Starting in my tiny coastal city Hakusan, on the sea of Japan, the White Road twists over the Japan Alps to Shirakawago, an historical mountain village in Gifu registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The road follows the path of the picturesque XXX River, dotted with stunning waterfalls, before climbing up and over the Alps, giving incredible views of the snow-covered peaks of Hakusan. On the Gifu end of the road, you’ll find Shirakawago. Warning: Shirakawago is a bit of a tourist trap (¥1000 for parking, even if you’re there for ten minutes!) but it is a rare chance to see traditional Japanese style farmhouses, with gassho-style roofs, surrounded by rice fields and the Japan Alps. If you’re in the area, Shirakawago is worth stopping by, but don’t plan to spend long. Driving the breathtaking White Road on the other hand… More than worth organizing a trip around. Here are some of the can’t miss spots along the road.
Just after you cross the Jadani Bridge, the Kamoshika Falls appear to your immediate left. There isn’t a good spot to park and check out the falls, but as the White Road is relatively traffic-free there’s a good chance you can slow down and snap a pic or two!
Make sure to park at the P4 lot and slide into some comfortable shoes. Head to the stairs. It’s about a 15 minute walk (straight down) to reach the falls. Ubagataki roughly translates as Woman’s Falls, as the cascading streams of water down the massive, rolling rock face resemble an older woman’s hair. AND in an amazing bonus, there are natural hot springs at the foot of the waterfall for a cozy foot bath with a view.
To the left of the falls there is a rock shaped like natural stairs. If you perch there and carefully glance around the corner, you can glimpse clouds of steam rising up from the flowing river and a huge, steaming bolder. (If you want to risk going off the safe path, you can duck a barrier and grab a rope down to a smaller beach right next to the hot spring source. Use caution.)
Park at P5 and dash across the road for a quick view of the falls and a pretty stunning view of the valley below. Fukube Falls are impressively tall and cascade from pool to pool in several layers down to the bottom of the valley.
Stop at P6 for you first glimpse at snow-covered mountain peaks. There are even better views ahead, but at this point you’ll have been catching such brief flashes of the view from car windows you won’t be able to resist stopping and checking it out. Dash across the road again and climb up the steps to a more secluded viewpoint, with a free telescope to get a zoomed in view of the peak.
Continue a few minutes further to reach P8 and the Hakusan Observatory. This is the big one! A clear view of Mt. Haku, one of Japan’s Three Sacred Mountains. Take a moment to breathe in the fresh air. This is a view you’ll remember.
Fukubedani Gardens Observatory
Park up at P9 Tsuga no Mokudai Parking Lot and put on your hiking books. Get ready for a 25 minute straight up hill climb. Be sure to make some noise and keep an eye out for creatures (bears and snakes). Once you clear the tree line, its just a few minutes further to an observation platform with panoramic views. If you’ve packed a lunch, this is an incredible place for a picnic. If not, have a lie-down and soak in some sunshine before you head back down.
If you’ve still got energy at this point, a few minutes farther along the White Road will take you to P10 from where you can complete another hike, this time 50 minutes to the summit for views of Hakusan and the Northern Alps.
This is your last place to stop on the White Road. There isn’t too much to see here, but if you walk up the very gradual steps, you can get a first view of Shirakawa-go nestled into a valley below. Near the observation area, there’s a path through a 300 year old beech forest.
There really isn’t anything to do in Shirakawa-go apart from taking photos of the cool architecture and it will inevitably be packed with tourists. Know what you’re getting into and embrace it. It is a beautiful village.
Map of sight-seeing spots along the White Road
This awesome map is straight from the White Road’s English website here.
The road starts a 70 minute drive from the Hakusan IC on the Hokuriku Expressway at this entrance toll both. You can also begin the drive on the Gifu end of the road, just 10 minutes from the Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway. The toll is ¥1600 one-way or ¥2600 round trip. The road does pass through very snowy sections of the Japan Alps, so be careful when you go. The road is only open from early June through November, and the road closes each day at 6PM. Plan accordingly. Up to date access information can be found here.