The resort of Kamikochi is a popular hiking retreat located beneath the mountaintops of Japan’s Northern Alps. Part of the Chubu-Sangaku National Park in Nagano prefecture, hiking in Kamikochi is a joy.
Kamikochi is blessed with an abundance of spectacular scenery, where rivers of crystal blue water snake through ancient forests beneath Kamikochi’s most famous landmark, the Kappabashi Bridge.
Several very manageable hiking trails cut through Kamikochi on either side of the Azusa River. At the southern end of Kamikochi is Taisho Pond, where breathtaking views of Mount Yakedake reflect in the surface of the water.
Follow the river north from the Kappabashi Bridge to reach the Myojin Bridge and beautifully serene Myojin Pond. You might pass by a troupe of monkeys along the way, though be careful not to encounter any of Kamikochi’s resident black bears.
Kamikochi is located in the remote far west of Nagano Prefecture in the Chubu-Sangaku National Park.
Around 125 miles to the north west of Tokyo, Kamikochi sits almost directly in-between the cities of Matsumoto to the east and Takayama in neighbouring Gifu Prefecture to the west.
Due to the heavy snow that falls in the region in the winter Kamikochi is only open to visitors from early summer until the late autumn, from April 17th to November 15th every year. The area is completely closed to visitors at all other times of the year.
The best time to visit Kamikochi is in the early summer or in the autumn. In early summer Kamikochi is bursting with greenery and the region is less crowded than it is later in the season.
Kamikochi is incredibly popular getaway in the height of summer. Thanks to its high altitude the area is much cooler than most of Japan at this time of year, which is usually uncomfortably hot and humid.
Many Japanese come to Kamikochi during the school holidays in Japan, which run from the last week of July through to the end of August.
Autumn is possibly the most beautiful time to hike in Kamikochi as the leaves on the trees begin to turn orange and red in October. The spectacular autumn colours also draw huge crowds though, so keep that in mind.
Whenever you decide to visit Kamikochi it is generally best to visit midweek when it is usually a lot less busy compared to weekends.
We’d recommend spending at least two nights in Kamikochi to enjoy the hikes and the area’s stunning beauty without being rushed. As you’ll probably be arriving in the late morning by public transport, your first day is likely to be slightly curtailed.
Most of the cafes and facilities in Kamikochi also close by around 3.00pm, so your first day is most likely to be pretty short. Stay overnight for at least one night in order to get the most out of the hiking in Kamikochi.
The easiest way to get to Kamikochi is by bus. Cars are not permitted to enter Kamikochi and the roads are only allowed to be used by public buses and taxis.
The nearest train station to Kamikochi is Shinshimashima Station which is around an hour and 10 minutes by bus from Kamikochi.
You can take a direct bus to Kamikochi from Matsumoto Station, which takes around an hour and 45 minutes. There are also two additional buses a day from Matsumoto Bus Station.
A full timetable of buses from Matsumoto to Kamikochi can be found here.
Tickets can be bought in advance here and cost ¥2570 each way.
To reach Kamikochi from Takayama, you will need to take a bus from Takayama Nohi Bus Centre to Hirayu Onsen which takes one hour.
From here you’ll need to take another bus to Kamikochi which takes 25 minutes. There are buses from Hirayu Onsen to Kamikochi every half an hour until 5.00pm.
Further details can be found on the Nohi Bus website here.
The easiest way to get to Kamikochi from Tokyo is also by bus from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal.
Buses depart from Shinjuku every day at 7.15am during the summer and autumn, arriving in Kamikochi at just after midday.
Tickets from Shinjuku to Kamikochi cost ¥9,400 per person each way and can be booked here.
There are a handful of hotels located within Kamikochi, most of which offer high-end traditional Japanese-style lodgings.
As much of Kamikochi closes by early evening many of the hotels offer half-board options which includes breakfast and an evening meal.
Because of their location and the level of service they provide, accommodation in Kamikochi is not particularly cheap, unless you choose to stay in one of the hotels with shared dormitory rooms, such as the Nishitoya Mountain Lodge.
Here are some of the best places to stay in Kamikochi:
Among the hotels in Kamikochi, the luxurious Kamikochi Imperial Hotel is the top of the pile. The Alpine-style hotel houses two restaurants, one Western and one Japanese, and rooms come with balconies facing the Hotaka mountains or the Azusa River.
On the opposite side of the Azusa River, the Hotel Shirakabaso Kamikochi is just a stones throw from the Kappabashi Bridge. There’s a choice of either Western or Japanese-style rooms, many of which come with incredible views of the Hotaka mountains.
