Fall has officially started as of the end of September, which means slightly cooler temperatures, lots of pumpkin and sweet potato flavored foods and those beautiful red, orange and yellow-colored autumn leaves. Due to the warm weather in September this year, the color change of the leaves started a little later than usual, but if you go to a high enough place where the temperatures have begun to drop, you’ll find that beautiful and colorful scenery of the fall season. We grabbed our hiking boots and cameras, and jumped on the bus to Mount Norikura, one of the best places in Nagano to see autumn leaves.
Mount Norikura (Tatamidaira)
If you want to enjoy a full day of sightseeing and hiking, it’s best to go early. We took the train at 7:15 and arrived with the bus in Mount Norikura at 9:50. It’s a pretty long ride, but we recommend that you don’t fall asleep on the bus! Or at least not on the one that goes from Norikura’s Tourist Information Center to the top of the mountain. The scenery that you see from the bus is amazing, especially because you’re seated a lot higher on the bus than if you were just standing on the ground which gives you a better view of your surroundings. (More details on how to get to Norikura is at the end of this blog.)
After a couple of hours on the road, you will arrive at the top of Mount Norikura, also called Tatamidaira. Here you’ll find several of restaurants and souvenir shops, as well as a shrine, a couple of lodgings where you can spend the night, and the entrance to the trail that leads to Mt. Mao (2,763m). Although it was early in the morning, we decided to head to the restaurant, as hiking on an empty stomach isn’t such a good idea.
The big building (left on the picture above) that the bus stops in front of is the Norikura Bus Terminal and it has two restaurants, a souvenir shop and an information desk. The restaurant in on the first floor only serves light snacks or noodles, while the restaurant on the second floor has a more expansive menu with curry, rice bowls and set meals as well.
Hiking Down the Trail
Once you’ve filled up your stomach, it’s time to do some walking! Our plan was to walk all the way down from Tatamidaira to N-38 Kuraigahara Sanso and take a bus back to Norikura’s Tourist Information Center from there. According to the walking maps, this would take about 2~2.5 hours, but since we decided to add a trip to the top of Mt. Daikoku and took a lot of pictures during our walk, we ended up spending about 4 hours.
Our trip to Mt. Daikoku (2,772m) was relatively quick. The trail entrance is located on the opposite side of the bus stop Elevation 2,716m and it will take you about 15 minutes to get to the top. From there you have a spectacular view of the Northern Japan Alps. There’s a small building on top, so you sit down to eat a sandwich or onigiri there if you’d like.
For a nice view of the autumn leaves though, you would want to head back down and follow the road that leads to the bus stop N-40 Daisekkei/Path to Katanoya (Hut). Looking down from the road to the fields of plants and trees that are all colored differently is a magnificent thing to see and you will find many photographers alongside the road because of that.
After about 30 minutes of walking, you will see a small hut with a public toilet and a special parking space for Norikura’s buses (private cars are not allowed to drive up to Tatamidaira). This is the Daisekkei area, the place nearest to Norikura’s towering snow walls that you can see in spring.
Read our blog about the snow walls here!
Read also: Norikura Snow Walls – the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route’s doppelganger
From here you can climb off the road and onto a mountain trail. As the name suggests, a mountain trail is more difficult to traverse than a regular road, with big rocks scattered about and maybe some pools of water here and there, especially after it has rained. Make sure to come prepared with good hiking shoes and comfortable clothes and watch your step as you go down the trail.
The first trail might be a little hard to spot as there are no English signs along the way, but you’ll come across a small trail entrance off the road after the parking spot on the left-hand side when walking down, so keep an eye out for that. The mountain trail takes about 30 minutes to hike. After that you’ll come across the concrete road again which you’ll have to walk along until you get to a curve in the road and another trail entrance which is located near the Hotokureijin bus stop.
This next mountain trail takes about 75 minutes and has some of the best autumn scenery. After hiking down you come across this big boulder that kind of blocks your path. Climb on top of it and you’ll see a colorful field of trees stretch out in front of you. Green, yellow, orange and red trees are all mixed together to create a vivid landscape that takes your breath away. We stayed on top of the rock for a while, just to take it all in and get some shots. This open part of the trail is called the Konorisama Ritual Field and it’s definitely one of Norikura's attractions and something you don’t want to miss when traveling in the area, especially in autumn.
After walking down a bit, you’ll enter the woods for the last leg of the mountain trail until you get to the road again. You’ll quickly spot a red-roofed hut if you follow the road a little farther, which is the Kuraigahara (Sanso) hut. Here you can get a nice warm meal or spend the night if you’d like. The bus stop is right in front of it, so step inside the hut for some well-deserved rest after all that walking and climbing while you wait for the bus to come.
And that’s the end of our Norikura trip!
Honestly though, one day in Norikura just isn’t enough. If you’re also interested in climbing some of the peaks such as Mt. Kengamine, we definitely recommend you add another day. Or if you’ve seen everything in Norikura, you can head to the beautiful mountain resort Kamikochi for your second day.
Getting to Norikura
To get there, you have to take the Kamikochi Line from Matsumoto Station to Shin-Shimashima Station, which takes about 30 minutes. At Shin-Shimashima Station you transfer to a Norikura-bound bus. After about an hour, you get to the final stop of that bus called N-29 Norikura Kogen Tourist Information Center. Here you can find – as the name suggests – the information center, a cute café that sells delicious ice cream and several restaurants (check out our recommended restaurants here!) From there, you have to transfer to another bus. This one will take you to the top of Mount Norikura. Ride it all the way up for another hour and you will get to the bus stop N-42 Mount Norikura (Tatamidaira).
*You can also get to Matsumoto from Tokyo (Shinjuku) by Alpico bus.
Luckily, there is the 2-Day Free Passport that works perfectly for this situation! This discounted bus ticket gives you access to the buses running in the Matsumoto, Kamikochi and Norikura area. It’s valid for two days and you can hop on and off the bus as many times as you like in that time. The pass also gives you discounts on the admission fee of certain sightseeing spots such as the Matsumoto Castle.
Is two days not enough? There’s also the 2-Day Free Passport plus ONE if you need an extra day to explore this huge area and see everything it has to offer!
2-Day Free Passport
Validity: 2 consecutive days from first use
Price: Adult 7,000 JPY, Child 3,500 JPY
2-Day Free Passport plus ONE
Validity: 3 consecutive days from first use
Price: Adult 8,500 JPY, Child 4,250 JPY
Available at: Matsumoto Bus Terminal, Shin-Shimashima Bus Terminal and Kamikochi Bus Terminal
Ticket Info >
But if you also plan to go around Takayama or Shirakawa-go area, too, the 4-Day Alps WIDE Free Passport is highly recommended. You can travel in wider area within 4 days. Prices vary depending on seasons (Adult 9,000 – 13,000 JPY, Child 4,500 – 6,500 JPY).