Kamikochi is one of the top mountain resorts in Japan. This highly-praised retreat rests 1,500 meters above sea level between the many spectacular peaks of the Northern Japan Alps in Nagano Prefecture. The beautiful mountain range surrounding Kamikochi is often compared to the famous European Alps for its incredible hiking courses and breathtaking views. Kamikochi is part of the larger Chubu Sangaku National Park which holds a number of scenic attractions like natural hot springs, ski resorts, and unbelievable alpine vistas. However, the highland plateau of Kamikochi stands above the rest.
The hiking paths along the Azusa River Valley in Kamikochi appeal to outdoor enthusiasts from all around Japan. Exploring the routes reveal breathtaking views of the many clear-watered ponds and incredible mountain peaks of the Northern Japan Alps surrounding the resort. The formation of Kamikochi began 12,000 years ago from a combination of volcanic activity and erosion from the Azusa River. To preserve the pristine natural beauty and tranquility of the area, private vehicles have been banned from entering Kamikochi. That doesn’t stop all of the eager travelers from visiting this beloved site. Kamikochi is still accessible by bus or taxi from mid/late April to November.
2-day and 4-day bus passes are available to be bought by visitors for 5,000 yen and 10,000 yen respectively from Matsumoto Bus Terminal or Shin Shimashima Station. These passes provide access to Kamikochi and the surrounding area’s many attractions like Norikura Highlands. The incredible journey through the beautiful Northern Japan Alps is well worth the trip for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds.
A direct bus service is available to Kamikochi from Shinjuku, Tokyo. Prices range from 6,200 yen to around 9,000 yen, depending on how early you reserve tickets. The ride from Shinjuku takes approximately 5 – 7 hours. If you’re traveling from Nagano Prefecture, it’s possible to get to Kamikochi from Matsumoto Station. First, take the Matsumoto Dentsu Line to Shin-Shimashima Station. From there take a bus bound for Kamikochi.
One of Kamikochi’s most popular attractions is Taisho Pond. It is also one of its newest natural features. The serene pool of cool, clear water was formed in 1915 when the nearby volcano Yakedake erupted and dammed the Azusa River. Old, decaying trees still reach out from the pond as a monument to previous terrain before the area was affected by the volcanic activity. The still, mirror-like water of Tashiro pond reflects the mountainous landscape of the Northern Japan Alps. Small boats are also available for hikers to row across the pond to enjoy the scenery.
Taisho Pond is on the simplest, but most beautiful spots to enjoy hiking in Japan. The pond is only a short walk along the river from the Kamikochi bus terminal. Signs along the path direct hikers toward the pond. Since the trail is mostly flat, it’s easy to admire the view during the hike without worrying about getting too tired, even though completing the whole course takes about 2 to 3 hours.
Kappabashi is a beautiful suspension bridge that serves as the main resting point for hikers enjoying the stroll through the beautiful scenery of Kamikochi. The bridge offers one of the most iconic views of the area. From the picturesque bridge you get the crystal-clear river and several peaks for the incredible Northern Japan Alps. Looking downriver gives a view of Mt. Takedake, the iconic volcano that helped form the breathtaking scenery of Kamikochi.
Kappabashi is one of the liveliest areas around the hiking trails of Kamikochi. Visitors can rest here and enjoy one of the many restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops the popular area has to offer. As you may have guessed from the name, Kappabashi inspired the 1927 novel “Kappa” which introduced the famous aquatic creatures of the same name into Japanese folklore.
The Takezawa Marsh is another popular checkpoint for hikers strolling through Kamikochi. The area is rich with wildlife and plant life. The quiet beauty of Kamikochi is easy to appreciate while walking along the natural marsh. It is only a 5–6 minute walk from the famous Kappabashi. The calm, clear waters of Takezawa Marsh provide a unique view of Japanese nature that you can’t usually find throughout the abundant hiking trails in Japan.
The Shin-Hotaka Ropeway is Japan’s only double-decker ropeway. The massive cable cars carry passengers 1,000 meters up the Hotake Mountain Range. The top of the ropeway, at an altitude of 2,150 meters, provides unforgettable panoramic views of the Northern Japan Alps. To reach these heights, the line has some very steep climbs, making the trip to the top more exciting than your average cable car ride.
Restaurants, souvenir shops, hiking trails and a spacious observation deck are all available at the top. Round trip tickets are available for 2,900 yen, but for hikers wanting to explore the scenic trails from the top, one-way tickets to the top are also available for 1,600 yen. Hiking trails provide spectacular views of the Northern Japan Alps from the upper station all the way down into Kamikochi. If your legs can take it, the hike should take around 4 hours. Be sure to bring enough water and adequate hiking gear.
The Ropeway is open from 8:30 to 16:45 from April to November and from 9:00 to 16:15 from December to March. Hourly buses from Takayama Station take visitors to the ropeway for 2,160 yen. The bus ride takes about 90 minutes.
Mt. Norikuradake is one of the tallest mountain peaks in the Northern Japan Alps. This 3,026-meter-high mountain peak is a spectacular place for hiking in Japan and other outdoor activities. Cyclists also love gliding down the winding mountain roads while enjoying the view. Busses take visitors all the way up near the peak of the volcanic mountain on one of Japan’s highest roads. The grassy hills make the peak of Mt. Norikuradake a popular destination for hikers famed for its colors and serene views of the surrounding scenery. Due to weather conditions, the path is closed during the winter.
Kamikochi’s exclusivity and natural beauty make it a truly special destination for hiking in Japan. The view in autumn, around October, is especially spectacular as the leaves change colors. Because of the limited access, Kamikochi can be quite crowded during its open seasons. Be sure to plan your trip ahead of time.
Are you planning your trip to Japan? Check our travel articles and find many other amazing places to visit in the Land of the Rising Sun!
Andrew Smith is an American writer living in Tokyo. In his free time, he enjoys, photography, live music, and exploring Japan. His goal is to visit and write about every prefecture in Japan someday.