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
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.