How To Get To 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. On this page you will find the following information:
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 afield including Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
Based in Nagano and operating all year round, we are the region’s No.1 tour and charter operator. We can arrange transport and tours to any destinations in the region, and as a registered travel agent, we can package transport, accommodation and more together so you save and get the most out of your time in the Kiso Valley and Central Japan – scroll to the bottom for details.
WHERE IS THE KISO VALLEY & NAKASENDO?
The Kiso Valley is a beautiful area located between Shiojiri and Nakatsugawa in Nagano Prefecture. The area lies to the west of Tokyo – around 250KM / 3.5 to 4 hours drive. Running north to south, the valley follows the Kiso River and is known for its pristine waterways, forests, waterfalls and hiking trails including the historic Nakasendo. A key route linking Tokyo – then called ‘Edo’ – to Kyoto during the Edo Period (1603-1868), the Nakasendo spanned a distance of more than 500KM with the area of the route that passed through the Kiso Valley, known as the ‘Kiso-ji’, regarded as particularly beautiful. Parts of the route can still be walked today with the ‘shukubamachi’ towns of Magome and Tsumago being the most popular destinations, located in the southern part of Kiso Valley nearby Nakatsugawa Station.
Most visitors heading to the Kiso Valley and Nakasendo do so using the Limited Express Shinano service. Running between Nagano and Nagoya, all limited express services on the line stop at Kiso-Fukushima Station and Nakatsugawa Station. As explained below, we recommend staying in the Kiso-Fukushima Station area.
HOW TO GET TO KISO VALLEY & NAKASENDO
Most international visitors heading to the Kiso Valley and Nakasendo will do so using the Limited Express Shinano service. Running from Nagano to Nagoya via Matsumoto, this service also stops at Kiso-Fukushima and Nakatsugawa – the central and southern gateways to the region – and is covered by the Japan Rail (JR) Pass. To reach the Kiso Valley from any of those cities is easy:
FROM NAGANO: take any Limited Express Shinano service. The journey to Kiso-Fukshima takes 90 min / JPY3840 or to Nakatsugawa takes 125 min / JPY5280.
FROM MATSUMOTO: take any Limited Express Shinano service. The journey to Kiso-Fukushima takes 40 min / JPY2190 or to Nakatsugawa takes 75 min / JPY3840.
FROM NAGOYA: take any Limited Express Shinano service. The journey to Nakatsugawa takes 50 min min / JPY2540 or to Kiso-Fukushima takes 85 min / JPY4170.
HOW TO GET AROUND KISO VALLEY & NAKASENDO
Once in the Kiso Valley, you will find that many attractions and activities are spread-out making it important to plan how to get there in advance. In this section you will find directions to the following destinations:
Kiso-Fukushima — Ontake Ropeway — Narai-juku — Akasawa Natural Recreational Forest & Otaki Forest Railway — Nezame-no-toko Gorge — Atera Gorge — Kakizore Gorge — Tsumago-juku — Magome-juku — Nakatsugawa
Visitors wanting to enjoy a multi-day visit in the area should consider staying in the area around Kiso-Fukushima Station. You will find a good range of accommodation options, including a choice of traditional Japanese guesthouses and Western-style hotels, and easy access to the attractions of Kiso Valley and Nakasendo using train and buses services from the station.
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.
25 THINGS TO DO AROUND KISO VALLEY & WHERE TO STAY
Most famous for the historic Nakasendo and its beautifully preserved post towns of Narai, Tsumago and Magome, the Kiso Valley is one of Central Japan’s most rewarding destinations. A place of natural beauty, the valley follows the Kiso River leading visitors deep into the heart of Japan, along forested trails leading to emerald rivers and waterfalls and onto the pilgramage trails of the ‘Ontake Kodo’ leading to the summit of Mount Ontake – a sacred mountain and Japan’s second tallest volcano after Mount Fuji. Our ’25 Things To Do Around Kiso Valley & Where to Stay’ page has lots of great tips and suggestions, including where to stay, to help you plan your trip and get the most out of your time in the Kiso Valley.
BOOK WITH US! NAGANO’S NO.1 TOUR & CHARTER OPERATOR
Based in Nagano and operating all year round, we are a No.1-rated tour and charter operator, offering a range of services including accommodation, transport and tours throughout the region. We have the local knowledge of where and when to go, to help you discover and enjoy the Kiso Valley in comfort. For guests wanting to access the resorts 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 that suits your interests and schedule including transport to and from any ski resort in the region.
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 that experience and help you discover even more!
Why choose us?
Awarded a 2022 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 the Kiso Valley and Central Japan? Contact us and let’s get planning together!