Hiking: TDH Top 5 Dog Friendly Hikes

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 🙂

Continue reading “Hiking: TDH Top 5 Dog Friendly Hikes”

Hiking: Jishil Valley (The Mountains Behind The House)

This is the 5km dog-friendly hike I’ll recommend to you when you visit and be secretly disappointed when you provide some thin excuse the next day as to why you couldn’t fit it in your schedule.  My disappointment lies in the fact that this trail is nearly perfect in so many ways.

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!).

Spring

Summer

Fall

Winter

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.

 

 Start at 12 (the house) finish at 1 (Shikyoungjung)

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).

 

The hike itself is fairly easy to navigate, but here’s the play by play just to help eliminate a least one of the more common excuses (getting lost).

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.

The trail from the front yard

The trail leading into the bamboo forest

This trail leads through a thick bamboo forest that gradually thins out as you go up the mountain.  Even if you’re not interested in hiking the whole trail, do yourself a favor and at least walk through the bamboo forest.  It’s what Damyang is famous for and pretty cool to have right at your fingertips.  Bonus points if you go in there at night (spoiler alert: it’s terrifying).

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 on the right provides views of Gwangju Lake.

 

 

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.

Poetry Museum

If you have a bit more time and energy, walk across to the Eco-Park and watch the sun set!  Enjoy.

 

 

Restaurant Review: Soho Cafe

Soho Cafe has been situated on a prime piece of real estate alongside one of the bigger rivers feeding into Gwangju Lake for a loooong time.  It’s proximity to the Eco-Park and local tourist attractions, coupled with the scenic drive along road 887, have ensured it’s everlasting popularity.  With more development and options opening up around the area it was only a matter of time before this cafe changed hands and underwent a much needed renovation.  The new owners, a mother-daughter team (at least according to what I’ve learned on facebook), have done a good job of making this cafe look at bit more inviting during the darker hours of the night…it’s the brightest place in the neighborhood!

It’s exactly the kind of cafe you would imagine finding on any ‘date course’ around the peninsula, serving pizza, pasta and of course coffee, but the landscaping gives it a distinct advantage over the competitors.  Fountains all around, outside seating near the river and a tepee of all things, certainly add to the uniqueness.

 

Making pizza at the house is something we are well equipped to do (and do often) so personally I can’t justify paying 18,000won for a pie, but the pasta and homemade don katsu, although equally pricey, were pretty damn tasty.  Need some wine to compliment that fried pork cutlet?  They have plenty of options.

 

 


All said and done, it’s tasty food and drinks served in a beautiful atmosphere.  There are certainly cheaper options around, but the old adage “you get what you pay for” is more than applicable.  It’s also right down the street and only a five minute walk so stop in and enjoy a coffee near the river in their back garden during your next visit.

Looking for something else?  Plenty of other restaurant recommendations 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.

Bike’n Hike (V): Yulpo Beach via Mudeung National Park and Boseong Green Tea Fields

Destination:  Yulpo Beach
Cycling:  84km
Hiking:  0km
Cyclemeter Link

Yulpo Beach isn’t the best beach in Jeolla-Do by any stretch, but it makes a great place to finish a long day of cycling.  A day of cycling through the iconic Boseong green tea fields no-less.  And even a shitty beach is still a beach!

This ride starts like most others; head out to the main road and take a left on 887.  Even the first 200 meters to the main road has it’s scenic moments!

 
Head south on 887 up the valley and through the tunnel for about 8.5km.  Here’s the valley you’ll be riding through from a bird’s eye view (Taken from the overlook accessible via the trail behind 식영정). 

About 8.5km up the valley you’ll need to take a right on road 897.  All I can say is it’s just after the abandoned elementary school, which is on the right side of the road and difficult to miss.  This used to be a gravel road, but has recently been paved and is now excellent for cycling! 

Continue on this road for about 14km.  You’ll wind through a yet another scenic valley and have plenty of opportunities to see Mudeung from it’s less famous back-side.  Eventually you’ll head uphill and pass a reservoir.

Just after the reservoir you get to enjoy an absolutely gratifying descent through yet another valley.  Climbing this beast from the other direction is grueling so be thankful you’re headed downhill!

At the bottom of the valley you’ll need to take a right (south) on 15.  You’ll stay on 15, which for a double digit road isn’t bad at all, for about 16km.  Eventually the road intersects with Juam lake which is massive (obviously man-made) and fills in the surrounding valley forming an elongated amoeba shape.  This lake, and the overlapping roads and subsequent bridges, could be amazing save for all the garbage collecting in every corner.  Frustrating to say the least.

At the junction with 18, where you should take a right, there is a small mart (휴게소) offering an extensive menu of water, chips and ramen. There isn’t much before this so if you’re hungry it works.  Good place to stock up on water if nothing else. 

