Hiking in Kamikochi – A True Nature Lover’s Paradise

Kamikochi Chubu

Hiking is one of the most popular weekend pastimes for people who live in Japan. This is no wonder, as 70% of the country consists of mountainous areas, which means that Japan is dotted with amazing hiking opportunities. One of the best hiking areas in Japan is a remote highland valley in the Hida Mountain Range called Kamikochi (上高地). People from all over the world travel to Japan to go hiking in Kamikochi, located in Nagano Prefecture – known for its great winter season. Besides the beautiful mountain range, flora and fauna you can also expect to encounter some wildlife such as monkeys and various birds. Bears are rarely encountered, but there have been bear sightings each year. Let us help you plan your weekend trip to Kamikochi with an introduction of hiking here, how to get there, and an example Kamikochi itinerary for an easy and a moderate hike.

Note: Kamikochi is open from mid/late April until November 15 and shuts down during winter. In 2021, Kamikochi is scheduled to be open from April 17 to November 15.

How to get to Kamikochi

By public transportation: one of the easiest ways to get to Kamikochi from Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto is by taking a direct bus. A one way trip from Tokyo takes 5-7 hours and costs ¥6,000 ~ ¥10,000. You cna board the bus to Kamikochi at several places in Tokyo, including Shinjuku, Shibuya and Tokyo Staion. Online reservations are recommended, especially in the summer holidays and in the koyo season.

If you are coming from elsewhere or prefer to take the train for most of the way, you can first take the train to either Matsumoto (east) or Takayama (west). From Matsumoto you have to take the train to Shin-shimashima from where you can take a direct bus to Kamikochi. From Takayama you first have to take the bus to Hirayu Onsen, and from there you can take a direct bus or taxi to Kamikochi.

By car: you should either aim for the Sawando Parking Area (coming from the Matsumoto direction) or for the Hirayu Parking Area (coming from the Takayama direction). Private cars are forbidden to enter Kamikochi itself to protect the environment. From the parking areas it is around 25 minutes by bus or taxi to get to Kamikochi itself. There are bus terminals at both parking areas.

By bicycle: you can bicycle toward the area up to one of the bus terminals, so you can aim at either Sawando Parking Area or Hirayu Parking Area. Please note that to take a bus or a train you are allowed to bring your bicycle on a bus for a small fee, as long as it is inside a bicycle bag.

Kamikochi from Kappabashi

Hiking in Kamikochi: Part of the Chubu Sangaku National Park

The Chubu Sangaku National Park is one of the most accessible parks where you can enjoy the great outdoors of Japan. Kamikochi is one of the most famous parts of this park, and it is a large area that offers hiking opportunities to hikers of all levels. It attracts walkers who are just looking to spend some leisurely time in nature to those who are experienced rock climbers. While some hikes can be completed within one day (like a walk around Tokusawa), many courses require multiple days so it is important to plan your hike well!

Things you need to know before hiking Kamikochi

You need to submit your itinerary for some courses, book mountain hut accommodation or a camping spot for overnight stays, and you need to bring the right equipment for the more difficult courses. If you are an experienced hiker who is planning to do a more difficult trek, this website has good information on Kamikochi to help you prepare.

For the easier one-day courses, less preparation is needed but you still need to dress appropriately for the weather conditions of that time. It is a good idea to wear fleece and bring a sweater for the colder periods (even in summer), wear comfortable socks and hiking shoes or boots, raingear, a whistle, and a first-aid kit. For using the toilets you are asked to pay ¥100 for the maintenance of the park and the toilets. Bringing a good backpack with a pocket knife and enough food/drinks is also wise. There are several restaurants and facilities located in the lower area of Kamikochi, but as you hike further along the river and up the mountains, faculties are limited. Please note that Kamikochi is only open for hiking from mid/late April until November 15 as the trails close during the winter period for safety reasons.

Easy Kamikochi Itinerary (1.5h) Taisho Pond – Tashiro Pond – Kappabashi (Azusa River Valley)

After arriving in Kamikochi in the morning or early afternoon we recommend starting with the most accessible and popular area of the park, the Azusa River Valley. If you get off at the Taisho-ike (大正池) bus stop, you are at the Taisho Pond. This pond was formed by volcanic activity and offers a great view of the surrounding mountains with a clear reflection of the mountains in the pond. Follow the hiking trail towards Kappabashi and pass by Tashiro Pond. This is also known for being one of the area’s most photogenic spots.

Kappabashi is the center of Kamikochi, and around the Kappabashi bridge you can find amenities like a visitors center, small restaurants and hotels, and some shops. This hike covers mostly flat terrain and requires little to no hiking experience.

Kappabashi Kamikochi
Kappabashi Bridge

If you want to do another hike you can go to the Myojin Pond and back to Kappabashi via a different trail. This will take an additional 3.5 hours, and it is very much worth the trek. Myojin Pond is another famous highlight in Kamikochi with a tranquil atmosphere, a small shrine, and pretty foliage in autumn.

Kamikochi
Myojin Pond

Day hikes in Kamikochi itineraries

When you stay overnight, we recommend you to take a slightly more strenuous hike and climb one of the mountains surrounding the valley of Kamikochi the next day. There are several mountains that can be climbed, and here we will highlight two options.

1. Mount Yake hike (5.5 hrs)

We especially recommend Mount Yake (焼岳) if you want to do a moderate hike that can be done within one day. You have to have a decent physical fitness level for this hike, but you don’t need to be experienced. Expect a few ladders on the way, though. The total distance will be around 16km for a round-trip.

