Kamikochi a section of the Northern Japanese Alps is a popular tourist spot in Nagano Prefecture.
It is especially popular in the summer for hiking and trekking in Japan as the tourists can enjoy the cool breeze with outstanding scenic views. This scenic tourist spot is at an elevation of 1500 meters and the Alps rise an additional 1500 meters, creating a magnificent background with the Azusa river in the foreground. The most popular starting point of this place is the Symbolic bridge of Kamikochi known as Kappa bridge or “Kappabashi”.
Downriver is the picture-perfect Taisho Pond. And upriver is the Myojin Pond. The beautiful surroundings of the Hotaka mountain, trickling streams, and the deep forest add up to the charm of the area, and visitors can enjoy their time from simple hiking to full-scale mountain climbing, from easy day trips to overnight stays.
The site of Kamikochi remains closed during the winter due to the high risk of snowfall and is usually open from mid/late April until November.
A 5-minute walk from the bus terminal is the most photogenic place of the Alps. There is a wooden suspension bridge where one can gaze upon the flowering Azusa river, and take in the views of Mt Hotaka and Mt Yakedake in the background.
There is an interesting history behind this place. The Taisho pond is actually a shallow pond that was formed when the nearby volcano Mt Yakedake erupted and dammed the Azusa river. This reflecting pond surrounded by an ancient forest creates a spectacular curb appeal to the visitors and is very famous amongst photographers.
To go to the Myojin point it takes an hour's hike upstream the Azusa river. After an hour you will reach the myojin bridge overlooking the whole area. From there walk up to the Hotaka Shrine, a secluded sacred area for the Japanese, surrounded by a grove of cedar and pine trees. Nearby the pond is the Mt Myojin which creates a serene and spiritual ambiance. Entrance to the pond costs a fee of 300 yen.
How to get there
If you are traveling from Tokyo, you can take the Alpico Highway bus from Shinjuku. The one-way trip takes around 6/7 hours and costs around 5000/7000 yen (45/60$)
There are multiple companies operating from Osaka and Kyoto to Kamikochi as well. The oneway ride is about 8 hours in total and costs vary from 6000 to 9000 yen (55/85$)
Most people travel by car to the Sawano or Hirayu parking area and then change to public transportation to the mountain top. It takes around 20/30 minutes from the parking area to get to Kamikochi and costs around 1000 yen one way. You can also take a taxi, a very convenient and cost-effective option if you are a group of 4 people. The taxi costs around 4000 Yen(35$)
Please keep in mind that private cars are not allowed in Kamikochi and the area is only accessible by bus or taxi.
Hike along the turquoise Azusa River
The trail from the Taisho pond up to the Myojin pond is very well maintained and easy to traverse even for new hikers. The Simplest way to enjoy everything the Alps provide is by starting your hike from Taisho pond. The terrains are flat and the summits of the surrounding mountains make the time pass by very easily. If you are starting the hike from KappaBashi to Myojin pond, you have to round back to Kappa Bashi and then continue on to Taisho, this adds an extra hour to the hike. The climbs of the peaks are very challenging and are only recommended if you are an experienced hiker. Watch out for bears and other wild animals. The visitor center at KappaBashi updates the last seen locations of bears on a daily basis.
Things to remember
Kamikochi can be cold & chilly even during the summer so dress accordingly.
Kamikochi is only open between April and November
No private cars are allowed in the property apart from bus and taxi
Keep the bus times in mind( you don’t want to come late and miss out on the hike or worse miss the last bus )
If you are going during the summer, it gets pretty crowded and it is best to avoid the weekends.
All in all, Kamikochi is a wonderful destination for nature lovers, the weather is pleasant in the summer, there are rest stops and toilets every hour or so along the trail. There are also ample lodging and dining facilities for those staying overnight, and the views are breathtaking. So when you're wondering where to go next while you're in Japan, hop on the trail to Kamikochi for an unforgettable experience.