Nozawa Onsen Mountain Biking: Green Season’s Best Kept Secret

Learn more about mountain biking in Nozawa

Nozawa Onsen — the cozy mountain village in the Japanese Alps — will always be known for its free onsens, world-class skiing, and rich cultural traditions. But as the snow melts away and the village edges into Green Season, there’s one emerging scene that has all the locals buzzing — Nozawa Onsen mountain biking.

Nozawa Onsen may not be the first Nagano mountain biking destination that comes to mind. After all, neighboring Hakuba has a well-established network of trails and bike parks.

However, Nozawa is quickly becoming a mandatory stop for serious mountain bikers looking to bolster their Summer holiday in Japan. The historic onsen village welcomes riders from all around Japan and the rest of the world.

Here’s what you need to know to start planning your upcoming Nozawa Onsen mountain biking trip.

Nozawa Onsen Mountain Biking Trails

Nozawa Onsen is home to a burgeoning mountain bike scene. The mountain bike trails have been carved in various areas around the mountain for nearly 10 years. However, in recent years, increased course maintenance and the hard work from dedicated locals have taken the riding experience to a whole new level.

One of the main draws of Nozawa Onsen’s mountain bike trails is the ability to immerse riders in nature on courses that are adequately marked and maintained. The Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort does an excellent job maintaining a natural experience with minimal course tape to keep you on track as you make your way down the mountain.

The vast network of trails allows riders to experience all the natural beauty that Nozawa Onsen has to offer — including flowing streams and expansive views of the valley and neighboring mountains. You may even be lucky enough to spot a few friendly animals from afar like bears and kamoshika.

Let’s take a look at the type of terrain you can expect when you arrive for your Japan mountain biking trip.

Mountain Bike Trail Overview

The Nozawa Onsen mountain bike trails have something to offer everyone. Novices and experts alike have a variety of trails at their finger tips to choose from.

Trails are intertwined through dedicated mountain bike tree runs, repurposed ski runs, and a few road crossings. The trails have an abundance of natural features complemented by playful manmade jumps, banks, and bridge crossings.

All trails can be accessed via the Nagasaka Gondola, one of Japan’s newest and speedy lifts. With a run time of around 10 minutes, you’ll be able to ride as many runs as your body can handle.

Additionally, there are even more unofficial trails you can access in the surrounding area. Although, you may need to befriend some locals or hire a mountain bike guide to find these hidden gems.

There are three grades of trails riders can choose from:

Green Trails (Beginner)

There are plenty of Green courses for riders of all skill levels to enjoy.

Novices can comfortably cruise down the mountain enjoying spectacular views of the surrounding area. These runs are ideal for the entire family and riders of all ages.

You’ll find a mix of moderately graded faces and wide open trails. As you weave your way down the mountain, you’ll pop in and out of the trees and experience some of the best natural scenery Nozawa has to offer.

Expert riders shouldn’t be fooled by the “Beginner” designation. You can still crank up the speed and experience some of the best rides on the mountain on Green courses.

Blue Trails (Intermediate)

Once you’ve mastered the Green courses, you can turn it up a notch on the Blue courses.

Blue courses are still approachable for new mountain bikers while offering additional features for seasoned riders. The trails are slightly tighter with playful turns and a handful of manageable jumps.

Here you’ll find a few more riding challenges to up your skills before making your way to the Red courses.

Red Trails (Advanced)

Ask any local and they’ll tell you that the Red trails aren’t for the faint of heart. Here you’ll find steep terrain, technical switchbacks, and challenging obstacles.

Courses like Wiggle and Whistler provide incredibly fun drops and cruisy berm sections. On other courses — like Linkan and Challenge — you’ll find a variety of steep banks and decent sized jumps.

Red courses are for the most advanced riders, yet are still approachable for those looking to improve their skills. Make sure to check out the Green and Blue courses before conquering the Reds — especially if you’re new to mountain biking.

General Information for Nozawa Onsen Mountain Biking

There are a few details you’ll likely want to know before making the journey to Nozawa Onsen for your next mountain biking trip. Let’s cover the basics — like when the mountain is open, how much riding passes cost, and how you can rent riding gear.

Days and Hours of Operation

The Nozawa Onsen mountain bike course opens shortly after the Spring melt starting in July and runs until the end of October.

This gives you ample time to enjoy the lush green scenery as Nozawa eases its way into Summer, then undergoes its dramatic transformation as Autumn approaches.

The Nagasaka Gondola — which is your fast-track to the top — operates seven days per week from 9:00 to 16:00.

Make sure to keep an eye on the forecast as inclement weather may alter operating hours.

Cost of Nozawa Onsen Lift Passes

The Nozawa Onsen mountain bike trails can be accessed once paying a usage fee for the Nagasaka Gondola. You can purchase one-time, daily, or season passes at the base of the  mountain near the Nagasaka Gondola.

The current prices for the 2022 mountain biking season are as follows:

One-Time Pass

  • Adults: ¥2,000
  • Children (Under 15): ¥1,200

Daily Pass

  • Adults: ¥5,000
  • Children: ¥3,000

Season Pass

  • Adults: ¥45,000
  • Children: ¥27,000

Nozawa Onsen residents receive a 50% discount for one-time and daily passes, however, season passes are currently full price for all riders.

You’ll first need to fill out a registration form with your personal and emergency contact information. From there, you’ll receive your riding pass which should be attached to your handle bars.

After a long day of riding, return this pass to the ticket office and make your way to one of Nozawa’s many free local onsens for a post-ride soak.

Rental Equipment

Rentals are available for those who are without riding equipment or simply can’t be bothered to travel with their gear.

You’ll need a properly maintained mountain bike that’s capable of handling Nozawa’s terrain. Helmets are also required for all riders. Additional equipment, like gloves, goggles, and pads aren’t required but highly recommended.

Mt. Dock, the local mountain bike rental shop, can help with all your rental needs. Their shop is located right next to the ticket office at the base of the mountain.

Mt. Dock offers a variety of rental options including standard mountain bikes, full-suspension bikes, and E-bikes. Prices vary depending on which bike you choose and the duration of your rental. A standard mountain bike rental starts at ¥4,400 for a half day.

Additionally, you can reserve full or half day mountain bike tours or lessons to maximize your riding time.

Make sure to stop in and chat with the staff before riding, even if you don’t require any rental gear. Their local knowledge can point you in the right direction and help make the most of your day on the mountain.

Mountain Bike Trail Overview

A trip to Nozawa Onsen for mountain biking is the perfect addition to any Summer holiday in Japan.

Serious riders can access plenty of challenging terrain and try to conquer the mountain before sundown. There’s also an abundance of beginner and intermediate courses, making it an ideal choice for a family outing in the beautiful mountains of Nagano.

There’s a good chance the charm of village will keep you around long after your ride. Book your accommodation in Nozawa Onsen, visit one of the many free onsens, and finish your day at a top-notch restaurant for some local Nagano cuisine.

Photos courtesy of Daigo Takeuchi



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