15 Things To Do In Kamikochi & Where To Stay
Part of the larger Chubu Sangaku National Park, Kamikochi is a beautiful alpine valley nestled within Japan’s highest mountain range. Open to the public from April to November, it is without question one of the most rewarding outdoor destinations in the country. On this page you will find the following information:
A visit to Kamikochi transports you deep into Japan’s mountainous heartland and to one of its most cherished alpine landscapes. Long considered the domain of gods, Kamikochi has special significance for many Japanese while also offering some of the best hiking in the country. Leisurely trails follow the beautiful Azusa River while more intensive, expert courses lead high into the mountains and to above 3000 metres to the summits of Mount Hotaka, Mount Yari and other peaks.
When planning your visit to Kamikochi, it is important to note that private vehicles are not allowed into the valley meaning that you cannot drive yourself. You will need to use a bus, taxi or tour to enter – see ‘Important Access Information’ below. This makes the option of a tour attractive as it allows you to bypass the need for multiple transfers to enter Kamikochi. Based in Nagano, we are the region’s No.1 tour and charter operator offering both group and private tours along with the option of just transport and/or accommodation. For more information, scroll to the bottom of the page.
WHERE IS KAMIKOCHI?
Kamikochi is an alpine valley located in the southern half of Chubu Sangaku National Park. Located high in the mountains, Kamikochi is approximately 45KM / 70-minutes drive from Matsumoto to the east and 40KM / 60-minutes drive from Takayama to the west. Most visitors heading to Kamikochi will do so via one of these two starting points. From Matsumoto Station, the Alpico Line runs to Shin-Shimashima Station from where buses ferry visitors to the Kamikochi Bus Terminal via the Sawando Bus Terminal – a total journey time of around 2-hours when you account for the transfer times; whereas express buses run from the Takayama Bus Terminal – located next to Takayama Station – to Hirayu Onsen, where visitors must switch onto a second bus headed into Kamikochi – a total journey time of around 1.5 to 2-hours.
Access is controlled to ensure the important ecosystem is preserved for generations to come. A long-standing ban on private vehicles means visitors must use coaches, private taxis or tours to access Kamikochi – see ‘Important Access Information’ below for further details.
WHAT TO EXPECT & WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT
Part of the larger Chubu Sangaku National Park, Kamikochi is only open to the public from mid-April until mid-November. Kamikochi is an alpine valley that follows the Azusa River as it descends from its source high in the mountains to the world below, running 18KM from north to south. Kamikochi has an elevation of between 1200 to 1400 metres with the peaks of Mount Hotaka (3190m), Mount Yari (3180m) and Mount Yakedake (2455m) rising high above the valley. One of Japan’s most striking natural landscapes, Kamikochi is effectively a special conservation zone within a national park, offering visitors the chance to enjoy leisurely strolls along multiple trails, more serious multiday treks into the mountains, or simply sit down for a coffee, snack or meal and take in the fantastic views and serene atmosphere. A mix of accommodation is available in Kamikochi, ranging from high-end hotels to mountain lodges and camping.
Long-recognised for its ecological importance and natural beauty, Kamikochi epitomises the traditional Japanese practice of nature worship – a fundamental principle of the native religion of Shintoism. The name Kamikochi can be translated as, ‘place where the god(s) descended’, with Mount Hotaka and multiple other natural features in the valley considered to be imbued with a divine nature and places of devotion. Shintoism believes that ‘kami’ (divine entities) pervade all aspects of the world and our lives, most beautifully demonstrated by awe-inspiring mountains, waterfalls, rivers along with certain trees, stones and other natural features. As such, Kamikochi can be appreciated on many levels, making it one of Japan’s most rewarding outdoor destinations.
