If you can hike a trail, you can run it and since the Hakuba Valley has some of the best hiking and walking terrain in Japan that means it’s also a trail runner’s dream come true. From the scenic Valley trail to incredibly beautiful and rugged alpine routes, Hakuba has terrain suitable for runners of every fitness level.
Along the valley’s rivers are a great start for anyone looking to get into trail running. The river trails are wide with a gravel path. The rivers can be incorporated into one big loop of about 10km with an assortment of other trails branching off. These offer steeper pitches and narrower trails that weave through forest. Not all routes are marked so do be careful not to stray from the trails.
For the more seasoned runners the options are endless. It would take a lifetime to explore the varied and ever-growing array of trails spread out across the Hakuba Valley. The lower elevation trails in Hakuba are classic forest singletrack – dense forest and twisting trails with amazingly constructed bridges crossing over flowing streams. The terrain is rocky with plenty of roots and can be muddy at times. This is real wilderness trail running.
One classic Hakuba route is Kikori-no michi, a challenging set of linked trails below the closed ski resorts of Highland and Minekata. Stay alert for mountain bikes though, Kikori-no-mori is also a classic Hakuba MTB route.
With elevations ranging up to 3000 meters, Hakuba’s alpine trails can be challenging with lots of vertical gain and thinner mountain air. Runners are more than compensated with epic views, flowing creeks, summer snow, wildlife sightings, meadows of alpine flowers and plenty of interesting technical terrain.
While running is a relatively simple sport requiring little gear the Hakuba Valley is wild mountain terrain so common sense applies. The weather can change quickly so be prepared with appropriate attire. While road sneakers do work, trail shoes offer much better grip, stability and durability in rugged terrain. It’s also a good idea to run with a friend and let someone know where you are going.
Part of running in the wilderness is the possibility of encountering wildlife, including bears. Nobody likes to be surprised so be bear aware and respect that you are in their habitat. (Many local runners wear bear bells.) Also, most of Hakuba’s best trails are also heavily used by mountain bikers so stay alert and watch out for fast-moving bikers.
International Trail Run
For runners with a competitive streak, Hakuba is host to a fantastic race in late fall, The international Trail Run with over 1700 racers. You can download the 2018 routes here.