Activities in Shiga Kogen
Sitting within the expansive Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, Shiga Kogen is best known as Japan’s largest ski resort and host venue of events during the 1998 Winter Olympics. Needless to say that Shiga’s reputation as one of Central Japan’s leading winter destinations is well-known however what more and more visitors are discovering, is that the region offers activities and events all year round.
Here are just some of the activities enticing visitors to Shiga Kogen throughout the year:
SKIING & SNOWBOARDING / November to May
Nestled within the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, Shiga Kogen is Japan’s largest and highest ski resort. Shiga offers an expansive area to explore and conquer – around 80 courses, spread over a huge variety of terrain connected by more than 50 chairlifts and gondolas. In total, Shiga Kogen offers around 600 hectares of terrain and 80+ km of trails covered by one all-mountain pass.
As Japan’s largest and highest ski resort, Shiga Kogen also offers Nagano’s longest season and best spring-skiing. Conditions depend on the year and season however the highest areas of the resort including Kumanoyu and Yokoteyama usually open around mid to late-November before the entire resort opens in mid-December.
When most resorts are then closing in mid-March, Shiga is going strong and offers Nagano’s best spring-skiing through April – and in a good year – into May! Known for the reliability of its snow and open ski runs, Shiga has long lived in the shadow of more famous resorts but this is quickly changing. Shiga won’t stay quiet for much longer.
SNOWMOBILING & OTHER WINTER ACTIVITIES / December to March
As Japan’s largest resort, Shiga Kogen has plenty to offer through winter. For families, especially those with younger children, the Maruike Snow Activity Park and Yakebitaiyama Family Snow Park offer fenced-off playgrounds where children and families can use sleds, tubes and other snow gear.
Winter visitors to Shiga can also enjoy snowmobiling in the Yakebitai ski fields. One of the most scenic areas of the resort, Yakebitai is the perfect place to enjoy a single or tandem ride, guided by a certified instructor. Want to enjoy these activities in Shiga in combination with a visit to the monkeys? Check-out our winter tours in Shiga Kogen. Available from December to March each year, a tour is a convenient and fun way to enjoy Shiga Kogen at its wintery best!
OLYMPIC CHALLENGE / December to April
Shiga Kogen was a host venue for events during the 1998 Winter Olympics including mens and womens snowboarding events and womens downhill skiing. As the first Olympic Games to include snowboarding as a medalled-event, Shiga Kogen has a strong connection to the development of snowboarding at a winter sport. Today, visitors can still test themselves at the various Olympic courses spread through the resort.
Olympic courses are well-marked and suitable for intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders with the courses in Highashidateyama – used for womens downhill – accessible from the Higashidateyama Ropeway and a great place to start!Just remember, you are sharing the resort with others so go slow and be careful!
SNOW MONKEY BEER LIVE / mid-March
Snow Monkey Beer Live takes place each March in Shiga Kogen. Over three days, the festival sees craft brewers from all over Japan – and a couple of guest brewers from overseas – ply the crowd with their finest beers, soundtracked by live bands and artists. Taking place in mid-March, the festival heralds the end of winter and start of Shiga Kogen’s spring skiing festival. At a time when most other resorts are closely for the season, Shiga is really coming into its owns with Snow Monkey Beer Live the perfect way to make the most of Japan’s largest ski resort.
ROPEWAYS OF SHIGA KOGEN / most of the year
After a short break after winter, the ropeways of Shiga Kogen will begin to operate again and in doing so, provide access to some of the higher reaches of the mountains, leisurely walking trails, and outstanding views.
Located in Shiga Kogen, the Higashidateyama Ropeway transports passengers to 2008 metres above sea level to enjoy panoramic views, a café and alpine botanical garden. Small gondolas allow passengers to ride by themselves or just with family and friends. For visitors wanting to ride the ropeway outside of winter, please note that it operates from early-June to mid-October.
Also in Shiga Kogen and rising to an elevation of 2307, the Yokoteyama Chairlift operates from late-May until the end of October.
At the top, visitors have a panoramic view back for Shiga Kogen and toward the North Japan Alps. A café and viewing deck awaits up top, with walking trails leading back down or further into the national park.
HIKING IN SHIGA KOGEN & KITA-SHIGA KOGEN / May to November
The ski resort and its ropeways sit within the larger expanse of Joshinetsu Kogen National Park and Shiga Kogen Highlands. As such, operation of the ropeways heralds the start of the hiking season in one of Japan’s most beautiful and ecological important alpine landscapes. Numerous trails span-out across an expansive area – ranging from leisurely walks to intensive multi-day hikes.
