A Complete Guide to Visiting Kamikochi (Best Time to Visit, Access, Opening, Hiking Routes and More)

Sep 30, 2020

As the title says, this post is a comprehensive guide for those who are planning to visit Kamikochi. This will cover all the common questions and things you should know before going, from basic information to tips that will help you enjoy more of Kamikochi.

Summary

  1. 1. Where is Kamikochi?
  2. 2. Things to know before going
  3. 2.1. Opening season
  4. 2.2. No private car policy
  5. 2.3. Hotels, lodges and campsites
  6. 2.4. Do’s and Don’ts
  7. 3. Best time to visit
  8. 3.1. Spring
  9. 3.2. Summer
  10. 3.3. Autumn
  11. 3.4. Winter
  12. 3.5. Temperatures and clothing
  13. 4. Recommended walking route (with map)
  14. 5. Shops and restaurants
  15. 6. Worth-visiting sightseeing spots nearby
  16. 6.1. Norikura
  17. 6.2. Matsumoto
  18. 6.3. Shirahone Onsen
  19. 6.4. Takayama
  20. 6.5. Shirakawa-go
  21. 6.6. Shin-Hotaka Ropeway
  22. 7. Getting to Kamikochi
  23. 7.1. From Matsumoto to Kamikochi
  24. 7.2. From Tokyo to Kamikochi
  25. 7.3. From Osaka to Kamikochi
  26. 7.4. From Nagano to Kamikochi
  27. 7.5. From Takayama to Kamikochi
  28. 8. Recommended Bus Passes
  29. 8.1. 2-Day Free Passport
  30. 8.2. 4-Day Alps WIDE Free Passport
  31. 8.3. Alps Crossing Ticket (Kamikochi-type)
  32. 9. Recommended Tours to Kamikochi

Where is Kamikochi?

Kamikochi is a scenic valley, located at an altitude of 1,500m in Nagano Prefecture. It lies in between Matsumoto and Takayama city, which is why it is a popular side-trip from the two cities. If you look at the map, it is right in the middle of the country so the distance to Kamikochi from both Tokyo and Nagoya is almost the same. However, getting to Kamikochi from Tokyo is a little more convenient due to the more frequent direct bus service.

Things to know before going

Opening season

Kamikochi isn’t open for visitors all year. The official opening period is from April 17 until November 15 of every year and it closes in the wintertime due to heavy snow. During closing season, no shops or restaurants remain open inside the park, which means of course no bus going inside, either. The only way to go there is by walking.

No private car policy

If you’re thinking of renting a car and driving around on your own, you need to know that private cars are not allowed inside Kamikochi. The reasons are to prevent noise and air pollution, and also to ease traffic and congestion. Visitors with private cars must park at Sawando parking if they are coming from the Matsumoto side, or at Akandana Parking if they come from the Takayama side. Then, use a public bus to get to Kamikochi.

See timetable for Sawando – Kamikochi line >
See timetable for Akandana – Kamikochi line >

Hotels, lodges and campsites

Although hotel prices inside the park are relatively high (from 20,000 to 60,000 yen), to fully enjoy the natural wonders, we recommend you stay overnight in Kamikochi for at least one night. If you have a limited budget, you can opt to go camping or stay in a well-equipped cabin at Konashidaira Campsite, managed by the Nihon Alps Kankou. This campsite is the closest one to the bus terminal.

There are around 30 hotels and lodges, and 3 campsites in Kamikochi. If you are looking for a relaxing and quiet stay with a cozy natural hot spring during your stay, Kamikochi Lemeiesta Hotel should definitely be on your list.

One of the best hotels for star photography, chosen by Nikkei Newspaper (2017)

Another option is to stay in the nearby downtown like Matsumoto or Takayama and visit Kamikochi as a day trip. This can save you a lot of hotel spending with a greater variety of hotels to choose from.

Recommended hotels in Matsumoto

Do’s and Don’ts

Do’s:

  • Bring home your own trash.
  • Bring a bell with you (to chase away the bears).
  • Submit your trekking itinerary if you plan to climb up mountains.
  • Pay 100 yen when using a public toilet (no change).

