Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Channel the Amazing Race on this unique mountain route.
If you’re a lover of dramatic alpine scenery, you really need to make the trip out to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, a path traversing the Northern Japan Alps. The whole route is an impressive 90 kilometers, stretching from Tateyama Station in Toyama Prefecture to Shinano-Omachi Station in neighboring Nagano Prefecture, climbing to an elevation of 3,015 meters as it crosses the peak of Mt Tateyama.
This spectacular route is traversed by a means of transportation such as ropeways and cable cars, so children and those who are not avid hikers can also enjoy its incredible scenery. The excellent transportation from start to finish makes it possible to complete this track in a day, though you’ll want to start early to catch as many daylight hours as you can in order to experience the changing ecosystems and vistas along the way.
Each point where you change transportation has something to see and do, though the biggest stops along the way are Murodo, Daikanbo and Kurobe Dam.
The famed Snow Corridor starts in Murodo, the highest point of the route 2400m up on Mt Tateyama, accessible by the “Highland Bus” from Bijodaira Station. It’s a mere width of two vehicles carefully cut out from the meters-high snow deposited in a place that gets one of the heaviest snow-falls in the world. This part of the route is probably the most well-known and widely photographed, drawing in many foreign tourists and domestic travelers alike during peak season. In mid-April the road is opened for visitors to walk between the sheer snow walls often towering a up to 20 meters high.
In the summer months, serious hikers and mountaineers are drawn to the plethora of hiking trails around Murodo. Its popularity with families and more leisurely hikers can be attributed to the amazing alpine and volcanic landscapes – the thermal pools, hot springs and glacial water filled crater – just a short stroll from the bus stop. The only hotel on the whole route lies here, with the restaurant serving day-trippers with affordable and well-portioned hot meals. From Murodo, you need to take the “Tunnel Trolley Bus”, powered by electricity generated from the Kurobe Dam, to Daikanbo where the Tateyama Ropeway starts.
At Daikanbo there are a few stalls selling souvenirs and snacks like onigiri (rice balls) and soft-serve ice cream to enjoy whilst taking in the view of the surrounding mountain peaks from the observation deck. From here, visitors need to hop on the Tateyama Ropeway to continue on the route to Kurobedaira. The 1.7 kilometer-long ropeway connects Daikanbo, on Mt Tateyama, to Kurobedaira on the neighboring mountain. With no supporting towers in between, this is Japan’s longest one-span ropeway.
The Tateyama Ropeway has panoramic views of the surrounding alpine scenery: tundra and snow-covered peaks in the spring, alpine flowers and teeming foliage in late summer, and colorful leaves in the fall, making the visit worth it just for this.
A 5-minute cable car’s ride away from Kurobedaira soars the 186m high Kurobe Dam, the tallest in Japan to which visitors can come in extremely close proximity to. Explore the spectacular structure from viewing platforms carved out on top and on the sides of this monster which discharges up to 15 tons of water per second from the Kurobe lake.
Apart from observing the dam from above, sightseeing cruises are offered on the lake in front from June to November, making it the highest altitude boat ride in the country. The dam is walkable and has a few shops selling hot food and souvenirs.
From the dam, you will need to cross to Akasawadake, the final mountain on this route just a short walk away. The second Tunnel Trolley Bus runs from here to Ogizawa on the other side of the mountain, also the final stop on the route from which taxis and local buses which service the wider Nagano area pass through. A popular choice is to take a bus from Ogizawa to Shinano-Omachi Station, which has many convenient train lines and buses ready to bring you to your next destination.