THINGS TO DO & SEE IN KAMIKOCHI
Most visitors to Kamikochi will disembark their transport at the Kamikochi Bus Terminal. From there, it’s a short walk – under 5 minutes – to Kappabashi (Kappa Bridge), the most iconic spot in the valley. The short span bridge crosses the Azusa River with the triple-peaked Mount Hotaka rising-up behind. Many visitors don’t venture much further from that point meaning it can be crowded. But don’t let that put you off! The whole point of visiting Kamikochi is walking and following any of the trails even 5 to 10-minutes away from Kappabashi will usually have you away from the crowds and enjoying a truly beautiful landscape. But it’s popular for good reason, so let’s start with:
1 / KAPPABASHI (KAPPA BRIDGE)
Kapppabashi or ‘Kappa Bridge’ is around 5-minutes walk from the Kamikochi Bus Terminal and the area around which most cafes, restaurants and several hotels are located. Kappabashi is a small suspension footbridge crossing the Azusa River from which visitors can enjoy a fantastic view of Mount Hotaka rising above and capture what is considered the most iconic foot in Kamikochi – the bridge with the mountain in the background. On either side of the river, you will find cafes, restaurants and hotels making this the busiest area in Kamikochi.
Many visitors spend most of their time here but don’t let that worry you. It’s the start or end point for most walks in Kamikochi so even strolling 5 to 10-minutes away from Kappabashi in either direction will have you away from the crowds and off by yourself.
2 / AZUSA RIVER
Kamikochi follows the Azusa River as it descends from its source in the mountains above toward the world below. The water of the river is astonishingly clear and azure, making it a highlight of any visit. It can be enjoyed from numerous points in the valley with the walk from Taisho-ike to Kappabashi being one of the best ways to enjoy an extended walk along its bank – see below for details
3 / MOUNT HOTAKA
Rising to 3,190 metres above sea level, Mount Hotaka is Japan’s third tallest mountain – only missing out of second spot by 3 metres, behind Mount Kita (3,193m). Also referred to as Oku-Hotaka-dake, Hotaka has three peaks with the mountain holding spiritual significance for many Japanese as it is said to be where a god descended to Earth. Indeed, the name Kamikochi can be translated as, ‘place where the god(s) descended’. Shrines now honour that god or spirit, in the shadow of the imposing mountain and at its summit. Multiple trails lead to the summit and ridgeline of the mountain, taking an estimated 16 hours to reach the summit and return to trailhead. This is a challenging climb requiring you to camp overnight and should all be attempted by visitors of suitable fitness and experience. Otherwise simply enjoy the outstanding views of the mountain from the valley below.
4 / MOUNT YAKEDAKE
Mount Yakedake (2,455m) is an active volcano that sits at the southern end of Kamikochi. The last major eruption of Yakedake in 1915 and the resulting lava flow and landslide blocked Azusa River, forming a natural dam and what is now Taisho-ike. Steam can often be seen rising from the upper areas of the mountain, which can be hiked on a 5.5 to 6-hour trail suitable to anyone of reasonable fitness.
5 / TAISHO-IKE (TAISHO POND)
As mentioned above, Taisho-ike was formed in 1915 following the eruption of Mount Yakedake and consequent lava flow and landslides that blocked Azusa River. A demonstration of the dramatic origins of the beautiful landscape we see today, Taisho-ike is now one of the most cherished features of Kamikochi. On a clear day, the mountains above are reflected magnificently on the waters surface – a striking introduction you can enjoy as your first enter the valley including on the walk from Taisho-ike to Kappabashi – see below for details.
6 / DAKESAWA MARSH
Located around 10 to 15-minutes walk to the north of Kappbashi, Dakesawa Marsh is a beautiful feature along the trail to Myojin-ike. Raised wooden walkways and viewing decks along this part of the trail allow visitors to enjoy the pristine landscape around them including the beautiful waters of the marsh.
7 / MYOJIN-IKE (MYOJIN POND) & HOTAKA SHRINE
Lying around 1 to 1.5-hours walk to the north of Kappabashi, Myojin-ike is one of Kamikochi’s most famous spots. Hotaka Shrine sits in-front of Myojin-ike, in dedication to the ‘kami’ (divine spirit) believed to inhabit the mountain above, while the pond itself is known for its clear waters and serene beauty.
