Cross-Country Routes icon.

Saejae
Bicycle Path

Climb two mighty mountain passes in the center of Korea.

Bike, walk and gawk at waterfalls and peaks.

The third leg of the Cross-Country Route, Saejae Bicycle Path (새재자전거길) climbs two of the longest uphill stretches among Korea’s certification bike paths.

From the end of the Hangang Bike Path in Chungu (충주시), the bike road traverses the Sojo (소조령; 380 m) and Ihwa (이화령; 539 m) Passes before diving back down to the Nakdong River (낙동강).

The Stats
Start
Chungju City
(충주시)
← 100 km →
6 hours
End
Sangju City
(상주시)
Checkpoints Logo
Checkpoints (4)
Bus Icon
Bus Terminals
Link button to Kakao Maps directions.
Directions
Link button to Kakao Maps Highlights.
Highlights

City-to-City Path Breakdown

Ride rock-faced valleys before hopping two mountain passes.

Bike Path Overview

The Saejae Bicycle Path gains its name from the Mungyeong Saejae Pass, the highest point of the Great Yeongnam Road, which connected Hanseong (Seoul), the capital of the Joseon Dynasty (1392 ~ 1897), to Dongnae (Busan) on the peninsula’s southeast tip.

The name “Saejae Pass” (새재) translates to, “a pass so high even birds cannot cross.” Before tunnel hopping railroads and expressways, the gap between the Sobaek Mountain Range offered the quickest path to the southeast Gyeongsan Region.

(The Saejae Bike Path doesn’t cross the Mungyeong Saejae Pass. However, near Ihwa Pass, you’ll roll by a road leading to the site (directions), now a park with three historic gates.)

The Course

The 100-kilometer-long Saejae Bicycle Path begins (sort of) where the Hangang Bicycle Path left off: Tangeumdae Park (충주탄금대; certification center) in Chungju City.

The route snakes through rock-faced valleys and along the Dal (달천), then Seokmundong (석문동천) Streams as they trickle from Sobaek Range mountaintops.

Just outside of Chungju, ride by Sujupal Peak (수주팔봉), a rock wall lined with spires and punctuated with a short waterfall and suspension bridge.

The bike road climbs uphill to Suanbo Township (수안보면; certification center), known for its hot springs, then ascends Sojo Pass (소조령; 380 m). 

Roll by Suok Pokpo Falls (수옥폭포) as you descend into Yeonpung Village (연풍면). This Catholic Church adorned settlement also marks the start of the Ocheon Bicycle Path, which runs westward towards the Geum River.

From Yeonpung Village, climb the Ihwa Pass (이화령; 539 m; certification center) the longest and tallest incline of all Korea’s certification paths.

Descend switchbacks and pass a road leading to the bike path’s namesake: Mungyeong Saejae Pass (문경새재).

(Want to explore Saejae Pass (now a provincial park)? Venture three kilometers up a short hill and find three Joseon-era Gates (directions).)

Ride into Mungyeong Town (​​문경읍), which is not downtown Mungyeong City (문경시). Follow a flat course down Joryeong Stream (조령천), then Yeong River (영강).

Along the way, you’ll pass Jinnamgyoban Area (진남교반), a horseshoe river bend, which hosts a historic fortress, walking trail, and the closed Buljeong Station (​​불정역; certification center).

Next, arrive at the Jeomchon Neighborhoods (점촌1동, 2동, 3동, 4동, 5동). Mungyeong City’s downtown. Here you’ll find motels, restaurants, and a train station and intercity bus terminal. This is the last major settlement on the Saejae Bicycle Path.

From Jeomchon, the cycling route chugs 20 kilometers down the Yeong River until it spills into the Nakdong River.

Sangpung Bridge (상풍교; certification center) marks the end of Saejae. The Cross-Country Route continues onto the Nakdonggang Bicycle Path.

(Where’s the actual start of the Nakdonggang Bike Path? Climb aboard an intercity bus at Jeomchon (점촌터미널) or Sangju (상주종합) Bus Terminals and head east to Andong City (안동시).

(This detour isn’t necessary for the Cross-Country certification, however.)

Municipalities

Here is a complete list of the provinces and municipalities along the Saejae Bicycle Path.

Elevation

The Saejae Bicycle Path holds a pair of the longest and highest ascents of any certification bike route in Korea: the Sojo and Ihwa Passes.

Intimidating? If you apply the balm of low gearing, patience, (and walking), these extended inclines will pass like an afternoon allergy attack.

