Best Road Climbs in Korea: Hwaaksan

Hwaaksan is located just north of Gapyeong, and at 1,468m is the tallest mountain in Gyeonggi Province and 9th tallest in Korea. For cyclists it is an absolute must-ride. The climb from South to North is marked by both its brutality and beauty, while the ride from North to South is a bit easier, but still quite tough.

From the moment a rider leaves Gapyeong the road starts to add slow elevation until the point where the real climb begins. The main Strava Segment (here) is 6.72km at an average gradient of 9% and reaches an altitude of 897m. The max gradient is in the 20% range in a few of the switchbacks, and much of the second half of the climb is steadily in double digits. The total elevation gain is 628m.

What always gets me about Hwaaksan is the fact that it somehow looks easy, as even when it hits its steepest sections the road doesn’t appear to be pitching up in any significant way. So while the body suffers, the mind does too, as it attempts to reconcile what the eyes see with what the body feels. In the end, however, the suffering is well worth it, as the view from the top just south of the tunnel is astounding, especially in fall when the leaves are all flaming orange and yellow.

From Gapyeong Station there are a couple common routes to Hwaaksan. The first is to ride a Hwaaksan loop alone (here), which is about 90km with 1,500m of elevation gain. The second is, after descending, to take Route 56 north to Shilnae-gogae, which is a 6.8km 5% climb, and then work your way back south to Gapyeong Station. That route (here) ends up being about 127km with 2,300m of elevation. For something a little different and really tough try this route, which starts in Gapyeong and ends in Chuncheon. The roads after the Hwaaksan descent are some of the nicest in Korea, newly paved and winding through some river valleys.

Whatever you do, if you’re riding in Korea and are looking for a tough climb not too far out of Seoul, make your way to Hwaaksan. It’s a beautiful monster!

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