25 Things To Do In/Around Hakuba
Hakuba, located in northern Nagano, is one of the world’s most premier destinations for snow-seekers. The area receives approximately 11 meters of snowfall annually, and the Hakuba Valley is home to 10 separate ski resorts on mountains that tower around 3,000 meters. The slope runs of powder snow can be up to 8 kilometers long! During the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, Hakuba hosted the ski jump event, slalom, and downhill event. The Olympic ski jump still stands at the base of one of the resorts. If you are planning a trip to the snow this winter, Hakuba is a surefire bet for some of the best skiing and snowboarding you’ve ever done in your life, but Hakuba is not only great for the snow. There’s so much to do in the surrounding area, you’ll find yourself wanting to come back again and again to experience it all. We’ve put together a list of the top 25 things we recommend in the area.
1. Hakuba Valley Ski Resorts
The simple fact of the matter is that Hakuba has some of the best snow for skiing and snowboarding in the world. From beginner to pro, no one who comes to Hakuba for the snow leaves disappointed. No one. There are 10 ski resorts in total. (Hakuba Happo-one Snow Resort, ABLE Hakuba Goryu Snow Resort, Hakuba Cortina Snow Resort, Hakuba 47 Winter Sports Park, Hakuba Iwatake Snow Field, Tsugaike Kogen Snow Resort, Kashimayari Snow Resort, Hakuba Norikura Onsen Snow Resort, Jiigatake Snow Resort, Hakuba Sanosaka Snow Resort), and there is a common lift ticket called the Hakuba Valley Ticket, that allows you entrance to all of the resorts. There are free shuttle buses running between the resorts so you can try all of them or just stick to your favorites. The common lift ticket for 1-day is ¥6100 for adults and ¥3500 for children, or each resort has its own lift tickets for approximately half the price of the common ticket though access is limited to the slopes of that resort.
2. Hakuba Happo-One
One of Hakuba’s and Japan’s most popular ski resorts. Happo is best known for hosting the slalom and men’s and women’s downhill ski events in the 1998 Winter Olympics. Its 14 courses feature numerous runs on and off-piste for skiers and snowboarders of all levels and skill. There are 22 different lifts, and the longest course at this 220 ha ski resort is a whopping 8 km long. Tickets vary in price according to season and time of day, and one-time lift ride tickets are also available. Happo also has an assortment of restaurants and offers lessons and gear rental.
3. Hakuba Goryu
Another one of Hakuba’s more famous resorts. The great thing about Hakuba Goryu is that it is adjacent to Hakuba 47 and the two resorts share a lift ticket giving you access to an unbelievable 23 different courses ranging from beginner to advanced. Hakuba’s ski season begins and ends here as the slopes stay open into the beginning of April. Escal Plaza at the base of the resort offers everything from restaurants to shops to gear rental, nap rooms, and indoor play areas for children. It’s open 24 hours to accommodate guests arriving at any hour of the day or night. Goryu is also located on the south side of Hakuba Valley giving it convenient access to Nagano City, Azumino, or Matsumoto if you want to partake in some activities that don’t involve snow.
4. Snow Fun
Skiing and snowboarding are not the only ways to enjoy the snow. Happo-one resort offers snow activities that will delight snow bunnies of all ages. The Sakka Snow Debut Park offers a 70m ski and snowboard slope with a conveyor belt lift for beginner adults and children. There are also sleds and toboggans, fat bikes and snow scooters, and a free play area all for the price of entrance, which is ¥800 for a full day of play. Add a merry-go-round ticket for an additional ¥200 or purchase the merry-go-round ticket alone for ¥500.
5. Hakuba Night Life
If you’re looking for a night out or to get your groove on the dance floor, Echoland in the Happo area is the place to go. Mocking Bird is a good bet on any night of the week that you will find a good crowd, and it tree made from driftwood feature and other wooden interior is worth a peek. Master Braster is a reggae bar with a good beer selection. Jack’s Sport Bar, Bar Refuel, Beach Bar, and The Rabbit Hole are also good choices for late night drinks or food.
