Mount Kumgang, or the Kumgang Mountains, is a spectacular and stunningly beautiful mountain range, also referred to as the diamond or the thousand peak mountains. The mountains are located in the South East corner of North Korea, bordering with South Korea, on the other side of the infamous demilitarised zone. Between 2002 and 2008 hundreds of thousands of tourists from South Korea, in particular, visited the area. Since then it has very much reverted back the ‘the unseen North Korea’ visited by very few international tourists. While the mountains are a hikers delight and one could easily spend weeks here we were limited to an afternoon’s hiking to Kuryong Falls and a short visit to the Samilpo Lake (see seperate review) – but what a delightful afternoon it was.

The hike to the falls was along a well maintained and easily walked path, much of it on specially built walkways, which took us from the car park up along the pristine Singye Stream, a tributary of the Yeongeum River, full of smalls cascades and crystal clear pools – all of which looked delightfully inviting though they were icy cold. The walk was around eight kilometres return and took us just over three hours at a relatively sedate pace, to accommodate all members of the group and give us ample time to take in the stunning views. For those familiar with the waterfall walk at Mount Myohyang – the bush walk experience most frequently undertaken by visitors to North Korea – this walk, while a lot longer, is significantly easier.

While, based on the map in the car park, the falls are almost half way along the Kuryongyon Course that course is not circular and we were assured, in any event, that the track beyond the falls was significantly more difficult than the walk in. Accordingly, after a short rest at the pavilion overlooking the falls we retraced our steps back to the car park.

The Kuryongon Course – we walked along the left hand track with the Kuryon Falls the last stop on that side

The Kuryong Falls, a national monument and a UNESCO declared Biosphere Reserve, has a drop of 74 metres across about 84 metres, making it not quite vertical. The falls flow all year round, into a large pond about 13 metres deep. Legend has it that nine dragons once lived in the pond guarding Mt Kumgang. Kuryong means nine dragons.

Rather than give you a blow by blow account of the walk I present a series of pictures I took along the way, with short comments there-on, as appropriate.

The Singye Stream adjacent to the car park
The Mokrankwan Restaurant at the start of the walk. This restaurant was built during the late 1990s/ early 2000s as part of the North – South ‘Sunshine’ era programme which saw hundreds of thousands of South Koreans visit the Mt Kumgang area, prior to it coming to an abrupt end in 2008, following the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist who wandered into an off-limits military area. The restaurant, like all of the other infrastructure built at the time, is little used today.
Adornments at the Mokrankwan Restaurant to cheer walkers along their way
Mountain mist threatened to obscure our view at various times but stayed out of our primary line of sight
Right along the way slogans/ writings are engraved into rocks. The majority of these are political in nature, extolling the virtues of the country’s leaders though I understand some may have been inscribed by Buddhist monks from one of the many temples/monasteries that used to be in these mountains.
One of a number of pedestrian bridges across the cascades and pools we encountered along the walk. Many of these cascades and pools have names (and associated stories) but at the high risk of mixing them up I will not ascribe names to them in this post. Likewise with the numerous mountain peaks we could see.
The first signs of autumn approaching. We were a couple of weeks to early to enjoy what would have been a fantastic autumnal blaze of colours
Kuryong Falls with a drop of 74 metres
The water from Kuryong Falls drops into the Kuryong pool, former home to the nine dragons that protected the mountains
The colourful viewing pavilion across from the Kuryong Falls

Had we had a bit more time (over an hour return) we could have trekked up to another viewing area, at the top of the falls, from which we would have seen the eight Sangphal pools. Sadly we didn’t have the time.

The Sangphal (Fairy) Pools – Photo David Stanley,

Legend has it that eight fairies flew down from heaven to play in these pools and while here a local man befriended one of the fairies which remained after the others returned to heaven. Over time they had three children but the fairy longed to return to heaven which she eventually did. However, as time passed she missed her children and the beautiful scenery of Mt Kumgang so much that she came back down from heaven and continues to inhabit the area.

It is said that all visitors to Mt Kumgang develop a strong reluctance to leave the mountains without first seeing the falls. I am glad to have had the opportunity do this wonderful walk and see the falls but must confess that seeing the falls did not alleviate my reluctance to leave the mountains. This is one place I could easily have spent much longer exploring.  Perhaps, like the fairy, one day I will return to Mt Kumgang.

My next North Korea (2018) – Mt Kumgang review– HERE

Return to the beginning of my North Korea (2018) – Mt Kumgang reviews – HERE


13 thoughts on “Kuryong Falls – Mt Kumgang Walk

  1. As ever, a great read and lovely photos. My geomorphological gene means that I can’t resist the temptation to mention that the waterfall in the main picture is a classic example of a ‘hanging valley’. It’s formed when a glacier moves down the main valley, straightening and deepening it, and bulldozing away the lower section of the tributary valley draining into it. Hence, the upper part of the tributary is left just ‘hanging’ above the main valley, and the water it contains plummets over the edge as a waterfall.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Malc… it was good to be able to visit a few more natural sites in NK .. Most people, incl me, think of monuments, grand buildings and the Leader’s when thinking of NK. We forget it is a normal country with beautiful mountains, beaches etc.


  2. Albert, thanks for highlighting these areas of outstanding beauty in North Korea. What a great opportunity you had to actually experience this beauty up close and personal on your walk. Your photos are superb!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Looks like a beautiful walk.
    Somehow I seem to have forgotten about the North/South Korean ‘Sunshine’ era program — if I ever knew about it at all.

    Liked by 1 person

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