With clear skies and bright blue river streams, it's one of the best hikes in Japan.
Central Japan’s Kamikochi highlands’ beauty is said to match that of Yosemite Valley in California, U.S. Visitors come from all around to hike its mountains, marshes and discover its clear lakes and river streams at about 1,500 meters above sea level.
Approximately 18 kilometers in length, Kamikochi is a high mountain valley located in the Northern Japan Alps in Chubu Sangaku National Park of Nagano Prefecture. Open for only about seven months a year, the valley is flocked to by nature lovers from spring to mid-November.
The Azusa River flows the entire length of the valley and fills Lake Taisho at the base of Mt. Yake, an active volcano in the highlands. Kamikochi is mostly flat, with numerous marshes and ponds dotting various areas of the valley. Among all, Takezawa Marsh, Tashiro Pond, and Myojin Pond are probably the most popular.
In summertime especially, tourists love that you can even taste the crystal clear pond waters, which are mainly from melted snow runoff and cool in temperature.
This nature-rich area is great for both hiking experts and novices.
Kamikochi, being surrounded by mountains, includes one of Japan’s third-largest mountains. Mt. Oku-hotakadake (3,190 meters) is only about 600 meters shorter than the national icon of Mt. Fuji. Hiking this summit can take up to three days and requires professional trekking gear. But, of course, there are also plenty of easier mountains in the valley that are more suitable for amateur hikers.
The most popular way that families and leisure hikers enjoy Kamikochi revolves around the trail between Taisho Pond and Myojin Bridge.
For a more challenging hike, feel free to continue the trail to Tokusawa or even Yokoo area. The 7 KM Taisho Pond-Myojin Bridge trail runs alongside Azusa River and is mostly flat — no hiking experience is required. Many people like to have a taste of Azusa river, which is drinkable and always crystal-clear with a tint of blue.
The Taisho Pond-Myojin Bridge Trail takes about 2 hours one-way, takes you through forests and ponds, and occasionally surprises you with wild monkeys. (Though, bears have been spotted in there, as well.) There are a few hotels, souvenir shops and restaurants along the trail. Look out for free hot foot baths along the way, too. At Taisho Pond, you can also get some paddles on and row a rental boat.
Kamikochi is busy with tourists throughout its open months, but probably the most crowded in October when the autumn foliage comes to life. In summer, however, it’s an awesome spot to cool down.
Before you go
Kamikochi is constantly about 5℃ cooler than its surrounding urban cities so make sure to prepare a jacket (preferably a windbreaker) even in summertime. Also bring rain gears for changeable mountain climate.