There are some great restaurants around Hakuba serving meals from around the world. One of my personal favorites is Uncle Steven’s for Mexican food at the foot of the Happo-one lift. It’s a bit pricey but worth it. If you’re looking for somewhere off the beaten path, try Cafe Jusangatsu in Otari Village (11738 Nakatsuchi, Otari, Kitaazumi District). It’s a lovely little place in an old renovated home serving Indian style curry and an assortment of delicious cakes and desserts. If you prefer Japanese food, Wachigai in Omachi (4084 Omachi) is a great choice. They offered a variety of set meals made from locally sourced foods. They are open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and are closed on Tuesdays and the fourth Monday of the month. If you’re craving something a little spicier, try the Thaifoon Cafe located near the Happo intersection in Hakuba (5272 Happo, Hakuba-mura, Kitaazumi District). As the name suggests, they offer amazing Thai food and Asian fusion.
7. Onsen (Hot Springs)
After a long day of fun in the snow, nothing beats a nice long soak in a hot spring. Lucky for you, Nagano is full of hot springs. Happo no Yu, or Happo Hot Springs in English, has one indoor bath each for men and women and one outdoor bath for each. It’s located near the Happo intersection (57012 Hokujo, Hakuba), and entrance for adults is ¥800 and for children ¥400. Kurashita no Yu was discovered in 1993, though the hot spring is said to be 25 million years old and wells from a source 1050 m below ground. The outdoor baths offer a magnificent view of the Alps while you soak to refresh both your body and soul. Entrance is ¥600 for adults and ¥300 for children between 3 and 12. The creme de la creme of hot springs in Hakuba must be the Mizubasho Onsen located at the Sierra Resort Hotel (Hakuba-Mizubasho Onsen, Hakuba-mura, Kitaazumi District). It is the largest onsen in Hakuba Village constructed from timber taken from traditional homes originally built more than 100 years ago. The baths offer panoramic views of the gorgeous Alps. Entrance is ¥1000 for adults and ¥500 for children.
8. Glamping Dinner Tour
This is a truly unique experience. Get picked up from your accommodation and taken to a ski lift where you will ride up to the glamping site. Have some pre-dinner drinks around a campfire while the chef prepares your 5-course meal. After dinner, enjoy drinks and the campfire again before taking a ride on a snowcat to get a magnificent night view of Hakuba and the starlit sky. You will then be taken back to your accommodations. The entire package is ¥36,000 for adults and ¥20,000 for children 12 and under.
9. Other Ski Resorts
Hakuba is far from the only place to ski in Nagano. There are countless other resorts, all with their own unique advantages and attractions. Shiga Kogen Ski Area might be considered on par with Hakuba in terms of size as it too is known for being one of the largest ski resorts in Japan. It also hosted 1998 Winter Olympic events such as Alpine Skiing. If you’re a more advanced or adventurous skier, or a combination of both, Yamaboku Wild Snow Park might be exactly what you’re looking for. The resort has only 3 lifts and most of the terrain is ungroomed. There are three stages that increase in privacy the higher you go. It’s almost unknown by anyone other than the locals, which means the slopes are a lot less crowded than the other resorts in the area. Togakushi Ski Resort is another hidden gem not far from Nagano City. Though it’s smaller than the major ski resorts with fewer lifts, it is also far less crowded and less well known among people from outside the prefecture meaning there is plenty of untouched powder snow for you to enjoy all to yourself. The ski resort is very close to Togakushi Shrine, which is said to date back to 210 B.C. and is known for its pathway leading to the Okusha shrine lined with 400-year-old cedars. This area in particular is known as a power spot, and you should not visit the area without a stop at the shrine. See here for more information on the various ski resorts in northern Nagano. Snow Monkey Resorts can organize private chartered tours to, from, and between any Nagano ski resorts!
10. Nagano Station
Nagano Station is the central hub for any activity you might be interested in doing in the northern part of the prefecture. The shinkansen (bullet train) running between Tokyo and Kanazawa stops at Nagano, and you can transfer here to trains that will take you further north to Iiyama, south to Matsumoto, or transfer to the Nagano Electric Railway, which will take you to Suzaka, Obuse, or Yudanaka, home to the snow monkeys. The Zenkoji Exit side of the station was recently renovated and offers plenty of shopping and eating options including the MIDORI department store. On the east side of the station, you’ll find the bus stop for the bus that will take you to Hakuba. The Snow Monkey Resorts office, which operates a variety of tours throughout the prefecture is also at the east exit. Inquire here about the tours offered or chartering a private tour to see any of the sights that interest you in the area!
