Bike Seoul to Yeoju
Welcome to the rest of the Hangang Bicycle Path.
This section is part of the Cross-Country Route, which travels from Incheon to Busan.
Let’s begin where we left off.
High-rise apartments filled with folks swell most cities surrounding Seoul in Gyeonggi Province. And a handful of cities contain over a million souls, meaning they’re eligible for the self-autonomous “Metropolitan City’‘ status.
Namyangju isn’t one of those cities. Because of Seoul’s greenbelt — a ring of land around the capital, off-limits to urban developers — farms and parks claim much of the city’s 458 square kilometers.
One result of Namyangju’s restrictions: no downtown. Namyangju-ites spread throughout clusters of apartments and suburban outposts, tucked under hillsides, wedged between verdant valleys.
Valley of Green
On the upper hillside above buzzes Gyeonggang Road (경강로), which carries vacationers from Seoul through Pyeongchang (평창군) — site of the 2018 Winter Olympics — to seaside Gangneung City (강릉시) along the Gangwon (East Coast) Bike Path.
Just above hangs Paldang Station (팔당역), a Gyeongui-Jungang Line (경의·중앙선) stop. This commuter rail runs from the DMZ (문산역), snakes through Seoul, and terminates two stations beyond downtown Yangpyeong.
Follow the blue bike lines as they divert across streets and crawl under a Gyeonggang Road overpass (road view).
Beyond the roadway overpass, climb to the top of an embankment (road view).
Hate hills? Hairpin turns and dragged routes? Then thank those who came before.
In the 2000s, Seoul electrified the Gyeongui-Jungang commuter rail line. That meant replacing old tracks with new.
In Seoul, where space was (and is) scarce, engineers painstakingly tore up old tracks and installed upgraded rail and electric gates.
Outside the capital, however, it was cheaper to purchase and clear new land, burrow fresh tunnels, and lay a new route.
The New Old
So what happened to the old railroad? You’re riding on it.
Namyangju City and Yangpyeong County installed bike paths along the old rail bed.
So instead of fatiguing your legs on Korea’s innumerable hills and peaks, the next 30 kilometers to downtown Yangpyeong navigate the efficient train route through old tunnels and around gentle bends (directions).
Atop the railroad embankment, keep those wheels turning.
Stop at one of the many rest stops and view the valley that no development can touch (road view). On sunny days, clouds smear shadows over their green slopes. In fog, tails of white wrap plump, earthy frames.
Paldang, the Protector
Completed in 1973, this dam holds down two jobs.
- It stabilizes water flow.
- And it generates power.
Throughout Korean history, the Han River gave and took. It watered farmers’ crops and led ships to the Yellow Sea’s trade routes. But it also regularly washed away riverside settlements.
To stabilize the Han’s flow — prevent floods and droughts — engineers dropped a 29 meter tall, 575 meter wide curved wall twelve kilometers upstream from Seoul’s borders.
Today Paldang Dam sends 2.6 million tons of water per day and generates 338 gigawatts of electricity annually for the capital city.
While the dam has a road across its top, only vehicles can cross when weekend traffic reaches apocalyptic levels. No bikes allowed.
Ride into the hole carved into the hillside ahead (road view) and cruise through the naturally refrigerated burrow.
Pop out and find a genuine section of the old railroad track (road view) splitting the bike lanes over a short bridge.
When complete, the dam flooded the river valley behind it, creating a 244 million ton reservoir. The halted flow fomented algae blooms that starved the water of oxygen, killing river critters.
So while the dam made life comfortable for downstream humans, upstream ecosystems received the sharp end of the progress stick.
After the Bongan Tunnel, the bike road slips into a teardrop peninsula in the river.
Curve into flanking trees, farms, passing ten-meter sections of the old track embedded between the bike lanes.
Neungnae Station Then
Neungnae Station began as a small stop along the Gyeongui-Jungang Line in 1956. Over the years, the station grew but never served a major population center.
Neungnae Station lost its primary function and closed in December, 2008.
Neungnae Station Now
Neungnae Station lives!
Once the Hangang Bike Path replaced the old railroad, proprietors repurposed the old outpost.
