Would You Hike Along the World's Most Heavily Armed Border?

South Korea is opening hiking trails along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
Thursday 2 May 2019
Take a ride on the wild side. Photo: iStock

Travellers who love getting out there and putting a little hike into discovering new terrain an abundance of wildlife will love what South Korea has in the pipeline. The East Asian country is planning to open three routes along the DMZ, also known as the world’s most heavily armed border. Phase one of the project, known as the “Peace Trail” project, has been approved by the United Nations Command (UNC).

Located in Goseong in Gangwon Province on the east side of the Korean Peninsula, the first approved trail will take visitors to the Unification Observatory and trek past barbed-wire fences before arriving at the Mount Kumgang Observatory.

Although it sounds like a terrifying place for a hiking adventure, a Goseong tour program launched on 27 April to mark the first anniversary of the Panmunjom Declaration signed by President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to South Korean media.

DMZ Hiking Trail iStock (3) - DMZ
Source: iStock

“United Nations Command and the ROK (South Korea) government have demonstrated superb teamwork, collaboration and coordination throughout the entire ‘peace trail’ process and will continue to do so,” UNC leader Gen. Robert Abrams said in a statement. “The ROK military has worked extremely long hours to ensure the success of this very important initiative while assuring visitors their safety remains paramount.”

For the uninitiated, the DMZ is a 250-kilometre-long no man’s land about 30 miles north of Seoul that was established in the 1953 Korean War Armistice Agreement. It divides the Korean Peninsula roughly in half.

Within the DMZ is a meeting point between the two nations in the small Joint Security Area (JSA) near the western end of the zone, where negotiations take place. And because there have been various incidents in and around the DMZ, with military and civilian casualties on both sides, visiting outside of a guided tour is not allowed.

Since the end of the Korean War, this strip of land has been closed off from human interference, barred with fences and landmines. But because it’s largely untouched by humans, it has become an unexpected haven “for all sorts of endangered species, from migratory birds to wild mammals, such as red-crowned cranes, white-naped cranes, mandarin ducks, musk deer, mountain goats and more,” according to CNN Travel.

DMZ Hiking Trail iStock (1) - DMZ
Photo: iStock

According to the National Institute of Ecology of South Korea, there are about 6,000 different species of flora and fauna living inside the DMZ. There are even reports of critically endangered Amur leopard sightings.

Sources: CNN Travel, Business Standard

Related: Two Koreas Mark Moon-Kim Summit Anniversary with Different Tones