18 takes you almost all the way to the beach.  It’s a pretty road and, at least when I was there, not too much traffic.  I even found a really cool Eco-Park that was completely deserted.

Near Boseong city you will of course start seeing the iconic green tea fields.  Don’t waste you time or energy stopping to take photos of the first couple you see.  Trust me it gets way better.  There are a few small climbs mixed in here, but nothing I remember being too extreme…at least going this direction (if you’re riding back it’s a different story!).

At the bottom of the epic downhill finishing off road 18 you’ll see signs for Yulpo Beach, but if not just take a left on 845.  That will take you directly to the beach where you’ll find lots of tacky neon, plenty of minbaks, and copious amounts of cold beer and seafood! 

Green tea ice cream no your thing?  Plenty of other options here.

Cycling: Damyang – Course 1

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.

Here they are!

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.

You can see the road way off in the distance!

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.

You can see the Hanok Village in the foreground.

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!

Hiking: A (Dog-Friendly) Walk Through the Rice Paddies

Your dogs will thank you for the opportunity to run around along these empty service roads!


Dog friendly areas are few and far between in this country, even outside of city limits.  I’ve written about some of the dog friendly hiking trails here, but another hidden gem (and more of a walk/less of a hike) is the rice paddies in front of our village or behind the Eco-Park/Gwangju Lake parking lot (if you drive there, walk up the road behind the 7-11).Lucky for us the family friendly Eco-Park attracts all the attention and leaves these intersecting farm roads, connecting a vast stretch of rice paddies, virtually empty.  It’s pretty much a “locals only” hangout, which is strange because once in this valley you have almost a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains…most of which are Mudeung National Park.Once in the valley it’s easy to explore and difficult to get lost.  You could walk for 30 minutes or a few hours depending on your route…the options are plentiful.  However, just to get you started, this is our “go-to” route for an after dinner dog walk.  It’s about 40 minutes and a nice loop.  Here’s the cyclemeter link if you think you need it.From the house, walk out to the main road.

 


Take a right at the main road and look for the service road/bridge that crosses the river…take a left down that road.


Take a left where this road dead-ends (a right will simply take you to the Eco-Park/7-11).


Take the first left down in the rice paddies and feel free to explore!  Or continue to follow my directions for the aforementioned 40 minute loop.

 

 

 


Follow this service road as it winds around towards the cows.  At the cows, take a left.


And take the next left (about two minutes).  And the next left after that (about 10 minutes…you’ll see more cows lol).  After that you’ll want to take a left at the pottery studio (which is number 14 on our top 20 things to do at The Damyang House list).  Here’s what you’re looking for:


After that you’ll follow this road until you intersect with the road you came in on…take a right and head home!

TDH Updates 9-24-14

Lots going on around The Damyang House!’

  • Replacement hammock finally arrived this week.  What started as a seemingly harmless afternoon of cold beers and cornhole quickly took a turn for the serious when ANDREW BLACK destroyed my prize possession.  Shortly after he lost 20,000won on the ol’bean bag court.  Not a good day for Andy. 

    • Hosting Chuseok weekend for over 20 of our friends taught me one thing about The Damyang House:  we were in desperate need of more comfortable seating.  Our timing is a bit off, but we’re now the proud owners of four reclining camping chairs.  Pretty damn comfortable and a built in beer holder in the armrest to boot.  We’re ready for next year. *(the campfire fishing pole is one of the first things we bought when the house was finished…it’s even cooler than it looks!)

    • Birdwatching seems like another expensive hobby I can’t afford, but it’s hard not to get wrapped up in it when you’re surrounded by wildlife.  Ringed-necked pheasants, Ruddy Kingfishers and White-backed Woodpeckers are all birds I never even knew existed in Korea before the start of the summer.  Patrick Blake (local birding legend!) will return next month to The Damyang House to celebrate spotting his 700th species (!!!) and hopefully use that fancy camera of his to help me replace some of the blurry cell-phone photos I’ve collected trying to document the aforementioned wildlife.  Check out his website and learn something about the birds flying around the Korean peninsula.  His photography website is worth a look too!

    *Here’s a link to donate to the Birds Korea Organization if you’re feeling generous! 



      Mudeung Swimming Holes!

      We had been hearing rumors of a few nice swimming holes in the area for weeks (thanks for the tip Geoff!).  Busy summer schedules, vacations and wet monsoon weather kept us from actually locating them…until last week.  Hosting Chuseok weekend for 20 of our closest friends was the perfect opportunity to go exploring and find them.  The stretch of river just inside the Mudeung National Park entrance (the 원효계곡 entrance) offers a variety of swimming holes varying in size, depth and available shade.  It’s about 4km from the front door of the house (or 3km from Eco-Park), look for the Buncheongware Museum turn off down a gravely road (분청사기전시길).
      What a treat they turned out to be.  So bummed we didn’t get there until practically the end of summer!  More specific directions can be found here or under the “swimming” page of this blog.