Noodle and pop-up hot dog shops dropped seating on the old tracks (road view) and found a steady revenue stream in hungry, passing cyclists. Memorabilia invaded the old station building (road view), now open to the public. And a café invaded an abandoned rail car (road view).
Don’t want to grab a bite? Just here for the stamp? Chug along slowly when crossing Neungnae Station’s main drag. Watch out for dawdling crowds.
What’s so special about it? From the Hangang Bike Path, this is your clearest glance at the convergence of the North and South Han Rivers.
The Han River flows as one only near the end of its life: through Seoul and into the Yellow Sea. For much of its existence, the river lives a double life.
- The North Han River dribbles from a North Korean mountain, crosses into South Korea’s Gangwon Province, then courses through Chuncheon City to… this point.
- The South Han River starts atop Mount Taebaek in Gangwon Province, snakes south to Chungju City, then veers north through Yeoju City until… this point.
Jump back the bike route and continue the last stretch on the riverside peninsula. Sail through arboreous lengths beside the North Han River and Road (북한강로).
Keep an eye out for a quartet of vehicle roads that smash into your route.
Respect each intersection’s traffic signs and traffic. Bongo trucks, Korea’s every-duty pickup, drive like they’re an hour late to wherever they’re going.
These crossings bear a bit of danger, but also a smidge of treasure. The second and third intersections lie near mini-villages, which sport fresh fruit stands and quick-dine shops.
At the end of the peninsula, the bike road curves and leaps over North Han River Road on a small bridge.
As you land, find a right-hand signpost with two blue arrows (road view).
Bukhangang Railroad Bridge
Keep your wheels pointing forward and continue on the Hangang Bicycle Path.
Old Yangsu Railway Bridge
The first bridge lived for only eleven years, however. Acting as a critical point just outside Seoul, the Korean War tore the bridge asunder twice.
- First in 1950, upon the North Korean Army’s rapid advance.
- Then again in 1952. The People’s Liberation Army (China) joined the fight and drove the southern forces back to Seoul.
New Yangsu Railway Bridge
As we explored earlier, the modernizing of the Gyeongui-Jungang Line required new rail infrastructure. And the faster trains and electric gates didn’t meld with old Yangsu Bridge’s fatigued architecture and overhead trusses.
So the Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail) built a gleaming concrete arch bridge beside it. Glance to the left as you ride and spot green gates and overhead wiring surfing across the new Yangsu Railway Bridge (road view).
What happened to the old Yangsu Railway Bridge?
It received the new title “Bukhangang [North Han River] Railroad Bridge (북한강 철교). Then engineers tore up the tracks, installed wooden slats, and reinforced its aging supports.
Today the old bridge doesn’t carry trains, but bikers and walking selfie machines, capturing social media certificate pics of its gold and rust colored overhead trusses (road view).
Because of its proximity to Seoul and unique look, the railroad bridge cameos in everything from K-dramas and K-pop music videos.
Yangpyeong Dumulmeori? That’s a confusing name. It has a literal meaning.
- Yangpyeong (양평) refers to Yangpyeong County, where it resides.
- Du (두) means “two.”
- Mul (물) means “water.”
- Meori (머리) means “head.”
This island sits at the point where two waters meet: the North and South Han Rivers.
Want to get the best perspective on the colliding waterways? Descend from Bukhangang Railroad Bridge and bike south fifteen minutes to the tip of the Yangpyeong Dumulmeori (directions). There sits a panoramic view of the North and South Han’s collision (road view).
Before we pedal further, let’s note the passage of land.
As we noted before, cities fill Gyeonggi Province. Twenty-eight of the province’s thirty-one municipalities hold the title of “city,” meaning they hold over 150,000 citizens.
With a population around 120,000, Yangpyeong claims the rare title of “county.” This works to its advantage, however. Proximity to the capital combined with a bucolic landscape makes it a haven for Seoulites seeking a rural tinged vacay.
Tunnel Hopping in Yangpyeong
Why? While Korail abandoned Neungnae Station, they kept every other station active. They disconnected the old tracks and linked up with the new line.
The effect? At three succeeding stations — Yangsu, Sinwon, Guksu — to avoid running smack into active tracks, the old rail bed and bike path reroutes, tossing the cyclists onto city streets. No kiss goodbye. No cab fare.
