Rankoshi Gravel Grinding – The Hinode-Asahidai Hills

Posted on Jul 11, 2019
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Posted on Jul 11, 2019

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Reading time: 4 min
25km

Distance

0.5 days

Time

800m

Ascent

450m

Highest point

5/10

Difficulty

10%

Paved

Due west of the hustle and bustle of Mt Niseko-Annupuri’s ski fields lie a series of rolling foothills that buttress the rest of the Niseko volcano range on its way to the coast. Hidden amongst the lush green vegetation of these hills lie a couple of dozen well maintained but largely un-trafficked gravel roads. This loop encompasses a few of them and provides a healthy dose of heart pumping ups, adrenaline inducing downs, beautiful mountain streams and an all-gender onsen option to finish.

Last updated Oct 31, 2019

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

The route climbs and descends several of the gravel roads up and down the Hinode (日出) and Asahidai (旭台) hills. These lie North-West of Niseko town and are most easily accessible loop from the Kombu Train station (昆布駅) or by car from other townships in the area. Kombu is easily accessed by rail on the Hakodate Main Line with several services running from Sapporo station (札幌) each day and taking about 3hr for the journey.

General notes

I’m lucky enough to have a small cabin nestled in the trees of the Yunosato (湯里) subdivision nearby; as such, this route has been on my radar for a while. There are several more good looking options including a 3rd road that runs down another ridge further west. If you’re up for exploring (and sharing your updates in the comments below) then I recommend Open Street Maps (rather than Google) as it has more of the roads marked.

While I rode the loop on my fat-bike, it’s also suitable for a standard mountain bike or a gravel/cyclocross bike. I’d recommend 32mm+ tires because it does get a bit rough in places and they’ll also make for faster and more thrilling downhills.

The route is shown with a start-point at the Kombu Station which is your nearest public transport option. If driving your own vehicle you may like to begin and end your loop at the Bears Café to minimize your time spent on pavement; they also bake a mean camembert filled bread roll.

  • Bike rental: Your best bet for bike rentals are the folks at Rhythm Japan in Hirafu (比羅夫). They have a broad range of rental bikes including MTBs, fat-bikes and kids bikes.
  • Food. A great spot for lunch or dinner, including an amazing spicy-miso-roast-pork-ramen, is Kobito (こびと) which is also just along route 66.

Route markers

This route is not marked, and there are plenty of forks in the road which require some route-finding skills.

Route Timing

It took me about 2.5 hours to ride the loop including plenty of time to stop and take photos. If you’re training for your next Xterra then you’ll obviously be much quicker and equally, you could easily take a full half day to potter around. There are two distinct uphill pitches, each about 400m of climbing. Once you’re done it’s an easy roll back down Route 66 to the Niseko Grand Hotel (ニセコグランドホテル) onsen or back down Route 207 to Kombu.

Physical maps

Explore the official Japan topomaps online for the area around Hinode-Asahidai here. Follow these instructions to print out the area you would like as a hardcopy.

Route safety

This route is reasonably safe in that there should be no traffic on any of the gravel roads and limited traffic even when you are on pavement. Any carnage is going to be entirely of your own doing so be mindful of the fast downhill sections. It is all fairly low altitude (<500m) but this being Hokkaido, there is the potential for poor weather turning to snow in the spring and autumn months.

While you’re never more than about 5km as the crow-flies from civilization this route is remote and you will find cell coverage spotty at times. Carrying a Spot/inReach makes good sense, especially if going solo. It’s also a good idea to register your plans using Mt-Compass and you can see our guide here.

This route is not snow cleared in the winter and it is impractical to ride even with a full 5” tire fat-bike. Best stick to skiing in winter.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Hinode-Asahidai
Other resources

This Yahoo blogs post from 2012 provides some details (in Japanese) and additional photos of the Hot Spring Motomiyayakushi Shrine (温泉本宮薬師神社) which you will pass on the journey.

Onsen nearby

To say that the area is blessed with onsen would be an understatement, the Niseko tourism guide lists 15 and this sadly excludes some that have closed in recent years. Indeed, you’ll pass by the old foundations of an onsen early in the journey. The buildings that you see on Google street-view have been removed in recent years but there’s still a running hot spring and, if you’re brave, you could probably still take a dip

 

Good options after your trip are the Niseko Grand Hotel (ニセコグランドホテル) just down route 66.This is the only all-gender onsen in the region though simple cotton body-tubes area available for the shy. If you’re staying in Kombu or came by train then the logical choice is Yusenkaku onsen (幽泉閣) near the station. Finally, if you’ve not had enough workout yet then you even ride up Route 66 to the sulfurous Yukichichibu onsen (交流促進センター 雪秩父) in Chisenpuri or even further up the hill to Goshiki onsen (五色温泉旅館).