Declared a UNESCO Biodiversity Reserve in 1980, Shiga Kogen Highlands cradles an important alpine ecosystem, home to numerous unique flora and fauna. A mixed landscape of woodlands, swamps, ponds and high moors is criss-crossed by an array of hiking trails – from well-maintained sealed and elevated walkways to less readily identifiable trails leading deep into the forest and toward the mountain peaks.
Numerous hotels and guesthouses are spread through Shiga and Kita-Shiga, enticing visitors to stay and escape the worst of the summer heat and humidity in the world below.
DRIVE THE SHIGA KUSATSU KOGEN ROUTE / May to November
Also called the Shiga Kusatsu Road, the Shiga-Kusatsu Route connects Kanbayashi Onsen and the Jigokudani Monkey Park with Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma. In doing, the road passes over and through Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, passing the peaks of Mount Yokote (Yokoteyama) and Mount Shirane before reaching Kusatsu.
Due to heavy snow in winter, the road is only open between May and mid to late-November but in that time, offers drivers a beautiful drive on well-maintained roads. Upon opening in spring, visitors can enjoy snow walls lining either side of the road as the pass the higher points near Yokoteyama and Shirane.
Driving the route is a great way to move to and from Yamanouchi but make sure to check advisories as the road can close from time-to-time as a precaution, when activity is detected or expected at Mt. Shirane. Mt. Shirane is an active volcano and your personal safety should be your first priority. The Japan Meteorological Agency provides real-time advice and warnings for the entire country. Prior to visiting Shirane, we recommend checking the following website.
FIREFLIES OF ISHI-NO-YU / late-July
Late-July to the end of August sees Shiga Kogen’s ‘Ishi-no-Yu’ glow brightly in the night as Japan’s highest firefly breeding ground – 1650 metres above sea level – whirls into magical life.
Visitors heading to Shiga to witness this remarkable sight are asked to refrain from using flash photography and avoid using bright lights, such as the screens of mobile phones, to avoid disrupting the fireflies. Should you wish to see the fireflies, we recommend booking a guesthouse nearby.
SHIGA KOGEN MOUNTAIN TRAIL RUN / mid-July
The Shiga Kogen Mountain Trail Run is one of two such events taking place in Shiga Kogen each summer with events including a 40km, 14.8km and 1-3km kids courses. Registration for the races is open from mid to late-February until mid-June (or until capacity is reached). Events are capped at: 40km / 600 participants; 14.8km / 300 participants; and kids 1-3km / 200 participants.
These are serious alpine races attracting both professional and semi-professional athletes. Running across mixed terrain and unsealed tracks, participants need to be of very high fitness.
DAIJA FESTIVAL / mid-August
Taking place in the third week of August, the ‘Daija’ Festival is held in Shiga Kogen and commemorates the legend of a serpent that is said to live in the waters of Onuma Pond.
Having fallen in love with a beautiful princess, the serpent would disguise himself as a samurai but once discovered, Kurohime’s father forbid the relationship and tried to trick the giant snake. Let’s just say the story doesn’t well… culminating in the serpent destroying her father’s castle and Kurohime throwing herself into the pond.
This low-key local festival takes place of three days and includes the Miss Shiga Kogen competition, traditional performances and fireworks.
SHIGA KOGEN EXTREME TRAIL RUN / October
Complementing the Shiga Mountain Trail Run held in July, the Shiga Kogen Extreme Trail Run takes things that little bit further with 54km, 32km and 8km events, along with shorter 1-3km kids event.
Registration for the races is open from mid-July until late-September (or until capacity is reached). Events are capped at: 54km / 400 participants; 32km / 300 participants; 8km / 200 participants; and kids 1-3km / 200 participants. These are serious alpine races attracting both professional and semi-professional athletes. Running across mixed terrain and unsealed tracks, participants need to be of very high fitness.
AUTUMN LEAVES IN SHIGA KOGEN / October to November
For the best autumn leaves in Yamanouchi, make sure to head to Shiga Kogen – one of Nagano’s best known viewing-spots for ‘koyo’ (autumn leaves). Shiga can be easily reached using local buses or a taxi, and once there, is best explore on-foot.
The area is vast and spread over varying elevations, meaning that the leaves will be at their best at different times; and though being at its most beautiful, Shiga is likely to be quiet – a beautiful and tranquil place to enjoy Japan’s beautiful autumn leaves. For the best views, head to either of Shiga’s ropeways – Higashidateyama or Yokoteyama – or the area around Biwaike (Biwa Pond) – as pictured above with map below. Though being at its most beautiful, Shiga is likely to be quiet – a beautiful and tranquil place to enjoy Japan’s beautiful autumn leaves making it a great time of year to stay and enjoy one of Nagano’s most pristine natural landscapes. For hotel listings, please see our ‘Shiga Kogen Area’ hotel page.