The Tone River Cycling Road | Japan’s Longest Car Free Bike Route

Mount Akagi to the right from above the Tone River.
Mt Haruna (left) and Mt Akagi (right) from above the Tone River near Maebashi Gunma.

The Tone River Cycling Road 利根川サイクリングロード

Cycling Onsen to Ocean on Japan’s Longest Car Free Cycling Road!

In this article I will share everything from what is the Tone River in the first place, to outlining a recommended route (with maps & route files), as well as other interesting cycling river paths and routes to consider for your next ride in Japan.

What is the Tone River Cycling Road?

The Tone River 利根川 (pronounced toe-neh) is Japan’s second longest river and Japan’s largest water flow river. Starting in the high mountains of the border of Gunma & Niigata Prefectures, the Tone is the collector of nearly all of the water in Gunma Prefecture as well as much of its neighbors Saitama, Chiba, and Ibaraki Prefectures.

It is because of this that the Tone, which once ran directly into Tokyo via the now Edo River 江戸川, was the source of frequent devastating flooding of the old capital city of Edo (now called Tokyo). So much so that in 1603 the then ruling Tokugawa Shogunate began one of the largest infrastructure projects in Japan’s history to divert the waters of the Tone eastward out through modern day Chiba Prefecture to the Pacific Ocean. (source)

Nowadays, it is in part thanks to this diversion, the river must carry an incredibly massive water volume over 200km each year out to the ocean. Further, due to the very flat nature of the riverbed, where at over 180km inland the river sits less than 100m above sea level, the river is also home to truly massive levees on its riverbanks.

It is on these often over 10+ meter high levees that the Tone River Cycling Road is constructed, one of the greatest cycling treasures of the Kanto Region!

Mount Akagi from the Tone River Cycling Road
Mount Akagi from the Tone River Cycling Road

Facts About the Tone River Cycling Road

  • Length: 230km – from Shibukawa City, Gunma to Choshi City, Chiba
  • Highest Point: 175m above sea | Lowest Point: Sea Level
  • Number of Prefectures It Crosses: 4 – (east to west) Gunma, Saitama, Ibaraki, Chiba
  • Car Free Kilometers: Over 200 kilometers
  • Difficulty: 1/5 – Very flat with virtually no gain.

Map of the Tone River Cycling Road

Course Description

While the river technically begins at Lake Oku-Tone deep in the mountains of Gunma, the cycling path starts at Shibukawa City. A city somewhat known for onsen, Shibukawa is much more famous for being the foot of Ikaho Onsen Town just up the mountain on the side of Mt Haruna.

Complete Tone River Cycling Road Strava Route File

The stone steps of Ikaho Onsen Town.
The stone steps of Ikaho Onsen Town.

Starting in Shibukawa City

Although it is not required, I would strongly encourage any cyclists visiting the area to also visit Ikaho Onsen for its iconic red-brown waters running down the 365 stone steps that are the center of town.

  • Below is an article I wrote on riding from Takasaki City, over Mt Haruna, and into Ikaho City that is a great way to add a little distance to this tour and a great first stop.

The cycling road begins (or ends depending on your direction of travel) at the Rt 353 Bridge in Shibukawa City, about 1km from the station, and conveniently right across the street from a 7 Eleven convenience store.

The Route At A Glance

From Shibukawa, the route follows the west banks of the river down through Maebashi City before the Tone’s first junction with the nearby Karasu River that comes from Takasaki City.

After this junction the cityscapes quickly fade and the route is largely through vast expanses of small farming villages and huge swaths of rice fields & other crops.

The cycling road bounces between the two sides of the river a few times, which makes for some pretty magical river crossings on some of Japan’s longest inland bridges. 

Long stretches of rural farms and rice paddies with big mountains in the distance along the Tone Cycling Road.
Long stretches of rural farms and rice paddies with big mountains in the distance along the Tone Cycling Road.