Replenished by the snowmelt each year, the waters of Myojin-ike are strikingly beautiful and a point of worship in their own right. Both Dakesawa Marsh and Myojin-ike can be enjoyed on the circuit from Kappabashi – see below for details.
8 / TOKUSAWA AREA & SHINMURA BRIDGE
Visitors wanting to enjoy the longest walks in the valley including those who then want to hike into the mountains above, will need to make their way north along Azusa River to the Tokusawa area. Trails follow the river to Tokusawa where you will find a camp area and Tokusawa lodge, followed by Shinmura Bridge and further trail leading to the Yokoo Area and trailheads for hikes up Mount Hokata, Mount Yari and other mountains. If you’ve walked this far we recommended staying overnight in or nearby Kamikochi as it really is a full-day experience to venture this deep into the valley.
9 / MOUNT YARI
Standing 3,180 metres above sea level, Mount Yari is Japan’s fifth tallest mountain. Accessible from the trailhead of the Yokoo Area of Kamikochi – several hours walk from Kappabashi – the best views of the mountain are available to visitors willing to walk deep into the valley. Those wanting to climb Yari can do so on a 40km trail taking around 20-hours and requiring you to stay overnight. Much like the trails heading-up Mount Hotaka, this should only be attempted by visitors of suitable fitness and experience.
10 / AUTUMN LEAVES OF KAMIKOCHI
Kamikochi is known throughout Japan for its wonderful autumn colours; something that can be enjoyed in all areas of the valley from late-September to late-October. Any of the walks along the river allow you to enjoy the fantastic colours, which draw crowds from all over Japan. September to October can be very busy for that reason, so if you’re headed there during that time, try to do so on a weekday when visitor numbers should be lower.
11 / WILDLIFE OF KAMIKOCHI
While in Kamikochi, you may well encounter some of the abundant wildlife that populates the valley and wider national park. Monkeys, deer, bears, and plenty of birdlife are all present in Kamikochi including ‘raicho’ (rock ptarmigan). Fondly referred to as ‘thunderbirds’, raicho are an alpine bird that thrive in the higher reaches of mountain ranges. Naturally curious, they show little trepidation when near humans allowing you to take some fantastic photos if you are lucky enough to see one.
You can often spot monkeys – Japanese macaques to be exact – along the trails leading to and from Myojin-ike, while Asiatic black bears are all present in the valley. You are very unlikely to see a bear but it’s important to acknowledge that they are there and it is their territory. Many visitors undertaking walks into the less busy areas of Kamikochi do so wearing bear bells – which can be purchased at multiple shops around the bus terminal or Kappabashi – and signs along the trails will warning of any recent sightings. The bears want nothing to do with humans and you are very unlikely to encounter one but if you do, stay calm and make a slow retreat the way you came.
12 / WALK: TASIHO-IKE 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 Taishoike, Yakedake and 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-ike, you are immediately introduced to one of Kamikochi’s most famous vistas – the triple-peaked Mount 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.
13 / WALK: KAPPABASHI TO MYOJIN-IKE / 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 Mount 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 before diving back into the forest and eventually arriving at Myojin-ike and 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. 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-ike.
14 / WALK: KAPPABASHI TO TOKUSAWA AREA / full circuit = 5 to 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 60-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 including the trails headed to Mount Hotaka and Mount Yari.
15 / JOIN A GUIDED TOUR
|1-Day Highlights of Central Japan Tour: Matsumoto Castle & Kamikochi Alpine Valley|
|Period||May to November|
|Time||10:00 – 18:30|
|Meeting Place||Outside West Exit Matsumoto Station|
Based in Nagano and operating all year round we offer two private tours starting and finishing at Matsumoto Station that combine a visit to Kamikochi – including a guided walk from Taisho-ike to Kappabashi – with some of the region’s most rewarding destinations and activities. Our 1-Day Highlights of Central Japan: Matsumoto Castle & Kamikochi Alpine Valley Tour transports you to one of Japan’s few remaining castles before enjoying lunch in Matsumoto City and early afternoon visit to Kamikochi, while our 1-Day Wasabi-Picking Experience & Kamikochi Alpine Valley Tour follows the waters of the Azusa River from farmland back into the mountains with a visit to Daio Wasabi Farm including a wasabi-picking experience, local ‘soba’ noodle lunch and afternoon visit to Kamikochi.