Sojo Pass

Sojo Pass (소조령; 380 m) crosses under Shinseon Peak (신선봉; 966 m) on Juheul Mountain (주흘산; 1,108 m).

The bike route climbs the pass between Suanbo Town (수안보) and Yeonpung Village (연풍면).

Traveling north to south (Incheon to Busan)? Start from a 241 meter (above sea level) base and snake 2.3 kilometers to 380 meter summit (directions).

  • Total climb (north to south): 139 m over 2.3 km with a 6% average incline.

Approaching from the south? From Yeonpung Village (연풍면), the climb starts from a lower base, but spreads over a longer distance.

  • Total climb (south to north): 151 m over 6.2 km with a 2.4% average incline.

The view from the top? Thick tree lines with glimpses of nearby hills and mountains (road view).

Ihwa Pass

Traveling southward? Ihwa Pass (이화령) arrives immediately following Sojo Pass.

The cycling route rolls into Yeonpung Village, spins round a roundabout, then shoots back up the pass below Joryeong Mountain (조령산; 1,026).

Ihwa represents the longest continuous climb and highest peak of all Korea’s certification bike paths (directions).

If you’re cycling Incheon to Busan, Ihwa’s uphill ascent starts from Yeonpung (234 m) and follows a zig-zagging mountain road five kilometers to the pass’ summit (539 m; directions).

  • Total climb (north to south): 305 m over 5.3 km with a 5.8% average incline.

Traveling north? Begin the climb from the edge of Mungyeong Town (226 m) and follow a set of switchbacks to the top (539 m; directions).

  • Total climb (south to north): 313 m over 4.9 km with a 6.4% average incline.

The pass’s south (or east) slope has more switchbacks and shade. No problem for a summer climb. But in winter, when snow lingers longer, those tight turns require extra caution.

Bike Path Types

The Saejae Bike Path runs on roads. Only the opening and ending stages — around downtown Chungju and Mungyeong City’s Jeomchon Neighborhoods — offer protected bike paths.

Country Roads, Take Me Home

Scared of riding roads with hulking metal machines? I don’t blame you. However, two route companions make things a little easier:

These highways flow through tunnels bored into the mountainside, skipping the sheer climbs that once endangered cross-country travelers.

The result? The bike route’s country roads get little traffic, occupied only by local farmers or straggling vacationers.

Certification

The Saejae Bicycle Path holds five (5) certification centers throughout its run.

Collect all stamps and receive the Saejae Bike Path certification. The route also counts towards the Cross-Country and Grand Slam certifications.

Certification Centers

An Extra Stamp

Near Yeonpung Town (연풍면), between the Sojo and Ihwa Passes, find the Haengchon Crossroads Certification Center. This stamp booth is the first on the Ocheon Bicycle Path. It’s not a member of the Saejae Bike Path.

A picture of the Haengchon Crossroads Certification Center on the Ocheon Bicycle Path in Yeonpung Town, South Korea.
Lying on the Saejae Bike Path, the Haengchon Crossroads Certification Center marks the start of the Ocheon Bicycle Path in Yeonpung Town.

Mungyeong Saejae Pass

Mungyeong Saejae Pass (문경새재) was a critical point along the Great Yeongnam Road, which connected the capital of the Joseon Dynasty (1392 ~ 1897; 대조선국) to the kingdom’s southeastern regions.

Why critical? The Sobaek Mountain Range (소백산맥), which runs from Korea’s east coast down to the bottom of the peninsula, forms an unavoidable obstacle. Before tunnels and aircraft, ancient travelers had to cross this treacherous range.

Through the Mountains of Juheul (주흘산; 1,108 m) and Joryeong (조령산; 1,026 m), the Mungyeong Saejae Pass offered the best crossing point.

This “best crossing point,” however, wasn’t an uphill jaunt. The highest ascent along the cross-country road, the pass’s name, “saejae,” implies “a pass so high, even birds (/sāe/; 새) cannot cross.”

The eastern view from Ihwa Pass in Mungyeong City, South Korea.
Locals refer to the Ihwa Pass as Mungyeong Saejae because it's proximity to the historic mountain pass.

Great Yeongnam Road

During the Joseon Dynasty, the Great Yeongnam Road (영남대로) was the primary route from the capital (Hanyang, 한양; present-day Seoul) to the southeast Yeongnam Region (영남 지방; today’s North (경상북도) and South (경상남도) Gyeongsang Province).

The road started at the gates of Gyeongbok Palace (경복궁; Gyeongbokgung), where the king lived. It passed through the capital city’s gates and sailed down the Han River to the Sobaek Mountains outside Chungju.

