Where is “the valley?” I wondered, as I scrolled through photo after photo of smiling Koreans frolicking with inner tubes in an indeterminable outdoor setting. It was the middle of summer and I only had three things on my mind: air conditioning, ice cream, and finding places to escape the heat.
It took a considerable amount of weeding through multiple photo comments in Korean until I finally uncovered a name that I recognized:팔공산. Palgongsan, one of Daegu’s nearby mountains. That tiny morsel of information, combined with hours of googling in both Hangul and Romanized Korean, led me to discover Sutaegol Valley (수태골), where one of Palgongsan’s mountain streams created a natural pool and water slide.
Once the idea took hold, I couldn’t let it go. I imagined myself floating down the ice-cold river, frosty drink in hand, catching bits of dappled light as it filtered through the trees. It took me even longer to plan how to get to Sutaegol Valley via public transportation, as I once again sifted through the conflicting information on Korean and English websites just to find an accurate address.
In the end I sort of winged it. I knew the valley was in the vicinity of Donghwasa Temple so I jumped on a bus towards the temple, got off at the last stop, walked around confused because I didn’t see any trail signs, walked back up to the first temple stop, stared at a lot of maps, walked back to the bus stop (again), located a sign labeled with where I *thought* I wanted to go, backtracked to where I originally started, and then continued on what I hoped was the correct trail to Sutaegol Valley.
I had been looking for a dirt trail but instead ended up walking along a tree-lined path, past hotels, spas, and cafes, until I saw a group of hikers disappear behind a fence into the woods. I walked over to investigate, and, just as I was about to jump the fence to follow the hikers, I noticed a parking lot about 50m up the road.
Once I arrived at the parking lot, there was no doubt in my mind that I had stumbled onto the correct location. I changed into my bathing suit, passed a few ladies selling plump juicy fruit from a nearby farm on the side of the trail, and hiked uphill alongside the stream. After about 15 minutes I peered through an opening in the trees and saw what I had come to see.
I had found the natural water slide.
When I saw photos of this place, I initially thought that I would be first in line to slide down the slippery rock. Then I watched a few kids slip, slide, and tumble head-first into the somewhat shallow pool below and thought there was no way. I didn’t want to be known as the foreigner who cracked her head at the bottom of a stream.
On top of that, as the only foreigner, and actually, probably the only person above the age of 21, I stuck out like a whale in the desert. If there had been less people watching, I may have slipped down the rocks a few times, but on my own, I was just as content to watch kids flailing and spinning their way down the rock water slide.
It’s hard to tell from these photos, but the “slide” was actually a series of undulating rocks that began quite a ways up the trail. Some kids, forming chains of two or three people, held on to each other for dear life as they slid their way down to the stream.
this probably would have been me, except with a less favorable result
After watching more than a few hard landings, I followed the stream in search for my own private place to relax. Up on higher ground, several groups of people had set up day tents and spread out their foam mats on the hard rock surface. In the river, drinks and watermelons cooled to the perfect icy temperature.
I found a nice, flat sheet of rock near a clear, thigh high deep pool of water, spread out my towel on my rock “beach,” dunked my water bottle in the cold stream, blew up my wimpy inner tube, (yes, that’s a Texas flag inner tube) and floated the day away.
Maybe, just maybe, I could finally understand the Koreans’ lack of air conditioning in triple-digit weather. Without the oppressive, relentless summer heat, I would most likely have never found – and relished – this special watering hole. In the Palgong mountains, only an hour or so away from the stifling warmth of the city, slightly cooler temperatures, a gentle mountain breeze, and deliciously frigid stream made it feel as if I had stumbled on a tiny slice of Heaven.
I discovered this spot in Palgongsan via various social media and online outlets (including a couple city-run and Korean websites) — all of which promoted the natural water slide. However, after visiting Sutaegol Valley, a friend of mine informed me that swimming in Palgongsan was not allowed anywhere, as it’s a protected water source. Oooops! I was aware that overnight camping and grilling were not allowed, but I never read anything (or saw any signs) that mentioned that swimming was prohibited! It’s a bit confusing as there’s ample parking, clean restrooms, tons of people, and even laminated take out menus (!!!!) dangling from the trees and hand rails. This is obviously a popular local spot for swimming so at least my clueless-ness cannot be blamed entirely on being a dumb American. Either all the locals knew of the restrictions and didn’t care, or they were equally as clueless as me. Anyway, because of this, and because I’m a boring rule-follower when it comes to the environment, I won’t be posting the exact details on how to find this natural water slide and stream. If you’re good at googling it’s not hard to find using what info I provided above. Hiking, picnicking, and ordering take-out fried chicken (seriously, someone please do this to let me know if it works) while sitting near the water seem to still fall within the list of approved activities. Even without swimming and water slides, Sutaegol Valley is definitely worth a visit.