|1-Day Tour: Wasabi-Picking Experience & Kamikochi Alpine Valley|
|Period||May to November|
|Time||09:00 – 18:30|
|Meeting Place||Outside West Exit of Matsumoto Station|
All tours are led by locally-based guides and include direct transport all the way into Kamikochi without the need for transfers to public buses. Visitors wanting to enjoy Kamikochi by themselves, as a family or with friends also have the option of a private tour. For further details, see ‘Book With Us! Nagano’s No.1 Tour & Charter Operator’ below.
WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING KAMIKOCHI
Visitors to Kamikochi have the option of staying in the valley, nearby in some conveninent and beautiful hot spring areas, or a little further away in the cities of Takayama and Matsumoto. Let’s start by looking at the options:
Kamikochi has a number of large hotels, smaller lodges and two campgrounds allowing visitors to stay in the valley from April to November. Always popular, prices can be very high with many hotels and lodges booking-out well in advance. There are some excellent accommodation options in Kamikochi including high-end, modern hotels as well as more rustic, mountain hotels with loads of charm. When booking your accommodation, make sure to check it’s exact location as hotels, lodges and campgrounds are dotted along the Azusa River and can only be accessed on-foot. Those around Kappabashi are only 5-minutes walk from the bus terminal however lodges around Myojin-ike and Tokusawa are potentially up to several hours walk away.
It’s also important to note that given demand, prices can be exceptionally high. If you can’t find something in your price range or if what you want is already booked-out, don’t despair. There are some excellent options within 20-minutes of Kamikochi, including Okuhida Onsen and Hirayu Onsen – see below for details. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Kamikochi Area’ hotel page.
OKUHIDA ONSEN / HIRAYU ONSEN
Lying around 15 to 20-minutes to the west of Kamikochi, Okuhida Onsen is a popular hot spring region in the beautiful forests and mountains of the North Alps. The five towns making-up Okuhida boast numerous guesthouses, hotels, and public hot springs. Prices vary greatly from budget to very expensive, with something to suit all tastes. Staying in Okuhida is all about enjoying a traditional ‘ryokan’ (guesthouse) and indulgence of Japanese service. Most people doing so choose to include both dinner and breakfast in their accommodation package as outside dining options are very limited at night. It’s easy to get there from Kamikochi using services from the Kamikochi Bus Terminal. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Okuhida Onsen Area’ hotel page.
As one of the five hot spring towns making-up Okuhida Onsen, Hirayu Onsen is the most convenient for travelers using coming from Kamikochi by bus. The area is serviced by the Hirayu Onsen Bus Terminal, where all Nohi bus services stop enroute between Kamikochi and Takayama. There is an excellent range of accommodation options in the area catering to all budgets including some very reasonably priced hotels – an attractive alternative to the steep prices for accommodation in Kamikochi. Hirayu Onsen also has a number of decent restaurants providing the option for dining-out at night – but make sure to check the opening days and times of your chosen restaurant in advance, noting that local restaurants tend to close quite early. Of course, most hotels also offer dinner and breakfast should you want them. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Hirayu Onsen Area’ hotel page.
Around 50 to 60-minutes to the west of Kamikochi, Takayama is the starting and/or end point for many visitors headed to the valley using the Nohi Bus services operating from Takayama Bus Terminal. Famous for its historic old town and thriving food scene, Takayama is another of Central Japan’s most popular destinations and as such, boasts are large number of hotels and guesthouses. The greatest concentration of accommodation in Takayama is found on between the station – adjoining the bus terminal – and Miyagawa River. There are multiple large hotels in the area with Western-style rooms and amenities along with good mid-range and budget options. Visitors wanting a traditional guesthouse should look around the old town, located 10 to 15-minutes walk from the station. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Takayama City Area’ hotel page.
