Korea is dense. Among countries with over 6,000 square kilometers of land, it ranks fifth. With all that concrete jungle you’d think it’d be difficult to get off the beaten track and pitch a tent.
Wrong! While you’ll always find yourself civilization adjacent, hiking and camping is one of Korea’s most beloved pastimes.
All over the country, people of all ages tread steep mountainsides. Along the Nakdong River, glamping tents brighten dark hillsides. Year round every park fills with older folk clad in hiking getups.
So if you want to go bikepacking (backpacking by bike), you’re in luck! Stuff your panniers and pack a tent. Let’s explore how to bike and camp in Korea, from reserving a plot to guerrilla camping.
And remember the camping adage: Leave No Trace.
Places to Camp
Where can you pitch your tent? You have two options. Reserve a plot with a public or private campsite. Or set off on your own.
Let’s scout them out!
National and local governments and private businesses operate hundreds of campsites throughout Korea. Each charge a set rate for an enclosed plot in which you can pitch a tent.
What does the average campsite look like? It ain’t bushwhacking.
Near large cities, campsites come fully equipped. You’ll find updated bathrooms, electrical hookups, and Wi-Fi access. Imagine a nature-enhanced parking lot with roped off plots. Glamp-tastic!
Out in the rural regions, the parking lot turns to gravel. Wi-Fi hotspots dim. Access to convenience stores becomes scarce.
However, almost all the paid campgrounds come with bathrooms, picnic tables, and showers.
Finding a Campsite
Click on your chosen campsite’s profile and find links to their reservation website and more contact information.
Also try searching this online directory. It lists many of Korea’s websites and includes reviews and pictures.
Korean National Park Service
The Korean National Park Service operates thirty-four camping facilities across the country. The campsites dwell around Korea’s famous mountains (산; san) and in federally owned parks.
Public vs. Private
What’s the difference between government and private campsites?
Private campsites occupy private land. They set their own rates and rules. Sometimes they’ll provide access to toilets and water. Sometimes not.
Most public campsites, however, provide a core package of facilities. Their rates only change during peak season (July & August).
Government run parks also sit on the most pristine, untouched parts of Korea. Families and hobbyists often snatch up the best plots well before vacation season.
Along with marked plots, public camping facilities strictly enforce rules: no open fires. No littering. Never leave food out.
All government run campsites set a specific number and types of plots for every campsite. You can find everything from an open spaces (with marked boundaries) to furnished cabins (집).
While every campsite differs, you’ll find these common plot designations throughout Korea.
You’ll find some facilities listed as auto camping sites (오토캠핑장). How do you use an auto camping site? Step one: buy a car and drive it to the campsite. Step two: park. Step three: set up a tent next to your car. Now you’re camping!
Auto camping sites provide plots for cars and RVs. They’re like other campsites. But they rent larger plots to fit a car and family tent.
So can you reserve an auto camping space while biking in Korea? Technically, Korea classifies bikes as vehicles. So what’s stopping you?
Don’t like pooping in a hole? Well, you’re in luck. Throughout Korea, public and private campsites compete to bring convenience to the camping experience. Here are some common facilities:
Some campgrounds check all the amenities above and more. But there are also primitive private grounds that recommend you use the public toilet a kilometer down the road.
Booking a National Park Service Campsite
It’s easy to book a plot through the National Park Service. Visit their website. Register. Choose a campsite and plot. Reserve online.
Reservation time slots become available for booking every two weeks.
National Park rates only change during peak (July & August) and off-peak seasons. Peak season, you’ll ₩100,000 for a caravan and ₩7,000 for a plot without equipment.
Booking a Local Government Campsite
Local campsites operate their own websites. They allow campers to reserve plots in advance. All require you to register, choose your plot time, and date.
You can often find links to campsite websites through the local government’s main website. Or search Kakao or Naver Maps. Click on the campsite listing and you’ll find a link to their reservation website.
Municipalities set their own rates. Campsites with more conveniences charge more.
Peak season caravans can cost upwards of ₩150,000 in the most well equipped campgrounds. A basic platform to pitch a tent often goes for ₩20,000.
Booking a Private Campsite
Private campgrounds range widely in quality and price. Some look just like public sites. Others are glorified villas, with Wi-Fi and cafes.
However, there are some small campsites that haven’t reached the internet age. You’ll be lucky to find their phone number on their Kakao listing.
How do you book those? If you can find a phone number, and you plan to camp during peak season, call them. (Or have a Korean speaking friend call.)
Another method, just show up. Ajummas (아줌마; aunt) and ajeoshis (아저씨; uncle) who live next door run these tiny camps.
If you see an empty spot, start pitching your tent. Eventually an older woman with a smile will approach.
Ask, eol-ma-ae-yo? (얼마예요?) How much is it? Expect to fork over ₩8,000 to ₩20,000 per night.
Don’t think camping should include Wi-Fi? Want to break out of marked-off plots and heated caravans? Try guerrilla camping.
Guerrilla camping? Like guerrilla fighting, we mean improvised, often covert camping on undesignated land. (Minus the firearms.)
That sounds a little risky. Yes and maybe not.
With limited land and rocketing real-estate prices, private and public interests own almost every inch in Korea. So assume wherever you pitch your tent, a deed governs your plot.
If you’re traveling solo or in a small group, however, it is possible to camp wherever you see fit, You won’t encounter many problems if you’re discrete and polite.
Check out our guerrilla camping in Korea tips.
Scout Out the Area
Where should you set up your guerrilla campsite? Simple. Out of the way.
Don’t camp in someone’s backyard. Avoid invading a farmer’s field. Stay away from houses and buildings.
