Translated by Sandy Lau
Kamikochi Guide – Scenic Spots, Hiking Routes, Lodgings, And Travel Tips
Written by ISHIGAKI KUMIKO
Kamikochi is Japan’s most foremost mountain resort in Nagano, with its majestic mountains and natural scenery. This article is a complete guide to Kamikochi, including hiking spots, seasonal nature, how to get there from Tokyo, and tips to enjoy a trip.
Kamikochi – A Mountain Resort Surrounded by Natural Beauty
Average summer temperatures on the plateau are around a cool 20°C (68°F), beckoning both hikers and travelers to visit and escape the summer heat. Direct express buses depart from Tokyo. Additionally, it's a popular sightseeing area accessible from the metropolitan area via public transportation in about five hours.
Kamikochi has many flat areas, which is unusual for a mountainous area, and carefully maintained walking trails. Everyone can enjoy a trek in the area as long as you wear sturdy, easy to walk in shoes.
In this article, we introduce what to do when traveling to Kamikochi for the first time. This trip itinerary includes amazing scenery spots, recommended hiking trails, seasonal highlights, precautions, and more.
Kamikochi’s Picturesque Spots
The Symbolic Kappa Bridge
Kappa Bridge is a place you'll want to make your way to when visiting Kamikochi. From this wooden suspension bridge, you can see an impressive sight consisting of a mountain range known as the Japanese Alps (*1) and the flowing Azusa River.
Its surroundings bustle with hotels and camping grounds. The bridge is also five minutes on foot from the Kamikochi Bus Terminal: one of the stops along the shuttle bus. Be sure to remember this area as the center of Kamikochi.
*1 The Japanese Alps: the generic term for three mountain ranges that include Mt. Hotaka and Mt. Yari. The mountains were named to indicate that they were as beautiful as the European Alps. Additionally, the Japanese Alps were introduced to the world by British researchers that lived in Japan during the 1800s.
Azusa River – Flowing From East to West
The Azusa River, which the Kappa Bridge is built over, is a clear stream flowing from the east to the west of central Kamikochi. A walking promenade is available on both sides of the river, making it most suitable for hiking. From the left bank, the Azusa River Crank is a fantastic viewpoint where you can view a meandering section of the river.
Walk down the right bank, and you'll arrive at the Weston Area. A beautiful and extensive view of Mt. Roppyaku and Mt. Kasumizawa can be seen from this spot.
Tashiro Bridge and Hotaka Bridge
The Tashiro Bridge and Hotaka Bridge are two spanning structures built over the Azusa River, where a human-made sandbar sits at its center.
On the other side of the bridge, there is a hiking course and nature research trail. Be sure to remember that this is where the promenade ends. It would also be lovely to take a short break on the bridge as you feel refreshed by the sight of rich greenery and the sound of the river's murmurs.
The Quiet Dakesawa Marsh Reflecting the Blue Sky
After crossing the Kappa Bridge from the Kamikochi Bus Terminal, walk for about 15 minutes on the promenade to the right of the Azusa River. You'll soon arrive at the Dakesawa Marsh.
This small marsh seems to appear unexpectedly past the conifer forest, presenting a whimsical scene of clear, gushing water and withered trees. We especially recommend heading there in the early morning to see the light shining on the marsh.
The Sublime Myojin Pond
Hike for about one hour from the Kappa Bridge, and you'll start to see the Myojin Pond. Hotaka Shrine Okumiya has been erected on the shores of the pond. The entire area was once honored as a holy precinct with Mt. Myojin as the object of worship since ancient times.
Myojin Pond is also nicknamed the Mirror Pond. The sight of the surrounding trees and clear skies reflected in the waters fill the pond with a mystical ambiance befitting of a sacred place.
See the Taisho Pond on an Early Morning Walk
The Taisho Pond came to be formed during the Taisho Period (1915) after a volcanic eruption from Mt. Yake.
Its charm lies in the gigantic panorama of Mt. Hotaka reflected in the water on sunny days. However, the silhouette of withered trees emerges on the white, hazy waters when the mist rises in the early morning and forms an otherworldly sight.
The Transparent Waters of Tashiro Pond
The Tashiro Pond, found in the middle of a primeval forest, will capture a serene view of several islets in a shallow pond.
