Cycling: Korea by Bike on the Four Rivers Trail
The Four Rivers Bicycle Trail, unveiled in 2012, takes its name from Korea’s four major rivers: Yeongsang-gang (near Gwangju in the southwest), Nakdong-gang (which runs through Busan and Daegu, finishing north in Andong), Geum-gang (in the central west portion of the country near Daejeon), and Han-gang (the river which flows through Seoul in the north).
Today, however, there are more than four paths that vary in size and skill level, and they are available both on and off the mainland.
Before you head out onto a path, be sure to stop by any bicycle certification center, and purchase a cycling “passport” for 4,000 won. This passport can be stamped at various checkpoints that are spread out along the trails. From the certification centers, you can also pick up a map of all the bike paths for 500 won.
Complete an entire trail, and receive a sticker at any bike certification center. Complete all four major river trails (or travel from Busan to Incheon) and receive a medal and a certificate of achievement. Complete every course, and bask in the glory and adulation of the masses (and if that’s not enough, you’ll also receive a “Grand Slam” certificate).
Ready to ride? Here are a few recommended trails to get you started:
The Ride: Nakdong River
Distance: 393 km (244 miles)
This ride stretches from Busan through Daegu and finishes in Andong, home of the Hahoe Folk Village and birthplace of Jjimdak (spicy stewed chicken). The Nakdong River bicycle path is the longest of all contiguous river paths in Korea. The entire path can be completed in four or five days, but can also be enjoyed in smaller segments.
The Ride: Han River, Seoul Metropolitan Area to Chunju
Distance: 21 – 200 km (13 – 125 miles) (appx.)
Located along the Han River starting in the Seoul Metropolitan Area, this relatively flat ride will take you southeast to Chunju (childhood home of U.N. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon).
“It’s the most diverse path, given the different environments you’ll ride through, and the things you’ll see,” Day says.
The Ride: Geum River
Distance: 146 km (91 miles)
Located in the middle of the country to the west, this ride along the Geum River is a comparatively easy jaunt that can be knocked out in a weekend. Following the river, it begins north near Daejeon and ends to the south, in Gunsan (known for its sliced raw fish and Lee Sung Dang, Korea’s oldest bakery).
The Ride: Seomjin River/Yeongsan River
Distance: Seomjin is 149 km (93 miles), Yeongsan is 133 km (83 miles), and if ridden together, the distance is 282 km (175 miles).
Ride both southwestern bike paths together in about a week, recommends Matthew Day, a former teacher in Korea and an amateur cyclist (who cycled most of the Four River’s rides between 2013 and 2015). “The path that connects the two rivers is less than 30km and doesn’t involve any large hills, so it’s easy enough,” he says. Those choosing only the Seomjin River path, which runs through eastern North Jeolla province and South Jeolla, will be rewarded with what he calls, “the most beautiful of all the paths I’ve ridden.” The Yeongsang River ride is an easier, small-town lined path starting near Damyang County, North Jeolla Province and in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province that takes about two days to complete.
The Ride: Busan to Incheon
Distance: 633 km (393 miles)
If you have the time and you’re up for the challenge of this ride, bragging rights will be yours. This route connects most of the Nakdong ride to the Namhang River ride (up north) and stretches over 600 kms. It begins at the Eulsukdo estuary in Hadan and finishes in Incheon. To complete this course, however, you’ll need to conquer Saejae mountain path, a 100 km test of strength and endurance. “This ride is not fun at all, unless you like to climb,” Day says. “It’s the most difficult path that I’ve done of all the Four Rivers paths…If you’re able to complete this ride, then nothing will be able to stop you.”
The Ride: Jeju Fantasy Bike Path
Distance: 234 km (145 miles)
If you’re keen to get off the mainland, there is also a path that circles the entirety of Korea’s largest island, which can be completed in about five days. Victoria Florimont, an American English teacher (currently living in Busan) recently completed the path, which opened in 2015. “I had the freedom to stop and look around when I wanted to, something that can’t usually be done when you’re with a tour group,” she says.
Interested in routes around Busan?
The comprehensive Cycling Corea website has made it easy for you (and us) by doing all of the heavy lifting. Mapped routes include areas from: Gwangalli Beach to Dusil via the Oncheon Stream, from Sasang Station to Eulsukdo via Dadaepo Beach, and a 50 km jaunt north from Yangsan to Miryang.
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