Summer Activities in Yamanouchi
Most famous for the ‘Snow Monkeys’ of Jigokudani and ski resorts of Shiga Kogen and Kita-Shiga Kogen, Yamanouchi is well-established as one of Nagano’s most popular winter destinations.
Yet people are discovering there is just as much, if not even more to do, in summer! Here are our recommendations of summer activities in Yamanouchi:
JIGOKUDANI MONKEY PARK / all year round
Starting with the blossoms in spring, April sees the year’s baby monkeys start to appear in the park. Typically born from late-April through to June, spring and early summer is one of the best times of year to visit the park, as the adorable little monkeys begin their first awkward exploration of their big new world.
The monkey park remains open throughout the year with each season – whether it be spring, summer, autumn or winter – offering its own reasons to visit. Visitor numbers are much lower in spring, summer and autumn than in winter, and with the park and forest trail free of snow and ice, visitors are free to explore the park and surrounding beauty of Kanbayashi Onsen at their leisure.
Notably cooler than the cities in summer, a visit to the park offers a welcome escape from the heat and humidity of Japan’s urban centres.
ROPEWAYS OF YAMANOUCHI / most of the year
As the weather warms and the snow melts, it’s the perfect time to head back in to the mountains of Shiga Kogen and Kita-Shiga Kogen to enjoy the beautiful alpine landscapes. After a short break following the end of the ski reason, the three ropeways of Yamanouchi 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.
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.
The Skyland Express Ropeway is located in Kita-Shiga Kogen and operates for most of the year including from May until November. 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.
Located next to the upper gondola station, Sora Terrace is an observation deck and café offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
HIKING IN SHIGA KOGEN & KITA-SHIGA KOGEN / late-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 1981, the highlands cradle 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 throughout Shiga and Kita-Shiga, enticing visitors to stay and escape the worst of the summer heat and humidity in the world below.
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.
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.
TRAIL RUNNING EVENTS / July & October
Held in July, the Shiga Kogen Mountain Trail Run includes 40km and 14.8km alpine running races with a notably shorter 1 to 3km children’s event, followed by the Shiga Kogen Extreme Trail Run in October including 54km, 32km and 8km events and also featuring a 1 to 3km children’s race. Races are great fun and supported by a welcoming running community. They are however also highly demanding and longer races should only be undertaken be persons of suitable fitness and preparation. For the safety of entrants, event organisers reserve the right to refuse entry to the races. But whether you running or simply there to watch, these are increasingly popular and fun events in Yamanochi’s yearly calendar.
FRUIT-PICKING IN YAMANOUCHI / July to November
Summer through to autumn sees the many farms of Yamanouchi producing some of Central Japan’s best fruit and vegetables – most famously, apples and grapes.
Growing many varieties of apples including well-loved Fuji and San Fuji types, the pronounced temperature difference between day and night promotes the growth of delicious apples which you can pick and enjoy for yourself and several of the region’s many orchards.
This leisurely activity is suitable for all ages and is particularly popular with families, whose children relish the rare chance to be among orchards and choosing their own delicious apples directly from the tree. Farms surround both Yudanaka Onsen and Shibu Onsen with the greatest number of orchards on the other side of the Yomase River. The ‘Kitashinshu-Yamanouci Michi no Eki’ (road station) also sells local produce. A short walk from many orchards it’s a great place to start for visitors wanting to buy some of Nagano’s best fruit and vegetables.
JOIN THE FUN OF A SUMMER FESTIVAL / July & August
The summer festivals of Yamanouchi are in full-swing through July and August including the Yudanaka Summer Festival and Shibu Onsen Summer Festival. Both festivals see events and activities spread through each day during the evening, with a strong focus on community and a welcoming attitude for visitors. Forget the huge crowds and famous festivals of Tokyo and Kyoto! The emphasis here is on the local and bringing a small community together to enjoy warm summer nights, good food and drink, laughter and dancing.
DRIVE THE SHIGA KUSATSU KOGEN ROUTE / May to November
Also called the Shiga Kusatsu Road, the Shiga-Kusatsu Kogen Route connects Kanbayashi Onsen and the Jigokudani Monkey Park with Kusatsu Onsen in GunmaIn 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.