Hiking, Cycling & Photography in Shiga Highland
Nestled with the expansive area of Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, Shiga Kogen is also commonly referred to as Shiga Highland. Covered in deep snow in winter, the warmer months of the year see the snow retreat to reveal a lush and fertile alpine landscape – offering some of Central Japan’s best hiking and alpine walking from late-May until November.
Already afforded status as a national park, an area with Joshinetsu Kogen was afforded further global recogniation as a UNESCO Biopshere Reserve in 1980. UNESCO – the same branch of the United Nations that awards World Heritage status to sites around the world – grants the status of ‘Biosphere Reserve’ to important ecosystems that can act as model for the balanced existence of people and their environments.
As on 2021, Shiga Kogen Highlands is one of 10 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves along with the famous Yakushima in the Kyushu region and the Southern Alps in Yamanashi Prefecture. The highlands sit within Yamanouchi now making it fantastic reason to visit anytime of year.
Formed by volcanic eruptions that occurred 3 million years ago, the area comprises of rough terrain, mountain ranges and forests with ponds, swamps, high-moors, and rivers, making it a suitable environment for a wide variety of animals, plants, and insects to coexist.
It is recorded that 64 species of birds, Japanese macaques (snow monkeys), ermines, serows, bears, rabbits, and various types of reptilians, insects, and butterflies inhabit the area.
Shiga Highlands is cross-crossed by numerous walking trails with most suitable to anyone of reasonable fitness. Several areas include raised walkway to preserve fragile ecosystems, with more intensive trails leading to multiple mountain peaks over 2000 metres. The highlands offer both fantastic hiking and nature photography opportunities, with autumn and the changing leaves being a particularly stunning time to explore the highlands.
Accommodation ranging from large hotels, to budget lodges and family-run chalets are spread through Shiga, some of which offer rental bicycles with which to explore the highlands.
Roads running through Shiga are well-maintained and easy to cycle – a great way to explore the area and hopefully spot some native wildlife while on the road.Visitors to Yamanouchi can also head to Kita-Shiga Kogen where some great hiking and beautiful views await! Using the Skyland Express Ropeway is the perfect way to access beautiful hiking trails of Kita-Shiga Kogen. Rising to 1770 metres above sea level, the ropeway transports visitors to an beautiful alpine setting where they are free to wander and explore the upper reaches of the area.
These walks are suitable to anyone of reasonable fitness and can be enjoyed from May to November, with autumn being an especially beautiful time to visit.Rising to the upper station at 1770 metres above sea level the large gondola can carry more than 160 people and on a clear day, affords fantastic views of the valley below and the mountains of the North Japan Alps. For further information about the mountains of Yamanouchi in winter, please refer to our ‘Shiga Kogen & Kita-Shiga Kogen in Winter’ page.