There is something magical about Gangwon-do in winter, a special aura that helped it become the host venue for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. The snowy landscapes and experiences available at both mountain and coastal attractions draw in all who hear their call. If you’re searching for a winter wonderland, then look no further than Gangwon-do!
Gangneung Station opened on December 22, 2017, just in time for the winter Olympics. The station serves as the final stop of the Gangneung Line, operating between Gangneung and Seoul in just 1 hour 40 minutes. The station is conveniently located in the center of the city, with both a rental car booth outside Exit 2 and Gangneung Tourist Taxis available from the Tourist Information Center near Exit 1.
The Tourist Information Center at Gangneung Station has been providing the Gangneung Tourist Taxi service since April 2019. The service makes it easy for international tourists to travel around the city. The base fare is 20,000 won for three hours, with 10,000 won charged for each additional hour. The fare is the same regardless of number of passengers, although the maximum is four people per taxi. To use the tourist taxi service, sign up at the tourist information center. Visitors must show their passport and fill out a request form (available in English, Japanese & Chinese) listing basic personal data and the attractions they would like to visit. For more information, you can contact the information center at +82-33-640-4534 or +82-33-640-4538 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese).
Jinbu (Odaesan) Station is located in Pyeongchang on the Gangneung Line, and was opened specifically for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, with many of the venues being within easy access. Additional attractions nearby include Daegwallyeong Sheep Ranch, Odaesan National Park and Woljeongsa Temple.
Donghae Station first opened on August 1, 1940 as Bukpyeong Station, but was later reopened as Donghae Station on June 1, 1984. The station currently only services Mugunghwa trains and the Sea Train, but is planned to service KTX trains in 2020. Nearby attractions include Nongoldam-gil Street, Mukhohang Port, Chuam Chotdaebawi Rock, and more.
Visiting Wondae-ri Birch Forest in Inje-gun is like traveling to another realm. It begins with a quest to find birch trees; there isn’t a single one visible from the entrance at the foot of the mountain. A hero’s quest is never easy and the trail from the entrance to the forest stretches approximately 3.2 kilometers up the mountainside. All visitors have to walk on their own two feet, but you can make it easier if you have the proper equipment, such as ice cleats and trekking poles. The information center also provides walking sticks to use free of charge. With the proper preparations and perseverance, each step up will reveal another birch tree or two, mere glimmers of the treasure that awaits.
After roughly an hour of climbing up, you will come to a sign welcoming you to Wondae-ri Birch Forest, where an amazing sight unfolds before your eyes. Nearly 410,000 tall white birch trees fill the valley below. During winter, snow often blankets the area, creating an even more fantastic scene like something you’d find in a movie. If you’d like to star in your own film here, be sure to take some photos of yourself peeking out of the hut made of birch trees, walking along the pathways, or gazing out from the forest classroom.
The East Sea viewed from Gangwon-do is known to be clean and clear – essentially, picture-perfect! Because of this, people come to the coast no matter what season it is. There are many famous beaches to take in the sights, but Gangmun Beach in Gangneung tops them all when it comes to taking pictures.
Despite being a rather small stretch of coast, the beach is lined with photo spots, from the GANGMUN sign to giant photo frames and rings. The easel photo frame is probably the most popular spot, allowing for great photos with the blue East Sea in the background. After checking out each of the photo spots, be sure to go to Gangmun Sotdae Bridge, connecting Gangmun Beach with the larger Gyeongpo Beach to the north. With its large white arch, the bridge itself could be considered another photo zone!
Wandering the quiet streets around Mokhohang Port, you may suddenly find signs pointing to Nongoldam-gil Street painted on the road. There is no exact entrance or path to this attraction; you must simply follow your feet wherever they may lead you. Rather than worrying about getting lost, take turns down different alleyways to see what you might discover. Without knowing it, you’ll magically find your way back to where you were. Eventually, you’ll reach the summit, where fantastic views of the city of Donghae and the East Sea unfold around you.
The history of Nongoldam-gil Street is deeply tied with the opening of Mukhohang Port in 1941. The walls of the village tell this history through murals and photos, provided by both artists and local residents. After exploring each of the three main pathways, take a break at one of the cafés or galleries, each with excellent views of the sea.
All roads lead to Rome, or Mukho Lighthouse in the case of Nongoldam-gil Street. The lighthouse has been protecting boats coming into Mukhohang Port since June 8, 1963. Standing at 93 meters above sea level, the lighthouse serves as both a beacon for the harbor and an observation deck of the city. The area around the base of the lighthouse is designated as a Marine Culture Space, and is planned to get even better next year with the creation of a three-point skywalk and various experience facilities.
Wind power generators dot the landscape of Daegwallyeong Pass. If you follow the winding road up the mountain until the generators appear to be spinning right above you, you’ll reach Daegwallyeong Rest Area. This isn’t just any old rest area; look closely and you’ll find signs pointing to Daegwallyeong Sheep Ranch. Pass through the buildings and head up the hill a bit more to reach the ranch. In winter, the grassy fields are covered in a thick blanket of snow! The ranch has two main walking courses, with Course 1 taking you to a small wooden shack and Course 2 taking you even further up the mountainside for a complete panorama of the ranch. During winter when the winds blow strong, we recommend the more sheltered Course 1. Be sure to get a photo taken with the shack, just as much a symbol of the ranch as the sheep are!
Of course, a visit to the sheep ranch wouldn’t be complete without actually seeing the sheep! During winter, the sheep are kept warm and well-fed in a barn in the dip between the hills. Here, you can even help in caring for the sheep by feeding them hay! Afterwards, be sure to visit the rest area. The rest area has a small convenience store selling gift items and warm drinks, as well as a fireplace, perfect for warming up in a hurry.
The path through Woljeongsa Fir Tree Forest stretches 1.9 kilometers from Iljumun Gate to the main grounds of Woljeongsa Temple. The forest is also called “Forest of a Thousand Years,” estimated to have protected the temple for that long. Fir trees are a member of the pine tree family known to grow very tall. They can also survive in very cold temperatures, creating a stunning view in winter with snow coating the pine needles high above.
The trail is interspersed with dynamic art installations and informational signs on the fauna and flora growing in the forest; if you’re lucky, you might even spot some live chipmunks running about. One of the most moving art pieces is the Fallen Fir Tree, an old tree that fell over in the night on October 23, 2006 at the age of nearly 600 years. The base of the tree stands hollowed out with a majority of the tree trunk stretching out on the ground to the side of the path.
If you spend time in Gangneung, it’s impossible to leave without trying a dubu (tofu) dish or two from Chodang Dubu Village. The area features some 20 restaurants all selling their own unique spins on the classic Chodang dubu. The village name Chodang comes from the penname of Heo Yeop, the father of two of Korea’s most famous writers who lived in Gangneung. Chodang dubu differs from dubu made in other areas by using sea water for the brine the soybeans are soaked in.
While all the restaurants in the Chodang Dubu Village serve the original Chodang sun dubu (Chodang soft tofu) dish, they also offer a variety of new takes on the classic dish. The most popular menu, recommended by Gangneung locals, is the octopus & soft tofu hot pot. The dish comes in both a plain or spicy version and is very filling. Just be sure to save a little room for dessert! Cafés and bakeries selling soft tofu gelato and tofu tarts can also be found throughout the village.
* This column was last updated in December 2019, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details before visiting.