This rugged and extremely rural trail is situated in the southern part of Korea, and although it doesn’t connect to one of the four main rivers, it is still a noteworthy cycle path that takes you through luscious farmlands, mountains and quaint villages that spans for 150km. The Seomjin River trail is found in your cycle passport of Korea (which is a great little souvenir to get while cycling here) and so there are those red phone booths with stamps along the trail for you. The picturesque views along the way are reason enough to spend the weekend on this bike path but if you need a little more convincing, here are a couple more aspects of the Seomjin River trail that stuck with me.
Accessibility of the Seomjin River Trail
To get to the start of the Seomjin river trail, we hopped on a bus to Gwangyang, and followed the river north until we arrived at the first/last passport booth, which wasn’t difficult to find even for foreigners. From the bus station, you must cycle another 15km or so before you get on the official path but even from the get go you’ll enjoy the river trail leading the way with those blue arrows carefully laid out throughout the country for us eager cyclists.
There is very little room for confusion with the Seomjin river trail. Very well sign posted, and most of the time you’ll be cycling in the baron countryside without options to stray off path. A few times you will be joining road traffic while whizzing through towns, but this doesn’t stay the case for long.
Most of the trail is around mountains, in typical Korean fashion! However unlike other trails around the country, this one stays on flat land pretty much all the way. There are no points of elevation even worth mentioning. Relax and enjoy the smooth cycle! This makes it a great trail for novice cyclists. The serene cycle along the Seomjin river is one for everybody 🙂
As you’re on the cycle path from start to finish (minus the roads) the terrain is stable and secure. There was one brief spell in Daseong that the trail was a dirt track, but even then we just curved off parallel to the unnecessary trail until it reached concrete once again. Easy!
Although the terrain along the Seomjin river trail doesn’t vary, the landscapes you pass certainly do. Getting out of Gwangyang isn’t the most picturesque, with factories filling most of your view until you get out of town. Once that is behind you, the beautiful blue river stretches far beyond site, with layers of mountains by your side and charming villages scattered throughout them. Listen carefully and hear the banging of bells, as Buddhist monks perform ceremonies in these sacred places. (I did the Seomjin river trail during Lunar New Year, and most families were performing ancestral rites at this time).
Pass village after village, then scarce farmland for miles. Mountains are never far from sight, but towns are. There are grand, modern bridges with impressive architecture and charismatic little ones that invite you into an image of imagination. Step into different worlds as the miles pass, days go on. Tunnels, train tracks, tourist sites and subtle traits of the land that few people get to see. Take it all in and remember the details all while the Seomjin river is beside you…
What to consider
From the Seomjin river trail, you can actually cross over onto the Yeongsangang river trail, which is another 133km to the end (Mokpo). If you decide to do this, you cut the last 40km short and follow the well sign posted path for the river change (Seomjin to Yeongsang). If you do continue on, keep in mind the travel time from Mokpo bus terminal to your destination. You probably won’t get a direct bus to where you’re going, and depending on the time of year (public holidays etc.) the buses may even be sold out soon.
We cut our Yeongsangang cycle short as there were no buses from Mokpo left that day, and went straight to Gwangju as we knew we’d get a convenient bus from there and time was of the essence. The city isn’t far off the cycle path itself.
There are long sections of the path that you can thoroughly get in touch with nature. I mean, almost too much. Make sure you have enough food and water, clothes if it’s wintertime because there are very little pit stops along these parts. We desperately wanted a hot coffee to warm up after 30 km in the snow, but to no avail. Convenient stores come in the hundreds in the cities, but they have yet to make their way to the rural parts of Korea; extreme contrasting aspects of this intriguing country.
Make sure to plan before hand how many miles you’ll have to put in for the day before expecting to conveniently stop in a well built up area with plenty of motels. Even a quick google search for motels in the 10km radius of your destination just to make sure you won’t be stranded once the sun goes down!
There are a couple of interesting sites to stop and look around through as you pass along the path, however it’s mostly the gorgeous landscapes and constant stream of contrasting scenery that makes the Seomjin river trail a memorable one. If you're thinking of doing it, I'd say give it a go and let it impress you itself. It's not that difficult all things considered, and you get to see parts of the country that you'd never otherwise see.
A beautiful experience, and although I went during the blustery, bleak winter period, I would love to come back in the Spring or Autumn and take in the colours painted all around the Seomjin River.
Have you done the Seomjin river trail? What aspects of Korea bike trails do you like best? I would love to get some tips myself for my next cycle! Once the weather gets better, I hope to do the East Coast trail. I think passing through beaches and seaside towns deserves to be done in the summer, so for now I’ll stick to snowboarding until the winter passes.
Where to next? Why not tackle the trail from Busan to Seoul? Click here for more on that!