Japan has plenty to offer outdoorsy travelers of all experience levels. If you are that type of traveler, Kamikochi is a must add to your itinerary. The park is part of the Northern Japanese Alps in Nagano. It provides visitors with beautiful scenery, whether they are walking the flat trails or climbing one of the peaks. The surrounding mountains vary in height and difficulty; the highest of which is Okuhotakadake at 3,190 meters, most day-trippers opt to climb Yakedake which stands 2,455 meters tall.
Best Time to Visit
The park opens in the middle of April to the middle of November; exact dates may vary from year to year. If you want to see autumn colors, the best time to visit is mid-October. Alpine flowers and plants are at their best from May to July.
Get In and Out
The most convenient way to get to Kamikochi Park is via Matsumoto. You can get to the city either through Nagoya or Tokyo. There are direct flights other cities in Asia and other countries to Nagoya and Tokyo. Book your airfares early to get the lowest possible prices for your trip.
- Via Tokyo. There are limited express trains from Shinjuku to Matsumoto. The journey takes two hours and 30 minutes. Fare: ¥6,500
- Via Nagoya. If you’re coming from Nagoya, get on the Shinano Limited Express train to Matsumoto. The journey takes around two hours. Fare: ¥5,510
- Via Matsumoto. Get on a train of the Electric Railway to Shin-Shimashima Station; this leg of the trip takes half an hour. After arriving at the station, board a bus bound for Kamikochi; this takes about an hour.
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- Via Tokyo. There are buses plying the Shinjuku-Matsumoto route. The journey takes more than three hours. Fare: Around ¥3,500 (one way)
- Via Nagoya. There are also buses that operate the same route from Nagoya Station. The trip takes more than three hours. Fare: From ¥2,600 to ¥3,560
- Via Matsumoto. There are also rare buses that go directly to Kamikochi from Matsumoto’s Bus Station early in the morning. Fare: Around ¥2,450 (one way); Around ¥4,550 (roundtrip)
Going Around the Park
Private cars aren’t allowed inside the park; you have to time your trip with the schedules of the buses that come and go if you only plan to explore during the day. There are clearly marked trails that go around the valley to the ponds or to the peaks. You can go up one of the peaks in a day, but that will depend on fitness level and experience. Yakedake peak is often the go-to climb of day trippers.
Even if you don’t plan to spend the night in the park or climb one of its peaks, there are flat trails with spectacular views of the mountains and ponds with glass-like waters that reflect their surroundings. A trip to the ponds, marsh, and bridges takes a day with some stops to eat and take photos.
Places of Interest
Kamikochi has different noteworthy destinations which help you concretize and put a sense of direction to your trip (wandering around aimlessly and simply enjoying the views aren’t bad ideas either).
- Myojin Pond. This is a nice photogenic pond with clear waters (on a good day); there is a ¥300 entrance fee.
- Taisho Pond. Another pond with glass-like waters that may reflect its surroundings on a clear day.
- Takezawa Marsh. The marsh is atmospheric and scenic; this area provides you with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and trees.
- Tashiro Pond. This scenic area is photogenic with marshland and clear mirror-like waters.
- Kappa Bridge. This bridge over the river is a landmark for visitors who need to orient themselves on which way to go, whether at the start or end of their trip. This is near the bus station and a handful of shops, accommodations, and places to eat.
After exploring the trails and ascents and descents of Kamikochi, there are other noteworthy places to add to your itinerary.
- Norikura. You can access this mountain destination from Matsumoto as well. You’ll see spectacular vistas, beautiful waterfalls, and trails that lead to different parts of the park. Norikura is also a good place to see autumn foliage.
- Hirayu Onsen. Try submerging into the hot spring waters of both the public and private baths available in the area.
- Matsumoto Castle. Visit one of the most beautiful castles in Japan during a day or layover in the city before going somewhere else.
- Shirakawago. The UNESCO-listed site has many old style and quaint houses; don’t miss the viewpoint which provides you with great views of the cluster of homes and the farmlands surrounding them.
Where to Stay
Kamikochi is accessible from Matsumoto as a day trip; you can stay in the city as there are hotels and hostels that are relatively cheap by Japan standards. A bed in a dorm type accommodation costs around US$30 a night. The city is easy to navigate, so even if you are a few kilometers away from the center, it is easy to just walk to places.
You also have the option to camp or stay in one of the lodges inside the park. The campsites of Yokoo and Tokusawa cost about ¥700 per person; don’t forget to bring your own gear, food, and water supplies. Lodges, ryokans, and hotels provide private and dorm-type accommodations ranging from approximately ¥10,000 to ¥65,000.