At the southern end of Kamikochi is the excellent Taishoike Hotel. The Taishoike also offers a selection of both Japanese and Western-style rooms that come with fabulous views over the Tasiho Pond and nearby mountains.
The Taishoike Hotel is also one of the few in Kamikochi where the rooms have their own private bathrooms. Most of the other hotels in the area only offer rooms with shared public baths, which is common in traditional accommodation in Japan.
If you’re looking to camp in Kamikochi then the Konashidaira campsite is located close to Kappabashi Bridge. Alongside dedicated camping spots there are also pitched tents for hire as well as various cabins.
You need to book a pitched tent or a cabin in advance, but if you’re bringing your own tent you can arrive and pay for your spot on the day. The camping fee is ¥800 per day.
More information about the camp, its facilities and how to book cabins or fixed tents can be found in their English guide here (PDF).
Hiking is a hugely popular pastime in Japan and many people come to hike in Kamikochi thanks to the area’s breathtaking beauty and easy forest walks.
Kamikochi is a very popular hiking spot as most of the trails are flat and are great for people of all fitness levels and ages.
There are a handful of different walking routes in Kamikochi that run for around 5 kilometres both north and south of the Kappabashi Bridge on either side of the Azusa River.
Kamikochi’s hiking trails are almost all flat and are a mixture of easy walking surfaces. Some trails are gravel and others are tracks through the forest floor. There are raised boardwalks in areas of marshland or those that are prone to becoming wet
If you’re a more experienced hiker you could venture further and use Kamikochi as a starting point for a trek to the summit of one of the nearby mountains.
Mount Oku-Hotakadake and Mount Yari are two of the most popular mountains to tackle, as is Mount Yakedake, which is an active volcano.
Here’s our recommended two day guide to hiking in Kamikochi.
On day one, begin at Kamikochi’s most famous landmark, the Kappabashi Bridge and hike south along the Azusa River towards Taisho Pond. From Kappabashi Bridge take the trail on the north side of the river to the Tashiro Bridge.
A short walk from the Kappabashi Bridge is the Weston Monument, a small plaque dedicated to Walter Weston.
Weston was an English missionary who came to Japan in 1888. Alongside a love of Japanese culture and tradition, he also helped to popularise mountaineering in Japan and particularly in the Northern Alps.
Further along the trail you can stick to the walking path or take a detour on to the rocky riverbank for part of the walk around the first bend, from where there are excellent views of the mountains to the north.
After crossing the Tashiro Bridge to the south side of the Azusa River there is a choice of two paths to take. One path continues south alongside the river, while the other weaves its way inland through the Tashiro Marsh.
The two paths merge again just before the Tashiro Pond. As you’ll have to return this way, pick one way to go now and take the other path on the way back.
Whichever route you pick will lead you through an incredibly beautiful landscape. The river track runs parallel to the Azusa River for a short while before veering gently inland through the forest.
The alternative route winds through the thick, pristine shrub and orange brown waters of the Tashiro Marsh before the two paths reconnect close to Tashiro Pond.
Shortly after the two trails reconnect, a small diversion leads to the Tashiro Pond, one of Kamikochi’s many natural wonders. Framed on almost all sides by the mountains of Japan’s Northern Alps, the Tashiro Pond gently trickles through the surrounding marshland.
Returning to the main path and looking back to the north there is a stunning view of the many peaks of the Hokota mountain range.
From here the trail continues south of Tashiro Pond through more beautifully atmospheric forestland before reconnecting with the Azusa River and the Taisho Pond.
The Taisho Pond was formed following the eruption of Mount Yakedake in 1915. The eruption created a natural dam in the river, and today a few submerged barren tree trunks still protrude from the lake.
Mount Yakedake is the only active volcano in the Northern Alps, and a magnificent reflection of the mountain can be seen in the pond that it created on sunny days.
From here there are also superb views of the Dakesawa glacial valley, the same valley that can also be seen a little closer from the Kappabashi Bridge.
Taisho Pond is the furthest point south to which you can hike in Kamikochi. If you’re getting hungry there’s an excellent cafe in the Taishoike Hotel with a gorgeous view of the Taisho Pond and Mount Yakedake. When you’re ready, start the return trek north back towards Kappabashi Bridge.
Once you reach the Tashiro Pond and the path splits into two, make your way towards the Tashiro Bridge on the opposite trail to the one you came down earlier in the day.
When you get to the Tashiro Bridge, stay on the trail that runs along the south side of the Azusa River as you make your way to Kappabashi Bridge.
This section of the path sticks closely to the river all the way back to the centre of Kamikochi.
