25 Things to Do in & Around the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route
Open from mid-April until mid-November, the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route is one of Japan’s most iconic destinations. Known as the ‘Roof of Japan’, the dramatic alpine landscape is inaccessible through winter due to the massive snowfall it is subject to. As spring takes hold and the snow begins to recede, a road is carved through the ice creating the fabled Snow Walls of Tateyama-Kurobe. Towering 20 meters above the road, this is tone of Nagano and Japan’s most iconic sights.
As the weather continues to warm and summer arrives, the snow will slowly melt revealing a beautiful alpine landscape. Trails lead away from Murodo Station and offer visitors outstanding hiking opportunities including to the summit of Mt Tate – one of Japan’s three sacred mountains. In autumn, the landscape transforms into a mosaic of amber, red, yellow and brown with the changing leaves.
Visitors to the Alpine Route are sure to love the experience and while in the region, we recommend the following things to do (noting that No.1-7 are all part of or accessible from the Alpine Route):
1 / TATEYAMA-KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE
Let’s start with the obvious! Heralded as one of Japan’s best experiences, traversing the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route takes approximately 6 hours without allowing for time to stop and enjoy all of its stunning sights. In reality, undertaking a visit to the Alpine Route is therefore a full-day activity.
Visitors can start from Nagano via Ogisawa Station or Toyama via Tateyama Station, and choose to finish on the other side or return to their point of origin. A series of mountain transports including trolley buses, cable cars, a ropeway, and coaches transport visitors to and from Murodo Station – which at 2540 meters is the highest station in Japan.
Open from mid-April to mid-November, the Alpine Route is most famous for its immense snow walls which, at their peak, ascend 20 meters above the road below. The walls are at their best from the opening day in April until late-June, after which outstanding hiking is available through summer and autumn, climaxing with stunning autumn colours in October until the route closes again in November.
2 / SNOW WALLS OF THE TATEYAMA-KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE
A journey to the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route includes many highlights such as the Kurobe Dam, dramatic alpine vistas, and the sacred mountain peak of Mt Tate. But of all of its many wonders, it is the Snow Walls of Tateyama-Kurobe that are its most distinct and unique feature.
At their best from mid-April until late-June, the Snow Walls tower to 20 meters at their peak. Accessible on foot from Murodo Station, the walls are a sight to behold. Want to enjoy the walls on a guided tour? Our 1-Day Snow Walls of the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route Tour operates from April to June with pick-up and drop-off in both Nagano City and Hakuba. Led by a locally-based guide, it’s a great way to enjoy one of Japan’s most remarkable natural landscapes.
3 / HIKING AT TATEYAMA
The Alpine Route traverses the northern end of the Hida Mountains, also known as the North Japan Alps. As Japan’s highest mountain range, many of its peaks rise to over 3000 meters in height including Mt Tate (3015m). As one of Japan’s three sacred mountains – along with Mt Fuji and Mt Haku – hiking Mt Tate is an awe-inspiring experience suitable for anyone of reasonable fitness.
Best experienced from July until October, visitors have the option of hiking from and back to Murodo Station or undertaking longer, multi-day hikes. Mt Tateyama is a popular hiking destination and best experience on weekdays when it will still be busy, but the number of domestic visitors will be lower. Avoid weekends and public holidays.
Visitors can also enjoy short walks around Murodo Station including leisurely trails ranging from 30-minutes to 3-hours around the Midagahara Plain to trails leading down toward the Toyama-side of the mountain.
When descending toward the Toyama-side, a coach will transport you from Murodo Station to Bijodaira, and from there a cable car will carry you to Tateyama Station – the end point of your journey. In doing so, you will pass by beautiful scenery and some of the highlights of the Alpine Route. Running from Murodo Station to Tengudairu and then onto Midagahara, walking trails provide the option of walking to each station. Most visitors don’t realise that the option exists, meaning that the trails are quiet and offer one of the best ways to experience the beauty of the landscape.
Trails are well-maintained with sections of raised boardwalks. Once you reach Tengudaira and Midaghara, you can board the coach on its way. To do so, enter the buildings at those points and request that a phone is made to reserve your seats. As long as you already have your ticket his will be done on your behalf, free of charge.
4 / STARGAZING & SUNRISE AT MURODO
Most visitors undertake the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route as a one-day trip, returning to back down the Nagano or Toyama sides by the end of the day. In doing so, visitors miss two truly outstanding experiences – the brilliant stars of the night sky and sea of clouds, which often sits in the valley below each morning. Witnessing the clouds below at sunrise, you understand just why this place is called the ‘Roof of Japan’. Hotel Tateyama is located at Murodo Station, offering Western and mixed Western-Japanese rooms along with in-house restaurant. We highly recommend staying a night and witnessing these two extraordinary natural wonders.