Great Yeongnam Road then wound just under Sobaek Range’s Joryeong Mountain (1,026 m) over Mungyeong Saejae Pass (642 m).

Over the mountain range, the route dropped into the Nakdong River and sailed south to the port city of Donghae (동래; Busan), on the southeastern tip of the peninsula.

By “ancient roads,” don’t picture cobblestone Roman paths, speeding chariots vast distances. Think of Great Yeongnam Road as stitched-together hiking trails. Impractical for carts. Perilous for two-leggers.

Weary Travelers

So who traveled Great Yeongnam Road? Scholars and warriors.

Studious Sights

Korea’s Joseon Dynasty era employed a rigid class system. Cheonmin (천민) occupied the bottom rung and performed unsightly jobs like butchering, shoemaking, and tricking. Yangban (양반) were the elites who owned land and served in high-ranking military or bureaucratic positions.

However, unlike Europe, one wasn’t born into this high class. Yangban needed to pass an extensive civil extensive exam known as gwageo (과거), proving they could read and write Hanja (한자, 漢字; Chinese-Korean characters) and recite classic literature.

The Yangban studied for years in private Confucian shrines (slash) preparatory schools known as Seowon (서원). The Yeongnam Region held over 43 of these institutions.

Seonbi

Seonbi (선비) was a venerated subclass of Yangban. Like them, they studied and passed the gwageo to attain seats next to royalty and in elite institutions.

Unlike the Yangban normies, however, Seonbi gave up the material in pursuit of knowledge. They also fought for equality among classes.

In traditional Korean mask dances, you’ll find archetypal representations of the greedy Yangban and benevolent Seonbi. However, both classes needed generational wealth to keep them out of the fields and in the classroom.

Fly Like a Bird

Many Yangban elite traveled from Gyeonggi Province near the capital to Yeongnam Region’s Seowon preparatory schools to study for the gwageo exams. That meant crossing the Mungyeong Saejae Pass.

This treacherous climb came to represent another tribulation for the venerated Seonbi to pass in order to attain their almost divine status. 

Korea’s most famed scholars — Yi Hwang (이황; ₩1,000 bill) and Yi I (이이; ₩5,000 bill) — conquered Mungyeong Saejae Pass in their lifetimes and wrote of its beauty.

The Great Barrier

While Mungyeong Saejae Pass gained fame as a passageway, it also earned infamy as a strategic military pinch point.

Three Kingdom Impasse

During Korea’s Three Kingdoms Period, three kingdoms fought for control of the peninsula.

Goguryeo held the mightiest military and struck first in a centuries-long tussle. They swooped south and conquered the Baekje capital (Wiryeseong; 위례성) and took control of the Han River.

While the Baekje retreated to the Geum River, Goguryeo advanced southeast towards Silla in the Yeongnam Region.

Though Silla’s army stood little chance against their northern aggressors, they had one advantage: geography.

Silla held Goguryeo back by cutting their armies off at the Sobaek Mountain Range’s rugged passes, including the Mungyeong Saejae. This preserved Silla’s autonomy long enough to join up with the reeling Baekje forces and strike back.

Less than a century later, with the help of the Chinese Tang Dynasty, Silla conquered Goguryeo and Baekje, for the first time unifying the Korean peninsula under one banner.

Japanese Invaders

After unifying Japan in 1592, Toyotomi Hideyosh dreamed of “unifying” Korea and large swaths of China under his rule. Thus began the Imjin Wars (1592 ~ 1598).

May 23, 1592, the Japanese military laid siege to Dongnae (Busan) on the southeastern tip of the peninsula. Two days later, they took the port town, killed every two and four-legged creature in sight, then began a 7,000-strong march north to Hanseong (Seoul).

Which road did the troops travel? The Great Yeongnam Road, of course.

By June, the Japanese soldiers scorched every town in their path, hopped over the Mungyeong Saejae Pass, and arrived in Chungju.

There, the famed General Sin Rip (신립), mustered the decimated Korean troops and fought valiantly near Tangeumdae Park.

The battle didn’t last long. Japanese archers wiped out Korea’s troops, and the defeated Sin Rip drowned himself in the South Han River.

Japan continued their conquest north, taking Hanseong and control of the peninsula soon after.

However, China’s Ming Empire joined the fight and a Korean insurgency rose. After years of stalemate, Japan retreated to their home islands.

