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Highlights

Saejae Bike Path
Explore the Saejae Bike Path's 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 (탄금대) 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.

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Ureuk Paradise

First, this hilly outcrop, bedecked with oversized stones and pines, attracted the famed musician Ureuk (우륵). He would perch upon a bolder, gaze out into the South Han River and strum his gayageum (가야금), a traditional stringed Korean instrument, plucked like a zither.

During the time of the Three Kingdoms, Ureuk foresaw the overthrow of the Goguryeo (고구려; 37 BCE ~ 668 ACE) and the ascension of the Kingdom of Silla. The Silla king, therefore, recognized Ureuk as the preeminent musician of the land.

Sin Rip’s Twelve Trips

Let’s travel back to 1592. Japan invaded Korea’s Joseon Dynasty (1392~1897; 대조선국), sparking the Imjin Wars (1592~1598).

From Busan in the southeast, the imperial army stormed north, wiping out all villages and settlements. After crossing the Mungyeong Saejae Pass, they landed in Chungju City (충주시), in the middle of the peninsula.

On June 7, 1592, Korea’s decimated southern army met with northern reinforcements on the Chungju plains, today’s downtown Chungju City. The succeeding battle was to be their last stand. If they fell, the Japanese army had a clear path to Hanyang (Seoul), the Joseon capital.

Korea’s commanding general, Sin Rip (신립), station himself on a Daemun Mountain cliff in Tangeumdae Park. Overlooking the battle, he cheered on his troops and fired his longbow into the enemy invaders.

To improve his accuracy, Sin Rip sprinted up and down the cliff-side and soaked his bow strings in the South Han’s waters.

Japan’s experienced army and superior artillery defeated Korea’s battle fatigued troops. Sin Rip lost almost all of his 8,000 men. In disgrace, he drowned himself in the South Han.

Inside the park today, find a statue dedicated to Sin Rip and the cliff where he sprinted up and down, now called Yeoldudae (열두대) or “twelve,” the number of trips Sin Rip made.

Tangeumdae also holds a cultural museum, sculpture park, sport facilities, and more.

Sujupal Peaks (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 or “pal” (팔) peaks. Hence, “Sujupal Peaks (수주봉).”

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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 the picnickers finish lunch, they can climb stairs and traverse Sujupal Peaks Cloud Bridge (수주팔봉구름다리), a suspension bridge strung between two of Sujupal Peaks’ spires.

Other nearby attractions include:

  • Palbong Glamping (팔봉글램핑) — lying above the beach and opposite Sujupal Peaks, it offers comfortable walk-in tents, firepit, and nearby shops.
  • Palbong Seowon (팔봉서원) — a Confucian academy built in 1582, closed upon decree in 1871, then restored in 1998 and designated a cultural treasure.

Suanbo Hot Springs (수안보 온천) is Suanbo Township’s (수안보면) main attraction.

Since the Kingdom of Goryeo (고려; 918 BCE ~ 1392 ACE), visitors dropped by this mountain outpost along the Sobaek Mountain Range and bathed in the 53°C (127°F) hot springs. Bathers believed the mineral infused water, gushing from 250 meters below, arrested the hands of father time.

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Beginning in the 1800s, and reaching its peak in the 1980s, entrepreneurs have snatched up prime spots where the heated springs boil up and built hotels and spas snatched on top.

Not the resort type? Drop by Multang Park (물탕공원) near the Suanbo Oncheon Certification Center (수안보온천인증센터). There, find a free foot bath (낙안정). Soak your footsies in the mineral rich water and test out the fountain-of-youth claims.

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

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Overlooking the falls rests Suok Pavilion (수옥정). The governor of Hyeonpung built it in 1711 to commemorate his uncle. He ascended to the level of Jwauijeong (좌의정), one of the highest ranking government positions during the Joseon Dynasty.

Yeonpung Holy Land (천주교연풍성당) sits on the edge of Yeonpung Town in Goesan County. This Catholic complex includes a variety of historic and commentative features.

First, a bit of history.

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In the late 1700s, Western powers and religions arrived at Korea’s doorstep. At first, the Joseon Dynasty tolerated Catholic missionaries. But as more Koreans began adopting foreign ideas and disregarding customary Confucian practices, Joseon leaders began a series of persecutions in the 1800s that martyred thousands of priests and converts.

During these persecutions, many Catholic teachers fled Seoul and Gyeonggi Province and hid in the Sobaek Mountains. However, the central government caught up with most of these missionaries and executed them.