As a special treat, the Niseko Konbu Onsen Tsuruga Bessou Moku no Sho (ニセコ昆布温泉 鶴雅別荘 杢の抄), a luxury ryokan, offers a kaiseki dinner and bathing package for between 10,000 and 17,000 per person; there is no onsen only option I am afraid.

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

You’ve got options in terms of how and where you start this route. I’ve included directions from the township of Kombu becasue theat’s your best public transport option. This route is one of a series that I am hoping to do around Rankoshi-chō (蘭越町) and I’ve got a blog-post here that provides an overview of all of them and some guidance for multi-day trips.

Starting from the Kombu township, you’ll ride north acros the Shiribetsu River (尻別川) and shortly thereafter begin climbing into the Hinode (日出) hills . There’s a little gravel track that will take you up to route 207 (or you can ride up the sealed road) and then you’ll drop down a bit to the East beofe climbing steeply up to the Yunosato Onsen subdivision. 

The subdivision was established in the early 1970s, complete with tennis courts, hiking trails, an outdoor onsen among other amenities. This was at a time when Japan could see endless economic expansion in it’s future… Sapporo-salary-man needed a place to get away to for summer weekends in his Toyota Crown and Yunosato was where it was going to be at!…then salary-man forgot to have babies,  and that being a bit of a requirement to keep growing the population and building lots of houses… Yunosato never really took off… So, on the map, Yunosato looks like an expansive and well manicured subdivision but when you get there you’ll find that it’s largely returned to nature. It’s an amazing place to explore, especially once you’ve riden up and across route 207 once again; you’ll find dual carriage way sealed roads running into mown grass roads into overgrown thickets that are all but impenetrable.

Yunosato is also a fantastic place to come for a snow-shoe in the winter as many of the roads aren’t cleared. 

Yunosato subdivision, orthophotograph, circa. summer 1976 (Photo by Geospatial Information Authority of Japan)

From Yunosato you’ll travel along some quiet sealed roads for a kilometer or so and then began a descent through deeper forested area to the Hot Spring Motomiyayakushi Shrine 温泉本宮薬師神社. This area was, until quite recently (mid 00’s at least), an onsen and the foundations and pool area are still visible on the ride. The buildings that are shown in Google’s satellite photos are no more, but unlike many older buildings in the area they have been fully removed rather than just being left to rot.

The road turns to gravel from here and about 250m up the road is the shrine (jinja 神社) itself. You’ll pass through the torii (鳥居) and then climb a grassy trail about 200m in length. As this climbs, the shinden (神殿) will come in two view. The whole shrine is very well maintained and as you continue past the ceremonial buildings you will find a small house like structure and more pipework for the onsen. 

From the onsen area the gravel road begins to climb consistently once again through a series of sharp bends and then, as the forest clears to farmland, several large arcing corners. The various peaks of the Niseko range will be visible, as will Yōtei-zan (羊蹄山) in places.  

You’ll continue on, crossing the Baba River (馬 場 川) which is a spring fed stream with a source up the road in Chisenpuri. The road is in fantastic condition all the way from Motomiyayakushi up to Route 66; a likely combination of both the hard work of the Rankoshi Town (蘭越町) administration and the near absence of vehicular traffic. 

As you near Route 66 you’ll ride past a sealed road that climbs up from your left; you’ll be coming up this road on your return journey in an hour or so so make a mental snapshot.

Once you reach Route 66 turn left and travel about 300m up a short rise on the sealed road to find your downhill track on the left. You should be able to follow your nose on the descent as you once again cross farmland and then drop more steeply back towards the valley bottom. The trail was pretty obvious and pretty clear when I rode this in early June, but, I suspect that it’ll get quite jungle-ey come late summer.  This section has potential to run pretty fast if you want but there are not big drops or any objective danger apart from the consequences of an off at speed.

You’ll emerge back to ‘civilization’ at a stream crossing and just down the road from a small farmlet. Turn left and ride a short distance on the sealed road before beginning the climb back up the ridge. The uphill stretch is much more clear of vegetation and so your progress will be restricted only by your fitness here.

You’ll end up back at the point you passed earlier in the ride. Turn right and double-back on your previous track for a couple of hundred meters before climbing new track once again back up to Route 66.

That’s about it; from here you can ride back down to Kombu or I’d suggest heading down Route 66 towards Kutchan for lunch, dinner or an onsen.

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Done this route up to Hinode-Asahidai? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback or queries here. Thanks!

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