Walking in Kamikochi – Where to Go & What to See
Nestled in the southern end of the Hida Mountains, Kamikochi lies deep within Japan’s highest mountain range – a mecca for mountaineers, hikers and climbers. Inaccessible in winter, the melting snows of spring reveal an enticing and dramatic alpine landscape waiting to be explored and as such, is one of Japan’s best hiking destinations.
Trails span-out across the valley and into the mountains, leading to each of the highest peaks – Mt Yari (3180m), Mt Hotaka (3190m) and Mt Yakedake (2455m). These trails are at a minimum, an overnight undertaking with longer multi-day hikes drawing mountaineers from all over the world. Trails into the mountains can be treacherous and should not be undertaken without appropriate preparation, expertise and notifying park staff when and where you will be going.
For day visitors to Kamikochi the trails leading to and from Kappabashi present easy and highly enjoyable walking. Trails leading from Kappabashi to Myojin Pond and Taisho Pond, are well-maintained with sections of raised wooden walkways to preserve the sensitive ecosystem. Please ensure that you stay on the trail and walkways at all times, and be mindful not to walk through or damage the surrounding environment.
Taisho Pond to Kappabashi / 1 to 1.5 hours
This easy walk can be undertaken by anyone of reasonable fitness. The walk is completely level and offers some fantastic views of Taisho Pond (pictured below), Mt Yakedake and Mt Hotaka, Azusa River and includes a pleasant mix of walking through forests and open areas on a well-maintained trail or raised walkway known as the ‘Nature Research Trail’.
By starting from Taisho Pond, you are immediately introduced to one of Kamikochi’s most famous vistas – the triple-peaked Mt Hotaka rising above the valley, which on a still, clear day, will be reflected magnificently on the water surface.
The trail then leads you into a lightly forested area and crisscrosses pristine waterways. The clarity of the water is stunning and the verdant aquatic plants below the surface are a captivating sight.
As the trail continues you will intermittently come to open areas, offering outstanding views of the surrounding mountains. Around the mid-point of the walk you will pass Hotaka/Tashiro Bridge, which takes you onto the opposite river bank where several hotels and lodges are located.
The walk concludes at Kappabashi (Kappa Bridge, pictured below), an immensely popular scenic point catered for by many restaurants and cafes. An ideal walk when you don’t have much time but want to experience the beauty of Kamikochi.
Kappabashi to Myojin Pond / full circuit 2.5 to 3.5 hours
From Kappabashi we recommend walking along the trail on the western bank of Azusa River – on your left but actually referred as the Azusa River Right Bank Trail as the river is flowing in the opposite direction to which you will walk. You will immediately be captivated by the expansive view of Mt Hotaka and the river shimmering below.
As you move along the trail you’ll pass through cool forests and over pristine waterways including Dakesawa Marsh (pictured below) before diving back into the forest and eventually arriving at Myojin Pond/Hotaka Shrine. The trail is well-maintained and features some raised walkways. While mostly level there are occasional uphill or uneven sections but these are easy to deal with for anyone of reasonable fitness.
This section of the walk takes approximately 1.5 hours. Allowing time to enjoy the pond and shrine, you can either head back along the same trail or cross Myojin Bridge and walk the shorter, more direct eastern trail back to Kappabashi. You will spend most of this walk on a wide walking path and within the forest – visitors often encounter monkeys in this area – with beautiful views of Hotaka. To complete the full circuit and return to Kappabashi takes between 2.5 and 3.5 hours depending on your pace and how long you want to spend at Myojin Pond.
Kappabashi to the Tokusawa Area & Shinmura Bridge / 5-6 hours
Hiking to the Tokusawa Area takes you well away from the crowds and to an area most visitors don’t have the time or motivation to reach. If you have both one (or hopefully both!) of those going for you, covering the extra distance is well worth it!
To access the Tokusawa Area, simply follow the trail from Kappabashi to Myojin Bridge – either side of the river is fine – and once there, come onto the Azusa River Left Bank Trail (remember the river runs in the opposite direction so this is the trail on the right hand side when walking away from Kappabashi) and undertake the final 50 to 6-minute walk to the Tokusawa Area. It’s clear where to go as there is no trail on the other side of the river.
This section of the trail is more undulating and requires good fitness and mobility to complete. Once at the Tokusawa Area you will find a camp ground and lodge – an overnight stay is a great option if you want to walk this far – and just a little further on, the trail head leading into the mountains above can be found near Shinmura Bridge.
When planning your visit to Kamikochi, your first concern should always be safety. Do your research and ensure you are well-prepared and have the time, fitness, and expertise to complete the walk or hike that you are attempting. Be mindful that the mountains rise above 3000 meters and weather conditions can change quickly. Different trails present different challenges and for any visitor planning to head into the mountains, appropriate steps should be taken to ensure your safety.