The Gyeongui-Jungang Line allows full-size bikes on weekends and holidays. That makes them perfect transportation options for weekend cyclists escaping Seoul for a countryside ride.
Yongdam Art Tunnel
From Yangsu Station, the rail line and bike path run side-by-side for a stretch, then collide directly into a hillside (road view).
Don’t worry! It’s not a Wile E Coyote situation.
Like the Bongan Tunnel beside Paldang Dam, this next section brings a series of eight rail tunnels converted into hill-bypassing bike shoots.
The Bike Seoul to Yeoju route holds nine total tunnels. Each earned their living as a section of the old Gyeongui-Jungang Line. Now they usher cyclists and sightseers through steep hillsides.
- Bongan Tunnel (봉안터널; 290 m) — 4 km from start
- Yongdam Art Tunnel (용담아트터널; 441 m) — 13.1 km from start
- Buyong Tunnel 4 (부용4터널; 240 m) — 12.2 km from start
- Buyong Tunnel 3 (부용3터널; 280 m) — 13.6 km from start
- Buyong Tunnel 2 (부용2터널; 195 m) — 14.1 km from start
- Buyong Tunnel 1 (부용1터널; 115 m) — 14.9 km from start
- Dogok Tunnel (도곡터널; 190 m) — 18.6 km from start
- Wonbok Tunnel (원복터널; 265 m) — 22 km from start
- Gigok Art Tunnel (기곡아트터널; 565 m) — 22.8 km from start
Local beautification efforts transformed two — Gigok and Yongdam — into “art tunnels.” What does that mean? Worked embedded colored LEDs and light fixtures into the tunnel’s walls.
The Middle Tunnels
Pop out of Yongdam Tunnel and find yourself on a ridge beside Buyong Mountain (부용산), which invades the riverside and shoves the rail, vehicle, and bike roads against the South Han.
The Buyong Tunnels
Less than a kilometer later, encounter the aptly named Buyong Tunnels, which arrive in four short bursts along a two kilometer span.
As you pop between their chilled interiors, spot Gyeonggang Road’s bifurcated lanes on your right (road view). It’s Seoul-bound east lanes cling to a strip of land below. While the Gangneung City-bound west lanes hop stout pillars over the river’s waters.
Here, like Yongsu Station before, the new and old rail lines collide, forcing the bike route to reroute onto city streets.
Pedal beside the new railroad through Yeonpyeong settlements, then follow a tree decorated bend into Dogok Tunnel (도곡터널; 190 m).
Pass a rest stop with old railroad decor (road view) and stumble into the same old problem: the new and old rail routes collide.
Beside Guksu Station, the bike path unspools onto a narrow farm (road view) then a town road (road view). Cling to the bottom of the active tracks (road view) until the bike path restarts (road view).
Near Bokpo Village (복포리), after a country road bridge (road view), ride into Wonbok Tunnel (원복터널; 265 m). Emerge between concrete embankments and sweep through more farms and settlements in a hilly valley.
Gigok Art Tunnel
Reality came quickly. When Yangpyeong County completed the bike paths, limited time, funds, and willpower consumed initial inspiration. Simple light fixtures replaced commissioned sculptures and murals.
Adding a dash of woe, planners failed to account for the “tunnel factor.” Constant moisture ate away at exposed wiring, short circuiting, dimming, destroying.
Now, instead of a magnificent rainbow spectacle, riders settle for overhead fluorescents.
The main gallery occupies a couple repurposed, mural painted Mugunghwa train carriages on a section of the old track (road view). Open from 10 AM to 5 PM (closed Mondays), inside lives permanent and temporary exhibits.
No time for a gallery tour? Outside, picture painted pillars and outdoor sculptures created by Korean artists populate the grounds and rest areas.
In spring, along one section of track, a wisteria tunnel blooms purple glories.
From the viewing platform along the South Han (map), ride until you reach a fork (road view). Follow the Numbered Distance Marker Sins (always) and cross Satan Stream (사탄천; pronounced /sa-tan/, not Beelzebub).
Near another Gyeonggang Road overpass, the bike route curls over a major city intersection (road view).