Winding around the river, this stretch of the track also has some of the best views in Kamikochi as you approach Kappabashi Bridge against a backdrop of sweeping mountains.
On reaching the Kappabashi bridge, take in the jaw-dropping views of the bridge and the Hotaka mountain ranges from the river.
You can also take in the spellbinding views of the mountain peaks from the path that runs alongside the river just north of the Kappabashi bridge next to the Konashidaira camp site.
Afterwards take some time to explore some of the nearby shops and sights. There are well-stocked souvenir shops that sell a wide range of locally produced specialities and traditional snacks on both sides of the river.
If you need to recharge your batteries there are also a few nice cafes around Kappabashi that dish up a range of very good Japanese meals. There are also restaurants to be found in the hotels that sit on either side of the river.
See below for our recommendations for the best places to eat in Kamikochi.
On the second day in Kamikochi, make the trek north from Kappabashi to the Hotaka Shrine and the breathtaking Myojin Pond.
This hike will take a little over an hour, but might take longer if you happen to come across the monkeys that are often spotted along the way. After spending time in the Hotaka Shrine, cross the Myojin Bridge before hiking back towards Kappabashi Bridge.
Take the hiking trail on the north side of the Azusa River and within around 10 minutes you’ll be at Dakesawa Marsh.
Another of Kamikochi’s areas of lush wetland, Dakesawa Marsh features a wide range of trees and flora set amongst the marshland’s still, clear waters and more beautiful views of the nearby mountains.
Dakesawa Marsh is also a favourite hangout of Kamikochi’s very cute monkeys. A huge number of Japanese macaques live in the forests of Kamikochi and they’re regularly spotted around this area to the north of Kappabashi Bridge.
The monkeys are used to human visitors but be sure not to try and touch them and not to give them any food. They’ll pay very little attention to you as you walk through their world, preferring to scamper along the boardwalks and travel through the trees.
From Dakesawa Marsh it’s around a 40 minute hike to the Hotaka Shrine, which is home to the stunning Myojin Pond. The trail leads through more of Kamikochi’s beautiful dense forest, occasionally touching up against the river along the way.
Though not especially challenging, parts of this section of the hike are amongst the most tricky in Kamikochi. Some of the terrain is a little rocky and can be very slippery when wet. There are also a few small inclines and declines to navigate, though again these are all pretty manageable.
Just before the Myojin Bridge is the small Hotaka Shrine, which is most famous for the Myojin Pond. Entry to the shrine’s grounds to see the pond is 500¥.
Hotaka Shrine is dedicated to Hotako no Mikoto, the guardian deity of the Japanese alps.
The eerily beautiful Myojin Pond is made from spring water that comes from nearby Mount Myojin. The pond is often coated in a layer of mist and is surrounded by the sloping forest of birch and larch trees.
Multiple ancient rocks protrude from the lake which hosts the Myojin Pond Festival each October. During the festival Hotaka Shrine’s priests thank the deity for its continued protection of the region from two decorative boats on the pond whilst dressed in traditional robes.
From Hotaka Shrine head back to the trail and across the Myojin Bridge to the opposite side of the Azusa River.
This trail runs along one of the few roads in Kamikochi and is a slightly easier walk back to Kappabashi Bridge. The return walk is slightly shorter on this side of the river but will still take around an hour.
The track starts off close to the river before cutting in through the forest, returning to Kappabashi Bridge via the Konashidaira camp site and coming out next to the Kamikochi Visitor Centre.
With a beautiful interior of wooden columns and beams, the Kamikochi Visitor Centre is a nice place to spend a little time and to get a better understanding of the whole area.
There are a number of beautiful photographs taken by nature photographers in the region on display that show off the area’s incredible natural beauty as well as its wildlife.
There’s also plenty of information about the nearby mountains of the Northern Alps and the history of Kamikochi as a resort. Plus there’s a small store that sells books, postcards and other cute mementos from the local region.
If you’re heading to Kamikochi then there are a few things you need to know before you arrive.
Black bears live in the forests surrounding Kamikochi and you should take precautions not to come into contact with them.
Black bear sightings in Kamikochi are common, even in areas close to hiking trails. Details of bear sightings in Kamikochi are detailed here.
Thankfully black bears are timid and will always try to avoid humans. If they know humans are around they will retreat to a safe place. If a bear is suddenly surprised or frightened they have been known to attack humans.
The best way to avoid bears is to carry bear bells and tie them to a rucksack or hang them off your clothing. The sound of the jangling bear bells will warn bears of the presence of people nearby.
Bear bells can be bought at any of the souvenir shops in Kamikochi.