This spot is full of seasonal attractions. During the summer, the baikamo (a freshwater plant) sways in the water with daylilies and cowberries. In autumn, visitors can see the fall foliage while hard rime coating the trees with white ice crystals make their appearance around November.
Enjoy Kamikochi on a Walk
Use the Correct Bus Terminal for your Destination!
Driving in Kamikochi is restricted as it is an area of special nature conservation. As a result, travelers heading to Kamikochi from Nagano Prefecture's Matsumoto area must transfer to a shuttle bus from Shinshimashima Station. There are three bus stops: Kamikochi Bus Terminal, Teikoku (Imperial) Hotel Mae, and Taisho Pond. They are all along the Azusa River. Alight at the stop corresponding to your destination and enjoy your hike.
Kamikochi Bus Terminal: Located next to the Kappa Bridge and has a terminal for express buses and taxis. There is also an information center here.
Teikoku Hotel Mae: Located by the Kamikochi Imperial Hotel. It is the nearest stop to the Tashiro Bridge and Hotaka Bridge.
Taisho Pond: It is only a minute on foot to the Taisho Pond from the bus stop. We recommend getting off at this stop if that's where you want to go.
Taisho Pond-Tashiro Pond-Tashiro Bridge-Kappa Bridge (1 Hour)
If you don't have much time to spend in Kamikochi, we recommend the trail that starts from the Taisho Pond Bus Stop. You will then walk towards Kappa Bridge on the promenade.
Walk for about 20 minutes from Taisho Pond, and you'll arrive at Tashiro Pond with Tashiro Marsh located right nearby. This area is popular among visitors as a stunning view spot from where you'll see Mt. Hotaka in Kamikochi, so please stop by if you have the extra time.
Kappa Bridge-Dakesawa Marsh-Myojin Pond-Kappa Bridge (3 Hours)
If you have about three hours to spare, we recommend the trail that starts from Kappa Bridge by taking the promenade on either side of the Azusa River. You’ll then walk around Dakesawa Marsh and Myojin Pond—both popular sightseeing spots—then turn around before making your way back to Kappa Bridge.
Kamonjigoya (Japanese) by Myojin Pond is a diner and souvenir shop where you can eat white-spotted char cuisine. It is a spot you’ll want to stop by and check out.
Stay in Kamikochi to Enjoy Nature’s Beauty
Kamikochi is great for a day trip. However, only visitors who stay in the area overnight can see special sights. These include the Taisho Pond enveloped in the early morning mist and the beautiful starry sky that is unique to mountainous areas with fresh air.
There are approximately 18 accommodations standing side by side in Kamikochi with a range of styles from the classic, luxury resort hotel to the casual-style lodge. You’re sure to find lodging that's perfect for your trip needs.
Next, we’ll introduce lodgings we especially recommend to visitors wanting to enjoy the natural landscape.
Kamikochi Hotel Shirakabaso – A Superb Location Surrounded in Nature
Picture courtesy of Kamikochi Hotel Shirakabaso
Picture courtesy of Kamikochi Hotel Shirakabaso
Kamikochi Hotel Shirakabaso, situated in the Kappa Bridge's vicinity, will allow you to experience a stunning mountain view.
From the guestrooms, the dynamic view of Mt. Hotaka—a symbol of Kamikochi—is an exclusive view that only guests can keep to themselves. In April 2019, the 90-year-old hotel was renovated. The new Japanese modern guestrooms created with wild trees have a sophisticated ambiance. It'll definitely raise your excitement to embark on a trip.
Picture courtesy of Kamikochi Hotel Shirakabaso
Outside of the winter season, the hotel has a permanent nature guide (Japanese) who holds daily 60-minute tours four times a day. Your satisfaction will increase with detailed explanations from a professional tour guide!
April 24 – November 14 (held every day)
60-minute tours four times a day at 9:00/10:30/13:00/14:30
Fee: 1,000 yen
Konashidaira Camping Retreat – An Ideal Place for Campers
The Konashidaira Camping Retreat is an accommodation recommended to travelers that love camping.
