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.

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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 (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!