see how much of the wall remains intact and hard not to imagine what led them to build and maintain such a massive structure.  Luckily you’ll have plenty of time to think it over because from here you follow the wall all the way up to the ridge line and then all the way back around to where you started.

Damyang Lake.

복문 is a great place to stop, relax and enjoy some makoli because most the climbing is out of the way.  It’s not exactly an easy hike back to your bike, but there aren’t any stairs either.  The views are incredible at this gate as well so it’s a good place to catch your breath and grab a few photos.

복문.

Jojo made it.

This next part of the hike is where it gets a bit dodgy.  It’s rocky with steep drop offs and it’s not always clear where to go.  Seems most of the trails eventually link up whenever they split, but it does help to pay attention during this stretch.  Maybe save the makoli for the end of the hike!  The views are pretty much 360 degrees during this stretch and you can actually climb up to one of the peaks.  It’s pretty intense.

From here you hike back down and pass through the two main gates that brought you into the park.  It’s all downhill back to your bike so it’s quick and painless.  Normally we’d call it a day at this point, but as luck would have it, the DamJu Brewery was on the way home.  I’ve raved about this place in the past and have been anxious to get back there during the warmer months to enjoy that outdoor seating…I couldn’t imagine a better time or circumstance.

Needless to say, this rooftop beer garden is amazing.  The views are extensive and look out over the surrounding rice paddies and mountains.  There were even a bunch of paragliders cruising around over the open countryside right in front of the Brewery.  With all of these healthy distractions it’s easy to forget you still have another 20km to ride!

Two of the three paragliders.

The owners are really friendly and because it was before the dinner service, they joined us for a beer and even showed us around the brewery.

Pretty incredible end to an already fun day.  The ride home from the Brewery is just one road, the 887, so it’s not only difficult to get lost, but it’s also flat.  And it always guarantees nice views!

Tired of fortress walls?  Plenty of other options here.

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 (IV): Jirisan National Park / Hallyeohaesang National Park (Namhae-Do) / Suncheon Bay

Destination:  Jirisan National Park / Hallyeohaesang National Park (Namhae-Do) / Suncheon Bay 
Cycling:  370km
Hiking:  0km
Days:  4
 
 

I skipped hiking these parks during this ride only because I wanted use my time to establish a cycling route.  If you combined hiking all of these parks, it would be upwards of an eight or nine day trip (and grueling!).  If you focused on just one park and rode there and back, it would be more of a traditional three-day Bike’n Hike.  And of course there are multiple variations in between that allow quite a bit of flexibility.  Jirisan is the toughest in terms of hiking.  Hallyeohaesang (Namhae-Do) is toughest in terms of cycling (new roads currently under construction will make this ride much easier in the future!).  I will present the route as I rode it, a four-day ride, but will make a note of different options at the end of each day.

 On the way to Jirisan
 
 Just outside Gurye

Day 1: Jirisan National Park
Click here for the cyclemeter link.

Pick up 887 right in front of the village and head towards Goseo (6km) where you’ll get on road 60.  Follow this to 13 and then to 27 and back to 60.  Not nearly as complicated as it sounds!  These roads are nothing special, but no major climbs or dangerous traffic either so not a bad start to the day.  In Gokseong you’ll pick up 17, which follows a gorgeous river and offers an option of a bike path (better than most bikes paths in Korea, but oddly confusing at times).  Lots of pensions along this ride and a nice end to the day.  Follow signs to Gurye, the town at the base of Jirisan National Park, where you have the option of staying in a motel (여일 motel was very friendly, let me keep my bike in the lobby and was only 30 bucks) or pressing on the extra few kilometers to the park where you have the option of tent camping. 
Note:  For a three-day Bike’n Hike, you would basically hike the park on day two and head back the way you came on day three.  
 
