Cycling Nikko National Park 日光

Riding the shores of Lake Chuzenji by the slopes of Mt Nantai.
Riding the shores of Lake Chuzenji by the slopes of Mt Nantai.

While the park has recently received more attention thanks to government programs to promote it, we have been cycling to Nikko National Park for years and continue to enjoy sharing the park and all it’s beauty with our guests.

Situated two hours by express train or drive from Tokyo, Nikko Village is the gateway to the national park. While Tourists flock to the Toshogu Shrine, and for good reason, most don’t make it up into the highlands of the National Park. And it is here in the highlands, that some truly spectacular cycling can be had!

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The towering pines engulfing the Toshogu Shrine.

Cycling in Nikko National Park

For those who like climbing Nikko National Park offers some amazing riding. From Nikko Village the famous Irohazaka Road (tr. Alphabet Road) is one of the most featured roads to drive or bike in Japan.

The way up the Irohazaka in beautiful fall colors.
The way up the Irohazaka in beautiful fall colors.

Irohazaka Road いろは坂

A two lane single direction road up and a one lane single direction road down, this is the only road into and out of the Nikko National Park Highlands open year round.

The name, Irohazaka translates to the “I-Ro-Ha Hill.” Iroha is the first three characters in the famous poem by Kukai which perfectly uses each of the 47 characters of the traditional Japanese Alphabet. So, in true Japanese fashion, the architects that built the road planned one hairpin turn for each of the characters. Naturally 🙂

the iroha poem by kukai
The Iroha Poem by Kukai.

The poem is split in half on the road, the first 20 characters for the up direction and the remaining 27 for the way down.

The down route of the Irohazaka. What a road!
The down route of the Irohazaka. What a road!

Highland Roads to the Skies

Once atop the Irohazaka a tunnel cuts through the mountainside and takes you into the heart of the Oku-Nikko Highlands. After passing through the large red torii gate sweeping views of Lake Chuzenji and the massive Mount Nantai will appear.

If you want to truly reach the top of the highlands you can take the road to the south towards the Mt Hangetsu Observation Deck 半月山. This road is full of sweeping views of the National Park and when you reach the parking lot you will be rewarded with sweeping views of the whole Watarase River Basin. On a clear day you can even see Mount Fuji and the Kita Alps High Peaks of Nagano.

The view from the Hangetsu Parking Lot. Look close you can see Mount Fuji on the left some 160km (100mi) away!
The view from the Hangetsu Parking Lot. Look close you can see Mount Fuji on the left some 160km (100mi) away!

If you have it in you I recommend hopping off of your bike and heading up the short 500m hike to the Mount Hangetsu Observation Deck. This is probably the best view of Mount Nantai and Lake Chuzenji.

The Stratovolcano Mount Nantai behind Leake Chuzenji.
The Stratovolcano Mount Nantai behind Leake Chuzenji.

Nikko National Park Cycling Route

There are lots of great road in and around Nikko National park, but if you are only visiting for a day or two you have to ride the Irohazaka up to the highlands!

Osusume Course~

Be sure to leave early to beat the traffic on the Irohazaka. Take Route 120 out of town, use the old road and bypass the highway. Then up up and away up the Irohazaka road. Once atop turn left and head up to the Hangetsu Observatory. From here it’s all downhill back to town!

Strava Route File 51km & 1,300m gain

A map of the curves on the up route with a photo of the local monkeys you might spot!
A map of the curves on the up route with a photo of the local monkeys you might spot!

Our Tours that go to Nikko National Park

Nikko North Alps Tour Level 3/5

Tour of the Japanese Alps Level 5/5

The sandy shores of Lake Chuzenji in Nikko National Park.
The sandy shores of Lake Chuzenji in Nikko National Park.

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