Awesome Autumn: A scenic autumn drive through the Hakusan Shirakawa-go White Road
The breathtaking autumn scenery across the mountainsides of the Hakusan Shirakawa-go White Road (白山白川郷ホワイトロード) is often missed by tourists as it is less well known and less accessible than nearby famous sights.
But if you are travelling in the area in autumn, and all the more so if you are driving, this is a place you should definitely see in all its autumnal glory.
This 33.3km long scenic driving road begins in Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県 Ishikawa-ken) near the base of Hakusan (白山), one of Japan’s sacred mountains, and winds through the mountains of the Hakusan National Park before crossing over into Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県 Gifu-ken) where the road ends at UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirakawa-go (白川郷).
Along the route are many waterfalls, large and small, and multiple vantage points from which to admire the colourful foliage-covered mountains, scenery that is well worth the effort to get there.
Highlights of the White Road: Waterfalls
Look out for waterfalls which appear by the side of the road. (Image credit: Anna Wong)
There are no less than seven waterfalls along the White Road, ranging from powerful cascades to streaming rivulets. Some can only be seen from a distance, usually from small parking areas or the road shoulder, while others can be seen up close.
Ubagataki. (Image credit: Anna Wong)
Among these, the most notable ones are the Fukube Falls (ふくべの大滝 Fukube no ōtaki), a massive 86m cascade which you cannot miss while driving in the direction of Hakusan to Shirakawa-go (a sign will point it out if you are travelling in the opposite direction), and the hidden Ubagataki (姥ヶ滝), one of Japan’s top 100 waterfalls.
The map to Ubagataki and the steep staircase which leads to it. (Image credit: Anna Wong)
To get to Ubagataki, it takes about 15 minutes to walk from the car park, down a steep flight of stairs and along a forested trail, but the trip feels like a hidden side adventure on your journey along the White Road. There is even a natural hot spring footbath (足湯 ashiyu) just across from the waterfall where you can soak your feet while admiring the view.
Highlights of the White Road: The views
Breathtaking views of mountains covered in autumn colours can be seen along the White Road. (Image credit: Anna Wong)
Thanks to the range of elevation, the autumn colours along the White Road can be enjoyed from mid-October through early November, with the end of October to beginning of November showing the most coloured foliage in recent years. You may wish to check the foliage conditions on their official website before you go.
View of the road from Kunimi Observatory. (Image credit: Anna Wong)
At the best timing, you can enjoy colourful mountain scenes through most of your drive and amazing panoramas from multiple observatories along the route. From the Kunimi Observatory (国見展望台 Kunimi tenbōdai), you can see the hairpin turns of the White Road against the coloured mountainside, while from the Shirakawago Observatory (白川郷展望台 Shirakawagō tenbōdai), newly renovated in 2022, you can get a panorama overlooking the Shirakawa-go area.
Highlights of the White Road: Shirakawa-go
Shirakawa-go at its peak autumn colours, usually after that of the White Road. (Image credit: Anna Wong)
The White Road ends just outside the village of Shirakawa-go (白川郷), which makes it the perfect place to visit before or after your drive through.
The peak autumn colours here tend to be later than those of the White Road, so catching the best colours at one would mean that the colours have not fully turned, or are almost over, at the other.
Shirakawa-go. (Image credit: Anna Wong)
In any case, you can spend an enjoyable time in Shirakawa-go, soaking in its culture, visiting its iconic gassho (合掌 hands in prayer) style houses and eating some delicious hoba miso (朴葉味噌 miso on a Magnolia leaf) with Hida beef.
Address: 517 Hatogaya, Shirakawa-go, Ohno-gun, Gifu-ken, Japan 501-5692
Nearest station: Takayama Station (高山駅 Takayama eki), Kanazawa Station (金沢駅 Kanazawa eki), Toyama Station (富山駅 Toyama eki)
Nearest bus stop: Shirakawa-go Bus Terminal (白川郷バスターミナル)
Access: Take the highway bus from Takayama Station, Kanazawa Station, or Toyama Station to Shirakawa-go Bus Terminal
Getting to the White Road
(Image credit: Anna Wong)
The White Road can be travelled in either direction, from Hakusan to Shirakawa-go or vice versa, although I would recommend starting from Hakusan and visiting Shirakawa-go after as the road closes in the late afternoon.
To get here from Ishikawa Prefecture, follow National Route 157 and 360 from Kanazawa (金沢) or Komatsu (小松)to the entrance of the White Road. If coming from Shirakawa-go, take National Route 156 to the entrance just outside the village. You can also search for Hakusan Shirakawa-go White Road on Google Maps.
Do note that cellular reception can be limited along the road, and that there is only one lane in each direction with many turns and changes in elevation.
For those not already travelling by car, you can rent one for a day trip to the White Road and Shirakawa-go from Kanazawa Station (金沢駅 Kanazawa eki), or stay at the hot spring hotels around Kaga Onsen Station (加賀温泉駅 Kaga onsen eki) before picking up a car there. After completing the White Road, you can travel onwards to Toyama (富山) or Takayama (高山), or return back to Kanazawa via the expressway.
Do note that the White Road is closed in winter from mid-November till the end of May, so heading here in autumn is not only a great chance to catch the autumn scenery, it is also the last chance to travel on the road for the year.
Before you go, do check the official website for updates on the condition of the road and the autumn leaves.
Hakusan Shirakawa-go White Road (白山白川郷ホワイトロード)
Opening hours: 07:00–18:00 (Early June to August); 08:00–17:00 (September to 10 November): (Closed during winter and spring, period may vary)
Admission fee (Toll charges): ¥1,700 per entry (Standard car)
Header image credit: Anna Wong