Yeonpung Holy Land began in the 1963 when the government purchased an old hanok house, named Yeonpung Hyangcheong (연풍향청). First built in 1601, it held many jobs:

  • Catholic preachers quietly held mass there.
  • Japanese occupiers used it as an office from 1910 to 1945.
  • And it was the site of Catholic persecutions in the 1800s.

Near the old hanok, builders found three “hyeong-gu-dol” stone (형구돌), torso-sized rocks with a hole in the middle. Created to kill Catholics, Joseon executioners would stick a rope through stone and over the convert, then, like a tourniquet, tighten the rope until death.

Over the years, Catholic donors and believers erected a series of monuments to commemorate the martyrs.

The largest memorial was a Cathedral completed in 2016 commemorate Hwang Seok-du (황석두). A Yeonpung Town native, he was killed in the Byeongin Persecution (병인박해) of 1866 and became one of the 103 Korean Martyr Saints.

Here is what you can find in Yeonpung Holy Land:

  • 200th Anniversary Hwang Seok-du Cathedral — a 1,200 square meter church with red brick walls, vaulted wooden ceilings, and stained glass windows.
  • Yeonpung Hyangcheong — an old hanok house that was once a make-shift church and government office.
  • Four “hyeong-gu-dol” stones on pedestals which were once used to martyr Catholics.
  • The tomb and a statue of Hwang Seok-du (황석두).
  • Statues of five prominent saints killed during the Byeongin Persecution.
  • An 8.5 meter Crucifix perched over walking paths.

While Ihwa Pass (이화령) is the highest ascent along South Korea’s cycling certification system. It tests cyclists’ resolve. But it offers superb high-angle views.

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After climbing to the top, watch Jungbunaeryuk Expressway and National Highway 3 carve a path between Joryeong (조령산) and Heeyang (희양산) Mountains, then disappear into a burrow 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).

Pass under to the east side and enter Mungyeong City (문경시). In the distance, catch the fringes of Mungyeong Town (​​문경읍).

Crowding this summit, find some notables:

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.

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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:

A kilometer downriver from where Joryong Stream (조령천) mergers into the Yeong River (영강), find a horseshoe riverbend. Around this U-shaped section of water hangs a group of man-made and natural sights that form the Jinnamgyoban Area (진남교반). Amongst it find:

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Gomo Mountain Fortress

The Kingdom of Silla (신라; 57 BCE ~ 935 ACE) built Gomo Mountain Fortress (고모산성) in the 5th century. Perched in the mountains northwest of Jinnamgyoban Area, it protected the main pathway connecting the Han River to the southeast Yeongnam Region during the Three Kingdoms period.

Builders constructed the fortress’s 1.3 kilometer stone walls, measuring between 10 to 20-meters tall, along Gomo Mountain’s cliffs for extra protection.

Climb to the top of Gomo Mountain Fortress’s southern wall and catch a panoramic view of Mungyeong Road (문경대로) shoot through a cliff-face and over the horseshoe riverbend.

Tokkibiri Cliffside Road

Tokkibiri Cliffside Road (문경토끼비리; a.k.a. “Rabbit Road”) runs over 2 kilometers along perilous cliffs above the Yeong River to Gomo Fortress.

Part of the ancient Great Yeongnam Road that linked Seoul to Busan, when Goguryeo’s conquering armies marched southward in the 500s, they came upon this treacherous stretch and thought it a dead-end. Just then, a Gogoreyeo General spotted a rabbit hopping along the mountainside rocks, leading the way. Hence the name “Rabbit Road.”

Mungyeong Omija Theme Tunnel

Mungyeong Omija Theme Tunnel (문경오미자테마터널) burrows through the mountains north of the Jinnamgyoban Area. Once named Seokhyeon Tunnel, it was a part of the Mungyeong Line, transporting coal loaded trains between Mungyeong Town and Jeomchon.

Mungyeong City transformed this disused bit of infrastructure into a tourist trap. Inside the tunnel, find a wine store and photo-zones adorned with cartoon murals and colored lights.

Mungyeong Railbike 

Encircling the bottom side of the horseshoe bend runs decommissioned train tracks. The Mungyeong Railbike (문경철로자전거) once extended down these tracks to Buljeong Station

However, years of low interest led operators to close this section down. Now the railbike travels 3.6 kilometers between Gurangri Station (구랑리역) and Jinnam Station (진남역), which lies on the northwest tip of the Jinnamgyoban Area.

Buljeong Station (불정역) stands a few hundred meters east of the Jinnamgyoban Area. It 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.

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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. However, because of the remote location, both the pension and railbike section stopped in the mid-2010s.

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