Three Gates Too Late

Some military experts believe, like Silla a thousand years earlier, if Sin Rip attacked Japanese troops at Mungyeong Saejae Pass, he could have halted their rapid advance. This would have given time for China’s Ming Dynasty troops to rally south and defend the Joseon capital.

So once the Imjin Wars ended, succeeding Joseon Kings installed the Mungyeong Gateways (문경관문) along the Saejae Pass. These three gates include:

These three layers of protection never saw battle, however. When Japan again occupied Korea (1910 ~ 1945), they used coercive diplomacy and assassinations. No invasion.

Provincial Park

In 1981, North Gyeongsang Province dubbed the pass Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park (문경새재도립공원). Today, the park holds a variety of tourist museums, hiking trails, and landmarks (read more).

In addition, the ancient pass holds such a venerated place in Korea’s history, locals often referred to the road and tunnel on top of nearby Ihwa Pass as Mungyeong Saejae.

Highlights

The Saejae Bicycle Path is one of the shortest (100 km) certification paths. However, it offers plenty of scenic mountain vistas and historic treasures.

Chungju Light World (충주라이트월드) glows nightly near Tangeumdae Park (탄금대) in Chungju.
Chungju Light World (충주라이트월드) glows nightly near Tangeumdae Park (탄금대) in Chungju.

Tangeumdae Park (충주탄금대) covers Daemun Mountain (대문산; 107-meter peak) on the northwest bank of downtown Chungju, where the South Han River and Dal Stream (달천; Dalcheon) converges.

The park’s site gained fame for two historical events.

  • Around 500 CE, the famed musician Ureuk (우륵) perched amongst the park’s boulders and strummed his gayageum (가야금).
  • The Korean General Sin Rip (신립) made a last stand against Japanese invaders near Tangeumdae Park during the opening months of the Imjin Wars (1592 ~ 1598).

Sujupal Peak (수주팔봉; Sujupalbong) is a rock wall topped with stony spires on Dal Stream just south of downtown Chungju.

When viewed from across the stream, spot eight (/pal/; 팔) peaks. Hence, “Sujupal Peak (수주봉).”

Picnickers have long visited the gravel beach before Sujupal to eat a roll of gimbap, drink tea, and watch the Dal Stream burst through the rock wall and spill down Kal Rock Falls (칼바위폭포).

When they finish lunch, sightseers can climb stairs and traverse Sujupal Peak Cloud Bridge (수주팔봉구름다리), suspended between two spires.

The Township of Suanbo (수안보면) lies in the southern limits of Chungju City.

Since the Kingdom of Goryeo (고려; 918 BCE ~ 1392 ACE), visitors dropped by this mountain outpost and bathed in the 53°C (127°F) hot springs (수안보 온천). They believed the mineral infused water, gushing from two-hundred and fifty (250) meters below, halted aging.

Hotels and spas snatched up some hot spring sites and built their walls around them. However, commoners (you and me) can visit the town’s park and test out these fountain-of-youth waters for free in a public foot bath (낙안정).

Just south of Sojo Pass pours Suok Falls (수옥폭포). This 20-meter tall waterfall comprises three stages, with the second and third forming centuries-old divots in their stony landing.

Overlooking the falls, the governor of Yeonpung built Suok Pavilion (수옥정) to commemorate his uncle in 1711.

While Ihwa Pass (이화령) will test cyclists resolve, but it also provides the superb high-angle views.

At the top, watch Jungbunaeryuk Expressway and National Highway 3 carve a path between Joryeong (조령산) and Heeyang (희양산) Mountains and disappear into burrows below.

Ihwa Pass Tunnel (이화령터널), which crowns the summit, lets sightseers switch between two municipalities, each with their own viewing platform.

On the west side of the tunnel, stand in Goesan County (괴산군) and view Yeonpung Town (연풍면), whence you climbed.

Pass under to the east side and enter Mungyeong City (문경시). In the distance, look out onto the edge of Mungyeong Town (​​문경읍), your next stop.

You’ll also find a few critical facilities nearby:

Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park (문경새재도립공원) covers 5.5 square kilometers on top of Mungyeong Saejae Pass, a crucial point along the ancient Great Yeongnam Road.

The park encompasses the Mungyeong Gateways (문경관문), a series of three ancient fortress gates built after the 16th century Japanese Invasions.

Among the forest topped hiking trails, a 6.2-kilometer path runs along Chogok Stream (초곡천) from the first to the last fortress gate (directions).

The provincial park also includes an innumerable chest of historic and contemporary treasures, including:

Jinnamgyoban Area (진남교반) is a group of notable and natural sights located around a horseshoe bend in the Yeong River (영강).