5 / AUTUMN COLOURS OF TATEYAMA-KUROBE
Autumn is one of the best times to experience the Alpine Route. Visitor numbers will begin to drop-off in October and November, at a time when the landscape changes colour in a spectacular display of amber, brown, yellow and red. Known as ‘koyo’ in Japanese, the autumn leaves are revered much like the cherry blossoms of spring. Weather can be a little unpredictable but don’t let that stop you. The beauty of the alpine landscape awash with colour is one of Central Japan’s best experiences.
6 / HIDDEN HIGHLIGHTS – SHOMYO FALLS & GIANT CEDARS
As you descend toward Tateyama Station, you will pass the Shomyo Falls between Midagahara and Bijodaira. At 350 meters in height, Shomyo Falls is Japan’s tallest waterfall. The four stage falls are a spectacular sight which in spring becomes even more remarkable, when a twin waterfall – Hannoki Falls – begins to fall as the snow melts on the Midagahara plateau. The waterfall can be reached on foot on the walking trails.
In the Bijodaira area, walking trails meander through virgin forest populated by large beech trees and the ancient cedars of Tateyama. Some cedars are estimated to be more than 1000 years old and reach heights f around 30 meters with circumferences of 6-10 meters More than 60 bird species call these forests home, imbuing the ancient forests with magical twitter and chatter. Shomyo Falls can be accessed using the local bus service from Tateyama Station.
7 / EXPERIENCE THE ALPINE ROUTE ON A MULTIDAY TOUR
Considered one of Japan’s three most sacred mountains, Tateyama places a significant role in Buddhist and Shinto beliefs. Visitors wanting to learn more about this fascinating aspect of of Japanese culture can do so on a multiday guided tour – with the option of 2 or 3-day itineraries. Starting in Nagano and ending in Toyama, the tour heads to Zenko-ji Temple – one of the most important Buddhist temples in Japan – followed by an early afternoon visit to the Jigokudani Monkey Park on Day 1, before taking you high into the mountains along the fabled Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route on Day 2.
Tateyama is the ideal location to explore the concepts of mountain worship before ascending back down to Toyama with the option of extending the tour into a third day. Including accommodation and led by locally-based guides, this immersive tour takes you deep into the heart of Japan, exploring traditional belief of nature worship through guided visits to some of the region’s most iconic destinations.
8 / RIDE THE TOYAMA CHIHO RAILWAY
The Toyama Chiho Railway connects Toyama City with two of the regions most enjoyable destinations – the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route via the Tateyama Line and Kurobe Gorge via the Main Line – and is in itself, a highly enjoyable experience. The train line is known for its beautiful coastal and rural vistas, and service by several older model trains including the retro Alps Express and Double Decker Express.
The famous line has acted as the inspiration or setting for many films and anime, and is extremely popular with train enthusiasts. More than just a way of getting to and from popular regional destinations, the Toyama Chihou Railway is one of the best experiences nearby the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route.
9 / ENJOY THE HOT SPRINGS OF UNAZUKI ONSEN
Situated at the entrance of the beautiful Kurobe Gorge, Unazuki Onsen is the largest hot spring town in Toyama Prefecture. Home to many guesthouses including traditional ‘ryokan’ and large hotels, the hot springs of Unazuki Onsen are known for the clarity of their water, known to aid healthy and vibrant skin. Located close the coast, the guesthouses of Unazuki Onsen are known for the quality of their seafood and with a local craft beer brewery nearby, this is a great place to stay when wanting to enjoy the best of Toyama. For accommodation bookings in Unazuki, please refer to our ‘Unazuki Onsen & Kurobe Gorge Area’ hotel page.
10 / RIDE THE KUROBE GORGE RAILWAY – ONE OF THE MOST SCENIC LINES IN JAPAN
Directly accessible from Unazuki Onsen, Kurobe Gorge is quickly emerging as a popular destination for international visitors. Regarded as one of the three most beautiful gorges in Japan, Kurobe is best experienced riding the Kurobe Gorge Railway which covers a meandering and winding 20km span in approximately 80 minutes.
The open-air carriages allow visitors an intimate experience of the surrounding landscape with stations along the route allowing access to walk trails, onsen, restaurants and accommodation.
