Bike, walk and gawk at waterfalls and peaks.
City-to-City Path Breakdown
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.
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.
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.
(This detour isn’t necessary for the Cross-Country certification, however.)
Here is a complete list of the provinces and municipalities along the Saejae Bicycle Path.
- North Chungcheong Province (충청북도) — Korea’s only landlocked province. Filled with mountains and national parks.
- Chungju City (충주시) — Half North Chungcheong Province’s namesake, Chungju once marked the center of the Korean kingdom. It also served as a major stop along the Great Yeongnam Road.
- Goesan County (괴산군) — A rural county affected by urbanization and low birth rates. Koreans know Goesan for its red peppers and rock valley streams.
- Mungyeong City (문경시) — Hosting the Mungyeong Saejae Pass, after the Korean War, miners extracted tons of coal from its mountains. Now the city runs on tourism, with its alpine sights hosting gaggles of sightseers.
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.
- 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 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.
Mungyeong Saejae Pass
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.
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.”
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Kingdom of Goguryeo (고구려; 37 BCE ~ 668 ACE) in the north.
- Kingdom of Baekje (백제; 18 BCE ~ 660 ACE) in the southwest.
- Kingdom of Silla (신라; 57 BCE ~ 935 ACE) in the southeastern.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Saejae Bicycle Path is one of the shortest (100 km) certification paths. However, it offers plenty of scenic mountain vistas and historic treasures.
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).
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.
Ihwa Pass Tunnel (이화령터널), which crowns the summit, lets sightseers switch between two municipalities, each with their own viewing platform.
You’ll also find a few critical facilities nearby:
The provincial park also includes an innumerable chest of historic and contemporary treasures, including:
- Mungyeong Saejae Open Set Studio (문경새재 오픈 세트장) — where several historical TV dramas shot.
- Museum of Old Roads (옛길박물관) — containing exhibits and background of the Great Yeongnam and more ancient Korean roads.
- Mungyeong Saejae Youth Hostel (문경새재유스호스텔)
- Five temples, three mineral springs and waterfalls, and mountain trails.
- The Silla Kingdom constructed Gomo Mountain Fortress (고모산성) near the end of the 5th century. They used it to protect against the northern Goguryeo Army.
- Mungyeong Omija Theme Tunnel (문경오미자테마터널) is an old train tunnel that the local tourism board transformed into a walking tourist tunnel with colored lights and murals.
- Tokkibiri Cliffside Road (문경토끼비리; a.k.a. Rabbit Road) carves into the mountainside rocks. It begins near Gomo Fortress and leads to a spectacular view of the Jinnamgyoban Area.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
Gyeongbuk LineThe 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:
- Jeomchon Station (점촌역) — 1.1 km from the bike path
- Hamchang Station (함창역) — 4.8 km from the bike path