Don’ts:

  • Feed and touch animals.
  • Trespass into not allowed areas.
  • Fly drones.
  • Throw away your leftover food (that will make bears come out more often).

Best time to visit

Kamikochi has so much charm to amaze us in every season and will make you want to come back again and again. We cannot really choose the “best” time, but we can give you an idea of what Kamikochi looks like in each season.

Spring

Spring in Kamikochi is quite different from the downtown. Just after the park is opened until early May, there is still some snow left on the ground and the temperature can drop to single-digit degrees Celsius, so it feels more like winter, especially if the weather is overcast or windy. So, please come prepared with winter clothes. Another thing you should know is that some shops and hotels are still closed during the first 1-2 weeks after the park is open.

Spring - April 27
Spring - April 30

After the Golden Week holidays, all the leaves become more vivid in color as the temperature rises. The temperature can fluctuate during the day, but is still very comfortable in general. It is considered the off-season for domestic visitors, making this another reason for you to consider traveling to Japan after this long holiday.

Summer

Summer in Kamikochi usually starts from around July until mid-September. In general, the temperature in Kamikochi is about 5-9 degrees Celsius lower than in Tokyo which makes it a popular destination to escape the harsh summer heat for the Japanese. It is the perfect season for those who want to do hiking and climbing. But do remember to avoid the Obon Holidays (August 11-16), you may have to wait for hours just to get on a returning bus. Yes, it is that severe!

Early summer - May 20
Summer – September 15

Autumn

Without a doubt, this is by far the most popular travel season in Kamikochi. The peak season for autumn leaves viewing is very hard to predict as it entirely depends on the weather condition of that year. Normally, the peak season is around the middle of October. Some years, it can be as early as the beginning of October. The bad news is that Japan is often struck by typhoons in September and October. May luck be with you!

The symbol of Autumn in Kamikochi is yellow white-birch trees. The leaves remain yellow for quite long, even until into early November. According to our observations, the number of sunny days in early November (Nov 1-5) is very high. So we think another great time to visit Kamikochi is during this period. Good weather, autumn leaves and fewer crowds! In the last week before closing, there’s a higher chance of snow and the park is much quieter and colder. But if it’s a sunny day, it is still worth going.

Early Autumn – October 3
Autumn - October 25
Late Autumn – November 3

Winter

Just as mentioned above, Kamikochi is closed during the winter season and the only way to go there is by walking. You must submit your trekking itinerary before going, so our advice is to hire a local guide as they can help you with all these processes.

Winter - March 13

In conclusion, for next year (2021) you should avoid traveling during the dates below.

4/29-5/5         Golden Week holidays
7/17-7/19         3 consecutive holidays (Marine Day)
8/11-8/16        Obon holidays
9/18-9/20       3 consecutive holidays (Respect for the Aged Day)
10/9-10/11      3 consecutive holidays (Sports Day)

Less crowded periods are in April, May (after the Golden Week), June and November.

Temperatures and clothing

Weather and temperature in the mountainous area can be completely different from downtown. Before going, make sure you check the forecast and prepare yourself.

Temp./ Month Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov
Highest 14.2 17.6 19.4 22.8 23.3 18.1 13.3 8.6
Lowest 1.0 4.8 8.5 13.4 14.1 9.1 4.6 -0.4

Average highest and lowest temperatures of each month (in degree Celsius)

It is best to wear clothes in layers so that it is easy to adjust according to the changing weather. Below is our guide to what you should wear in each month for walking around the flat area of Kamikochi (Taisho Pond ~ Myojin Pond), not for mountain climbing.

Late Apr – Early May: During the daytime, you’ll at least need to wear a fleece jacket, gloves and a neck warmer. Dress like it is late winter.

Late May – Early Jun: The weather gets warmer, but the temperature can be very different between day and night. A windbreaker is an essential item. Wear a down jacket and gloves when you go out for a walk in the morning and at night.

June – Early Jul: This is the season of rain, so in addition to a windbreaker a poncho or rain gear is also a must.

Late Jul – Aug: The temperature is comfortable when being under the shades. A short or long sleeve shirt will do but it’s better to bring a windbreaker in case of bad weather.

