The 10 Best Winter Activities in Nagano

Nagano Chubu

Nagano is a popular holiday destination easily accessible from Tokyo by JR Hokuriku Shinkansen. It boasts a comfortable mild climate in summer with stunning scenery created by mountain ranges known as the Japanese Alps. The mountainscape in combination with beautiful trees, plants and wildlife make Nagano the perfect place to relax all year round. Many people visit Nagano from spring to fall. The mountains are a very welcome place to escape the blistering heat in summer. But Nagano is also one of Japan’s best places to go in winter! With heavy snowfall it offers a wide range of winter adventures and memorable experiences which can be enjoyed regardless of age. Here we prepared our list of 10 best winter experiences that you can’t miss in Nagano!    

1. Skiing in Hakuba and Shiga Kogen

One of the best ways to make the most of your time in Nagano is definitely trying winter activities. Nagano is home to world-class ski resorts, a true mecca for winter sports’ lovers from all over the world. Hakuba and Shiga Kogen are popular ski destinations in Japan with a great number of ski resorts with different levels of runs and slopes. There is a convenient express bus service that connects the two areas during the winter season. Taking the bus service will allow you to visit both of the areas and enjoy skiing while surrounded by stunning sceneries completely covered with powder snow in winter! 

Snow Hakuba

2. Kamakura no Sato 2022

Kamakura no Sato (Kamakura Snow Dome Village) is a scenic tourist attraction in Iiyama city, Nagano. Iiyama city is widely famous for the heavy snowfall during winter season, which enables locals to create snow huts (kamakura) and so attract tourists to the small village. You can have a memorable dining experience inside the snow huts which are beautifully lit up at night. Don’t miss the delicious hot pot made from locally sourced ingredients such as fresh vegetables and pork! During the Kamakura Festival annually held during the second weekend of February, the snowy village offers a range of enjoyable events, including snow activities for children and firework displays at night!  

kamakura no sato snow dome

Iiyama Snow Hut Village 2022
January 21 – February 27
Admission village: free
Restaurant ¥3,700 – ¥4,200 per person with noroshinabe (booking required)

3. Visit a winter festival

If you don’t mind the cold winter weather in Nagano, grab your coat and go outside to join great winter festivals. Nagano offers a range of lively winter festivals which feature different types of performances, exhibitions and exciting events that keep you warm even on a snowy day.

Head to Matsumoto Castle Ice Sculpture Festival at the end of January, ice sculptors from all over Japan compete in the national ice carving competition championship. You can enjoy a number of ice sculptures exhibited around the historic castle designated as Japan’s National Treasure. Zenko-ji Omotesando Illumination is held from early November to mid-March at the 1.8 km street leading up to the Zenkoji Temple. Nagano Tomyo Lantern Festival is another fun winter festival which takes place at the same temple in the beginning of February. Nozawa Fire Festival is well-known as one of Japan’s three great fire festivals with over 150 years of history! Every year on January 15th, this massive bonfire attracts a number of visitors to Nozawa Onsen.

4. Snowshoeing & Winter Activities

Snowshoeing is a perfect winter activity option which is enjoyable even for beginners. It enables you to explore the snowy mountains or frozen trails easily, actively and comfortably with fun. There are several companies that offer exciting guided tours. From snowshoeing to snow rafting, and from back country tours to snowmobile tours, everything is offered in Nagano. Especially in Shiga Kogen and Hakuba, you will find many different winter activities!

Recommended winter activities in Nagano

snowmobile

5. Visit the snow monkeys

Not only with the great ski resorts Nagano draws numerous visitors from every corner of the world. One of Nagano’s most famous attractions are the snow monkeys of Jigokudani Monkey Park! This world-famous tourist attraction is located in the mountainous valley of the Yokoyu river. If you visit there in the winter season, you will be welcomed by countless numbers of wild monkeys relaxing in natural hot springs to keep themselves warm on the cold winter days! Enjoy watching them bathing and roaming around the park freely. You can take pictures with them, but make sure to keep a safe distance from them as they are wild animals. Don’t forget to bring suitable winter shoes and warm clothes as it takes about 35 minutes to walk through a rough trail up to the park from the nearest bus stop!

Snow Monkey Nagano

6. Togakushi Shrine

Togakushi Shrine is a magical historic site nestled in a sacred mountainous area at the base of Mt. Togakushi, Nagano city. The shrine complex consists of five shrines which are connected by beautiful hiking trails passing through sacred forests. In winter, the forests get covered with an abundance of crispy snow creating a magnificent scenery. Enjoy the walk along the trails lined with centuries-old cedar trees in the snow and visit the historic buildings with over 2,000 years of history. While you are there, make sure to try the local specialty Togakushi Soba Noodle. This noodle from Nagano is a must-try that will get you all geared up for your hiking adventure.

