Ishikawa Prefecture is situated on the Sea of Japan on the main island on Honshu. It’s an area of staggering scenic beauty, making this the perfect destination for an action-packed outdoor holiday. Ishikawa nature highlights range from remote wilderness areas on the Noto Peninsula to manicured Kenrokuen Garden, one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. What follows is the definitive outdoor adventure guide for Ishikawa.
Ishikawa’s natural highlights are indelibly shaped by its location. Set between the Sea of Japan and striking mountain spires, there’s a range of superlative outdoor activities on offer here, from epic hikes to winter skiing and fabulous cycling trails. An outdoor adventure holiday is a great way to get up close and personal with the area’s natural bounty, but also to gain intimate insights into Ishikawa’s people and culture.
The variety of landscapes and habitats in Ishikawa makes its outdoor opportunities incredibly varied, and there’s something for every type of traveller. Sure, there’s hair-raising ski runs for the bold, and bracing coastal hikes, but there are also leisurely strolls and peaceful gardens to relax in. Among the glorious parks in Ishikawa is Kenrokuen Garden, one of the country’s most famous and a lesson in harmonious East Asian garden design. And when your feet need a total breather, there’s always a steamy hot spring (onsen) round the corner.
If you’re planning a trip to Ishikawa Prefecture and want to make the most of the great outdoors, you’ll want to pick your season carefully. Spring is the most popular time to visit, when temperatures are mild and there’s little rainfall. Naturally, this is the best season for hiking, cycling and other fair-weather pursuits. The months of June through August mark the hot and humid summer season; expect heavy rainfall between mid-June and mid-July. Skiers and snowboarders can bank on snow between December and February. Even the coldest days are frequently bright and clear, making Ishikawa a great base for winter sports. Whenever you choose to come, you’ll be treated to warm Ishikawa hospitality.
When you’re out and about in Ishikawa nature, whether you’re hiking or skiing, cycling or kayaking, you should take all the usual safety precautions that your sport demands. Ensure you have all the correct equipment and supplies for your excursion, dress appropriately (including layering up) and heed all local safety advice on the ground. If you’re striking out on your own, bring a map and plenty of food and water, and let someone know when you expect to be back. Taking the elements seriously is crucial, especially when you’re on unfamiliar terrain.
One of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, Kenrokuen was first laid out by the Maeda family in 1676, though construction continued over the next two centuries. Once the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle, the grounds comprise almost 28 acres. Visitors have been welcomed to enjoy its natural offerings since 1874.
Kenrokuen is a leading example of East Asian garden design. Though this is a Japanese garden, it takes its principles in harmony and balance from Chinese landscape theory. Kenrokuen means “Garden of the Six Sublimities”; the sublimities in question are spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, flowing water and wide views. Combined, these features are meant to create the perfect garden, and walking around Kenrokuen, it’s hard to disagree. There’s plenty to admire on a short stroll, from quaint bridges to pretty teahouses, colourful flowers to grand standing stones, sweeping views and hidden nooks and crannies.
The active volcano of Mount Hakusan (or Hakusan, for short), is one of Japan’s Three Sacred Peaks. It is laced with a series of spectacular hiking trails, which offer plenty of variety in terms of scenery, terrain and difficulty. Pilgrims have climbed Mount Hakusan for millenia, taking in its steep mountainsides, dramatic coastlines and plunging gorges. The volcano technically has three peaks, and the whole area is recognized by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve, an accolade bestowed for its dense forests, twinkling lakes and wild bouquet of Alpine plants and flowers.
There are any number of hikes and walks in the Mount Hakusan area, including along Tedori Canyon (8km) and Kakusenkei Gorge (1.3km). However, the most popular route is undoubtedly the hike up Mount Hakusan itself. There are ten main trails that lead to the top, so you can choose one to suit your level of experience and ability. The most popular route takes a couple of days, so be prepared for an overnight stay. Heed all the usual hiking safety protocols, and bring enough layers to protect you from the elements on the mountain’s snow-capped peak.
Ishikawa Prefecture is famous for its coastal position on the Sea of Japan, and the Noto Peninsula, which juts out into the ocean, is one of the most beautiful areas. While you’ll find sandy bays and quiet spots on Noto, the ruggy and craggy bits are the most dramatic, and exploring here you’ll get a real sense of wilderness. Look out for striking rock formations like Ganmon sea cave, Madoiwa on the Sosogi Coast, and the towering hulk of Mitsukejima island. The views, meanwhile, are best appreciated from Cape Rokko; come at the start or end of the day for an unforgettable sunrise or sunset.
You’ll have your choice of fantastic skiing resorts in Ishikawa, where taking to the slopes and admiring the spellbinding scenery is unforgettable. The largest resort is Hakusan Ichirino, which is a great option for families – there’s a kids’ park for sledding and snow tubing. If you’re a more experienced skier, plump for Hakusan Seymour Ski Resort, which has longer runs and more specialized courses.
For the best panoramas and terrific mountainscapes, take the gondola ride up to Shishiku Highland. You can sled from here, or just marvel at the splendid views. If you come in spring or summer, book a paragliding experience and see it like the birds do.
Ishikawa’s water-sports capital is Tsukumo Bay, located on the eastern side of the Noto Peninsula. Adrenaline junkies can get their fill here, where outfits offer everything from kayaking to stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking to fishing. If you want to take to the waters in a more refined manner, book a boat trip up and down the coastline, and admire its jagged rock formations and hidden coves. Alternatively, do as the locals do and set up camp on a swimming beach on the Uchinada Coast. Dive right in.
If the hike up Mount Hakusan feels a bit too intimidating, there are any number of pleasant walks in Ishikawa that are far less demanding. The Kaga Coast Nature Trail, for instance, is a 4km jaunt along the gorgeous coastline, where the elements have sculpted shapely sand dunes and craggy sea cliffs. The Suzu Point Nature Trail is another local gem, taking in the tip of the Noto Peninsula, where you’ll be met with tremendous views. Alternatively, just a stone’s throw from the centre of Kanazawa, you can walk the easily accessible paths of Mount Utatsu. As well as yet more lovely views, there’s a pretty shrine to explore and a café to rest up.
To explore the region on two wheels, hire a bike and follow the Tedori Canyon Road, a designated cycle trail from Old Ichinomiya Station to the Roadside Station Sena in Oguchi. The beautiful cycling path meanders its way along the route of an old railway line, past verdant rice paddies, tumbling waterfalls and bubbling springs. Scenic highlights include the 680-year-old Oboke-sugi Cedar Tree, Watagataki Waterfall and views over the gaping chasm of Tedori Gorge. Pack a picnic lunch and hit the 20km trail for a great day in the saddle.
There’s no better way to get close to Ishikawa nature than by getting out and about in the great outdoors. Whether you’re a hiker, biker, skier or swimmer, you’ll find activities galore to suit every taste and budget.
You can reach Ishikawa by train, plane or bus. The shinkansen (bullet trains) and Express Trains run from Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya stations to Kanazawa Station (the main train hub) and takes between 2h30min to 3hr. Flights from Tokyo’s Haneda and Narita airports take 1hr–1hr25mins. Alternatively, you can take the bus from Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka (and more) in under 5hrs, although it’s worth pointing out that Tokyo’s night bus takes around 8hrs.
Top image: Ganmon Rock in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
This article was created in partnership with Ishikawa Travel.