 Heading to Namhae
 Coastal views on Namhae Island
 
 Hallyeohaesang National Park

Day 2:  Hallyeohaesang National Park (Namhae-Do)

Click here for the cyclemeter link. 
This was by far the most challenging day.  It’s long at 98km and has some tough climbs.  The biggest one being at the very end of ride, just before you get to the beach.  The biggest problem though, is the construction on Namhae island.  It makes for a stressful ride, at least for now.  The park and beach are both incredible so if you’re still interested, please read on. 

Leaving Gurye is a fantastic ride along a scenic river with very few distractions.  You can either follow road 861, which follows the south side of the river, or road 19, which follows the north side of the river.  There seemed to be a bit less traffic on road 861, but you’ll eventually pick up road 19 a couple of hours later in Hadong anyway, so the choice is yours.  The next couple of hours along road 19 aren’t the greatest in terms of scenic beauty, but not exactly challenging either.  Things change dramatically when you cross the bridge onto Namhae island.  Road 19 takes you all the way to the beach, but there is a considerable amount of construction along the way and a fair amount of traffic as well.  Not the greatest combination.  The climbs towards the end of the ride are pretty tough, but the downhill into Sangju Beach makes it all worth it.  Plenty of minbaks around if you want to treat yourself.  Tent camping is available for about 7,000 won (?).  Showers cost 2,000.  Hallyeohaesang National Park is right behind the beach (follow 19 back up the mountain…trail head is about halfway up on the right).  The hike to the top is pretty easy and only about 2km.  Amazing views of the coast await!

Note:  A considerably easier option would be to head directly south to Suncheon/Suncheon Bay for the day.  The route in “Day 4” of this ride will take you back to Damyang making a nice loop and effectively cutting out Namhae-Do.  
Suncheon Bay
Suncheon Bay
Suncheon Bay

Day 3: Suncheon (Bay)
Click here for the cyclemeter link.

The ride from Namhae to Suncheon is honestly another argument in support of cutting out the Namhae portion of this ride and heading straight to Suncheon (Bay) from Jirisan.  Besides the construction I mentioned, this route also takes you through the bowels of Gwangyang’s industrial zone.  Namhae is absolutely gorgeous so if you have a couple of nights to stick around and enjoy the beach/hiking, it’s probably worth it.  If you’re going just for the night, probably not-so-much…

Head back the way you came on road 19 (nothing better than starting the day off with a nice climb up the mountain!).  Stay on 19 until well after you cross the bridge…look for 59 and take a left.  This will take you south through the ship building yards I mentioned and ultimately through Suncheon’s neighboring city of Gwangyang.  59 somehow turns into road 2 in the ship-building yards and the twists and turns through this area are a bit tricky.  Keep a map handy.  Road 2 takes you into Suncheon where you have the option of posting up for the night in a motel (the 프라자모텔 motel let me keep my bike in my room and only charged me 30 bucks for the night!) or pressing on to Suncheon Bay, which is about 10km south of the city and offers a surprising number of options in terms of pensions and restaurants.  The photos here are from Suncheon Bay, but I actually did this on Day 4 so click the link below for directions.  

Countryside outside of Suncheon

Heading to Damyang
Dongbok Lake

Day 4:  The Damyang House
Click here for the cyclemeter link.

Beers and fried chicken kept me in Suncheon city the night before so I opted to explore Suncheon Bay in the morning before heading back to Damyang.  This easily added an extra 20km to the day, but was well worth it to see the park…it’s stunning. Click on the link for directions to the Bay.

Out of Suncheon you have a few options depending on where you’re coming from, but you somehow need to find 17 and/or ultimately road 22 heading north out of the city.  Road 22 takes you through a gorgeous mountain pass and provides excellent cycling for the duration you’re on this road.  In Dongbok Myeon (74km marker) you’ll pick up road 15 which take you toward Dongbok Lake.  This is my stomping grounds so Naver maps and I had a disagreement about how to approach the last 20km or so.  Naver maps will take you a bit further on 15 and take you up a brutal mountain pass (it’s epic from the other direction!).  I suggest taking the road the follows the west side of the lake (not sure of the name!) until you pick up road 887 which takes you back to the house.  This road is not only more scenic, but the climbs are short and sweet making it a more fun road to ride.  Traffic is minimal as well, save for the occasional (massive) construction vehicles.

