Many people flock to the famous cycle path that stretches from Incheon right down the country to the beautiful coastal city of Busan. 500km, breathtaking views, a world-class cycle lane and a memorable way to travel the country – you can see why it is so popular even among casual cyclists (this would me be!).
There are many are many great posts out there with plenty tips on how to get your saddle from Seoul to Busan. Here is how I got mine up the country instead.
Factors to Consider
Time of year
Summers in Korea are hot! August temperatures average mid 30s and this can make the cycle uncomfortable for some.
Winters in Korea are cold! (I’d be a great weather woman) With minus temperatures through December and January, the trails may be too icy to ride at this time.
Time you have
I did this cycle in 5 days, averaging 100km a day which many cyclists also achieved. If you have more time, giving yourself a week would be ideal so you can take your time and enjoy some of the beautiful sites and attractions along the way.
After all, you are travelling 500km through the country and passing many cities as well as villages and countryside; there is a lot to see!
There aren’t many steep inclines until you get to the outskirts of Deagu, and even these are manageable. The nastiest ascents were near Mungyeong where there is a 400meter curved trail up a mountain waiting for you. There are a couple more around this area, but once you’re out of it, it’s smooth sailing from there!
Make sure to prepare your game plan for the day, and check if there is suitable accommodation in the area. I stopped in the Dalseong area, which was the stamp before Chilgok but found it difficult to find a guesthouse (luckily some Korean cyclists helped me out).
I also got stuck in Mungyeong, where the stamp booth is located there are no motels whatsoever for another 30km or so. Make sure not to expect anything near the stamp booths, as they are located in very random places. Plan to cycle to certain towns and built up areas for a motel.
It is one of the four river cycles, and the path will always be alongside one of these rivers ripping through the country from north to south. The first of the rivers, and the longest of your journey is the Nakdong River. This starts in Busan, and will take you over half way. There are 12 passport stamps for this river in total, that ends in Andong if you decide that is far enough for one cycle. I stopped at 11, and headed north for the next river.
Starting Point – Eulsukdo Island
Finishing Point – Banpo Bridge
Here are the two rivers you will follow, and the districts running through them. You must cycle about 100km on the Saejae Bike Path to get from Nakdong to the Han river.
Nakdong River (389km)
- Changnyeong Hamanbo
- Hapcheon Changnyongbo
- Gangjeong Goryeongbo
Han River (namhangang 132km, bukhangang river 150km)
Eulsukdo Island is a nice little town at the southern tip of Busan known for its bird sanctuary (once the largest seasonal migration site in Asia). Take the orange line on the subway and get off at the second last stop.
A great way to track your millage, and stay on track is to buy a cycle passport (available at Eulsukdo starting point) and stamp your passport booklet all the way. There are stamp booths all along the trail that turn into a great motivation for you. They come along every 10km/40km and there is proof of your achievement at the end of the cycle. Most of the booths are also located at the K Water company buildings at bridges. These will always have a convenient store with bathrooms and a resting area for a quick pitstop.
Download Duam or Naver Maps, and get to know the cycle layout of the apps before you start. They are a lot more efficient than google maps (also helpful) if you know a little Korean and can figure out the basics of these apps. Duam is better for accommodation and facilities; naver is very efficient in finding all of the cycle paths available.
Plan your days. Have an idea where you want to stop at the end of the day, and figure out if there is accommodation here. It is a long cycle, with very long distances between built-up areas and you don’t want to be stuck in between places at the end of the day.
If you plan to go in the summer, make sure to pack enough water and ice to keep cool. You might not see a water fountain or convenient store for a while in the countryside especially.
My favourite part of the day was early morning. There was a mysterious mist overlaying the mountains, the air was cool and the scene was quiet. A few farmers were up working, but most of life was still fast asleep.
On your way into the concrete jungle that is Seoul, following the han river is very peaceful, serene and so full of beauty. There are tunnels to go through (that used to be old train tracks) and many enthusiastic cyclists starting their journey from Incheon. The atmosphere here is in complete contrast to the rest of the trail. You have plenty of company, facilities and road signs to follow all the way through.
Being on a 500 km cycle opens up plenty opportunities for mishaps along they way. It cannot simply be smooth sailing for such a distance, and the path can get bumpy at times. Stick with an open and eager attitude and you will be sure to enjoy the adventure, and all it entails.
From Eulsuko I traveled to Namji and finally stopped there for the night. There are an abundance of accommodations here for cyclists, and I’d definitely advice staying here day one. The trail to this point is pretty flat, and there are no difficulties following the blue painted path all the way.
From Namji the path will lead you onto Deagu. Some roads are shared with traffic so watch out and take it slowly. After getting stamped in Dalseong, not long after that I got seriously lost. The route takes you past Dodongseowon Confucian Academy and up this mountain. The signposts advise you to continue 1600 meters up the mountain, which stopped me in my tracks.
