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Getting There


As three of the four possible starting and ending points are major cities, there are regular trains (and in some cases buses) to all of them. The one exception is Itoigawa, but even this is on the main coastal line and so has regular train service from Toyama. Note, however, that if you want to cut the trip even more and start from someplace along that Itoigawa line (say, after the tunnels), you may have to plan carefully; there are trains only once every hour or two and you generally have to change at Minami-Otari. If you’re trying to get all the way from Toyama to Hakuba in one day, be sure to get an early start. (Naturally there are inexpensive accommodations available in Toyama if you want to get a really early start.)


Note that this route is obviously not doable in winter due to snow. Also, from personal experience I can tell you that, during the busiest part of the Golden Week vacation, the road up from Itoigawa is absolutely clogged with buses and cars, meaning the tunnels are filled with choking exhaust, so that period is also best avoided if at all possible. If you have to cycle up at that time, I’d recommend starting straight from Itoigawa as early in the morning as possible to avoid the traffic.


Once on the bicycle, take route 30 from just east of Toyama Station and follow it northward all the way to the coast. The bikepath begins almost where you hit the coast, and even where it ends Route 1 is the coastal road, which changes to Route 2 just after Namerikawa (after you cross the river). There’s a tinier road that follows the coast even more closely (around Wadanohama Beach) up to that river. I recommend you stay on the main local Route 2 before the Kurobe River, since there’s not much nearer the coast there and you’ll have to return to cross anyway.


On the road up to Hakuba, there is one route (Route 375) that you can take to avoid the longest tunnel (the Osho Tunnel). It starts right before Himekawa Onsen (hot springs); I have not taken this one yet, but judging by the squiggles on the map it’s quite a climb. Actually, there’s another shorter bypass for the next tunnel at a place called Shiozaka. For the others, you’ll have to go through the tunnels (and hence the stern warnings against attempting this at night).


Accommodations


Hakuba has everything from expensive hotels to lovely pensions to rock-bottom crash pad beds; choose your poison. Normally I opt for a minshuku or pension; these can be quite reasonable in the off-season. Note that, as everywhere else, many Hakuba accommodations are listed in the online booking services like jalan-net and Rakuten Travel. The tourist information place at Hakuba Station can also be very helpful if you’ve somehow managed to arrive without nailing down your accommodation first (as everywhere else, probably doable any time but the last part of the Golden Week vacation in early May).



Sights


Mountains, mountains and more mountains -- ‘nuf said. A few quick notes:

  1. 1.-The Iwatake mountain bike race takes place during the latter Golden Week vacation period in early May.

  2. 2.-You can actually still ski and snowboard in the spring (and presumably in the late autumn as well)! Check with the tourist office at the train station when you get into town.

- The onsen in the photo on S&P Page 17 is the Highland Hotel located on a hill a ways behind the train station - you can’t miss it.


Getting Away


If you’re going to Matsumoto, the road follows the train line, so it’s hard to get lost initially. The roads around the two largest lakes are pretty intuitive. South of Omachi, turn off (left) onto Route 306; that will take you all the way to Toyoshina(-cho); as I recall, from that point I turned left where it dead-ended (local Route 57) and took it east to link up with national Route 143 which takes you right into the heart of Matsumoto and virtually straight to Matsumoto Station. The early part of this segment is a bit confusing, as Route 57 joins up briefly with the busy Route 19. From 306, turn left on Route 57 and take it to Route 19, then left on Route 19 for a short distance northward until it hooks up with 57 again; turn right on 57 and then right (south) on Route 143 all the way to Matsumoto.


If you’re going to Nagano, be sure to take local Route 33, NOT national Route 406 - that’s the route to Togakushi Pass and it goes up a monster climb. By contrast, Route 33 is a gradual downhill almost all the way.


If you’re going in the other direction, from Nagano to Hakuba, the tunnel bypass route is on the last tunnel that you’ll encounter (Miasa Tunnel). The turnoff onto the bypass road is unmarked, but it’s right after the last bridge before the tunnel; you should encounter a waterfall called Shiroito no Taki almost as soon as you make the turnoff (to the left).

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