Along the trails and in all of the common areas you will see several signs warning about what you should and shouldn’t do if you encounter a bear whilst hiking in Kamikochi. There will also be posters in Japanese and English of the most recent bear sightings.
If you do encounter a bear stay calm and do not shout or scream (as tempting as that may seem). Instead, remain facing the bear and carefully and slowly back away to a safe distance. If you turn and run away a bear is likely to chase after you.
Though it’s unlikely that you’ll want to stop to feed any bears, remember never to feed any animals in Kamikochi, particularly monkeys or birds.
The area is part of national park and a great amount of effort has gone into making sure that Kamikochi’s wild animals remain wild.
If the animals become accustomed to receiving food from tourists there’s a danger that they will become dependent on humans and will lose their ability to fend for themselves.
Much work has gone into stopping Kamikochi’s wild animals from encroaching on the most populated areas of the region to scavenge for food.
Because of the efforts made by staff at Kamikochi it is now rare to see monkeys prowling for food around Kappabashi Bridge, when not so long ago this was a very common sight.
For the same reasons as the previous point it’s important not to leave behind any litter in Kamikochi to keep the entire area spotlessly clean. If you have any litter then pack it up and carry it with you.
There are a range of bins for combustible rubbish, cans, bottles, and more tucked away behind the vending machines to the right of the souvenir shop and Gosenjaku Kitchen next to Kappabashi Bridge. Otherwise hold on to your litter until you find a bin elsewhere.
Though it’s a pretty secluded part of the world there are a number of facilities in Kamikochi, mostly located next to the bus terminal close to the Kappabashi Bridge.
You’ll find a host of useful information at the Kamikochi Tourist Centre, including maps of the hiking trails in the area.
There are no coin lockers in Kamikochi but there is a left-luggage service located around the back of the bus terminal next to the post office.
If you need any emergency supplies then the shops in Kamikochi stock selection of essentials alongside souvenirs.
Especially useful for those who are camping, you can find cheap meals, such as instant noodles, a good range of hiking clothes and equipment as well as first-aid essentials too.
However, you’ll need to bring as much cash as you think you’re going to need for your hiking trip in Kamikochi as one thing you won’t find here are any cash machines.
Most of the main shops do accept card but in some places you will need to pay in cash, especially in cafes where you place your order at ticket machines.
Most of the cafes in Kamikochi close for business in the early afternoon, typically around 3.00pm. This is why most of the hotels in Kamikochi offer half-board stays that include an evening meal as well as breakfast.
The two main shops in Kamikochi that are located on either side of the Kappabashi Bridge do stay open a little later – one closes at 5.00pm, the other at 7.00pm.
If you need to stock up on any supplies during your stay in Kamikochi make sure you do it before everything shuts.
Aside from money, there are several other things it pays to have with you on a trip to Kamikochi.
There are plenty of places to get a very good bite to eat in Kamikochi and most of these are to be found around the Kappabashi Bridge. On the south side of the bridge is Gosenjaku Kitchen, located on the second floor above the souvenir shop.
Gosenjaku Kitchen specialises in bandit’s fried chicken, a local take on chicken karaage that is a Nagano speciality. Gosenjaku also has numerous Japanese dishes, Western-inspired meals and curries on the menu too. Plus the cafe has superb views of the Kappabashi Bridge and the Hotaka mountains.
On the opposite side of the Kappabashi bridge is Cafe Konashi which has an extensive menu of Japanese dishes, such as soba and udon noodles, Japanese curry, and a range of croquettes.
Place your order at the ticket machine at the front of the cafe and give your ticket to the staff who’ll let you know when it’s ready. There’s an English menu attached to the side of the ticket machine. They also sell a range of sandwiches and smaller snacks from the counter at the rear of the cafe.
A little further down from Cafe Konashi is Greenpot, a typical modern Japanese cafe that serves a mix of set meals and sweet deserts at a decent price.
Greenpot is a great place to stop whether you’re after a full meal or just a slice of cake and a coffee. The apple tarts are worth calling in for alone.
Located right next to Hotaka Shrine, Kamonjigoya Restaurant was founded in 1880 and specialises in superb traditional dishes that you’d expect to find in the Japanese mountains.
Don’t pass up the chance to try the speciality, a bowl of soba noodles in a rich, tasty broth served with salt grilled rockfish that is freshly cooked on the open fire, called “irori” in Japanese. A side of the smoked cheese is highly recommended too.
Menus are available in English, and once you’ve found a table place your order at the ticket machine next to the entrance. This is one of the best places to eat in Kamikochi.
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