- Turn right after the crosswalk.
- Pedal under the overpass.
- Slither behind a gas station (road view)
- Then cross another street and bridge (road view)
Welcome to the last stretch of the old Gyeongui-Jungang Rail Line.
Yangpyeong Art Museum
Opened in 2011, the museum rises three stories and encompasses almost 5,000 square meters. It’s four gallery spaces hold permanent and seasonal exhibitions.
Why such a magnificent art mecca in a rural county? According to their site, Yangpyeong produces the most artists per capita in Korea.
Yangpyeong-gun Art Museum Certification Center
Just before the museum, along the ridgeway, roll under a solar panel roof and find another red booth: the Yangpyeong-gun Art Museum Certification Center.
Take out your bike passport and step inside.
Wait for the ink to dry. Drop your passport in your bag.
Say goodbye to the old Gyeongui-Jungang Line rail bed route, then roll down the embankment towards the art museum.
The art museum is a part of a sprawling complex that includes five institutions:
- Art Museum (립미술관)
- Culture Center (문화원)
- Indoor Gym (체육관)
- Public Health Center (보건소)
- Learning Center (평생학습센터)
Parking lots, sidewalks, and a few bike paths bridge the spaces between, creating a maze that ensnares bikers.
At the bottom of the embankment, find a fork in the path (road view).
- Keep straight for a shortcut to Yanggeun Stream (양근천).
- Turn right and continue along the Hangang Bike Path
Turn right. Bike lanes carry you behind the Yangpyeong Art Museum.
<small>Note! The museum’s rear parking lot once kept the Certification Center. If you can’t find it on the solar panel roofed embankment, check here (map).</small>
Ride until you smash onto Yanggeun Road (양근로; road view).
Here the bike path breaks. Blue guiding lines fade away.
Silver Grass of Yangpyeong
From the T-intersection, turn right and swing out to the South Han River (Namhangang).
- Head across Yangpyeong Bridge and catch the 2nd View of the Namhangang.
- Continue straight along the Hangang Bike Path.
What’s the 2nd View of the Namhangang (South Han River)?
Cross Yangpyeong Bridge to the south side of the waterway and land in Naruke Festival Park (나루께축제공원).
There, swaying in the current drawn breeze, amongst weeping willows and wireframe sculptures, find the Silver Grass of Yangpyeong (양평 억새림). Best during autumn.
Let’s stick to the north side of the South Han. The south side doesn’t have a monopoly on silver haired grass. You’ll find plenty of riverside meadows on your way to Yeoju.
From Yangpyeong Bridge, pedal onto a wooden raised platform (road view), then a lane-less walking path.
The next stretch presents riverside sports parks and pensions under a canopy of path side trees (directions).
Traveling in cold weather? Expect an unobstructed ride. But on sunbathed days, locals escape to nature and fill these paths. Some bounce between the paths like a pinball. So take caution.
Crowds clear as you flee further from the population epicenter.
A Sporty Hill
Warning! Most of the main road doesn’t provide sidewalks, protected lanes, or blue guide lines. Just bicycle decals every couple hundred meters.
This inland excursion requires two self-administered turns.
- The First — right off the South Han River, turn right (road view; map).
- The Second — near the end of the country road, turn right again (road view; map)
Say bye to Yangpyeong County. Hello Yeoju City.
One of the less populated Korean cities (114,048), Korea promoted Yeoju from “county” to “city” in 2013.
While the city still makes much of its living cultivating crops, it holds a few major claims to fame.
- Archeologists speculate that, shipped from China and sailed down the Han River, Korean farmers first cultivated rice in Yeoju. <small>(Yeoju rice still holds prestige in Korea.)</small>
- Yeoju birthed Empress Myeongseong (명성황후; 1851~1895), the last empress of Korea, who defied Japanese occupation and became a symbol of resistance.
- Yeoju was also the birthplace, and holds the tomb of King Sejong (조선 세종; 1397~1450), Korea’s most acclaimed leader. <small>He commissioned Hangul, Korea’s simple writing system.</small>
Now in Yeoju, it’s tough to ignore those seven humongous eggs straddling the South Han River up ahead (road view).