This facility is a five-minute walk from Kappa Bridge and has excellent accessibility. Scattered throughout the campsite are nine villa-esque cabins of varying sizes among the wild trees with 32 rooms in total. There are also areas equipped with tents where you can barbeque and enjoy camping.
Tools and ingredients necessary for camping can are available from an on-site store in the facility. The accommodations are fully -furnished with a large public bath and excellent facilities. In the summer, pre-pitched tents are installed at the campsite, making it great even for beginners!
Climate and Attire by Season in Kamikochi
Check for the Best Season
While you can enjoy all four seasons in Kamikochi, the most popular and peak times are during the fresh greenery season from mid-April to mid-May and the end of tsuyu (rainy season) from late July to late August.
The contrasting beauty of the lush mountain greenery and flowers with the snow-capped peak resembles a painting. Although the valley will be crowded with travelers, we recommend visiting during these seasonal shifts on your first visit to Kamikochi.
The fall foliage season from late September to late October is another tourist-drawing time. As the plants begin to change color, the mountains will simultaneously appear differently than in the summer. The temperature will also drop once mid-November passes, with the mountains gradually becoming covered in snow. The snowfall will result in possible accidents and other dangers, so please refrain from traveling to the valley until the spring.
Weather and Attire
The appropriate season for traveling to Kamikochi is from April to November. Next, we'll tell you about what factors to keep in mind regarding the climate and attire for each season.
During the spring, the amount of warmer days will start to increase from mid-April. However, this will also result in sudden changes in temperatures between day and night. As such, it will be useful to have windbreakers and other clothing that can be layered to accommodate varying temperatures.
Kamikochi is known for being cool even during the summers due to its high altitude—with the highest temperature averaging at below 25°C (77°F). Although the climate is pleasant, the sun's rays will remain harsh. Don’t forget to prevent sunburns with hats, long-sleeved shirts, and sunscreen!
Once autumn has arrived, cold weather items like fleece jackets and hoodies are essential because there will be many days when the lowest temperature reaches below 10°C (50°F). It also rains often due to the typhoon season, so be sure to visit with raingear on hand.
Access to Kamikochi
Tokyo to Kamikochi
Photo by Pixta
If you'll be heading to Kamikochi from the Tokyo area, then it'll be most convenient to take the Sawayaka Shinshu Line, an express bus with few transfers. It departs from three stations—Tokyo, Shinjuku, and Shibuya Station—and if you take the 22:00 bus, you will arrive by 5:20.
A bus that leaves Shinjuku at 7:15 is also available and will arrive at 12:02, making it convenient if you prefer to travel during the day. Bus fares will vary on the route and date of departure, but a one-way ticket costs from 6,700 yen.
For those taking train, take the JR Azusa Limited Express from Shinjuku Station to Matsumoto Station. Transfer to Matsumoto Railway at Matsumoto Station. Get off at Shinshimashima Station, then take the bus headed for Kamikochi. The entire travel time is around five hours. The fare will cost 9,200 yen one-way for both the train and bus.
A Complete 1-Night Plan in Matsumoto
Photo by Pixta
Taking the Azusa Limited Express straight from Shinjuku to Matsumoto will be about two and a half hours. Matsumoto is home to the Matsumoto Castle—a National Treasure of Japan—and once flourished as a castle town during the Edo Period.
The city has a retro townscape that will give you a taste of old Japan with spots like Nakamachi Street and Nawate Shopping District, lined with rows of storehouse-like buildings. If you’re traveling to Nagano, it's a great idea to stay overnight in Matsumoto before making your way to Kamikochi.
Follow the Rules and Have a Fun Kamikochi Hike!
Kamikochi receives numerous travelers each year. As such, there are five rules for hiking and mountaineering.
・No Taking – Please do not take any plants, insects, or living organisms from the valley.
・No Feeding – Please do not feed the wild animals.
・No Littering – Please take all your trash home with you.
・No Bringing In – Please do not bring pets or non-native species to the valley.
・No Trespassing – Please do not walk outside of the designated paths.
The stunning sights in Kamikochi have been preserved because visitors have abided by these rules and manners. Go and refresh both your mind and body in the majestic nature of Kamikochi!
*This article was rewritten from an article originally published on November 2, 2015.