Kamikochi may seem closed during winter, but that’s not entirely accurate. The closure period, from November 16 to April 16, simply means that shops, hotels, and the bus service to Kamikochi are unavailable. If you’re keen on experiencing Kamikochi in winter, your best bet is to embark on a snowshoe journey to this hidden winter wonder.
Knowing the Risks Before Planning to Go to Kamikochi in Winter
Kamikochi, known for its winter beauty, transforms into a snowy wonderland during the colder months. However, venturing into this winter paradise requires careful consideration and preparation.
In winter, Kamikochi is blanketed with deep snow, requiring snowshoes and appropriate winter gear. With the potential dangers of avalanches, ground blizzards, rapidly changing weather conditions, and temperatures plummeting below -20°C, it is impractical to enter the mountains wearing typical winter clothing from town.
Unless you have experience in winter mountaineering, it is not advisable to enter the mountains without proper preparation for winter climbing and a professional guide. Please be aware that entering Kamikochi during this period is done at your own risk.
Essential Information Before Your Winter Trek
Before you embark on your winter adventure in Kamikochi, keep a few key things in mind:
- Shop and Hotel Closures: During winter closure, all shops and hotels within Kamikochi are shut. Pack enough food and drinks for your journey.
- Climbing Registration: Before entering Kamikochi, complete a climbing registration at the entrance (Nakanoyu Gate) and submit it in the designated box. Download the Climbing Registration Form here.
- Professional Guidance:If you're new to winter activities, it's highly recommended to join a tour led by a professional guide when venturing into Kamikochi during winter. Raicho Guesthouse comes highly recommended as a reliable guide.
- Map and Toilet Locations: Refer to this link for a map of Kamikochi and toilet locations.
- Weather Preparation: Check the weather on the day of your trek and ensure you're appropriately dressed in the right equipment.
Getting to Kamikochi in Winter by Bus
Please keep in mind that all buses going inside Kamikochi operate until November 15.
You can board the Matsumoto – Takayama bus. This bus will stop outside Kamikochi at K-26 Nakanoyu bus stop, which is the nearest bus stop to Kamikochi in winter. From there, you will need to walk or use snowshoes, approximately 1 hour (3 km) to Taisho Pond and about 2 hours (7 km) to Kappa Bridge. The time required may be significantly longer depending on the snow conditions and weather.
This is a non-reserved bus; you cannot purchase or reserve the bus ticket in advance. You can purchase the ticket at either Matsumoto or Takayama Bus Terminal. For the return trip, please purchase the ticket from the bus driver when boarding from Nakanoyu bus stop. Please check the bus timetable and fare here.
Our Story Hiking to Kamikochi in Winter
We met our guide, "Fujie-san," at the Nakanoyu Gate, and we began our journey at 9:30. If you lack snowshoeing gear, don't worry; guides can provide essential hiking tools like snowshoes, crampons, gaiters, suitable footwear, and poles. Bring your sunglasses, sunscreen, a backpack, and food and drinks.
Starting from the Nakanoyu Gate, we went through two tunnels: "Kama Tunnel" (1,310 meters long with an 11-degree slope) and "Kamikochi Tunnel" (588 meters long). We started to see the majestic view of Kamikochi unfold in front of our eyes after walking nearly 2 kilometers through long tunnels.
Our trip to Kamikochi was around early March, and the snow had already started to melt, so Fujie-san suggested that using just crampons should be fine. However, you may need to use snowshoe gear if you are going in the middle of winter when the snow is still high, fluffy, and hasn’t started melting yet.
We were at Taisho Pond at 10:40.
Another popular camera angle from Taisho Pond. The withered trees lined up before your eyes are "Karamatsu" (Japanese Larch) that turn golden yellow in autumn and fresh green in summer.
Mount Yakedake. Read our hike to Mt. Yakedake.
Beautiful evergreen trees soaring high in the lovely blue sky.
The view of Hotaka mountain range near the Tashiro marsh.
Kamikochi Lemeiesta Hotel and “Kesho-Yanagi” trees (literally translated into “cosmetic willow”), which turn red in winter.
Kesho-Yanagi is one of the symbols of Kamikochi as it is said that it was found in Japan only in Kamikochi and Hokkaido. In the past, it was used to make cosmetic powder and that became the reason behind its name.
At noon, we finally reached the "Kappa Bridge," our goal for today. The scenery was very different from what we usually see in Kamikochi, with tourists taking photos on the bridge.
This was the photo of the day that proved to us that our effort was not for nothing.
Today's lunch includes sandwiches and hot tea generously prepared by our guide.
Our kind and helpful guide, Fujie-san.
On our way back, we bumped into a troop of monkeys. So cute and fluffy that we wanted to touch them, but no, we didn’t. Let the animals live like they are supposed to live. :)
We got back to the starting point at Nakanoyu Gate at 15:30, a 6-hour walk in total. Normally, snowshoeing tours in Kamikochi finish earlier, but we spent too much time taking photos. After a tired but fun day like this, soaking your body in a hot spring definitely makes your day a little more special.
Disclaimers: Alpico is a bus company. We do not provide any tours to Kamikochi in winter, and we do not recommend tourists going to Kamikochi in winter without adequate preparation. We will answer only the inquiries about the bus. For further information about the tour and the preparation to go to Kamikochi in winter, please inquire at Raicho Gusthouse and Chubusangaku National Park, directly.