Table Of Contents
Ride from Hakuba to Tsugaike Sansō & back: 40km & 1400m
Hike from Tsugaike Sansō to Shirouma-dake & back: 20km & 1500m
Thanks to the 1998 Winter Olympics and notorious levels of snowfall between Dec and Apr, Hakuba Village has become one of the most popular countryside towns for outdoor activities in Japan. Home to only 9,000 locals, Hakuba quickly fills up its gondolas, lodges, and restaurants with an international flock of skiers and snowboarders every winter season. In the summer time, however, the village is much quieter and transforms into a serene wonderland, full of alpine mountains, lakes, and wildflowers. Mt Shirouma-dake hovers above the village and is known for its grand and above-the-clouds peak at 2932m, the highest point in Hakuba.
The One Day Epic Series is a collection of challenging long rides and hikes in Japan that are handmade and held to the highest route design standards. Minimal junk miles and traffic, great scenery throughout, and variety that keeps you inspired to push on from sunrise to sunset.
Distance: 60km (40km ride & 20km hike)
Elevation: 2900m (1400m ride & 1500m hike)
Start: Hakuba Village or Otari Village
Finish: Hakuba Village or better yet, with celebratory tacos and margs from Cantina!
Highlights: Tsugaike Hill Climb, Tenguppara, Mt Norikura, Hakuba Ōike, Funakoshi’s Head, Mt Korenge, Shirouma-dake
When to Go: July – November
- Hiking poles
- Crampons or traction cleats (dependent on the snow conditions)
- Rain jacket
- Insulation layer
- Bike lights
A few things to keep in mind!
- Snow slides can and do happen in the summer. Some of the pitches were >30% grade, please be aware of the risks.
- Hiking down ice/snow is often much harder than hiking up. Keep that in mind as you are ascending.
- Technically no biking for the final 100m near the visitor center, so please get off your bike and give way to hikers.
- There are absolutely no lights on the descent. In the case that you get back to your bike later than expected, make sure you have a good bike light. Always bring a headlamp.
- There are many natural water sources on trail between the trailhead and Ōike Sansō, but it’s quite dry after the Sansō.
Part 1: Tsugaike Hill Climb
We recommend starting as early as possible to give yourself plenty of sunlight time to enjoy the mountain and to descend safely at the end of the day.
Whether you start from Otari or Hakuba, take Rt 433 to Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort. Ride past the Eve Gondola, and take a left turn to follow the brown signs, indicating that you are on the official Tsugaike Hill Climb route. While the road is closed to public vehicles, there are park vehicles that use this road. Be ready to react if you see an oncoming car, and keep to the left side of the road around blind corners.
It’s a steady uphill climb from here to Tsugaike Sansō. With a long day ahead, take a relaxed pace and enjoy the beautiful, winding road. On a clear day, you’ll be rewarded with views of Chikuni Village and the mountains across the valley. When you reach the Ropeway Station, you will be more than halfway to the top of the hill climb. It’s just a few more switchbacks to reach Tsugaike Sansō and the start of your hike!
Part 2: Transition at the Trailhead
Swap your bike shoes for hiking shoes and park the bikes in an area that’s out of the way of hikers. We suggest locking them next to the public toilet area.
The trailhead is between Tsugaike Sansō and the Visitor Center. You’ll see a trailhead sign on the lefthand side, listing the estimated times to reach the following spots along your route:
Tenguppara – 1.5 hr
Hakuba Ōike – 4.5 hr
Shirouma – 7.5 hr
In our opinion, these are conservative estimates for backpackers who hike during early season (more snow hiking). If you are hiking with a light daypack on minimal snow, we would estimate 50-70% of the time indicated on this sign.
Part 3: Tenguppara
The hike begins at elevation ~1900m with rocks and wooden steps through the woods. Depending on the season, there may be a few scattered snow fields to cross. If these snow sections feel too sketchy, consider turning around and walking through the Tsugaike Nature Garden instead.
The snow fields after Tenguppara’s boardwalk will be significantly longer and steeper. When you reach a junction point, do not take the route leading to Kazafuki Ōike. Instead, continue on the upward trail to the snowfield towards Hakuba Norikura-dake.
Part 4: Hakuba Ōike
Follow the rope up the snowfield and pass by Hakuba Norikura-dake’s tall stone cairn at 2436m. Then, use the marked rocks to navigate towards the lake.
The path is a gradual descent that traces Hakuba Ōike’s north side. You’ll see Ōike Sansō ahead – a large red mountain hut with a large campground outside. If you are hungry, this is a good spot to stop for early lunch and drinks.
Part 5: Ridge Hike to Shirouma-dake Summit
After the hut, hike on a steady uphill trail through bamboo and pine bushes to reach the ridge. Watch the rocks and scenery change colors as you pass by signs for Funakoshi’s Head and Mt Korenge. This area is known for having a population of raichō – also known as “thunderbird” or “Japanese rock ptarmigan”.
This rocky mountain ridge continues up and down, with some light rock scrambles until you can see Shirouma-dake to the south. It’s a small uphill to the final summit – the iconic rock plinth awaits!
Part 6: Return to Trailhead
The return trip is relatively predictable. However, take extra caution on the snowfields, as hiking up on snow is often easier than hiking down.
If you return to the trailhead in time, you can grab food, softserve ice cream, snacks, and special regional omiyage (souvenirs) at Tsugaike Sansō.
Part 7: Downhill & Summit Celebration!
Once you’re back on bikes, it’s an adrenaline-pumping downhill ride to the base of Tsugaike. Take care on the downhill, use the road mirrors, and be very careful around blind corners. There might be oncoming park vehicles driving up to service the ropeway or mountain huts.
Then, you’ll have a few ups and downs to reach Hakuba Village. Ride back to your hotel or directly to the onsen (we suggest Mimizuku) for a relaxing soak. For dinner, there are a variety of options around town. After such a long day on the mountain, we recommend filling up on lost calories with tacos, beers, and margaritas at Cantina. Congratulations & kanpai!