Japan Adventure Travel: Canoeing, Kayaking, Rafting, Canyoning & SUP
Looking to cool-off in the heat off summer? Then heading our direction and diving into the rivers and lakes of Central Japan is the ideal way to esacpe the heat and humidity of the cities. There’s plenty on offer from relaxing canoeing and SUP on tranquil lakes to whitewater rafting that will get your blood pumping. On this page you will find the following information:
1 / Best Water Activity Destinations
2 / Kakaying & Canoeing
3 / Rafting
4 / Canyoning
5 / Stand-Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)
6 / Tenryu Traditional River Rafting
7 / Book With Us! Nagano’s No.1 Tour & Charter Operator
For more travel adventures experiences and destinations, see our main ‘Japan Travel Adventure’ page. We hope this information is helpful in planning your next adventure in Japan.
1 / BEST WATER ACTIVITY DESTINATIONS
Central Japan is blessed with beautiful rivers and pristine waterways making it an ideal destination to enjoy canyoning, rafting, SUP and more. These are some of our favourite destinations:
Shiga Kogen Highlands
Around 70-minutes drive to the east of Nagano City, Shiga Kogen is a beautiful and ecologically important alpine landscape rising to well-over 2000 metres above sea level. Within the area, the official zoning of Shiga Kogen Highlands is a registered UNESCO Biosphere Reserve covering around 30,000ha / 300km². The Highlands sit within the broader Joshinetsu Kogen National Park and nearby the popular Jigokudani Monkey Park and can be reached using express bus services from Nagano Station.
This is an undulating and lush alpine landscape with multiple peaks over 2000 metres. Between the mountains, the alpine valley are a mixed landscape of forest, grasslands, rivers and waterways – including more than seventy lakes, ponds and marshes making it an ideal destination to enjoy activities including canyoning, canoeing, kayaking and SUP.
Heading to the Highlands is especially pleasurable during summer when the average temperature is around 10 °C less than Tokyo, with an average maximum of only 21 °C in August when the capital is averaging over 30°C.
Lying only 60-minutes drive to the west of Nagano City, Hakuba is one of the region’s best all-round travel adventure destinations. With multiple rivers and lakes including the beautiful Lake Aoki, Hakuba offers rafting, canoeing, kayaking, canyoning and SUP, Hakuba has plenty to keep you and in the water each summer.
The area is well-setup for international visitors with many operators providing services and tours in English and other foreign languages, while there plenty of excellent accommodation and dining options.
If you’re in need of some clothing and kit for your adventures, Hakuba also has brand-name and outlet outdoor stores starting with the always popular Snow Peak Land Station located half-way between Hakuba Station and Hakuba Happo Bus Terminal.
Situated a little further from Nagano City, the Kiso Valley follows the Kiso River through a beautiful forested landscape offering fantastic hiking trails along emerald streams and leading to gushing waterfalls. The area is easily accessible from Nagano using Limited Express Shinano services to Kiso-Fukushima Station. From there, it’s easy to head deep into the valley and surrounding Kiso-Ontake Mountain Range using local buses and taxis.
We recommend heading to Lake Shizenko. Located near the quaint town of Otaki, the lake was formed by an earthquake in 1984 when a landslide blocked and naturally dammed the Otaki River. Sitting in the lake, the previously thriving trees withered and died and today, create an uncanny yet beautiful setting in which to canoe or kayak. In winter, the lake freezes over allowing visitors to walk over its entire expanse with hardy locals heading there to enjoy ice fishing.
Madarao & Iiyama
Situtated to the north of Nagano City, Iiyama Station is a convenient stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line – only 10-minutes past Nagano Station – making it super easy to get to. From Iiyama, the nearby mountain resort village of Madarao is most well-known as home to Madarao Mountain Resort however it green season, the area attracts visitors headed to nearby Nojiri-ko or Nojiri Lake.
Popular with locals, Nojiri-ko enjoys a cooler climate in the heat of summer and is an ideal place for swimming, canoeing, kayaking and SUP.
2 / KAYAKING & CANOEING
Kayaking or canoeing is a great way to explore Japan’s many beautiful rivers and lakes with Central Japan again being one of the best regions to do so. Home to the majority of Japan’s highest mountains, rivers often originate in the higher reaches of the ranges and come gushing down to the world below and filling-up the azure and emerald lakes of the region.
Located 12km directly south of Hakuba Village, Lake Aoki is known for its azure waters and ever-changing seasonal beauty throughout the year. From the cherry blossoms of spring, to the lush forests and inviting waters of summer, followed by the stunning autumn leaves and pure white landscape of winter, the distinctly blue water of Lake Aoki is a striking feature of the landscape. In summer, guided canoeing and kayaking along with rentals are available on Lake Aoki along with rafting and SUP.