Looking for something a bit easier?  Plenty of other suggestions can be found here.

Bike’n Hike (II): Naejangsan National Park

Destination:  Naejangsan National Park
Cycling: 120km
Hiking:  15km
Days:  3


Overview:  Day 1 is a pretty easy ride (50km) with only one notable climb and the most epic downhill imaginable bringing you into the park.  Day 2 is a ball busting hike (15km) around the ridge of the National Park.  Day 3 starts of with a nice climb (45 min of nothing but up) out of the valley and a fairly tiring ride back to The Damyang House (70km). Info about Bike’n Hike VI (the two day version of the is trip) can be found here.
Day 1 (Cycling)
Click here to access the Cyclemeter link
The first 18kms are spent on road 887 which is ideal for a number of reasons, first and foremost being that this road passes right in front of the village.  On top of that, it’s relatively flat and after navigating the jog in the road near the overpass (between km 10-12), it’s an easy hour of cycling with very little traffic to worry about.  Around the 18km mark you’ll pick up route 15, which is an underused four-lane road with at least one uphill climb through a small valley.  After that, it’s mostly downhill to Bukhamyeon, which is where you will pick up route 49 leading into the park (around the 35km mark).  The next 15km on route 49 are pretty amazing as you’ll find both the biggest climb and the biggest descent of the day (test your brakes!).
The last downhill of the day bombs into the park where you’ll find minbaks, a campground and exactly one street of restaurants serving the same menu.  Peak season here is very clearly advertised as fall, and visiting outside of that time frame you will find a very deserted Naejangsan.  The CU Mart is by far the most “happening” place to hangout.  Minbaks are about 30,000/night outside of peak season.
 
Day 2 (Hiking)

There is a shuttle bus from the initial entrance of the park (near the main street of restaurants) to the visitor center, trailheads and cable cars.  It’s only 1,000 won and if you have a car probably not of much use, but the walk along this road is very easy and beautiful (follows a mountain stream) so if your car ends up at one end you have this as an option.

Keep in mind there are essentially two ways to hike the rim trail.  Clockwise or counterclockwise.  They both entail a brutal climb to reach the rim (over an hour of straight up), but after that there isn’t too much difference.  My suggestion is to take the cable car halfway up the mountain and head directly to sinseonbong, the highest peak. From there hike the rim clockwise.  You’ll miss the first peak, but honestly this will make things much easier by the end of the hike when you’re feeling exhausted.  Besides there is a scenic overlook every five seconds so it’s not like you’d be missing out on much! 

This hike isn’t easy and it’s not short (although there are at least three trails connecting with the rim trail that allow you to ‘opt out’ and head back down).  Plan for at least 7 or 8 hours if you want to do the whole thing. 


Day 3 (Cycling)
Click here to access the Cyclemeter link.
Grab some breakfast or a snack and head towards Jeong-eup and out of the park.  This starts your 70km ride home.  Pick up 21 about five kilometers outside of the park (this is not clearly marked!  Look for the tall red love motel) and start your climb through the valley.  This is the biggest climb of the day, but not the only one.  This road will bring you south passed Chuwolsan Park, Damyang Lake and into Damyang City.  Stop in town at 승일식당 to try some of Damyang’s famous kalbi, or simply pass through town, pick up road 887 and head back to the house for a well deserved cold beverage. 

Bike’n Hike (III): Wolchulsan National Park

 

Wolchulsan National Park

Length: 3 days
Cycling: 170km
Hiking:  6km

Overview: Day 1 takes you around Mudeung mountain and through the National Park, so the first half of the day is especially spectacular and challenging.  Day 2 is a challenging, albeit short, hike to the summit of Wolchulsan and some of its best highlights (suspension bridge anyone?).  Day 3 starts out on a few of the same roads that lead you into the park, but takes a detour through Gwangju city and the opposite side of Mudeung National Park to end the day on a high note. 

