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Mount Akagi – The Red Fortress Volcano, Japan

By Robert McManmon tokyo 28 April 2020

Incredible culture, breathtaking landscapes, freshly-prepared food, natural hot springs, high-quality bikes, and the best cycling roads in the world. Welcome to the Bike Tour Japan experience. Let founder, Rob McManmon lead you up the simply breathtaking Red Fortress Volcano, just a short hop out from Tokyo.

Just an hour and a half from central Tokyo lies an unimaginable playground for cyclists. Though much of Japan is coastal, the landlocked prefecture of Gunma offers riding unlike no other in Japan. With towering volcanic mountains, long river valleys, fantastic tarmac, and forest roads where you can get lost for hours to the sweet sounds of car free nature. 

At the centre of all this is one of the most iconic mountains in Gunma, Mount Akagi. Part of the 三名山 or three famous mountains of Gunma (Mt Akagi, Mt Haruna, Mt Miyogi), it is said that from any point in the Gunma plains you can see these three famous peaks. Mt Akagi is a massive stratovolcano starting from the Tone River (60 m above sea) to its highest peak Kurobi at 1,828 m above sea. For the cyclist though Akagi is home to three epic roads up into its large caldera, to two caldera lakes, and a perfectly designed course for cyclists.

Though Akagi is home to an annual hill climb race on the main road to the caldera each summer our favorite route takes you up the seldom travelled old road. Where the main road may be closed for the race each year, any other time of the year this road has a steady amount of cars on it making for a less than ideal climb. That said, the old road is home to a seldom driven narrower rindo (forest road) that has 100 numbered turns to the summit topping out at over 1,500 m!

From Akagi Station the ride leaves Omama Town and the climb begins. Weaving through rice fields and small country towns you gain the first 500 m in the first 15 km traversing the agricultural heartland of Japan. Then, take a quick stop and offer a prayer to the kami gods of this massive volcono in the dappled forest light of the Akagi Miyosawa Shrine. From here it’s off on the 100 turns to the top. Switchback after switchback the road climbs as the dense pine forest gives way to highland bamboos. With the road so seldom travelled by car be sure to keep your eyes peeled for monkeys in the trees or the mystical Kamoshika (Japanese Serow). 

At an average of 8.6% for 10 km from the shrine you pass turn 88 before a small descent to the final 1 km to enter the caldera. At turn 90 you reach the summit and the last ten turns are downhill, a fitting reward as you dive into the centre of the caldera. 

Once inside take a victory lap around the caldera lake Onuma and spot the large red bridge to the Akagi Shrine in the center of the lake. With your prayers answered at the bottom now is a perfect time to offer your prayers for safety, or speed, on your descent. Stop by the sandy beach town for some local eats and a coffee to warm up before taking the main road out of the caldera to start the thrilling descent.

With near pristine pavement and two full lanes descending Akagi’s main road is something of heaven for cyclists. Fly down the mountain and soak in the panoramic views of the whole of the Tone Valley and the West Alps of Nagano in the distance. If you like descending this road will certainly leave you wanting to come back!

After 14 km and 1,000+ m of descent turn onto the Akagi Panoramic Road for some great rollers and views to warm up the legs again. Then, one last run through the rice fields takes you back to Akagi Station to complete the day.

About Bike Tour Japan

Building an unforgettable cycling adventure is all about the details. We strive to create an immersive journey to the best cycling regions in Japan, not just because they have been mentioned in blogs, but because they are home to incredible nature, history, roads, and culture. Join us where the locals love to explore, and experience ancient traditions, still preserved in secluded small towns. We believe that bicycle touring in Japan truly captures all the wonder, discovery, freedom, and cultural understanding that can only be gained through slow, intentional travel. Hop on the saddle for an unforgettable cycling experience with Bike Tour Japan.

Total distance: 74.68 km
Max elevation: 1501 m
Total climbing: 2001 m
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