Located deep in the forested valleys surrounding Mount Ontake, Lake Shizenko was formed in 1984 when an earthquake and landslide blocked the Otaki River. Surrounded by water, trees that had until that point been thriving withered and died creating a strange but beautiful lake which is now a popular spot for kayaking and canoeing.
3 / RAFTING
Another activity that can enjoyed by both adults and kids, rafting is available in various spots around Central Japan. It’s a great activity for families and a terrific way to cool down and have a whole lot of fun in the middle of summer.
MATSUMOTO WATER TOUR: RAFTING IN AZUMINO / April to October
Travelers heading to Matsumoto from April until October and looking for a tranquil, relaxing activity might like to consider rafting in Azumino. A rural enclave within easy reach of Matsumoto City, Azumino is known for its quiet farms and bucolic landscape set against the backdrop of the North Alps and a great place to enjoy a relaxing, fun and informative rafting experience.
Guided rafting experiences are available on both the Saigawa River and Himekawa River – from April until October – and Lake Aoki – from June until August. Each experience is different from the other, ranging from rushing down rapids to leisurely paddling on calm waters. Available for both children and adults, the tours are a great way to cool down in summer and have great fun doing it!
4 / CANYONING
Also called ‘cayoneering’ or sometimes ‘river-climbing’ or ‘shower-walking’, cayoning is an increasingly popular activity in Japan. A combination of climbing, swimming, hiking and even abseiling along waterways through rock formations, cayoning is tremendous fun and can be enjoyed by both children and adults making it a great family activity. Unless you are an experienced canyoner, it’s best to start on a group or private tour with a local guide who knows the river conditions well. It’s also important to use safety gear including a life jacket and helmet. Another reason we recommend using a licensed operator.
Shiga Kogen Highlands
Situated in the Okushiga area of Shiga Kogen Highlands, Hotel Grand Phenix is the region’s premier hotel. Grand Phenix, offering guests a range of activities for guests throughout the year including canyoning in the beautiful waterways of the surrounding national park.
Guided canyoning or ‘shower-walking’ is available in Hakuba in July and August. The tour is open to guests aged 5 years and up and takes around three-hours. A great way to escape the heat and humidity of summer!
5 / STAND-UP PADDLE BOARDING (SUP)
The rather long-winded ‘stand-up paddle boarding’ is most commonly referred to simply as ‘SUP’- a sport that has quickly established itself as a popular past-time in Japan over recent years. Simple to learn, SUP allows you to you enjoy the water at a leisurely pace while giving you a full body workout. By standing on the board, you have a view of the surrounding landscape and water below – a great way to enjoy Japan’s beautiful lakes and sea.
Shiga Kogen Highlands
Situated in the Okushiga area of Shiga Kogen Highlands, Hotel Grand Phenix is the region’s premier hotel. Grand Phenix offers guests a range of activities for guests throughout the year including SUP in the beautiful waterways of the surrounding national park with the option of night-time SUP – pictured above. A unique and memorable experience!
As mentioned above, Lake Aoki in Hakuba is known for its azure and calm waters making it an ideal location to enjoy a range of water activities including SUP. SUP rental is available at Lake Aoki from June to October.
6 / TENRYU TRADITIONAL RIVER RAFTING
Looking for an adventure experience steeped in tradition? Then you need to head to the Tenryu Riverlands in southern Nagano to experience traditional river rafting in timber longboats or bamboo rafts. Guided by an experienced local boatsman, you’ll sit tight in the boat or on the raft and descend the beautiful waterways of Tenryu, going from serene and calm stretches through the thrill of whitewater.
We are in the process of confirming operating details for this season. We will update this page shortly.
7 / BOOK WITH US! NAGANO’S NO.1 TOUR & CHARTER OPERATOR
Based in Nagano and operating all year round, we are Nagano’s No.1 tour and charter operator. We have the local knowledge of where to go, when to go and what to do when you’re there to make sure you get the most out of your adventure in Central Japan! As a registered travel agent we can arrange adventure experiences and tours, transport, accommodation and inclusive packages. No matter what you’re looking for, we’ve got you covered including getting you to the best outdoor destinations and events in the region.
For guests wanting to access these destinations in the comfort of their own transport, we can arrange a private tour or charter customised to fit your needs, starting and ending at any destination in the region. Our drivers and vehicles are fully certified, allowing us to transport you to and from your preferred destinations in combination with any activity. All vehicles are fitted with a protective screen – separating the driver from passenger and luggage area – and our drivers wear protective masks, allowing you to move between your destinations in comfort and safety.
We can arrange both private tours with an English-speaking guide or a private charter, including a private vehicle and driver but without a guide. We’d love to be part of your adventure in Central Japan and help you discover even more!
Why choose us?
Awarded a 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for our 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour – recognised as one of the Top 10 Experiences in Japan – we have the local knowledge and experience to help you get the most out of your time in Nagano and Central Japan.
Got a question about visiting Nagano and Central Japan? Contact us and let’s get planning together!