This is TRULY a beautiful area. From either Nagano or places further up in the mountains, you have so many options it's impossible to list them all. Here are a few:

- One of the easiest detours would be to swing west on the way down from Nozawa to take in Lake Nojiri, a lake famous for easy climbs to pretty views. Hang a right when you enter the city of Iiyama; it's only around 20 km... or use the route under Hakuba below.

- Hakuba is one of Japan's premier ski resorts and hosts mountain bike races on the slopes at other times of the year. It's a lovely town with high peaks on either side; the view in from the north is particularly dramatic (though the road can get crowded on holiday weekends). From Nagano, Hakuba is a straight 50 km shot due west on route 406. However, as long as you’re going to cycle there, the ride from Nojiri to Hakuba over the pass at Togakushi is a MUCH nicer ride. One of the nicest moments of any Japan Alps ride is coming out of the last tunnel on this route and suddenly finding out exactly how far up in the mountains you are.

And from Hakuba, you can get very easily to...

- ... Matsumoto, a lovely castle town with one of Japan's few black castles and views of the Alps like the one in this photo. Route 148 follows a series of rivers and lakes down from Hakuba straight into Matsumoto.

(Programming note: an upcoming route on this site will cover the Hakuba-Matsumoto option in more detail.)

- If you want more mountain riding and resorts, head east instead of west from the top of the 2138-meter climb (or from Manza) along the Manza Highway to the grand-daddy of all Tokyo-area spas: Karuizawa. A bit touristy for my tastes, but the scenery around and leading to it is wonderful.

- For SERIOUS mountain cyclists: if you’re heading south to the Matsumoto area, you have the opportunity to cycle west from Matsumoto and try the highest road in Japan: the 2,700-meter ascent up to Norikura. There are inns and mountain huts at the top if you want to spend the night, and also at Norikura Kogen (1600m elevation) before the final ascent. Previously, bicycles were not allowed to go down this road, but that prohibition has been lifted. If coming from the Matsumoto direction, be prepared for a succession of tunnels, most of which will be a slight uphill, until the turnoff to Norikura (and see our special features on both cycling through tunnels in the Japan Alps and this road, Route 158, in particular).

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