Day 1
Click here for the Cyclemeter link.

Follow road 887 (take a left when exiting the village…towards Sosaewon) up through the valley until the 9km mark where you will see a small unnamed road on your right, just past the abandoned elementary school (update:  this road has since been paved and is glorious!).  This road winds up through another valley behind Mudeung Mountain.  Around the 17km mark, just past the reservoir, you’ll take a right and head towards Hwasun.  This 10km stretch of road is absolutely gorgeous.  A couple good climbs, an 18% descent and plenty of sweeping views of the valley and Mudeung.  Beware of goats in the road!  

In Hwasun, you will pick up route 55 and follow that for about 35kms.  You’ll briefly jump on a busier route 23, but quickly get off onto 819 which takes you into the park and campground.  I opted not to stay in Yeongam City because quite frankly, there doesn’t seem to be much there.  I stayed at the Cheonhwangsa Campsites, which is on the northeast side of the park (there are two visitor centers/campgrounds) and seemingly the more popular choice because it provides an easier access to the infamous cloud bridge.  
Tent camping is 2000 won/night (not a typo).  There are showers (lower those expectations!), a few restaurants, a couple of minbaks and not much else.  You’d be wise to bring cash.  The massive annex parking lot leads me to believe this is at times very popular.  When I was there (June), this was not the case.  Empty campground and even emptier trails.
 
Wolchulsan
Cheonhwangsa Campground
Mudeung National Park
Day 2 (Hiking)

The hiking portion of this trip is tough at times, but not particularly long.  The trail head is right at the entrance to the campground and takes you pretty much straight up the valley to the biggest crowd-pleaser in Jeolla-do: the cloud bridge.  It’s a suspension bridge, and judging by the massive steel cables anchoring it down, is probably the safest stretch of trail anywhere on this mountain or perhaps in the world.  Unfortunately logic doesn’t apply when you’re hovering 100 meters above the valley floor. 
Once across you’ll head up the mountain a bit further, then back down a bit and finally all the way up to the summit.  When it’s not covered in clouds the views of the surrounding valley are expansive and the mountain itself is a gnarly group of craggy rocks that’s easy to visually get lost in.  From the summit, I headed back down around a small loop to check out the waterfall, which is worth it if for nothing else than to head back down on a portion of trail that offers some different views.
Time and/or transport permitting, I might suggest hiking through the mountain range and park to the other side coming out at Dogapsa Temple.  I strongly recommend working out the logistics beforehand, otherwise it’s going to be a long hike back to your campsite.
Wolchulsan
Wolchulsan
Cloud Bridge
Local treats
Day 3
Click here for the Cyclemeter link.
Not much choice except to head back the way you came….road 819, a quick jump on the busy 23 and ultimately back on 55.  Take this to NamPyeong.  I stopped in this little “city” both days to enjoy the local mini-stop culture.  Cheap snacks and an outlet to recharge my phone is always welcome.  Also from here you can pick up route 1, which takes you into Gwangju city.  Follow route 1 for a bit and generally head north working your way through the city towards route 29 (take a look at the above link for more details on how to navigate the city).  This road puts you onto Mudeung Gil (Mudeung Street) and back into the National Park.  There are a couple of climbs on this last 15km stretch, but again, it’s a beautiful forest and one of my favorite roads in Jeolla Province.  This roads spits you out almost literally in front of the house.  
Mudeung Mountain/Gwangju Lake
Mudeung National Park
Mudeung National Park
Victory beers
Already been to Wolchusan?  More Bike’n Hike options can be found here.

Restaurant Review: DamJu Brewery (담주브로이)

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.

Hiking: Mudeung National Park – Hidden Lake (dog friendly)

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.

 

 

 

Same road in nicer weather (although winter)

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.

 

A better look at the sign at the turnoff to the hidden lake.

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.

Looking for something a bit more ON the beaten path?  Plenty of other suggestions can be found here.