Cycling the Noto Peninsula: Route – Sights – Pros & Cons
Table Of Contents
Cycling the Noto Peninsula
Previously an off-the-beaten-path route, the completion of the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Kanazawa City, has turned the Noto Peninsula into a popular tourist hub in Japan.
Noto is known for sleepy fishing villages dotting the shores of the Japan Sea and, on rare clear days, sweeping views of the ocean & Japanese Alps in the distance. This peninsula has become something of a regular location for cyclists thanks to a popular article featured in the New York Times, stirring excitement about remote rides in Japan.
Compared to other popular routes such as the Shimanami Kaido or Tokyo’s nearby Kasumigaura Bay, Noto offers a more quaint side of Japan’s coastal countryside.
Where is the Noto Peninsula?
The Noto-hantou 能登半島 is found northwest of Tokyo, on the other side of the main island of Honshu. Located along the Japanese Sea, the Noto route typically uses Kanazawa as the main launching point for most cyclists heading out to ride the peninsula.
What Type of Cyclist is the Noto Peninsula Best For?
Not all cyclists enjoy the same kind of day in the saddle. While some prefer pace-lining and racing up mountains, others may choose to pedal gently, stopping often to see all of the sights. Both these types of cyclists exist, along with every flavor in between. Because of this, not every area is optimal for every cyclist and his or her idea of a great cycling tour.
Below is a Pros & Cons list of the Noto Peninsula as it pertains to different types of cyclists. Our goal is to help you assess if this is the right area for your next trip, so you can choose the best way to spend your precious time riding on your next cycling holiday in Japan.
While the region offers a wide variety of terrain and options, in general this area is best suited for riders level 2-3 (read more about rider levels in our FAQ here). We typically rate the area for level 2 trips as the routes are mostly flat to rolling with a few climbs that are longer or steeper.
You can also ride between towns in roughly 40-70km each day, making for easy accessibility to most recreational riders.
Ever Increasing Tourism & English Services/Hotels/Restaurants
Thanks to the relative boom in this route as a regular tourist route, you will find no shortage of hotels, restaurants, and services catering to visitors. This means that for riders who prefer to plan their own routes, accommodations, and stops, it is do-able with relative ease compared to other rural areas.
Costal Scenes & Seafood
For those who love the water, this trip is basically nonstop ocean. This means great seafood, ocean air, and a fair amount of beaches. But do be warned: the beaches in Japan tend to be far less grand compared to those in Australia, NZ, Hawaii, California, etc. Much of the coastline is rugged rocks and cliffs off of steep hills.
Very Low Population Cities & Towns
This is a pro for some, and a big con for others. If you like stepping into sleepy towns that feel frozen in time, then there will be no shortage of them on this route. If you want to see more lively and modern small towns and cities that aren’t just catering to tourists, this might not be a good route for you.
Lack of Climbing
For riders looking to tackle major climbs or set out on long days in the saddle, this area has a few major climbs, but most are well below 500m gain and average closer to 150m or less.
Also, if you are the type to ride in excess of 100 miles / 160km per day of flat to rolling terrain, you will likely breeze through the entire route in around 3-4 days.
If you are looking for epic climbs, I recommend checking out routes in the Kita-Kanto Region, Nikko Region, and of course Nagano Prefecture.
The western side of Japan is generally blessed with the famous Japow (powder snow) in the winter, but with that comes very frequent rain & clouds the rest of the year.
For context, Kanazawa City averages over 193 days of rain each year, or more than 50% of all of the days in the year. Compare this to the Kita Kanto Region, where the average rainy days is just 88 days/year, more than half of which occur between June-mid September.
While the winter months average over 20 days a month of precipitation, the spring, summer, and fall months still average more than 1/3 days of rain in the Noto Peninsula.
This is compounded by some of the lowest sunlight hours in all of Japan. In the northernmost city on the Noto Peninsula, Wajima – the city averages just over 1,500 hours of sunlight each year and well in excess of 200+ days of rain/snow each year. This is over 50% less than areas such as Kita Kanto, which sees well over 2,300 hours of sunlight each year.
Large Amounts of Car & Tourist Traffic in High Seasons & Holidays
While sleepy during much of the year thanks to cold and wet weather from around October through end of March, Noto is very much a high-season travel region. And, thanks to an ever-growing promotion of multi-day car trips, this means the roads are increasingly frequented by more and more auto-tourists.
If you are traveling on a Japanese National Holiday such as Golden Week or Obon, or during the peak seasons of April-end of September, it is likely that you will experience much greater road traffic and crowding at the sights than other routes that are less famous for cars & motorcycle touring.
Confronting the Global Plastics & Waste Disposal Industries
Unfortunately, this region is also heavily influenced by the washing up of trash, not only from Japan but neighboring Asian countries. This is largely due to the currents of the Japanese sea. This means many beaches are difficult for aging locals to keep clear of trash and debris. This is not to diminish the area, but a fair warning to those who travel here that it’s not uncommon to see washed up trash strewn across many (if not most) of the beaches you will ride by.
Our Experience in April 2021
Our last trip to the Noto Peninsula was spring of 2021, and we were very lucky with weather – please check out the video below to experience the week-long adventure with us!