The rail line includes several spectacular bridges and truly beautiful hot springs including Kuronagi Onsen and the riverside Kanetsuri Kawara Onsen. Highly recommended.
11 / AUTUMN LEAVES OF THE KUROBE GORGE
While always stunning, autumn is perhaps the best time of year to visit the Kurobe Gorge. Through mid-October until mid-November, the leaves of heavily forested gorge turn, washing the landscape in rich shades of red, brown, amber and gold. Typically blessed with deep blue skies and crisp autumn air, riding the railway in October and November is one of Central Japan’s best experiences! Given the beauty of the gorge during autumn, the railway can be very busy so best to avoid weekends and public holidays.
12 / TOYAMA CITY
Visitors traversing the Alpine Route from one side to the other will likely pass through Toyama City at some point. A region famous for its seafood – some of the best in Japan – Toyama City is developing a reputation as an up-and-coming city that’s easy to exlpre. Originating from Toyama Station, the city is home to an enjoyable tram network which can be used to access nearby attractions including Toyama Castle Ruin Park. The park covers the former grounds of Toyama Castle and features a reconstructed keep (main tower), art museum and Japanese garden set amongst pleasant grounds.
A little further on from the gardens, the Toyama Glass Art Museum was designed by architect Kengo Kuma – designer of the new Tokyo Olympic Stadium – and exhibits beautiful glassworks from around the world.
Also nearby the station, the Toyama City Hall Observatory is one of the best spots for viewing the dramatic Tateyama Mountains. Located just across the river from Toyama Castle Ruin Park, it is one of top three spots to view the mountains. Nearby Kurehayama Park Observatory and the Amaharashi Coast – see below for details – are equally great spots from where to view Toyama’s famous mountain vista.
For more tips and suggestions of what’s on offer, see our ’25 Things to Do in & Around Toyama’ page.
13 / TOYAMA BAY SEAFOOD
Toyama Prefecture is known throughout Japan for its delicious seafood sourced from the plentiful waters of Toyama Bay. The topography of the bay creates a natural fish tank, as the sea floor drops away sharply, creating a submerged canyon which forms a natural boundary for sea life.
Nutrients wash down from the North Japan Alps creating bountiful fishing grounds which feed the nearby coastal markets. Many catchment areas are only 20-minutes from the coastal markets, meaning that the day’s catch is still exceedingly fresh when it arrives at vendors and restaurants – both on the coast and in Toyama City.
Don’t have time to head to the coast? No problem at all! You’ll find plenty of restaurants in Toyama City selling the day’s fresth catch including the highly-sought after ‘Toyama Bay Sushi’. For more tips and suggestions of what’s on offer in the region, see our ’25 Things to Do in & Around Toyama’ page.
14 / AMAHARASHI COAST
While a little out of the way, the Amaharashi Coast is a famous sight for many Japanese – known for its pristine beauty and Onnaiwa (Woman’s Rock) set against the background of the North Japan Alps including Mt Tate. Having inspired artists and poets of countless years, Amaharashi is one of the best spots to witness Toyama’s famous mountain vista. For more tips and suggestions of what’s on offer in the region, see our ’25 Things to Do in & Around Toyama’ page.
15 / KANAZAWA & FUKUI
Moving on from Toyama, it’s a quick and easy onward journey to Kanzawa. A city known for its historical gardens, buildings and streetscapes along with great restaurants, museums and shopping, Kanazawa has become a popular destination for international visitors over recent years. For tips and suggestions of what’s on offer there, see our ’25 Things to Do in & Around Kanazawa’ page.
Easily accessible from Kanazawa, Fukui is another emerging destination boasting two of Central Japan’s most engaging attractions – Daihonzan Eihei-ji Temple and Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum. Though a little off the beaten track, we can’t recommend these destinations enough! For more information, see our ’10 Things to Do in Fukui’ page.
16 / NAGANO CITY & ZENKO-JI TEMPLE
Visitors starting from or descending to the Nagano-side of the Alpine Route will almost certainly go through Nagano City. Located only 20-minutes walk from Nagano Station, Zenko-ji Temple is the spiritual heart of Nagano itself. With a near-1400 year history, Zenko-ji’s story is entwined with that of Nagano and to this day, the temple retains its central importance to life in the region. One of the oldest and most important Buddhist temples in Japan, Zenko-ji is also the third largest and home to the first known Buddhist statue ever brought to Japan.
