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For cyclists seeking the ultimate challenge, this is it. At 2700 meters elevation, Norikura is the highest you can go by road in Japan: even the roads up Mount Fuji are nowhere near as high (they peter out at 2300 meters). On this road, that's right about the point you're wishing you'd trained a bit harder before setting out. Luckily, it's only a bit farther before things get very lovely indeed: alpine scenery, perennial snow, and the bluest skies I've ever seen in Japan.

The route shown here starts considerably south of the mountain area at Kiso-Fukushima on the main JR line - a lovely river valley full of historical/cultural sites, worthy of a trip all by itself. First we make a brief stop at the tiny traditional village of Narai, then head on a tiny mountain road over a 1400m pass before joining up briefly with the main (BUSY) highway and turning off to make the first ascent to 1600m. There we spend the night, resting up for the remaining 1100m climb first thing next morning. It's actually not nearly as hard as it sounds, and the rewards are spectacular. You no longer need to pack your bike in a bikebag at the summit, since bicycles are at last allowed on the road from the summit down to Hirayu Onsen, But you might bring along a spare set of lungs...

Also note that, if you are planning to cycle down from Norikura into Takayama, you should be prepared to cycle through the long (2.4km) Hirayu Tunnel. If you’re planning instead to cycle to Matsumoto, you should know that part of the road (Route 158) is a toll road on which bicycles are NOT allowed, so you will need to cycle up and over Abo Pass (Abo Toge), which is 1,792m elevation (as I recall, around 500m of additional climbing). This pass is under snow from late in the autumn until late in the spring, so plan your trip accordingly in that case.