Need to do a bit of exercise to shed those extra pounds gained during the holiday season? What better way than to explore the city on two wheels and let the fresh winter air hit you in the face. The Kumamoto prefecture has several scenic biking routes of varying lengths and difficulties. The spectacular and challenging Mount Aso trails are probably off the cards during the colder months but you might want to give the following a try.
One of the prefecture’s most popular and peaceful cycling routes, this road runs from Kumamoto City to the pretty onsen location of Yamaga City. It’s just shy of 34 km in total length so can be cycled in around 2-3 hours at a leisurely pace. The route is considered moderately challenging as there is some uphill cycling involved. It starts next to the Isseri river behind Kumamoto Castle and runs north along the river and then follows an old disused railway track. There are a number of historical and cultural heritage sights along the route as well as some nice countryside views. If you have time, it’s worth spending a couple of hours or so wandering around Yamaga before heading back, or perhaps even booking accommodation and staying the night.
This is a bit more of a gentle, and shorter, ride taking in some of Kumamoto’s most well-known attractions. It starts in Suizenji Garden, which is just east of the downtown area. This beautiful traditional Japanese garden was created in the 17th century and has an array of horticultural delights, tea houses, souvenir stores and even a shrine. You might want to walk your bike through here to take in the glory of the garden. Once exiting the garden to the south, you’ll find Lake Ezu, which is a natural lake fed by underground springs bubbling up from the gardens. The whole lake is around 6 km in perimeter so you can cycle all the way around in 20-30 minutes. Much of the lake is surrounded by proper cycle paths, making this an easy and relaxing route that takes you past cafes, shops, the city zoo and botanical gardens.
Another pleasant and moderately challenging route, this one takes you alongside and then across the Kikuchi river in the north of the prefecture. The river, which is not far from Mount Aso, was recently designated a Japanese Heritage site and there is plenty to enjoy on this cycling trail that runs at approximately 23 km and lasts about two hours at a moderate cycling pace. However, there are plenty of historic sites to enjoy along the ride so you may want to allocate a bit more time. The ride doesn’t travel along the whole river, which is about 71 km in length but encompasses the Kumamoto towns of Tamana, Yamaga, Kikuchi and Nagomi.
One for the slightly more dedicated riders, this route takes you from Kumamoto city to the village of Minamiaso that sits in the Aso caldera in the east of the prefecture. The journey is around 40 km in length so you’ll need a good 3-4 hours and it’s probably better to either do an overnight stay or get a train for the return journey unless you’re up for cycling 7-8 hours in one day. The ride involves a stretch of the Highway 57 but then diverts towards the Shirakawa Gorge where you can take in some breath-taking scenery, although expect some uphill peddling so don’t tackle unless you’re prepared for a bit of a workout.