In the rugged mountains of Gangwon Province in South Korea, a bicycle-path follows the North Han River as it flows through a narrow valley lined with forested peaks. Last month we – Emma, Jarrod and 11 year old Sebastian – rode our bikes through this valley with our heads down, battling against a big headwind on a three day bike camping trip from Chuncheon to Seoul. We travelled around 40km a day and and wild camped all the way.
Get Up Early and Catch the Subway from Seoul to Chuncheon
As always in South Korea, you need to consider the possibility of massive crowds – especially on Chuseok or a long weekend. We’d heard horror stories of overcrowded trains on the Chuncheon line with bikes piled up to the ceiling and fights breaking out between cranky cyclists. So….we got up early. It was 8am by the time we boarded and the carriage’s bike racks were already full, though luckily there was space to stand with our bikes further down the carriage.You can get a regular subway train or a high-speed train – we opted for the subway as it’s close to our house.
Circle Chuncheon Lake Before Striking South Through the Mountains
It’s a beautiful ride with part of the trail being a wooden boardwalk that takes you out over the water. In many places the shoreline is cloaked in lush greenery and there are reed-beds overflowing with insect and bird life and gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. On the southern end of the lake the route begins to follow the North Han River and the mountains close in. At this point the scenery becomes downright spectacular with huge peaks and cliffs that seem close enough to touch and mountains piled upon mountains stretching into the distance in all directions. Unfortunately for us, the headwind was pretty spectacular too, giving us déjà vu from our last Jeju Island bike trip. Our clothes and hair whipped about us as we zig-zagged along, sometimes struggling to maintain enough speed to keep our bikes upright.
Great Countryside for Wild Camping
We were exhausted by the end of our first day of riding. Unfortunately, when we’d ridden our goal of 40km we found ourselves on a section of the river where the banks were wide and grassy with no trees for privacy or protection from the wind. Further back from the water there was a very noisy road and a busy train-line. We decided to turn off the bike path and take a side road into the mountains. A dozen or so grumpy kilometers later we found a clearing in a patch of pine forest to camp. It was perfect in many ways; only a few kilometers from the bike-path, invisible from the road, a small stream nearby and there were no houses, train-lines, highways or barking dogs nearby. All we could hear was the sound of the wind and the birds. Bliss. Except for one thing – thirty minutes after we arrived and starting setting up camp it hammered down with rain. After a cold, wet night, the morning greeted us with beautiful sunshine, birdsong and a glorious forest campsite.
…And Not So Wild Camping
The second day of riding took us through more stunning scenery. The river widened and the ever-present mountains moved further back, giving a more open feel. Late in the afternoon we found ourselves at Daeseong-ri, where there is an official campground by the river and a large grassy area. The campground, like most official campgrounds in South Korea was crowded, noisy, cost money and was… well …crowded. No thanks. Luckily, we noticed that down by the rivers edge, 200 meters or so from the nearest car access, there were a handful of people camping. As we always say, “When in doubt, just copy Korean people!” Very soon we found ourselves a lovely little campsite in some long grass surrounded by young poplar trees. We had a view of the mountains and the river, solitude; access to public toilets and small town with restaurants and convenience stores a 2-minute bike-ride away. Eureka!
A Family Friendly Camping and Cycling Adventure Close to the City
It was so laid back and beautiful at Daesong-ri we were tempted to leave the hammocks set-up for an extra day and spend some time just reading and playing frisbee – but we had a schedule to keep,our dog needed to be collected from the doggy hotel and work beckoned. On the last day of riding we had the chance to enjoy the scenery above the river as the bike-path went further uphill. Because we were closer to Seoul now, there was a lot more bike traffic to contend with – we even saw a policeman with a radar pulling over and fining cyclists for going to fast. This isn’t something we had to worry about, averaging 12km an hour!
We stopped at Neungnae Station for lunch, a disused old-fashioned train station rejigged for use as a rest stop for cyclists. We bought Kamjajeon (potato pancakes) and fresh tofu with kimchi – it was the most sustaining and delicious meal we’d had for ages and it fed all three of us to bursting for $10! When we weren’t stuffing our faces, we passed some time watching cyclists with more enthusiasm than skill crashing into each other. During the course of our meal we witnessed 5 accidents – luckily, none of them were serious.
We got home in the late afternoon on day three. We were thoroughly worn out but also strangely refreshed. The dramatic mountain scenery was still fresh in our minds and we’d enjoyed sleeping outdoors and being surrounded by nature the whole time. It was really weird riding home through the streets of Seoul – past people in shiny cars; dressed in clean clothes; and with make-up and immaculate hair. We felt a bit like Crocodile Dundee strolling the streets of New York. We could hardly believe we’d been away for only three days – it felt like a month!
You can find our bike and camping gear on our Amazon store– except for Emma and Seb’s Brompton bicycles we bought used in South Korea.