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