Mount Yake is an active volcano, which means that there is always a possibility that the trails are closed if activity is too high. On the summit (2455m) you will see a green crater with a small lake in the middle. The total distance elevation is 634m.

Mount Yake
Distance: 8.8km
Elevation Gain: 921m
Time required return trip: 6~9 hours (incl. break time)

2. Tokusawa Area (6 hrs)

The most popular hike of Kamikochi that can be done by anyone, regardless of your fitness level, is the hike from the bus terminal to the Tokusawa Area. From the centre of Kamikochi, Kappa Bridge, continue along the river and through the forested area at the base of the mountains. This enjoyable hike passes Myojin Pond and continues over a quiet, and mainly flat trail. From Kamikochi Bus Terminal to Tokusawa Lodge will take about 2 hrs (6.5km) including some photo breaks along the way. Believe us, you will definitely want to stop along the way to capture the jaw-dropping scenery of the mountains of Kamikochi! At Tokusawa there is a restaurant where you can get some refreshments, including some locally produced softcream! If you are up for it, we highly recommend you continue your hike to Hondani Bridge. It adds another ~2 hrs to your itinerary, but the view at the bridge is breathtaking.

Kamikochi

Tokusawa Area hike
Distance: 6.5km
Elevation Gain: 60m
Time required return trip: 6 hours (incl. break time)

Multi-day hike Karasawa

For the experienced hikers amongst us, we recommend making your way up to Karasawa Cirque. From the bus terminal, follow the sign for Tokusawa and Yokoo Sanso and from there continue along the well-marked and maintained trail. When you arrive in Kamikochi early morning, you can directly hike to Karasawa Cirque located at 2.300m. Otherwise you will want to stay the night either at Tokusawa (~2 hrs) or Yokoo Sanso (~3hrs), before continuing. Both places offer a mountain lodge as well as camping grounds. The hike from the bus terminal to Karasawa is absolutely beautiful and well worth the effort and time, however, after Yokoo Sanso the trail gets pretty steep and you need to be well-prepared. Especially when you go at the end of the season you will walk in a snowy landscape. Once you have reached Karasawa, you have to option to hike to the several mountain peaks such as Mt. Oku-Hotaka (3,190m), Mt. Maehotadake (3,090m), or Kitahotakadake (3,106m). This hikes however should only be done by experienced hikers! You can set up your tent at Karasawa Cirque or stay at one of the two lodges.

Karasawa Cirque Kamikochi
Karasawa Cirque (end of October)

Karasawa Cirque Hike
Distance: approx. 30 km
Elevation Gain: 800 m
Time required return trip: ~11 hrs. (2 days, 1 night)

Autumn Foliage in Kamikochi

If you get the opportunity to travel to Japan during the early autumn, you can try to catch the Kamikochi valley erupting into a colorful sea of red, orange, and yellow. This is one of the most popular times to go to Kamikochi, as the scenery is even more incredible than during the rest of the year. It is even considered one of the best places to see the autumn foliage in Japan!

Kamikochi

In the higher parts of the mountains the foliage season starts early October. In order to appreciate the foliage in that area you will have to hike quite far up though, so this is more for the experienced hikers among us. The Karasawa Valley is the best spot for enjoying early foliage. From mid to late October you can enjoy the foliage in the lower-lying Azusa River Valley. Be aware that going to see the colors of autumn in this area is very popular, so it can get extremely crowded in October.

As you see, if you are making a longer trip in Japan, Kamikochi is easy to combine with tourist highlights Takayama and/or Matsumoto.

Where to stay in Kamikochi

Depending on you plans in Kamikochi you will need to arrange your sleeping spot of the night. For a one day hike we there are a few places where you can stay overnight in Kamikochi.

Kamikochi Nishi-itoya Mountain lodge – This ryokan is located near the bus stop and is super convenient to start the Kamikochi 1 day hiking trails.
Kamikochi Lemeiesta Hotel – A mountain resort located about 20 minutes from the bus stop. The area where the property is located, is not accessible after 7pm.

Camping grounds Kamikochi

Along the river, you will find two camping grounds;Tokusawa and Yokoo Sanso. The price to stay overnight for 2 people and 1 tent in ¥4,000. Both camping grounds also offer mountain lodging.

Yokoo Sanso
Yokoo Sanso Camping Ground

A Complete Trip to Japan

Another good idea for anyone who comes to Japan for either the first time or as a repeater is to do an in-depth tour with a local guide in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, or another popular city. Japan Wonder Travel offers all kinds of private tours like food tours, highlights tours, and even specialty tours like visits to the Fukushima disaster area of 2011. No matter what your interest is, we have an expert guide who can give you a great experience in Japan.

If you like hiking in wild nature with breathtaking surroundings, Japan will be a treasure trove. Why not make a trip to Japan that includes a few days of hiking in Kamikochi or another famous hiking area? For anyone who loves trekking, mountain climbing or the outdoor, Kamikochi is an absolute must-visit! Hiking in Kakimochi is simply amazing and it would be a great addition to all the culture and gastronomy you will experience in Japan. 

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Happy travelling!

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Stefanie Akkerman moved from the Netherlands to Japan in 2013 with her Japanese husband and son. She jumped into the niche of Dutch tour guiding in Tokyo and Kamakura in 2015 and occasionally writes articles about all the great sights and activities Japan has to offer. She loves (Japanese) food, and to work that all off she goes diving, snorkeling, cycling, or hiking.

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