Open all year round, the temple performs a morning ceremony every day of the year. Taking place just after sunrise, the time of the ceremony varies throughout the year and is too early to attend unless staying in Nagano City. But it is worth-noting as it underlines Zenko-ji’s reputation as one of the most open and welcoming temples in the country. While there, visitors are welcome to experience traditional practices including guided meditation, goma prayer and calligraphy.
For visitors wanting to learn all about the long history and legends of the temple, our 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour runs throughout the year and combines a morning visit to the temple, with lunch and ‘sake’-tasting in Nagano City before heading to the Jigokudani Monkey Park for an early afternoon visit. Led by a locally-based guide, this is our longest running and most popular tour.
17 / TOGAKUSHI – SOME OF JAPAN’S MOST SACRED SHRINES & MOUNTAIN NINJA
Sitting in the forests just outside of Nagano City, Togakushi is home to some of Japan’s most important Shinto shrines, the birthplace of a school of ninja, and producer of some of the best ‘soba’ (buckwheat noodles) in the country. It is also home to Togakushi Ski Resort, a little known but great little resort that can be accessed using a local bus from Nagano Station.
All of that makes Togaksuhi an all year round destination which is now coming to the attention of international visitors. The shrines of Togakushi are spread through the forest, connected by walking tracks of which the avenue leading to the ‘Okusha’ (Upper Shrine) is the most famous. Lined by huge cedars, this is spectacular and otherworldly environment – one that captures the imagination and lives on for many as one of the highlights of Japan.
Numerous soba restaurants serve Togakushi’s signature noodle dishes while bamboo craft stores sell all manner of the highest quality wares. Home to the Togakure School of Ninja, Togakushi’s NinJa Museum and Ninja Kids Village make for great entertainment from spring to autumn, before the snow returns and Togakushi Ski Resorts draws mostly local skiers who know just how good the ski runs are. Togakushi is waiting for you to discover it!
Want to enjoy the best of Togakushi? Our 1-Day Togakushi Forest Shrines & Mountain Ninja Tour is available from May through to November and includes a guided walk along the forest trails between multiple shrines, a ‘soba’ lunch and visits to the Togakushi Ninja Museum and iconic grand cedar avenue. Suitable for kids as much as it is adults, this tour is a great way to escape the summer heat in July and August and enjoy some of Japan’s best autumn colours from late-September until November.
18 / JIGOKUDANI MONKEY PARK
The monkeys of the Jigokudani Monkey Park can proudly claim to be as famous as the Snow Walls of the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route. Located a little way from the Alpine Route but still readily accessible, the Jigokudani Monkey Park has achieved global fame due to the curious behaviour of the resident monkeys – the only troop of monkeys in the world known to (naturally) bathe in hot springs.
Known fondly as ‘snow monkeys’, they are in fact there all year round with spring, summer and autumn each providing their own reasons to visit to the park. And of course, being based in Nagano and called ‘Snow Monkey Resorts’ we offer plenty of tours – both group and private – to the park. For all the options, see our ‘Tour’ page – we operate all year round!
19 / EXPLORE YAMANOUCHI – HOME OF THE SNOW MONKEYS
Home to the Jigokudani Monkey Park and ski resorts of Shiga Kogen and Kita-Shiga Kogen, Yamanouchi is at its most popular in winter yet offers just as many reasons to visit through spring, summer and autumn. Blessed with abundant farmlands, pristine nature, numerous hot springs and heavy snow in winter, Yamanouchi has a strong association with healing, refuge and renewal and Yamanouchi is divided into three areas – Yudanaka & Shibu Onsen, Shiga Kogen and Kita-Shiga Kogen.
Staying a one of Yamanouchi’s many guesthouses is an ideal way to enjoy Japan’s renowned traditional service – including traditional ‘kaiseki’ (multi-course) dining that showcases the abundant produce of the region. For further information, see our ‘Discover Yamanouchi – Home of the Snow Monkeys’ page.
20 / ADVENTURE IN HAKUBA VALLEY
Best known for its outstanding ski resorts, Hakuba is quickly developing its profile as a destination for green season sports including hiking, trail running, cycling, stand-up paddling and more! Sitting in the shadow of the Hida Mountains – also known as the North Japan Alps – Hakuba is your gateway to Japan’s highest mountain range and outstanding hiking and mountaineering.
Trails are cater for all levels of fitness and expertise, from a leisurely strolls of under an hour to multi-day hikes requiring mountaineering expertise. Even if you just want to go slow and take in the beauty of the Alps in summer, Hakuba should definitely be on your list of destinations nearby the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route. For tips and suggestions of everything on offer, see our ’25 Things to Do in & Around Hakuba’ page.
