Nature can be the ultimate luxury—choosing to travel somewhere that will delight our senses and inspire. Welcome to White Road. Passing through the mountains from the base of Mt. Hakusan to the famous village of Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture is an unforgettable drive. Breathtaking views and stunning waterfalls give you a glimpse of the rich biodiversity of Hakusan National Park. It is all right there; pretty amazing for a toll road.
Renting a car is the most convenient way to travel. There are car rental outlets at Kanazawa Station, Komatsu Airport, and Kaga Onsen Station. The tour company, White Ring, also runs a bus tour from Kanazawa taking the Hakusan White Road to the celebrated UNESCO world heritage village, Shirakawa-go.
Open from early June to mid-November
33.3 kilometers long; climb to 1,450 meters at the highest drivable point
Before jumping in the car to tour the Hakusan Shirakawa-go White Road from Ishikawa Prefecture, there are some sites that beg exploring. One stop within the Hakusan City area you should include is Tedori Gorge, with its breathtaking ravine, and shrine (Shirayamahime-jinja) dedicated to the mountain. You will find a smaller satellite version of the same shrine at the peak of Mt. Hakusan.
The Hakusan White Road starts on Route 360 and leads to the Chugu Toll Gate. There are numerous places along the way to stop and appreciate the beech forests, scenic vistas, gorgeous autumn foliage or perhaps fresh greens, as well as waterfalls, observatories, and natural hot springs.
Although it takes about one hour to drive the entire road without stopping, allow yourself some time to appreciate the Hakusan National Park area. Keep in mind, drivers are advised only to stop at designated places to ensure safety for all, especially with some tight curves and occasional fog.
One of the first stops on the road is Chugu resthouse, where you can sample seasonal mushrooms and mountain vegetables, or sansai in Japanese, and various local specialties, notably, sushi made with a special and sustainable fish called char (iwana in Japanese). The incredibly fresh char is caught right out of nearby mountain streams.
Also worth a visit is the Chugu Onsen Visitor Center and Chugu Exhibition Hall, explaining the wealth of flora and fauna within the Hakusan area and the different manners of life which evolved in the foothills. Back outside, take a walk on the nature trail along the Jadani River. You may even spot wild monkeys near the path.
Your drive along the winding road includes many waterfalls cascading down the mountain. You can't miss Shiritaka Waterfall, with water falling in three stages. There is no shortage of places to take phenomenal photos, and one of the best views is at Ubagataki Waterfall. Better yet, enjoy the outdoor bath at Oyadaninoyu hot spring at the base of Ubagataki Waterfall and snap your camera from there.
The highest accessible point along the Hakusan White Road is Sanpoiwadake Peak at 1,736 meters. The hiking trail to the peak starts at the Sanpoiwadake Parking Lot on the opposite side of the tunnel that connects Ishikawa and Gifu prefectures. It takes 50 minutes to reach the top, walking through a pristine natural beech forest with air that is crisp and sweet. Prepare for panoramic views of Mt. Hakusan and the North Japan Alps.
On the Gifu side of the mountain pass, the road becomes extremely curvy. There is one rest stop before exiting the toll road—Rennyo Tea House offers meals and souvenirs, along with views of the valleys before travelers make their way down to Ogimachi village. It is a short distance to Shirakawa-go, with its iconic thatched roof houses, and a thrilling glimpse into a different time. Just a bit farther away is the historical town of Takayama, a 50-minute drive from Shirakawa-go.
For its forests, waterfalls and streams leading to the wonderland of thatched ”gassho-zukuri” homes, it is no wonder that UNESCO deems this whole area worthy of celebration.