Nankou Oronain (as36…, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

7. Nozawa Onsen

If you travel around Japan in winter, nothing can feel better than soaking in a relaxing hot spring against a snowy backdrop! Nozawa Onsen is a peaceful hot spring resort nestled at the base of Mt. Kenashi. Despite its small size, it is home to a great number of traditional Japanese ryokan which offer an unforgettable stay experience for everyone. Enjoy exploring a wide range of local shops and restaurants, or book a winter adventure tour and go snowshoe or backcountry skiing. Head to Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort and hit the family-friendly slopes, or join Nozawa Fire Festival which is annually held on January 15th!

8. Buddhist Practices at Zenkoji

Zenkoji Temple (善光寺) is one of the most famous and important Buddhist temples in Japan with more than 1,400 years of history. Visiting the temple itself will definitely be a memorable experience, but there are actually more special ways to make your visit extraordinary. They offer a range of interesting Buddhist practices that visitors can experience. Try Zazen (Zen meditation), Shakyo (Hand-copying Buddhist Scriptures) or Goma Prayer at Daikanjin Temple located within the same temple ground. You can also attend a morning service known as Oasa-ji held every day early in the morning!

9. Hike the Nakasendo Trail

The Nakasendo is a scenic mountain trail featuring well-preserved historic houses and buildings that date back to the Edo period (1603-1868). The trail was originally completed as one of the five main routes connecting Edo (old name of Tokyo) all the way to Kyoto. Today it attracts numerous visitors with the stunning townscape as well as the refreshing walking trails running through sacred mountains of the Kiso valley.

If you want to enjoy walking through Nakasendo in winter, head to the beautiful hiking trail between Magome-juku and Tsumago-juku. The small towns both once served as post towns to offer accommodation for travelers to stay overnight as they were travelling between Kyoto and Tokyo. This hiking trail is safe and easy to tackle regardless of physical abilities. It generally takes 2-3 hours to complete the approximately 8 kilometers of beautiful trail full of natural attractions such as refreshing waterfalls! You can hike (parts of) the Nakasendo trail all year round, but the traditional townscape blanketed in snow is just extra magical! In February, the streets of the Nakasendo trail and the foot of Mount Ontake will be illuminated with thousands of beautiful handmade ice candles.

10. Outlet Shopping in Karuizawa

If you want to do some shopping before you go, head to Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza! This large outlet mall is home to about 200 shops including high-end brands, household goods, world-famous sportswear brands, casual restaurants, cozy cafes and much more! Enjoy tax-free shopping at most of the outlet shops to get some extra discount on top of the already low prices all year round. When you need a break from shopping, head to a pleasant lawn field to unwind, or have some food at restaurants which serve local specialties such as Shinshu beef steak and Soba noodles at an affordable price! The outlet mall of Karuizawa is located right next to Karuizawa Station so easy to do as a day trip from Tokyo.

Karuizawa

Don’t forget to check out our private tour!

If you need some help to organize your trip to Japan, you should definitely check out our private tour including an English guide. We’ll gladly help you make your trip to Japan a safe, comfortable, and unforgettable memory!

  1. [Virtual Tour] Tokyo Highlights
    Join our online tour which takes you to the highlights in Tokyo! Our local guides help you get prepared for your next trip to Japan!  
  2. Kyoto Private Full Day Walking Tour [Customizable]
    Enjoy exploring the beautiful city of Kyoto home to several world-famous historic sites! Winter is a great time to visit Kyoto, the city usually doesn’t have many snow days so when there is snow on the ground, we recommend to head straight to the temple and shrine grounds. It will truly be a sight to behold.

From crisp snowfalls to sweltering heat, Nagano is a great place to enjoy four stunning seasons in Japan. However, in winter the snow transforms the Nagano area into stunning scenes. Traveling to Nagano in winter is a great way to explore popular tourist destinations in the area. Hit the slopes and enjoy skiing or other winter sports activities, visit famous local winter festivals, and most of all, capture the spectacular sceneries created by beautiful snow. Make sure to check the availability of each activity in advance as they might be occasionally cancelled due to a heavy snowfall. You should also be well prepared for the (unpredictable) winter weather, especially when you go up to the mountains.

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Happy travelling!

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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with travelling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.

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