21 / ENJOY A RURAL GETAWAY IN HOTAKA ONSEN-KYO & AZUMINO
Only a short drive from Ogisawa Station – gateway to the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route from Nagano – Hotaka Onsen-kyo is a small hot spring town with many ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses). Most guesthouses have their own ‘onsen’ (hot springs) for the exclusive use of guests. Overall, this is a quiet and pleasant little town with the largest concentration of accommodation on the Nagano-side of the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route – a great place to base yourself when heading high above to the Roof of Japan. For accommodation bookings in Hotaka, please refer to our ‘Hotaka Onsen-kyo Area’ hotel page.
From Hotaka Onsen-kyo, you’re perfectly located to explore the rural enclave of Azumino. Nestled between the North Alps, Hakuba and Matsumoto, Azumino is home to numerous galleries and museums, farms – including plenty of apple orchards and the region’s famous Daio Wasabi Farm – and tranquil rural vistas. For tips and suggestions of what’s on offer, see our ’20 Things to Do in & Around Azumino’ page.
22 / MATSUMOTO CITY
Standing guard over Matsumoto City for more than 400 years, Matsumoto Castle is a registered National Treasure and for Japanese, an instantly recognizable structure. Visiting the castle is an easy and enjoyable day-trip via Nagano Station.
While there, enjoy the historic character of the city along with its many good cafes, restaurants, museums and shopping. For visitors moving on from Myoko, Matsumoto is a great launching point from which to head west or south and enjoy the following destinations. For suggestions of what’s on offer, see our ’25 Things to Do in & Around Matsumoto’ page.
23 / KAMIKOCHI – VALLEY OF THE GODS
Situated in the Chubu Sangaku National Park, Kamikochi is a pristine and beautiful alpine valley open to the public from mid-April until mid-November each year. The valley follows the Azusa River while some of Japan’s tallest mountain peaks rise to over 3000 meters above. From the Kamikochi Bus Terminal, walking trails span-out along the valley – suitable to anyone of reasonable fitness – before more advanced hiking and mountaineering trails lead into the mountains.
Considered the jewel of the Chubu Sangaku National Park, visiting Kamikochi is one of Nagano’s most memorable experiences – a truly special place of natural and spiritual importance. Want to visit Kamikochi on a guided tour? Our 1-Day Kamikochi Alpine Valley Tour operates from Matsumoto and Nagano from May until November. Including a morning visit to Azumino’s Daio Wasabi Farm followed by a ‘soba’ lunch and afternoon visit to Kamikochi, this engaging full-day tour follows the pristine waters of Azumino back to the source, high above in the stunning alpine vally of Kamikochi.
24 / FOLLOW THE HISTORIC NAKASENDO INTO THE KISO VALLEY
Lying to the south of Matsumoto, the Nakasendo Trail traces a historic highway that once connected Tokyo – then called Edo – and Kyoto during the Edo Period (1603-1868). Though much of the route is now gone, several sections can still be walked including the picturesque ‘Kisoji’, the section of road that runs through the Kiso Valley.
Serviced by many ‘juku’ or ‘shukubamachi’ (post towns), the Kisoji is known for the historic preservation of Narai-juku, Magome-juku and Tsumago-juku. These picturesque little towns are cared for by local residents who strive to maintain their traditional aesthetic and ways of life. The journey on-foot between the towns is a lovely experience, particularly in spring and autumn.
25 / EXPLORE THE ENTIRE KISO VALLEY & KISO ONTAKE MOUNTAIN RANGE
Most famous for the historic Nakasendo and its beautifully preserved ‘shukubamachi’ towns, the Kiso Valley is blessed with some of Central Japan’s most beautiful natural landscapes and cultural sites. The region is home to pristine forests, emerald rivers and waterfalls, and an undulating landscape of mountains and ravines rising to the brooding summit of Mount Ontake – Japan’s second tallest volcano. Long considered sacred, Ontake is worshipped by adherents of the Shinto sect ‘Ontake Shinko’, with the most devote practitioners walking the ‘Ontake Kodo’ pilgrimage trails that run through the forests and past waterways of the Kiso Ontake Mountain Range.
For tips and suggestions of what’s on offer, see our ’25 Things to Do Around the Kiso Valley & Nakasendo’ page.
PRIVATE TOURS & CHARTERS IN CENTRAL JAPAN
Based in Nagano and 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.
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 of these attractions.
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 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 arranging a charter or private tour? Contact us at email@example.com and let’s get planning together!