The adventure cycling trail that shows you South Korea like nothing else can
The Four Rivers Cross Country Cycling Road is a challenging but rewarding way to explore the Korean peninsula beyond Seoul. Wind your way from urban sprawl to bucolic countryside and earn yourself a medal.
- February 2020
You’re in a country of about 51 million people and only 100,000-square kilometres – this is no isolated wilderness ride. The Four Rivers Cross Country Cycling Road (sometimes known as the 4 Rivers Bike Path or Trail) goes where the rivers go, be it through green forest or urban cement. A day’s ride might visit a bustling temple, thread a patchwork of rice fields or deposit you in the neon glow of a city at dusk.
This network of cycling routes opened in 2012 as part of a project to revitalise South Korea’s rivers. Now, winding lanes trace the country’s four major waterways: the Han, Nakdong, Geum and Yeongsan Rivers, with additional routes along the coasts.
The most famous challenge is the cross-country haul from Seoul to Busan: 633 kilometres of dedicated bike trail cutting through the mountainous interior to the south-east coast. Make it all the way and you deserve a medal. That’s why the South Korean government awards them. No, really.
Four Rivers cyclists should grab a “passport” at the trailhead to stamp at certification centres along the way. Collect all the stamps to qualify for the medal.
"The cross-country trail is a ‘bucket list’ for many people in Korea,” says Jack Park, manager of Seoul cycling shop Bike Nara. He recommends it as an experience beyond the usual guidebook highlights.
It is a surprisingly accessible goal. Tourist-friendly South Korea accommodates every travel style, from a tent beneath the stars to glam hotels, BBQ and noraebang (private karaoke rooms with drink service, so there’s no need to belt your heart out to the entire bar).
You have three accommodation options along the trail: camp sites, hotels and jjimjilbangs (Korean bathhouses). Look for reasonably priced hotels near bus and train stations. Jjimjilbangs, identified by a symbol of steam rising from a bath, are a budget-friendly option with lockers for your gear and heated-floor sleeping rooms. Reservations are often not required for mid-level hotels and camp sites, while jjimjilbangs do not accept reservations.
Back on the road, each season brings its own rewards. Jack completed the route in late 2018 with winter closing in. He recalls vivid early morning rides along the riverbank. “Imagine cool and quiet air and floating fog above the water. Beautiful!” he says.
Most cyclists finish in four to five days, but there’s no rush. Bike Nara offers week-long rental packages with drop-off in Busan. If you only have a few days, the 132-kilometre stretch between Seoul and Chungju is a popular abbreviation and the Han River section makes a lovely, lazy afternoon of cycling within the capital.