Find a spot less traveled, especially at night. How do you do that? Look for light after sunset. Street lights. Park lamps. House floodlights. If your campsite hides in the shadows, you’re good to go.
Rest areas along river banks, deep inside a county park, and unpopulated beaches are great options. You’ll get extra points for finding a rock, wall, or bush that obscures your tent.
Finally, don’t set up near a real-deal campground. Campsite operators know their land. If they spot your tent on or just off their property, they’ll assume you’re going to camp and dash.
Leave No Trace
These same principles apply to guerrilla camping while biking in Korea, as well. Let’s break it down.
Take a picture before you set down stakes. After you pack up in the morning, compare your plot with the before pic. They should be indistinguishable. No crushed grass and withered flowers.
How? Choose a durable plot of land to set up camp. Look for compacted ground. Don’t clear away brush or weeds. And for your own sake, stay off of spongy surfaces. Don’t wake up floating in a pool of muddy water.
Pick Up Your Trash
Trash. Everyone hates it. So clean up after yourself.
Don’t leave plastic bottles, gel wrappers, or bike tubes. Banana peels and apple cores don’t hang around long. But they’re still litter.
If you pack it in, stick it in your bag and pack it out.
Camping regulations continue to change in Korea. The popular parks in Seoul now prohibit tents. To continue the practice of guerrilla camping, respect the land. Leave No Trace.
No Open Fires
I know. You’re camping. You want that authentic camping experience. So before sunset you gather sticks, create a stone pit, and start a crackling fire. What is camping without s’mores?
Not in Korea. Every Korean campsite forbids open fires. This also applies to guerrilla campers. Why? Three reasons.
First, if you camp covertly, think of yourself as a sniper on enemy territory. Fire and smoke are the best way to give away your position.
Second, open fires violate one of the main tenets of Leave No Trace. Pits of ash and charcoal leave the blackest of traces on the land you seek to enjoy.
Third, open fires are dangerous and illegal.
The tale goes: you swear extinguished your bonfire. But as you close your, a gust slips under the blackened logs. A hidden bit of ember reignites.
Next thing you know, you’re in the news. There are crying mothers and burnt out shells where houses once stood. International criminal court, here you come.
Bike around popular beaches and parks in the summer and spring months. You’ll find countless pitched tents. Most aren’t staying the night, though. They are day tents.
Families in Korea take advantage of every warm, pollution free day. When they roll around, the whole clan will grab a bit of land in a park. They set up a tent, and use it as a base of operations. No reservation. No regulations.
Inside each tent, you’ll find drinks, snacks, and mom catching some Z’s in the pitched shade. When the sun dips below the horizon and the cold creeps in, they pack the tent and head home.
You thought camping was a wild west? No society. No laws. Not in Korea. Every campsite enforces rules to keep you and other campers safe.
Let’s examine some common regulations.
Dispose of Trash and Food Waste Properly
As we mentioned with Leave No Trace, you should pick up every bit of your trash before you leave your campsite.
Furthermore, experienced campers know that food trash can pose a threat. In the Rockies, you’re playing grizzly bear roulette if you leave an open can of beans by the campfire.
Korea doesn’t have bears or tigers (anymore). But leaving your greasy runoff or sugar splatters around will attract vermin, from racoons to ants.
Seal or properly dispose of food waste immediately after eating.
Organize your Gear
Campers flood campgrounds come peak season. Even with designated plots, space is limited. Families bed down a few meters apart.
Therefore, keep your campsite organized. Don’t explode your pack and spread your tent, stove, and every other bit of gear across borders. You only paid for one plot. Not one and one-third.
Even if you’re a guerrilla camper, away from your fellow man, keep your stuff sorted. It will reduce damage to the environment and ensure you don’t leave equipment behind.
Use Stoves, Not Open Fires
In all of Korea, it is illegal for campers to build open fires. Their blacked pits scare the natural beauty and can create uncontained wildfires.
However, if you want to grill samgyeopsal or whip up s’mores, most campsites allow gas powered cooking stoves. You can often rent a grill from the campsite managers.
What to Pack
Panniers & Frame Bags
Just staying in a motel? You can get away with dropping everything in a backpack. Camping? Well you’re going to bring a lot more gear. Tent, food, water, clothes. That’s too much weight for your shoulders and back. So bring a set of panniers and frame packs.
Panniers are sets of two or four bags that hang near your front and rear wheels. They allow you to carry heavy gear efficiently.
Tent or Hammock
Where are you sleeping? You’ll need either a tent or a hammock.
If you opt for a tent, bring one that is small, waterproof, and mosquito proof. Remember, you don’t headroom. If you bring a tent that rivals a circus big top, you’ll move slower than a retired elephant.
Hammocks are light. They are quick to set up and pack away. However, finding two perfectly spaced trees or anchor points might require a few hours of scouting.
Also, hammocks leave campers exposed. So bring bug repellent in the summer. Campers in the open are an all-you-can-eat buffet for mosquitoes.
You can get away with sleeping uncovered in the dog days of summer. But for the rest of the year, bring covers.
Sleeping bags are the best option. They’re light, warm, and easily packed.
Whether you’re glamping or hiding away in the shadows of a guerrilla den, you’ll need light when night falls.
Headlamps solve a lot of problems. They shine light wherever you glance. And you’ll have both hands free if you need to unpack and sort your gear.
Panniers are sets of two or four bags that hang near your front and rear wheels. They allow you to carry heavy gear efficiently.
Want fire? Bring a cooking stove. As mentioned above, Korean bans all campers from making open fires.
Because everyone hikes in Korea, everyone from traditional markets to mega-marts sell camping stoves and fuel. They’re small and safe enough to pack.