Part of the Four Rivers Restoration Project, Ipo Weir regulates the flow of water both up and down river, helping farmers during droughts and saving riverside settlements from floods.
Each weir incorporates some element of the city or county where it resides. In Ipo Weir’s case, the water gate’s artistic flourish are those seven oversized eggs atop.
What do they represent?… Eggs. Specifically, Eggs on the wings of an egret. Yeoju claims the migratory bird, which makes a pit stop along the South Han River, as a symbol of the city.
Ipo Weir spans 591 meters, with movable water gates covering 295 meters. Those seven egret eggs atop cover hoists that raise and lower the water gates.
Paths across the weir’s top allow walkers and cyclists to cross the South Han and visit the facilities on either end.
- The west side offers a 7-Eleven with a patio (road view).
- The east end presents a sail-ship-shaped observatory with a bottom floor cafe and second floor lookout spots (road view).
Below deck, Ipo Weir uses three small hydro generators to snatch 3,000 kWh (1,000 kWh each) of electricity from the river’s current.
No stamp booth? Pop inside the 7-Eleven on the weir’s west end. Show your bike passport and make a stamp motion. They’ll break out their backup certification stamp. They keep it behind the Slurpee machine.
Four Rivers Restoration Project
Why these magnificent weirs?
Korea’s rivers held an irascible reputation. They flooded. They dried up. They swept away anything riverside.
So in the 1980s, the government tried to control the Han River, the most notorious waterway. They built dams (Paldang Dam) and weirs (Jamsil Bridge) to control its flow. Then they dredged its riverbed to fix its course and prevent sudden shifts in direction.
The taming of the Han spurred Seoul’s exponential development. So the Korean government extended the program to four of the nation’s rivers: Han, Nakdong, Geum, and Yeongsan. (Hence, the “Four Rivers Project” and “Four Rivers Bicycle Certification.”)
Enter the Four Rivers Restoration Project (4대강 정비 사업). From July 2009 to October 2011, three government agencies (the Ministries of Land and Environment, and K-water) spent ₩22 trillion ($18 billion) to:
- Construct fifteen weirs (water gates) and four dams along the four rivers.
- Dredge 5.2 billion square meters of riverbed.
- Establish hydrophilic zones to absorb flood waters and create wildlife havens.
- Install riverside parks and recreation areas.
- And pave 1,728 kilometers of bike path.
The effect? Tamer rivers. Secured water resources in a changing climate. And, according to environmentalists, decimated wetlands.
Here is a complete list of dams and weirs on Korea’s certification cycling paths:
- Han River:
- Nakdonggang River:
Originally, archeologists thought King Pasa (80~112 AD) built Pasa Fortress. But further excavations estimate the fortifications rose around 550 AD, when the Silla Dynasty began their conquest of the peninsula from their homeland in the southeast.
The fortress fell into disrepair once Silla unified the peninsula and inter-kingdom war ceased. But when Japan invaded during the Imjin Wars (1592~1598), the Joseon Dynasty (1392~1897) rebuilt the fortifications to halt the imperial army’s swift advance up the South Han River.
While only a few green fields and a looping bike path (road view) occupy Dangnam-ri Island, the view from the island’s western edge provides a unique peek into Korea’s history.
On the mainland, continue down the Hangang Bike Path in Dangnam Park (road view).
If weirs break and floods rage, Yeoju Reservoir acts as a buffer zone, absorbing the excess H₂O inflow into its barren nether regions.
The reservoir doesn’t see much action, however. So it plods on as a wetland park, with paths to stroll and species to spot.
Keep those wheels turning. The bike path flies down a ridgeline beside the South Han.
On the left lie rows of greenhouses, pumping out produce year round. On the right rests a two-hundred wide waterside buffer zone, ready to catch river spillage.
What’s that massive bridge topped with twelve pillar pairs and a spiky bit (road view)?
Together the twelve pillar pairs and concentric concrete supports below the top deck mimic a sundial and water clock, two inventions created during King Sejong’s pro-science and innovation rule.
At night, fixtures toss light onto the pillars and sundial supports, shimmering the waters below.
Opened in 2011, Yeoju Weir spans 525 meters and holds twelve flood gates. Each can lift three meters high, regulating up and down river flow.
