Visit the valley town of Hwacheon, Korea
Korea can sometimes seem too crowded. It’s nice to have a place to escape for fresh air, village life and nature. One such place is Hwacheon; a cute mountain town in the very north of the country. There are no high rise apartments in Hwacheon; nothing giant to block views of the steep green mountains and pretty Bukhan (North Han) river. The town itself is small and quaint with one main shopping road and a nice central market area for getting food or fishing gear. It’s nestled in a V; shaped by the river and a tributary.
In the warmer months Hwacheon is a great place for camping or staying at minbak; for options drive east on route 460 along the river. The camping area is near a very tall waterfall. Though manmade, the waterfall is prettily nestled into the river valley and worth the short drive. There is a walkway to the top for a nice view, and in the winter the falls freeze to become an ice-climbing center.
Along this same stretch of the Han river, Hwacheon has created its own gorgeous little cycle-way. This is a great bike path along either side of the scenic gorge that is mostly paved or made out of decking to pedal over the water where the bank was too steep. There are even a few spots to cross floating bridges on your bike. Our favorite place along this bike path is south of town on the east side of the river. Near the end of the path is a beautiful garden designed as fields of flowers; a giant tree makes for pretty photo opportunities and a serene picnic spot.
Another favorite pastime in Hwacheon is fishing. The area is known for its mountain trout and the local stores sell lots of fishing gear. There are plenty of small tributaries that look perfect for casting.
High elevation activities abound in the mountains around Hwacheon. We spent one warm fall day rock climbing on mount Yongwasan, south of town. The views from the top were amazing. There is a trail to the peak, for non-climbers, but be warned that it is super steep (even for Korea!). Ropes along route can are there to help pull yourself up the trail. The effort is well worth it, though. From that peak Korea seemed natural and remote. There were mountain peaks and steep valleys as far as we could see. And, it may have been my imagination, but I think the air was clearer there; the sky bluer; the clouds whiter.
Hwacheon has a few other attractions as well. There is a wonderful, small, but well done folk museum that is free. It highlights the local village fishing and farming heritage. The building is just across the river from town. The river itself is an attraction; the waterfront has paddleboats to rent for enjoying the water and the stillness.
I would be remiss to not mention the one thing that does draw large crowds Hwacheon: The Sancheoneo (mountain trout) Ice Festival. In 2017, the festival will run from Jan 10 - Feb 1. Visit www.narafestival.com and click the language flag on the top right for details.
Hwacheon is far to the north and near the DMZ. You will notice a lot of military bases on the drive, and even some anti-troop-movement additions to the roadways if you know what to look for.
To get there, drive along I-60 eastward to Chuncheon and then follow route 5 north into Hwacheon.
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