11. Snow Monkeys
11. Snow Monkeys
Selected as one of the top 10 Travelers’ Choice Experiences in Japan on TripAdvisor, you cannot go wrong with the Full-Day Tour of Snow Monkeys & Zenkoji Temple and Sake in Nagano. Door-to-door service is provided to and from the Hakuba Happo Bus Terminal. After boarding the bus, you will head to Nagano Station where your tour guide will join you and together you’ll visit the nearly 1400-year-old temple first followed by a guided sake tasting experience and lunch before heading out to see the world-famous snow monkeys at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. As the tour travels to and from Hakuba via Nagano Station, starting or ending your time in Hakuba with this tour is a convenient option as you can leave your heavy suitcases and luggage on the bus and then continue on to your next destination directly.
12. Snow Walls
This is a great activity if you are visiting Hakuba for the end of season spring ski or during the early green season as the snow walls of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route can only be seen April through June. This area receives some of the heaviest snowfall in the world, and a path is carved through the 20m high snow walls creating one of the most unique and worthwhile destinations in Japan. See more about the snow walls here. Or book a tour that departs and returns to Hakuba here.
13. Zenkoji Temple
Zenkoji Temple is one of the most iconic sights of Nagano and when you mention Nagano to most Japanese people they will immediately ask if you’ve been to the temple. The original temple was built nearly 1400-years old, and the city of Nagano grew and developed around it. The main hall was most recently rebuilt in 1707. It has great importance not only as a national treasure but also to the Buddhist religion as it is said to house the first statue of Buddha brought to Japan. What makes Zenkoji extremely unique is that it is managed by priests from two separate sects of Buddhism though the temple itself was built before there were sects and is therefore affiliated with none. When you visit make sure to experience the Kaidan-meguri for an extra ¥500, which is a walk through a pitch-black maze under the main hall. At the end of the maze, there is a key, and if you touch it, it is said to guarantee your entrance to Nirvana. For more information on Zenkoji temple or to book a guided tour of the temple.
14. Traditional Japanese Experience near Zenkoji
As long as you’re in Japan, it would be a shame to leave without experiencing some truly Japanese meals and traditions. If you visit the Zenkoji area in Nagano City, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to experience a truly exquisite meal of tempura or kaiseki (traditional Japanese course meal) at Shunka. Several traditional cultural experiences are also available at Patio Daimon and Rakucha Renga-kan, which is recognized as a national tangible cultural property. Available activities include Japanese calligraphy, tea ceremony, mizuhiki (paper cords), origami, and washi-paper making.
15. Sake tasting
No trip to Japan is complete without at least tasting authentically brewed sake, and if you’re going to taste sake, you might as well TASTE sake! Lucky for you, Nagano is second only to its neighbor to the north, Niigata in the number of breweries located in the prefecture. Many of the breweries are hundreds of years old and have been in families for generations. Pairing a visit to Zenkoji Temple and the Snow Monkeys with a delicious lunch and sake tasting can be the perfect way to spend a relaxing day. Or if you have more time to explore, you might like to try this two-day tour offering a tour of a sake brewery and sake tasting along with a guided tour of Matsumoto Castle, Narai Post Town, and a curated selection of other cultural activities to choose from.
16. Tomyo Festival
This festival held every year for a week in early February (Feb. 6-11) commemorates the 1998 Winter Olympics and Paralympics held in Nagano. The festival is held at Zenkoji Temple and the word “tomyo” means to offer light to Buddha, so as you might imagine, the festival involves a variety of different lighting. The most brilliant is the illumination of the temple and its surrounding buildings in five different colors as a symbol of peace. Equally worthwhile is a stroll down the omotesando or road that approaches the temple, which is closed off to vehicle traffic and hundreds of beautiful original-designed paper lanterns are displayed. For more information on the Nagano Tomyo Festival or make a full day out of it and see the world-famous snow monkeys.
17. Zenkoji Winter Illumination
This is a new event held at Zenjoki Temple in Nagano City and along the omotesando road that runs from Nagano Station to the temple. The 1.8 km length of the Omotesando road will be illuminated between 5 p.m and 10 p.m. from the end of November until March 1, and the temple will be illuminated from February 22 until March 1. painting the area in light and transforming it into a winter wonderland. For more info on the event, please check out this link or combine the evening with a day-trip to see the Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani that includes a delicious lunch and dinner.
