Complete Guide to Kamikochi
Overflowing with splendid scenery and some of the freshest air around, Kamikochi is the perfect place to head for a weekend outdoors whether you’re looking for a beautiful setting to take a leisurely stroll or a full weekend of intense hiking or mountain climbing.
Kamikochi, an Introduction
One of the most scenic spots of central Japan, Kamikochi is a well-protected area in the Chubu-Sangaku National Park. Access to the area is limited to keep it in its notably pristine condition with the only way in being via bus or taxi. The majority of visitors are dropped off at Kamikochi Bus Terminal next to the somewhat famous Kappa Bridge. The bus terminal is considered the central meeting point in Kamikochi, and from here one can head in any direction, it leads to different hikes and attractions branching off both north and south along the river whether you’re looking for relatively horizontal routes around lakes and through forests, or an attempt at a more vertical climb up one of the surrounding mountains.
Misty mountains in Kamikochi
Autumn colours and early snow in Kamikochi
Open the mapCheck access information
- Kappa Bridge
- Nagano Pref. Matsumotoshi Adumi Kamikouchi
Hikes in the area vary hugely in difficulty. The Azusa River route is among the flattest and easiest trails in the area with open views out over the surrounding mountains, lakes, and past temples, while heading to Tokusawa takes you down a covered trail through the alpine forests. For a more challenging hike, there are a few mountain routes that make a good half-day or full-day trip. Mt. Yakedake offers one of the gentlest climbs at 2,455 meters which is estimated to take between five and six hours to complete. The other mountains are expected to take one or two days to ascend and descend which include, in order of increasing difficulty, Mt. Chogatake, Mt. Nishi-Hotaka, Mt. Kita-Hotakadake, Mt. Yari, and Dai-Kiretto.
A Japanese Macaque Monkey, Kamikoch
Whichever route you take, it’s recommended to dip through the surrounding woodland areas to check out some of the local wildlife. The tranquil forests are home to troops of macaque monkeys which can be seen playing in the trees. Also known as snow monkeys, these pink-faced primates are celebrated in Nagano Prefecture as they’re tough enough to stick out the bitterly cold winters the prefecture is known for. Other wildlife to look out for include the adorable kamoshika, a fluffy horned animal similar to a mountain goat, and a whole host of birdlife which reside in the national park.
Autumn Colours in Kamikochi
Autumn Colours in Kamikochi
Like much of Japan, the colours of Kamikochi transform with the seasons. Autumn is a particularly spectacular time of year when the larch trees fade to orange and the birch trees glow in vibrant yellow and red hues. As the Hida Mountains become buried in snow in winter Kamikochi can only be accessed between April and November but warm clothes are needed throughout the year with the fresh mountain air growing chilly especially at night. Those camping will need proper sleeping bags and are required to stay in one of the park’s campsites with Onashidaira one of the best spots for a quiet place to set up camp.
Setting up camp in Kamikochi
Hiking in Kamikoch
Arriving at Kamikochi admittedly takes some time but visitors are rewarded with kilometers of beautiful scenery. The best way to explore once you’ve arrived is by foot with walking trails offering a whole host of sights heading off in every direction. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting on October 8th, you can catch the Hotaka Shrine Festival. Follow the Azusa River north up to the picturesque Myojin Pond where the festival is celebrated on the waters. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely trip around the pond on a colourful boat complete with a Heian-style dragon head.
Getting to Kamikochi
With just one route into Kamikochi via the Kama Tunnel and no private cars allowed there are limited options for getting in and out of the area. Once in the Kamikochi area you’ll find even less transport which naturally makes walking the best way to explore, both for seeing the wonderful views and for getting to your accommodation or checking out the shops and food spots.
While taxis are allowed into Kamikochi, fare rates are high making the bus the best option for getting there. Some companies, including the Alpico Group, offer direct buses to Kamikochi from Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto which take between five and seven hours. For the quicker but pricier option, bullet trains stop at Nagano Station from both Tokyo and Shin-Osaka while express trains run all the way to Matsumoto Station.
The Highland Express Bus into Kamikochi
The main buses into Kamikochi are the Highland Express from Matsumoto Station which takes one hour and 45 minutes, and the Nohi Bus which starts at Takayama and heads to Kamikochi via Hirayu Onsen in around one hour. Remember that access in and out of Kamikochi is only available between 5am and 8pm so be sure to get back to the bus terminal in plenty of time if you’re just visiting for one day. If you do have a car, there is parking available at the Hirayu and Sawando parking areas. Shuttle buses running from the car parks into Kamikochi take around 30 minutes.
For those staying overnight, some hotels offer shuttle buses or provide details about the best way to make your way to the accommodation if you’d like to drop your bags off before exploring. However, most buses and taxis will drop you off at Kamikochi Bus Terminal which, as mentioned above, is considered the central point of the whole area. Here, there are a number of shops and a cafeteria as well as the Kamikochi Information Center and the Kamikochi Sightseeing Center. This is a good place to work out your route and stock up on snacks before setting off hiking. As the route is well set up for visitors you’ll find several points along the trails for buying drinks and snacks, while restaurants and cafes are found in clusters around areas with hotels or lodgings.
One place we can highly recommend to rest your weary legs, and fill up with some much-needed grub between adventures in Kamonjigoya, which is situated just beside the Myojin Pond – approximately 45 minutes by foot from Kamikochi Bus Terminal.
Food is served, at Kamonjigoya
Kamonjigoya has a rich history and a unique feel of times-gone-by. It was founded by a local farmer called Kamo-san, with the help of a British Christian Missionary named Walter Western. Western is widely accepted as the person who introduced the pastime of hiking to the Japanese. When Western arrived in Japan in the early 1900s and saw the exceptionally beautiful peaks around Kamikochi he decided to set up the Japan Alpine Club and encouraged ordinary Japanese to try venturing into the mountains to appreciate them through hiking and rambling. Until that time the vast mountainous areas in Japan were considered places only fit for hunter-gatherers, with ordinary folk knowing very little about them.
When Western landed in Nagano he promptly set up the Japan Alpine Club and soon befriended Kamo-san. The pair decided to open a small rest-house in Kamikochi where hiking was picking up in popularity. The rest-house offered people a space to unwind, relax and get a bite to eat. This was the beginning of Kamonjigoya.
The open hearth at Kamonjigoya
The current owner’s wife, at Kamonjigoya
Ever since Kamonjigoya has remained a family business and it is now owned and operated by Kamon-san’s great grandson. Little has changed over the past 100 years here, food is still cooked over an open hearth in the middle of a small wooden hut, and soba noodles are served to be eaten outside surrounded by nature. The atmosphere, distinctly old fashioned! If you happen to be on the Myojin Pond side of Kamikochi, take the time to pop your head in, say hello and grab something to eat!
If one day in the beautiful surroundings of Kamikochi isn’t enough, there is a good selection of accommodation in the area. Prices start at around 5,000 yen per person for the night and offer everything from a simple room to an upmarket stay with your own onsen. Some hotel names include Kamonjigoya mountain lodge, Kamikochi Nishi-Itoya Sanso, Naka no Yu Onsen Ryokan, Tokusawa-en, and Yoko Sanso.
NOTE: All of the above transport information was correct at the time of publishing, but to be on the safe side we recommend you do a quick online search before planning your trip to double check schedules and timetables haven’t changed.