September: As the weather starts to get colder, bringing a fleece jacket is recommended. In the morning, temperature can drop below 10 degrees at the beginning of the month and can even go down below 5 degrees at the end of the month.

Early Oct: Wear a fleece jacket, gloves and a neck warmer. A down jacket is necessary in the morning and evening.

Late Oct – Early Nov: Dress like it is the middle of winter. (Down jacket, neck warmer and gloves)

Recommended walking route (with map)

Our recommended route is from Taisho Pond to Myojin Pond, via the Kappa bridge. As this course is very easy with almost no ups and downs, it is recommended for any healthy adult. Small kids may get tired halfway, so you can rest around the Kappa Bridge and decide whether to go further or not. The second half from Kappa Bridge to Myojin Pond is a little harder to walk compared to the first half. Sneakers will do for this course, but trekking shoes are preferable.

Distance: approx. 9.2 km
Time required: approx. 3 hrs. (Photo taking time is not included.)
Elevation: From Taisho Pond (1,490m) to Myojin Pond (1,520m)
Route: Taisho Pond > Tashiro Marsh > Hotaka/Tashiro Bridge > Kappa Bridge > Myojin Pond > Kappa Bridge > Bus Terminal

The most efficient way to do this course is to get off the bus at K-29 Taisho Pond bus stop and follow our recommended walking course on the map. Or you can get off at the bus terminal and head to Myojin Pond first, then walk downstream to Taisho Pond and board a returning bus from there.

Shops and restaurants

Convenience stores are at every corner of the street in Japan, but you won’t find any in Kamikochi. The nearest one is a 1-minute walk from Shin-Shimashima station.

Souvenir shops and restaurants near the bus terminal

In the park, there are a few shops around the bus terminal and inside the tourist visitor center, but they mostly sell souvenirs and equipment for trekking and camping. Around the Kappa Bridge and on the second floor of the bus terminal, there are restaurants serving delicious local dishes at reasonable prices. Hotels and lodges also welcome non-staying guests to use their restaurants for lunch.

Shinshu salmon and Unagi Bowl! (available at the restaurant on the second floor of the bus terminal)

If you want to avoid the crowd, you can buy a lunch pack from a convenience store and go on a picnic wherever you what. Just remember that you need to bring your trash home.

Worth-visiting sightseeing spots nearby

Instead of hopping between regions, how about exploring the hidden amazing places around the area?

Norikura

Divided into 2 areas, Norikura Kogen (highlands) and Norikura Tatamidaira (the mountain top area), Norikura has so much to offer for anyone that loves to be surrounded by nature with plenty of outdoor activities and natural hot springs.

Matsumoto

Famous for its iconic Matsumoto Castle and for being the birthplace of famous artist “Yayoi Kusama”, Matsumoto is a must-visit city when you are around here. It is only 1.5 hours from Kamikochi. Besides, there are also plenty of historical and cultural attractions.

Shirahone Onsen

One of the hidden hot springs with a long history dating back to the Kamakura period (1185-1333). What’s so special about this hot spring is its milky white spring water. One of the lodges (Awanoyo Ryokan) also offers a traditional mixed-gender bath, highly recommended for the not-shy ones.

Takayama

Known as the “Little Kyoto”, Takayama city is a well-preserved post town that reminds you of Japan in the olden days. Not only the beautiful townscape attracts visitors from all over the world, but its tender and juicy “Hida beef” is also another reason for you to visit this town.

Shirakawa-go

Only about 1 hour away from Takayama, Shirakawa-go is designated as a world heritage site with its unique “Gassho-style” farmhouses. This place is exceptionally beautiful in winter during the light-up event but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth going to in other seasons!

Shin-Hotaka Ropeway

Want to stand above the clouds without breaking a sweat? Shin-Hotaka is the place for you. The double-decked ropeway will transport you to an elevation of around 2,150m in a wink. From up there, you can enjoy the majestic view of the Hotaka mountain range.

TIPS All the areas mentioned above are covered by the 4-Day Alps WIDE Free Passport Ticket.

