Cycling Mount Norikura – The Highest Road in Japan

Norikuradake summit
It’s all downhill from here!

Introduction

There really is not another place like this in the world. High above the rest of Japan at over 2,700m above sea sits the caldera of Mount Norikura. A massive stratovolcano right in the middle of the spine of high peaks that separate Nagano and Gifu Prefectures.

While many other climbs to the highest roads in other countries might boast higher summits, Norikura is home to the only 100% closed to cars road to the summit!

That’s right, no cars from 1,800m to the top. That’s 900m of gain on 14km of car free road to the top!

The snow capped Norikuradake in late May.
The snow capped Norikuradake in late May.

The Route

Starting from Matsumoto City in Nagano Prefecture you can take the most direct route up the Route 158 west, turn left on Route 84, and then just climb to the top.

But that’s a really bad route, as Route 158 is always full of cars. Here are the three routes I most recommend based on how long of a ride you want.

Route 1: The Big Kahuna

Instead of the busy 158 this route takes you through some of Nagano’s famous apple orchards out of town. Then hopping back on Route 158 just before the last train station of Shinshimashima Station.

After this, it’s 4 tunnels to the beautiful Nagawado Dam. Three more tunnels gets to to the turn onto Route 84 where the traffic really dies down. Then three more short tunnels and it’s all up from there!

NOTE ON THE TUNNELS: This route has 10 tunnels on roads with no shoulders of which you are trending uphill. The tunnels are not pitch black, but the lighting is not the best. Bring a tail light.

It is for this reason I highly recommend doing this route on a WEEKDAY and leaving VERY EARLY. If you can make the turn onto Route 84 by about 9am you should have pretty little traffic.

Strava Route File 138km & 3,200m gain

Route 2: The Scenic Route

A similar route to the above but with one modification. At the Nagawado Dam Parking Lot you will head left along Route 26 for 4 more tunnels before turning right onto the 乗鞍岳スーパー林道, Norikuradake Super Forest Road. You heard right, this is not just a normal forest road, but a SUPER forest road. In all seriousness, it is beautiful and 1/10th the traffic of the other route, but you will climb more for it.

From here a short downhill into the Norikura Kogen and a left on Route 84 to head up to the top.

Strava Route File 146km & 3,500m gain

Route 3: Norikura from the Parking Lot to the Top

For those looking to just do the best part, take the bus or drive your car up to the Sanbondaki Falls Parking Lot. From there hop on your bike and pass through the gate to start your climb and enjoy the peace and quiet!

Strava Route File 13km & 900m gain

Making a Trip Out of It

Guided Trips

We offer two options to ride Mt Norikura on guided trips.

Tour of the Japanese Alps

Our level 5 Tour of the Japanese Alps is the best way to join a group. We not only do the highest road in Japan, but also cross three different prefectures and hit all of the best hidden gems and epic climbs over the week.

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cyclists climbing on road bikes

Going It On Your Own

One Day

For those brave enough to go for it in one day time is of the essence. I recommend starting as early as possible to both avoid morning traffic and to have the most daylight. If you can aim to be at the top by no later than 4 hours from sunset you should be able to get back to Matsumoto in that time. Remember it’s basically all up on the way out and all down on the way back.

Multi-Day

This would be my recommendation if you don’t want to pull an epic day. You can easily break the ride into two days. Day 1 ride up to Norikura Kogen. Stay the night at one fo the hotels. Then the following morning head up and return back to Matsumoto.

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