Cycling Shibu Pass 渋峠 2,172m | Kusatsu Onsen’s Epic Sulfur Alpine Road
At over 2,172m above sea the Shibu Pass 渋峠 is the highest National Highway Road. What more, the road was closed for much of 2016-2021 due to volcanic activity of the very volcano, Mount Kusatsu Shirane 草津白根山, that the pass climbs up. But, since spring of 2021 the activity has settled on Mt Kusatsu Shirane and the road has reopened to cyclists!
For those willing to make the trek out, the full climb starts at the town of Naganohara 長野原, then up to Kusatsu Onsen Town 草津温泉, before finally climbing up to the summit on Mt Kusatsu Shirane. And, while the most obvious route might be to follow the newly constructed Route 299 from Naganohara to the top, there are actually some really amazing alternative routes for those looking to not ride by high speed traffic the whole time.
Climb Score Card from our full article on the 14 Best Cycling Climbs in Japan (Hint, Not Mt Fuji!).
Osusume Route ~ Cycling Shibu Pass
You might be inclined to take the most direct route up Route 299, but unless you are leaving very very early this is the main route for traffic into Kusatsu Town, and as such can be extremely busy. Therefore, my recommended route is to take either the old 299, or best the Koame Rindo Forest 小雨林道 Road into Kusatsu.
Once in Kusatsu Onsen, you just follow 299 to the top of the pass. Traffic on this portion of the route will vary mostly like the rest of Japan, holidays and weekends with heaviest traffic, and weekdays with least. Being the highest National Highway this is an extremely popular route for motorists as well as cyclists, so early starts make a big difference in getting the best climbing experience possible.
So, with that in mind our Osusume Route takes you up the quiet Koame Rindo into Kusatsu Onsen Town, then up and over the Shibu Pass, before heading back to Kusatsu and out via the amazing rolling Nakano Kusatsu Line Road. While not the most direct, this route is optimized for an amazing day in the saddle with a huge variety of scenery that is sure to put a smile on any cyclists face.
Koame Rindo Climb
Kusatsu Onsen to Shibu Pass
[Climb Score Card from our full article on the 14 Best Cycling Climbs in Japan (Hint, Not Mt Fuji!).]
Gain – 5/5 | 1,700m from Naganohara!
Views – 5/5 | From steaming sulfur vents roadside, to sweeping views of the massive mountains that surround, this route has truly epic views.
Accessibility – 2/5 | Twice a day 2h20 on the Akagi Line from Ueno Station to Naganohara Station.
Pavement – 4/5 Poor pavement on the Koame Rindo and decent to good pavement along the rest of the route.
Zen Factor – 2/5 There is no getting around the fact that this route is frequented by lots of motorists and motorcyclists. Those that take this on in the wee hours of the morning can have an amazing car free experience, but for most this route will involve moderate to heavy motorists traffic.
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