How to Get to the Kiso Valley & Nakasendo
Kiso Valley is a relatively spread-out area along the Kiso River with its attractions sometimes quite far apart. For that reason, it is quite helpful to consider the region as the central Kiso Valley and southern Kiso Valley when planning your visit and how to get there.
The central area includes Kiso-Fukushima – the central gateway town and our recommendation at the most convenient place to stay – along with attractions including Narai-juku, Ontake Ropeway, the Ontake Kodo pilgrimage trails, Akasawa Natural Recreational Forest including the Otaki Forest Railway and Nezame-no-Toko Gorge. The southern area includes Tsumago-juku, Magome-juku, Atera Gorge, Kakizore Gorge and the more southern gateway town of Nakatsugawa.
Both Kiso-Fukushima Station (central area) and Nakatsugawa Station (southern area) are stops on the Limited Express Shinano service making them easy to reach from Nagano, Matsumoto and Nagoya – with all visitors needing to pass through one of those towns when traveling to the Kiso Valley and Nakasendo from locations further afiled including Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
This page provides information of how to get to specific location in the Kiso Valley and is intended for visitors planning to primarily using the train – the best option for international visitors holding a Japan Rail (JR) Pass) including the Limited Express Shinano line running from Nagano to Nagoya via Matsumoto. For information on how to reach those cities to access this train line refer to following pages: How to Get to Nagano / How to Get to Matsumoto / How to Get to Nagoya.
For suggestions for what to see and do when there, see our ’25 Things to Do Around the Kiso Valley & Nakasendo’ page and for tips of the most convenient places to stay, see our ‘Where to Stay in the Kiso Valley & Nakasendo’ page. In terms of getting to the most popular spots in the Kiso Valley and Nakasendo, let’s start with the most convenient access point:
KISO-FUKUSHIMA – GATEWAY TO THE KISO VALLEY
A stop on all Limited Express Shinano services, Kiso-Fukushima Station is easy to reach taking 90-minutes from Nagano, 40-minutes from Matsumoto and 85-minutes from Nagoya. From the station, local train services connect you easily to the post towns of Narai, Tsumago and Magome while local bus services connect visitors to Ontake Ropeway and other destinations.
Though Kiso-Fukushima doesn’t match nearby Narai, Magome and Tsumago in the state of its historic preservation, it is a more functional town with the best range of accommodation and dining options in the region. Accommodation includes ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses) including high-end options, hotels with amenities including Western-style bedding and private bathrooms along with some budget options.
Multiple tours operate from the station allowing visitors to explore the region more fully than staying to south around Magome and Tsumago. For that reason, Kiso-Fukushima is our recommendation of the most convenient place to stay.
To get to the ropeway, use the Ontake Ropeway bus that departs from the station. The bus runs once approximately once every two hours (morning/early afternoon) from late April through early November, with an extra bus available during the summer months. Buses run every day during peak season (Golden Week, summer months) but only on weekends and holidays during the off-season.
One of the best-preserved ‘shukubamachi’ towns on the Nakasendo, Narai-juku is easy to reach from Kiso-Fukushima Station. From Kiso-Fukushima, take any local service running north toward to Matsumoto. The journey takes only 20-minutes. Once at Narai Station, follow the signs for the short walk into the historic town centre, only a couple of minutes stroll.
AKASAWA NATURAL RECREATIONAL FOREST & OTAKI FOREST RAILWAY
The Akasawa-sen Bus runs from Kiso-Fukushima Station via Agematsu Station to Akasawa Shizen Kyuyorin, a short walk from the Akasawa Natural Recreational Forest entrance. The bus runs once every two hours (morning/early afternoon) from late-April through early-November, with an extra bus available during the summer months and weekends/holidays. The service takes 45-minutes from Kiso-Fukushima and 30-minutes from Agematsu Station.
Nezame-no-Toko Gorge can be reached on-foot from Agematsu Station – taking around 20-minutes. To reach Agematsu from Kiso-Fukushima Station you can use the train – only 7-minutes – or local bus service – 15-minutes. From Nakatsugawa Station takes notably longer, around 55-minutes by train.
Nojiri Station is the nearest access point to Atera Gorge. To reach Nojiri takes around 30-minutes from both Kiso-Fukushima Station and Nakatsugawa Station. Once at Nojiri, From the station, you can walk to the entrance to Atera Gorge and continue to trek up the road to the nature trail (about 3.5 km). There are several beautiful spots along the way. There is also a shuttle bus available to the nature trail from late July to early September.
Visitors heading to Kakizore Gorge and Ushigataki Falls can do so from Junikane Station. To reach Junikane Station from Kiso-Fukushima takes around 35-minutes or 25-minutes from Nakatsugawa. Once at Junikane, most visitors choose to walk the 4.5km from the station to the falls, taking around 70-minutes.
Nagiso Station is the nearest station to Tsumago-juku. To reach Nagiso, local services from Kiso-Fukushima Station take 25-minutes while services from Nakatsugawa Station take 20-minutes. Some Limited Express Shinano services also stop at Nagiso but not all, so be sure to check the schedule if planning to disembark at Nagiso Station, Once at Nagiso, a local bus runs once every two hours (morning to late afternoon) with an extra bus during peak season. You can explore Tsumago first then take the next bus from there to Magome (or vise-versa). For those planning to hike the Nakasendo Trail between Tsumago and Magome, the bus provider offers a convenient luggage drop-off service for a reasonable fee. This service allows you to have your luggage dropped off at Magome if hiking from Tsumago, or at Tsumago if hiking from Magome.
To access Magome-juku, head to Nakatsugawa Station and once there, take the Magome Line Bus to the historic town. The bus runs about once per hour from morning to evening hours and takes around 30-minutes. You can take the same bus back to Nakatsugawa Station or head to Tsumago from Magome via the hiking trail or a separate bus.
Nakatsugawa Station is the largest station in the southern Kiso Valley and a stop on most Limited Express Shinano services running from Nagoya to Nagano, via Kiso-Fukushima and Matsumoto. Nakatsugawa is also the closest major station to Magome-juku – only 30-minutes by bus – making it a popular transport hub for visitors to Magome including those intending to walk onto Tsumago. Some visitors choose to stay in Nakatsugawa given it has multiple large, Western-style hotel – a popular accommodation option especially in peak season when the small, traditional guesthouses of Magome and Tsumago sell-out well in advance. It is worth noting however that the hotels of Nakatsugawa are popular with large tour groups and the town itself has nothing notable to see or do. For that reason, we recommend staying in Kiso-Fukushima – more conveniently located in the central Kiso Valley and gateway to the region.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION WHEN TRAVELLING FROM TOKYO
When heading to the Kiso Valley and Nakasendo from Tokyo, it is typically fastest to do so via Nagano Station – first using the Hokuriku Shinkansen to reach Nagano and then switching to the Limited Express Shinano to head south into the Kiso Valley – or alternatively, via Nagoya – first taking the Tokaido Shinkansen to Nagoya and then swtiching to the Limited Express Shinano headed north into the Kiso Valley.
These are the fastest options and both depart from Tokyo Station. For travelers staying in and around Shinjuku Station however, there is an alternative route which may be of interest. While this option isn’t notably faster than those above, it saves you the trouble to getting across to Tokyo Station with your luggage and going from Shinjuku Station.
Take the Limited Express Azusa on the JR Chuo East Line to Shiojiri. In Shiojiri, transfer to the JR Chuo West Line. Depending on your destination in Kiso Valley, you can use either the Shinano Express train or just a local train. Since the Shinano Express train makes only limited stops, you may need to transfer to a local train at some point along the track.
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