Getting to Kamikochi

Kamikochi is one of the most easy-to-access national parks in Japan with an extensive bus network, provided by Alpico and other bus operators.

Getting to Kamikochi from the main cities is easy and fuss-free with Alpico’s direct bus service.

From Matsumoto to Kamikochi

Matsumoto is a perfect base to begin your journey to Kamikochi. It takes 30 minutes by train from JR Matsumoto station to Shin-Shimashima station. The train (Kamikochi line) departs from platform no.7. Please note that this train is not operated by JR, thus not covered by any JR pass.

After getting off at Shin-Shimashima terminal station, you need to change to the bus bound for Kamikochi and continue the journey for another 1 hour to reach Kamikochi. Services are frequent with trains and buses departing every hour.

See timetable for Matsumoto – Kamikochi Line >

Kamikochi Line train, also known as Matsumoto Dentetsu Line

From Tokyo to Kamikochi

Don’t want to bother with transfers? Then a direct bus is your option. From the Tokyo area, there are 4 bus lines available.

Buses from Tokyo station and Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal depart late at night (night bus) and early in the morning (day bus). When booking, please choose your seat type. The 3-row-seat type bus (green car) provides you with a more comfortable seat and complimentary amenities for a small extra fee. (Please note that the night bus has a longer travel time, so that it arrives in Kamikochi after sunrise)

See timetable for Tokyo – Kamikochi Line >
See timetable for Shinjuku – Kamikochi Line >

3-row-seat bus (Premium Green Car). Complimentary amenities include a blanket, slippers, leg rest, electrical outlet, Wi-Fi and an on-board toilet.
4-row-seat bus (Standard Car)

The buses departing from Shibuya and Kawagoe only have a day bus service with standard 4-row seat type available.

See timetable for Shibuya – Kamikochi Line >
See timetable for Kawagoe/Omiya – Kamikochi Line >

Another way to travel to Kamikochi from Tokyo is to use the JR limited express train Azusa (2.5-3hrs – 6,900 yen) or Alpico highway bus (3.15hrs – 3,800 yen) to get to Matsumoto first, then change to a local train and bus.

From Osaka to Kamikochi

There are 2 roundtrips daily. The night bus departs late at night, using a 3-row-seat type bus (green car) for more comfort for a longer journey, while the day bus departs early in the morning with a standard 4-row-seat type bus. (Please note that the night bus has a longer travel time, so that it arrives in Kamikochi after sunrise)

See timetable for Osaka – Kamikochi Line >

From Nagano to Kamikochi

This service operates on specific dates with only 1 roundtrip daily. The one-way journey takes around 3 hours. The standard 4-row-seat type bus will be used for this route.

See timetable for Nagano – Kamikochi Line >

From Takayama to Kamikochi

From Takayama, take a 1-hour bus ride to Hirayu Onsen, then transfer to a bus bound for Kamikochi for another 30 minutes.

See timetable for Takayama – Kamikochi Line >

Kamikochi Bus Terminal

Recommended Bus Passes

2-Day Free Passport

Coverage area: Matsumoto, Kamikochi, Norikura and Shirahone Onsen
Price: 7,000 yen (8,500 yen for 3-day use)
Ticket Info >

4-Day Alps WIDE Free Passport

Coverage area: Matsumoto, Kamikochi, Norikura, Shirahone Onsen, Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Shin-Hotaka Ropeway, Gero Onsen and more
Price: 11,000 yen (13,000 yen with Shin-Hotaka Ropeway round trip tickets)
Ticket Info >

Alps Crossing Ticket (Kamikochi-type)

Coverage area: Matsumoto, Kamikochi and Takayama
Price: 5,000 yen
Ticket Info >

Recommended Tours to Kamikochi

Kamikochi & Norikura Nature Tour

Highlights
・Easy and quick access to the best nature spots of the Japan Alps
・Go on a hike in Japan’s leading mountain resort Kamikochi
・Admire the breathtaking scenery on the top of Mt. Norikura from an altitude of 2,700m
Tour Info >

*There might be changes to some service due to our measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19.

Climbing the Highest Peak of Mt. Norikura (3,026m) in Just 3 Hours
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