Around 90km in the Tone River again merges with the now nearby Watarase River, and shortly after that with the Edo River that heads towards Tokyo. The scenery then becomes very “inaka” as we would say, or very countryside, with now even larger stretches of rice fields and the occasional forested hill lumps in the distances.

At 180km in the route is very close to connecting to the Kasumigaura Ring Road, with just under 5km needed to connect the two. If you have never heard of the Kasumigaura Ring Road it is probably the best large lake loop cycling route in Japan. While the Lake Biwa Ichi cycling route is longer at around 200km the Kasumigaura has far less traffic along the route and makes for a much more peaceful ride.

Finally, in the last 20km you will need to hop onto National Route 356. While this is a regular car road, there is a decent shoulder for much of it and traffic is not too heavy most of the time.

The end of the Tone River Cycling Road at Choshi City.
The end of the Tone River Cycling Road at Choshi City.

Arriving at the Ocean in Choshi City

Unfortunately Choshi City is a bit lackluster of a town. Being an active port, you will see quite a lot of concrete and retaining walls to help keep from erosion from the sea and a fair amount of trucks moving things about the port area.

That said, for those willing to ride a few more kilometers the nearby Hasaki Beach is a great choice for a final stop and some sandy celebration. Another option is to ride to the nearby Inubosaki Lighthouse. This is a top tourist attraction in the area, and offers views of more rugged shores.

Getting to and From the Tone River Cycling Road

Tokyo to Shibukawa Station

For those looking to complete the full length in one go, the easiest way to get to Shibukawa from Tokyo is via the train system. Thanks to the great connectivity of Japan’s rail network it takes just 1h30 via two to three trains to get to Shibukawa Station. Here is a sample itinerary. The fare is 6,000yen in 2021.

Choshi Station to Tokyo

From Choshi Station the Shiosai Line offers a direct train back to Tokyo station that takes 1h45 and costs 4,000yen in 2021. Here is a sample itinerary.

Alternative Start / End Points and Train Stations Along the Way

One does not need to do the full route to enjoy the Tone River Cycling Road. In fact, many choose to just do a portion, or break it up into multiple trips. For those looking to do this a few natural breaking points on the route for trains in and out of Tokyo are listed below. Each is under 1.5hrs by train from Tokyo.

East to West

0km Shibukawa Station – 13km Maebashi Station – 75km Hanyu Station – 90km Kurihashi Station – 150km Toride Station – 230km Choshi Station

Where to Stay Along the Route

While much of the Tone River is rural country areas, you will pass through plenty of towns with hotels and even a few with ryokans & hostels for those looking for these options.

In general, nowadays Google Maps “Hotel Button” actually does a pretty good job of searching for hotels in Japan. From here it will link to sites where you can book the hotels yourself, many times with English friendly sites such as Booking.com, Agoda.com, etc.

If you specifically want to stay in a ryokan or hostel, I would recommend trying to search in Google maps with the Japanese characters for those words, as that will get better results. Simply copy and paste the below Japanese characters into your Google Maps and you will get plenty of results.

Ryokan in Japanese is 旅館

Hostel in Japanese is ホステル

Other Cycling Roads in the Kanto / Tokyo Area

While the Tone is the longest cycling road in the Kanto Region around Tokyo it is by far not the only cycling road built on a river. Japan is full of these types of river cycling paths, but the quality and cohesiveness of them greatly varies. I put together the below article and map to help introduce the more major and cohesive of them in the Kanto Area. This was in part to help those new to the area with brainstorming route ideas as well as ways to get in and out of Tokyo by bike.

Feel free to click on the rivers to see their names. You can also open the map legend by pressing the square icon in the top left corner of the map.

Other Famous Cycling Roads

While there are many other famous cycling roads, probably the most famous is the Shimanami Kaido down in the Setouchi Sea area just east of Hiroshima. Following that, the Kasumigaura Ring Road and Lake Biwa Ichi are becoming more popular destinations thanks to also receiving a similar level of infrastructure such as a clearly marked route with arrows along the road.

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