18. Nozawa fire festival
The Nozawa Onsen Dosonjin Matsuri, or commonly referred to as the Nozawa Fire Festival, is one of Japan’s three great fire festivals. Dosojin are gods and the fire festival is traditionally an offering for a good harvest, health, and fortune in the New Year, but that has recently been expanded to include a good ski season. The festival is held annually on January 15 but preparation starts in October and involves hundreds of villagers. For info on the festival, see this link, and if you will be in Nagano on January 15 and would like to see the festival for yourself, this tour combines a visit to the world-famous Snow Monkeys with a warm dinner and the mesmerizing festival.
19. Azumino Private Tour
Though not as widely known as Nagano City, Matsumoto, or Hakuba, Azumino is hidden gem increasingly popular among tourists for its wide range of traditional and cultural activities available throughout the year. Try your hand at making soba, visit a generations-old sake brewery, soak in any number of relaxing onsen, or explore the museums and galleries on the Azumino Art Line. And those are only the options available year-round! There are numerous activities available depending on the season you visit as well. Click here to see more of what Azumino has to offer. Or contact us for a private tour of the sites you want to see.
20. Matsumoto Castle
Another Nagano icon and national treasure that you don’t want to miss. Known as the “Crow Castle” for its black exterior, Matsumoto Castle is one of Japan’s three premier historic castle. The keep, built in the 16th century, still maintains its original wooden structure making it the oldest remaining castle in Japan. The castle is a gorgeous sight to behold in any season, but in spring when the cherry blossoms are blooming it is particularly stunning. More information on the castle can be found here. Our group tour leaving from Nagano is a great option to see the castle, try your hand and making soba, and experiencing several other fun activities.
21. Cherry blossoms
If you’re visiting Hakuba for the late ski season in late April and miss the cherry blossoms blooming in Tokyo, you are in for a treat when you arrive in Nagano! Due to its cooler climate, the cherry blossoms bloom later than most of the country and will most likely be at their peak and the end of April sometimes lasting through the beginning of May. There are any number of places a reasonable distance from Hakuba where you can go to enjoy them. This link explains some of the best hanami (cherry blossom viewing) sites within Nagano City, or you can choose to pair the cherry blossoms with a visit with the Snow Monkeys in Jikokudani as this is typically the season when 20 – 30 newborn babies are welcomed to the troop at Jigokudani Monkey Park. In the other direction, the Matsumoto/Azumino area also has several beautiful spots where you can get your fill of the brilliant blooms. Here are 5 spots we recommend to get you started. For something really special, one of the top 3 spots for cherry blossom viewing in the entire country is located in Nagano! Takato Castle Park, in the city of Ina, boasts 1500 Kohigan cherry trees said to have been planted in 1875. As it is a bit of a distance from Hakuba or Nagano City, I recommend you take advantage of this 1-day tour where you’ll get to see both the cherry blossoms of Takato and Matsumoto Castle Parks.
Nagano is not just a ski haven. All of the mountains around the prefecture make it the perfect place for trekking. There are plenty of courses to choose from throughout the prefecture, and Hakuba is home to some of the best. Mount Shirouma is definitely the most popular in the area among hikers. It is the highest peak in the Hakuba section of the Hida mountain range at 2,932 meters, and one of the few peaks in Japan with year-round snow fields, and of course, stunning views of the Japanese Northern Alps. Check this page out for more information and links to trails around Nagano.
23. Hakuba Goryu Alpine Botanical Garden
If you are visiting between June and October, the botanical garden that is part of the Hakuba Goryu Resort is a lovely way to enjoy the green season in Hakuba. More 300 varieties of alpine plants sit at an elevation of more than 1500m in this beautiful mountain paradise. The alpine plants here have more than just aesthetic value, they are also of great academic worth.
24. Green Season Fun
There really are an unlimited number of activities to do in Hakuba throughout the entire year. In addition to fun in the snow in winter, the green season offers rafting, hot air balloon rides, firefly tours, night lake canoe tours, paragliding, and a myriad of other fun and exciting things to do.
25. Snow Monkey Resorts Tours
Just a 1-2 minute walk from Nagano Station, Snow Monkey Resorts Tours can assist with all of your travel needs in Nagano. As the No. 1 tour operator in the prefecture, we offer group tours, private tours, and chartered service that can be customized to your needs. If any of the above activities piques your interest, please feel free to inquire with us at email@example.com and let us help you make the most of your time in Nagano!