15 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 Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route are sure to cherish the experience. While in the region, we recommend the following 15 Things To Do:
1 / The 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.
2 / 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.
3 / Staying at Hotaka Onsen-kyo
Only a short drive from Ogisawa Station, 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.
Foot spas are also found in town for use by anyone who happens to be strolling past. The town is also home to a small sake museum. 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.
4 / Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route
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.
5 / 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.
6 / Hiking Mt 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.
7 / Stargazing and sunrises 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.
8 / Short hikes as you head back to Tateyama Station
For guests descending to Tateyama Station on the Toyama-side of the mountain, 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.
9 / The stunning autumn colours of Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route
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.
10 / 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.
11 / 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.
12 / Stay at 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.
13 / Ride the Kurobe Gorge Railway
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.
14 / 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.
15 / Uozu Buried Forest Museum
Accessible via nearby Shin-Uozu Station, the Uozu Buried Forest Museum exhibits one of Toyama’s true wonders. Discovered by construction workers in 1930, a submerged forest within the Sea of Japan is now preserved in the museum. Preserved by the sand and soil which covered it, the remains of the trees are estimated to be between 1500 to 2000 years. The museum now preserves these unique natural artefacts in three distinct buildings. Some of the larger trunks can be touched with visitors with the trees now preserve in chilled water, enhancing the otherworldly nature of the exhibit. Information is available in both Japanese and English.
Private Charters & Tours
Based in Nagano City 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? Feel free to contact us at email@example.com and let’s get planning together!