Yeoju employs three small hydroelectric units that harness the passing water and create 4950 kWh of energy (1,650 kWh each).
Yeoju Weir stands on an eye-ball shaped island on its east end. Around the backside of the island, an inlet diverts water from upriver and pushes it in two directions:
- Into a stream that flows through Cheonnam Park and reconnects with the river.
- Down a tiered set of submerged steps into the low side of the weir.
This inlet acts as a critter valve. It bypasses the obstructive water gates and allows fish to migrate more freely.
Want to explore this concentric island? Inside the twin-spike tower (road view), an elevator can carry you below, where you can spin around the perimeter on a path, relax on the steps of an outdoor stage, or cast a line and wait for something to bite.
Yeoju Culture Center & Observation Tower
Yeoju Weir’s west end presents a culture center (여주보문화관) with a three-story observation tower.
Inside find permanent exhibits by local potters, a convenience store, and an elevator that will lift you to the observation tower’s panoramic view of the weir and nearby downtown Yeoju.
Yeoju-bo Certification Center
From Cheonnam Park, ride across Yeoju Weir and come to a four way intersection.
- Turn right to visit the Culture Center and Observation Tower.
- Go straight and hit the vehicle road ahead (don’t do that).
- Turn left to continue on the Hangang Bike Path.
Blow on your bike passport until the ink dries, then hop back on your bicycle for the final stretch.
Turn left at the end of Yeoju Weir. Sail down the bike road. Curl under a rocky outcrop, that pushes the path close to the water’s edge (road view).
On the horizon, Sejong Bridge (세종대교) pauses on Yang Island (양섬) before leaping over the river (road view). In summer, spy camouflaged fishing platforms with a dozen fishing rods fanning over the water.
- Turn left and hop the bridge into downtown Yeoju.
- Keep straight down a small vehicle road to visit the tomb of King Sejong.
Tomb of King Sejong
The Royal Tombs
This site on the edge of downtown Yeoju holds more than the remains of Korea’s most prominent leader. Surrounding King Sejong’s tomb, you’ll also find:
Why is Sejong’s tomb in Yeoju? Didn’t he rule from Seoul?
While King Sejong first lay in the capital, the succeeding royal family moved his tomb to his birth city, Yeoju, in 1469.
King Sejong the Great
Why the fuss about King Sejong?
Koreans regard King Sejong (조선 세종; 1397~1450) as the most transformational ruler in their long history.
With the peasant-born engineer Jang Yeong-sil (장영실) by his side, his rule saw the inventions of rain gauges, water clocks, sundials, as well as a farmers almanac, a Korean astronomical calendar, and medical advancements.
Sitting just before Sejong’s tomb in Yeoju, inventions and scientific advances discovered under his rule spill from a museum and into a surrounding courtyard.
Sejong’s Magical Alphabet
What was Sejong the Great’s greatest invention? Hangul (한글), Korea’s written language system.
So, to bring literacy to the masses, King Sejong commissioned a simple, phonetic alphabet. One that sounds like it looks, where “바” means /ba/ and “노” means /nō/, no matter the context.
King Sejong’s Tomb
King Sejong’s burial grounds are an archetypal representation of a Joseon Dynasty-era royal tomb.
When visiting, pass under the Hongsalmun (홍살문; wooden gate) and find a Chamdo (참도): twin sacred stone paths that offer a raised path for dead kings (신도; sindo) and a lower path the living royalty (어도; eodo).
The Chamdo paths lead to a Jeongjagak Shrine (정자각), or wooden house where mourners prepare offerings.
Climb to the top and find a smaller mound surrounded by an octagonal lantern and twelve two-meter tall statues, each representing a Chinese Zodiac animal.
No time for history. Let’s jump into the future.
- Stay on the path and plow onward down the Hangang Bike Path.
- Head right onto the brick path to take a rest.
Take a Rest
Looking for nutrition and a few winks? Head right and wheel over the brick offshoot into downtown Yeoju.
Ride until you reach Saejong Road (새종로). Yeoju’s main drag, this street bisects the downtown area and offers a buffet of eateries and motels to energize and recuperate. (Yeoju’s bus terminal also lies on Saejong Road.)