NORIKURA KOGEN / SHIRAHONE ONSEN
Around 25-minutes drive from the Sawando Bus Terminal, Norikura Kogen is another of Central Japan’s most popular hiking destinations. Rising to over 3000 metres above sea level, this is a beautiful mountain that can be hiked by anyone of reasonable fitness, making it a popular destination through summer and autumn while in winter, a small ski resort draws a devoted group of mostly skiers and the odd snowboarder. Most accommodation in the area are family-run lodges and guesthouses offering a warm welcome. Buses run from the Sawando Bus Terminal to Norikua in around 25-minutes, allowing visitors to take the bus from Kamikochi to Sawando and transter to that service – a total journey time of around one hour (depending on whether the service times match-up). For accommodation listings, see our ‘Norikura Kogen Area’ hotel page.
Moving further away from Kamikochi, Shirahone Onsen is a renowned hot spring area sitting high in the North Alps, around 20 minutes from Norikura. Shirahone Onsen is a good option for travelers moving from Kamikochi to Matsumoto using their own car. Accommodation is limited to ‘onsen’ hotels and guesthouse ranging from basic to high-end. Most popular in summer and autumn, try to avoid weekends and holidays when prices can be very high. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Shirahone Onsen Area’ hotel page.
Matsumoto is the nearest major city on the eastern-side of Kamikochi and the start or end point for many visitors heading to the valley. Most accommodation in the city is located to the east of Matsumoto Station, around the station itself and toward the castle. Accommodation is mostly mid-sized, mid-range business and other Western-style hotels, with some smaller guesthouses and a couple of high-end options. Most hotels and guesthouses are within 10 to 20-minutes walk of the station and castle making it easy to choose where to stay. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Matsumoto Area’ hotel page.
IMPORTANT ACCESS INFORMATION & RULES
In order to the limit traffic moving into and through the valley and thus preserve the environment, private vehicles are not permitted to enter Kamikochi. This rule is strictly enforced and means that visitors must use authorised vehicles including taxis, coaches or a tour company to enter the valley – at least for the final leg of their journey to the Kamikochi Bus Terminal. Any unauthorised vehicle attempting to enter Kamikochi will be turned away at the entrance. Visitors can choose to drive themselves as far as the one of the public car parks outside of Kamikochi – located between 15 to 30 minutes before the entrance – but must then use a bus, taxi or appropriately registered vehicle to enter the valley. From the public car parks, regular buses or taxis transport visitors to and from Kamikochi.
Access to Kamikochi is controlled in order to preserve the pristine character of the valley and retain an important ecosystem for generations to come. In order to do so, visitors are asked to adhere to the following rules:
— Take all rubbish with you
— Stay on the trails and do not step on/into marshes and other fragile areas
— Do not feed any animals that you encounter
— Do not collect or take any plants or wildlife from Kamikochi
— Camping is only permitted in designated camping areas
— Fires can only be lit in designated camping areas
— Water is scarce above the tree line. Please conserve those water sources
— Do not throw stones, rocks or other items into the water
Basically, take all the photos you want but please leave Kamikochi as you found it.
HOW TO GET TO KAMIKOCHI
Many if not most visitors heading to Kamikochi will do so via Matsumoto – when approaching from the east – or Takayama – when approaching from the west. Our ‘How To Get To Kamikochi’ page has everything you need to know about getting there from Matsumoto, Takayama, Nagano, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and beyond.
BOOK WITH US! NAGANO’S NO.1 TOUR & CHARTER OPERATOR
Operating all year round, we are Nagano’s No.1-rated tour and charter operator, offering a range of services including group tours, private tours and charters. We can arrange transport including a private vehicle and driver, along with an English-speaking guide, to transport to, from and between any destinations in the region including Kamikochi.
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 schedule. 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.
Got a question about visiting Kamikochi? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get planning together!