When to Cycle The Noto Peninsula & Weather in the Noto Peninsula
In short, the months of Mid April-June & September are the best months to cycle in Noto.
Most other months are very wet and cold, or are very hot, wet and humid. Consecutive dry days are rare in Noto, even in the best months of the year. Bring your rain gear.
Feel free to skip the next section as I tend to nerd out about weather patterns a lot and how they impact a cycling tour. If you are a fair-weathered cyclist, I recommend avoiding this region completely. If you don’t mind getting wet, this region could be a good experience.
A More Detailed Explanation on Weather & When to Cycle the Noto Peninsula
The reason that the Noto Peninsula has just a few short windows of good cycling weather is because the winter season (mid October-end March) is cold to freezing, very cloudy, and extremely rainy/snowy.
Then, around the start of April, the rain & clouds continue, but temperatures rise and become more mild. From here, a window of roughly two months of mild temperatures and the least rainfall averages opens. In the spring, 1/3 days on average have precipitation, compared to over 2/3 days in the winter & summer months.
Remember, it rains/snows over 200 days a year in most of the Noto region.
Unfortunately, like most of the Japan’s main island of Honshu, Noto also becomes extremely muggy in the months of June, July, and August with high temperatures above 30°, lows around 21° and more than 90% humidity. This is shown in one of my favorite charts below: “Humidity Comfort Levels” of the City of Nanao on the east side of the Noto Peninsula are rated as muggy/oppressive/miserable humidity for most of mid June through September.
We like to escape this mugginess that plagues most of Japan’s main island from mid-June to mid-September by heading deep into the high mountain towns of Gunma. This includes places such as Kusatsu Onsen Town, Mount Akagi, Ikaho Onsen Town, or the higher-elevation mountains of Nagano.
Anyways, back to Noto, when September rolls around, the second good window opens from roughly the start of September to the end of the month or even sometimes mid-October. This window is also in sync with the typhoon season.
Now, I love riding in the typhoon season (see my article on cycling in typhoon season in Japan). This time of year is a constant alternation of torrential downpours for typically 1-2 days, and then multiple day stints of clear, dry weather – perfect for cycling. Noto is no exception to this pattern, so expect to have your weather largely determined by the current storm movements.
Our most recent trip to Noto was in late April 2021 and were lucky to have just one day of torrential rain (our first day of the tour) and two overcast days out of 8 total days around the peninsula. All the locals we spoke to in Wajima and Suzu kept remarking on how incredibly rare it was to have blue skies for consecutive days. And the historical weather averages certainly back this up.
Conclusions on Weather in Noto
So based on this data, I would aim for roughly April/May (maybe early June) or September (maybe early October) for those looking to plan a trip to the Noto Peninsula. While it does seem that (on average) you get more sunny days in August, the humidity and heat are at their peak, making for really tough riding weather.
Looking for Sun & Mild Weather?
Consider riding on the east side of Honshu in the Kita Kanto Region where dry air, minimal rainfall, and sunshine are a regular feature, except in the summer from July to end of August. If you can, we recommend avoiding Japan altogether during those summer months!
See the Kita Kanto Region for more rides in this area.
Recommended Courses ~ Osusume Course
So you have decided to set out on a journey around the Noto Peninsula by bike, awesome! While there are certainly ways to make your trip longer or shorter, add more or less stops, and explore any region in Japan for months if you would like, this guide has two recommend routes that should fit most riders’ goals.
The first is our “complete route” and the second, an “abbreviated route”.
Noto Peninsula: Complete Route | Kanazawa > Himi
360km | mostly flat with a few small climbs
While there are many ways to tie together the riding of the Noto Peninsula, our preference is to work in a clockwise manner. This is so that you ride along the seaside (left side of the road in Japan) the whole way!
Here is our osusume or recommend route. In short, it leaves from Kanazawa City, traces the peninsula clockwise, and ends in the town of Himi. From Himi you can take the train (1h15) back to Kanazawa City or connect back to Toyama City.
Noto Peninsula Shorter Route | Kanazawa > Wakura Onsen
240km | mostly flat with a few small climbs
If you have more limited time or want to just ride the best parts, consider riding the better half of the route and starting in Hakui City and ending in Wakura Onsen. Skip the far side of Notojima Island, which decreases the route by about 130km.
Cities, Towns, and Sights to See in Noto
One big upside to cycling the Noto Peninsula is the ability to see some iconic sights along the way. Below is a list in order along the route of Cities, Towns, and Sights to See in Noto as well as a link to their location.
The area is very well marked in English thanks to the recent booms in tourism, so most of these sights will have big signs pointing you towards them.
Kanazawa City & Station Torii Gate
Uchinada Cycling Terminal
Chirihama Nagisa Driveway Beach
Hatago Iwa Married Rocks
Longest Bench in the World
Wajima Asaichi Morning Market
Shiroyone Senmaida Rice Terrace
Yuttari Park Footbath at Wakura Onsen Town
Want a Guided Tour Around The Noto Peninsula?
For those looking for a custom made guided tour we offer bespoke tours around the Noto Peninsula. Please see our itinerary below for more details. Feel free to contact us, and we’ll chat through all the details so we can plan a bespoke trip that’s tailored to your group’s travel preferences!
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