Among its hiking trails and overpassing bridges, you’ll find these popular attractions.

Buljeong Station (불정역) was once a stop along the Mungyeong Line (문경선). The line’s main customers weren’t people, however. It ran carriages filled with coal, dug from the surrounding mountains.

Builders used Yeong River rocks to build Buljeong Station’s main building in 1954. It closed in 1993, two years before the industrial train line shuttered operations.

The local government transformed a few old train cars into a pension (vacation home). They tried using the old tracks, which wind around Jinnamgyoban’s horseshoe river bend, to launch the Mungyeong Rail Bike (문경철로자전거).

However, because of the remote location, both operations shuttered in the mid-2010s.

A puppet master moved into the Buljeong Station’s main building recently and set up the Arario Doll Opera House (아라리오인형 오페라하우스).

(Note! The Mungyeong Rail Bike still operates. It runs between the decommissioned Gurangri (구랑리역) and Jinnam (진남역) Stations, ending just on the edge of Jinnamgyoban.)

How To Get There

Though far from metropolitan cities — subway systems and airports — two transportation options give cyclists and their bicycles access to the Saejae Bike Path:

Remember, only designated trains accept full sized bikes upon advanced registration. Every intercity bus, however, will let you toss your bike in their underbelly.  

Intercity Bus

What’s the go-to transport for getting you and your bike to and from Korea’s bike paths? Intercity buses.

A few terminals hang near the start and finish line of the Saejae Bike Path. If you’re not riding the Cross-Country Route, these offer a quick point of entry and exit.

A picture of an intercity bus with the luggage compartment open.
Pop your bike in the luggage compartment and hop on board the intercity bus.

The Start

Chungju City’s Chungju Bus Terminal (충주공용버스터미널) sits 1.9 kilometers from Chungju Tangeumdae, the bike path’s start (directions).

Running both intercity and express buses, the terminal runs routes to Seoul, Busan, and nearby cities.

The End

Two terminals rest at Saejae Bike Path’s end point. However, each park far from Sangju Sangpung Bridge, the finish line.

The Sangju Bus Terminal (상주종합버스터미널) lies on the Nakdonggang Bike Path, 18.1 kilometers from Saejae Bike Path (directions). To reach the terminal, riders must navigate 12 kilometers of city roads and a few hills.

Jeomchon Bus Terminal (점촌터미널) is a better option. It requires a 20.9 kilometer ride to reach the final certification center (directions). But, it sits on the Saejae Bike Path and only requires a 2.8 kilometer excursion into downtown Jeomchon.

The Middle

Two intercity stops lie in the middle of the Saejae Bike Path.

The Suanbo Intercity Bus Stop (수안보시외버스터미널) offers a hop-on and off spot under the Sojo Pass in Chungju. Because Suanbo Township passed its prime a few decades ago, the bus stop’s timetable and routes continue to thin.

Don’t confuse Mungyeong Bus Terminal (문경버스터미널) with Jeomchon Bus Terminal. Jeomchon Terminal is larger and serves more cities. Mungyeong Terminal rests north in a small town and runs a more limited timetable.

Saejae Bus Terminals

Trains

None of the bus timetables or routes fit your schedule. Try a train. The Gyeongbuk Line (경북선) offers an alternative to getting to and from the Saejae Bike Path.

A picture of a mugunghwa train arriving at a station in South Korea.
Though limited and require reservations, trains offer an alternative way to get you and your bike to Korea's bike paths.

Train Trials

Want to ride a train with your full-size bike (MTB, road, hybrid)? You’ll need to book a ticket that includes a bike cradle.

How? Download the Korail app or search their website. Find one of the select trains with bicycle seats and purchase it in advance.

Read our guide to the app here and check bike-friendly train timetables here.

  • Booking online or by using the app requires an ARC number or a kind Korean friend.
  • All bicycle tickets come with a seat for the human and a cradle for the bike in an adjoining train car. 
  • All trains accept folding bicycles. No special ticket. Just compact and stuff it in the luggage compartment.

Gyeongbuk Line

The Gyeongbuk Line (경북선) travels a limited route in North Chungcheong Province, from Yeongju (영주역) to Gimcheon (김천역) Stations. The rail line crosses two stations near the end of the Saejae Bike Path: You can transfer to the Gyeongbu Line (경부선) at Gimcheon Station, which runs cross-country and connects with Seoul and Busan. It also accepts full-size bicycles with advanced reservation.