Jul 10, 2019
Updated Aug 14, 2019
Hakuba Happo Pond: Gateway to the Heavens
Hakuba is an excellent ski resort and was once a venue of the Winter Olympics in 1998. In winter, it is a mecca for ski lovers, while in summer, it’s a paradise for hikers and trekkers, as it is full of majestic mountains and lovely alpine flowers. Summer may be the least popular season to travel in Japan. But you might change your mind if you came here to Hakuba during summer!
How to Get There
■ From Tokyo
– Take a bus from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal to the Happo Bus Terminal (5 hrs 5,200 yen). Click here for the timetable and booking.
■ From Nagano
– Take a bus from Nagano station and get off at Happo Bus Terminal or Hakuba Station (1.5 hrs 2,000 yen). Click here for the timetable.
■ From Matsumoto
Take a JR train (Oito line) from Matsumoto Station, then transfer to a train bound for Minami Otari (Oito line) at the JR Shinano Omachi Station and get off at the Hakuba Station (approx. 1hr 40min 1,140 yen). FYI, there is only one direct train to Hakuba that operate daily (Azusa No.3).
From both Happo Bus Terminal and Hakuba Station, there are shuttle buses running to the Happo Gondola bus stop, which is the starting point to get to the trailhead (See timetable below). However, Happo Bus Terminal is only 1 km away from the Happo Bus Terminal, so you can opt to walk if you want to (15 min).
■Shuttle bus within Hakuba area
Fare: 300 yen for a single journey ticket / 500 yen for a one-day ticket
Service period: Daily from Apr. 4 to May 6 / Daily from Jul. 13 to Aug. 25 / Every weekend and on national holidays from Sep. 14 to Nov. 4
Fare: Those who have a gondola lift ticket for Happo Alpen Line, Tsugaike Mountain Resort or Tsugaike Panorama Way can get on this bus free of charge.
Service period: Daily from Jun. 1 to Oct. 27
Happo Alpen line consists of one gondola and two lifts: Gondola Adam, the Alpen Quad Lift and the Grad Quad Lift. Gondola Adam is just a few steps from the Happo Gondola bus stop. A round-trip ticket to the highest ski lift station costs 2,900 yen, and it takes around 20 minutes one-way. ((See trekking map here)
Start trekking from Happoike Sanso Lodge
Distance: Approximately 1.5 km
Altitude difference: 230 m
Time required: 1 hour 30 minutes (one-way)
From Happoike Sanso Lodge, you have two choices: go left or go right. I chose left as half of the trail is a wooden boardwalk, so it is easier to walk on. If you choose the other way, you need to go through loose rocks on the trail which is a little bit difficult to walk on.
You can hike to Hakuba Happo Pond or even higher to Mt. Karamatsu starting from June as the Happo Alpen line starts its green season operation from June 1 until October 27. The operation period varies every year and the line may close due to bad weather.
As for the most popular question “When is the best time to go?”, it depends on what you what to see. If you want to see alpine flowers, the best time to go is between July and August, while the best time to see autumn leaves is usually around the end of September until early October.
Happo-one is located at the northern end of the Northern Japan Alps. The ridgelines of Happo-one spread out to over 8 directions, so it was named Happo (8 directions) - one (ridgelines). According to the brochure, it says from here you can see 11 out of the 100 peaks that appear in “Japan’s 100 Mountains”, a famous book by Fukada Kyuya. Especially on a nice day, you can enjoy a view of Mt. Fuji from cairn No.1.
Trek downhill a little more and there it is, Happo Pond! Even though we wasn’t lucky enough to see the perfect reflection of the Northern Alps on the pond as it was very cloudy that day, the mountain ridges that were partly covered by clouds and fog made it even more magical looking. Standing right in front of a view like this can make you feel so small but big at the same time.
Influenced by Shinto beliefs and ideology, gods are everywhere in nature; in the mountain, in the forest, in the sea or in the river. It is very normal to see little shrines like this on top of mountains.
The higher you climb, the fewer tall trees can be seen. Keep your eyes on the ground where you see lots of rocks and you'll find cute little alpine flowers there.
Onsen stop before heading back to your hotel?
After a few hours of trekking, believe me, nothing is better than soaking your body in a healing hot spring. There is a good day-trip hot spring named “Happo no Yu”, just a 2-minute walk from the Happo Bus Terminal, (click here to see the map). The entrance fee is 800 yen, and you can pay an additional towel fee of 200 yen if you don’t have one. Shampoo and body soap are all provided. If you don’t have time or are too shy to bath with others, the free foot bath outside is also recommended!