Thankfully some friendly Korean cyclists came up behind me and lead the way (the other way), which was a much smaller hill to the left. To say I was relieved is an understatement.
Last stop in Dalseong before Chilgok, we parted ways. Although the area was rural, with little signs of motels or accommodation, the Korean cyclists (my new best buddies) helped me find a place to stay for the night. Not sure if this was a legitimate guest house, or just an extremely kind Korean family that offered me the upstairs of their house for the night – either way it was cheap and cheerful and I was glad to see a bed that night.
*Note, if you can I would try and stay in Chilgok which is another 30km from this stamp booth. There are many options here for places to stay. Otherwise, you may head further into Deagu city for accommodation. I was lucky to find what seemed like the only place available near the booth, and I think they just felt sorry for me and took me in!
First mission on your way to Chilgok is a fine big mountain to climb. No better way to start the day then to get your sweat glands working overload in 35 degree heat. Not a bother.
Chilgok was a tranquil ride in the morning, onto Gumi; which was even finer. Sangju has beautiful scenery and what looks like plenty attractions if you wanted to stay longer. My last 40km stretch to Mungyeong had a few small inclines, but nothing strenuous. Thinking there was accommodation near the stamp booth here, I ended up being temporarily stranded until eventually finding a pension available a couple of km’s away. The passport stamp is at Bujeong station, which is still the outskirts of Mungheong so plan to cycle a lot further into the city for a place to stay.
I was lucky to stay at a lovely, hella random stop in the mountains surrounding Mungyeong. The pension had a traditional restaurant that fed me delicious doenjang jigae and an assortment of banchan (side dishes). A nice cold beer, with a very kind couple that was camping across the street also doing the cycle was the greatest end to the day of ups and downs.
You are warned. The tallest mountain on the cycle (500 meters) is between this stop and Suanbo Oncheon. In fact there are two of them, but the first one is the true test of stamina. A popular hike with stunning views from the top, the run up to said views was a rough start to day 4 for me. What felt like never ending, finally ended with another passport stamp at the top, a well deserved rest and a crazy fun scoot down the mountain.
Screaming motivation at the cyclists going through the torture I just finished as I raced down the other side was great fun. I mostly got confused, intrigued stares as I passed people on their cycle. I suppose a foreign woman cycling this path on her own isn’t the most usual sight they’d be used to. I was very familiar with these stares of bewilderment by day five.
At about 5pm I stopped in Gangcheon to get me some boiled eggs and beef jerky, the food of champions, and asked about accommodation.
Although this wasn’t anywhere near the next city, there were a couple of pensions in the area I stopped in and I was attracted to the vast emptiness of the area, with a sense of calm surrounding it. So I ended up staying here for the night.
Tip* There is no harm in asking everyone about accommodation. The shop owners called their neighbours, who came and brought me to a family-ran restaurant with pensions beside it. You never know your luck unless you try.
My last leg of the cycle was just as enjoyable as the last few days, with a variety of scenes through the countryside, along the hangang with stunning landscapes before reaching the outskirts of Seoul. From here there is a popular cycle lane that many people use on a summers day. There are copious amounts of places to stop and refuel at. Up until now, finding constant water supplies was tricky. Here I had multiple options and was served protein drinks on ice. Moving up in the world.
The contrast between places, the difficulties of the countryside, along with the peacefulness of it; the energy of the cities and the atmosphere all along the cycle path, meeting other cyclists and sharing conversations, jokes and energy bars with them are all the wonderful aspects and magnificent memories that I will take with me from the five days on the road.
I was aching all over, my body was burnt bitten and bruised but I was sad to see the end of it. At the end of my journey, I was delighted with the whole experience. Completely independent on the road, testing my ability, my stamina, my determination and my Korean!
I made it to Seoul station for about 4pm. Now admittedly, there are another 50k or so to go to the end of the path that takes you out to Incheon. I would have liked to go to the official end, but as I had work in the morning, and needed to get a four-hour bus back down to Gyeongju I thought best not to chance it. I still have my passport booklet and can get that final stamp if I please, but for me that journey was more than conquered.
If you have free time, and really want to see how beautiful Korea is, as well as learn from it and meet new people a long the way; if you want to test yourself, and have a crazy adventure; if you love cycling or just took up the sport – you should do this trail. With people, by yourself, when ever you can. It’s something you will look back on and remember the little details, how they made you feel and how proud an achievement it was. You won’t forget it, and your legs will thank you for it! Afterwards – a long time afterwards.
Enjoy it and let me know how it goes. If you have any questions about it, as I know I did, leave a comment. I’d be more than happy to help out or further elaborate if you’d like to know anything additional.