Kamikochi : How to Hike the Japanese Alps

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Kamikochi National Park is located in the heart of the Japanese Alps and is a great day-trip from Matsumoto, Japan. In this travel guide I share what to do in Kamikochi, accommodation options, how to get there and hiking tips you can’t miss. Everything you need to know to make the most of your trip.

Mountains and Azusa River in Kamikochi, Japan
Hiking in Japan

Kamikochi is a popular resort area that is open from mid-April to mid-November and offers a great hike along the Azusa River Valley surrounded by mountains reaching more than 9,000 ft and an active volcano.

Kamikochi is especially popular during the summer vacation months and also during foliage week in the fall. Wildlife such as monkeys and birds can be seen in the trail during calmer months.

The main trail in Kamikochi is pretty easy (flat to slight incline), well-marked and every couple of miles there are restrooms and food areas. It’s a great place for a nice walk or a multi-day trip in Japan.

Most day-trippers take the trail to right of the bus terminal towards Myojin Bridge and pass through Hotaka Shrine, Myojin Pond and Takezawa Marsh on the way back. This loop takes around 2-3hrs at a leisurely pace.

Takezawa Marsh in Kamikochi Japan
Takezawa Marsh

The other option is to go the opposite way towards Taisho Pond and that also takes around 2-3 hours.

For advanced hikers, there are several options for a more extraneous hike up the mountains surrounding Kamikochi, all over 9,000 feet or 3,000 meters in elevation.

The famous Kappa Bridge is located at the beginning of the trail, just past the bus terminal. If you are not into hiking, you can just spend the day here.

Kappa Bridge in Kamikochi Japan
Kappa Bridge

Kamikochi Accommodations Options

There are several accommodations options in Kamikochi. You can take a day trip and stay in Matsumoto in a Ryokan, stay in a hotel or lodge along the Azusa River or camp at the park provided tents.

Camping tents at Kamikochi Japan
Camping in the Japanese Alps

Tips for Hiking Kamikochi

There are a few things about hiking in Japan that you are not likely to find in hikes in the US- food stations every couple of miles, restrooms, man-made structures such as suspension bridges over Azusa River, and lots of hiking groups during peak season.

If you are looking for untouched nature, this will be a little different, but still worth the experience. Most people only visit the big cities and miss out on the beautiful nature that Japan has to offer.

Here are some tips to make the most of your day hike in Kamikochi:

  • Plan on leaving Matsumoto early so that you can enjoy Kamikochi without hurrying to get back. The first bus leaves at 5am.
  • Schedule a night in a Ryokan after you hike. This was a mistake I made. I stayed in a Ryokan in Matsumoto and took a train back to Tokyo after my hike – I arrived super late in the city and was exhausted!
  • The bus station to Kamikochi is right across the train station. Leave your luggage in a locker at the train station and only carry what you need for the hike.
  • The bus is not cheap, about U$45 roundtrip, but it includes a narrated guide over the area. It is all in Japanese, but still entertaining nonetheless, and if you sit close to the guide, you will be able to understand a lot of the tour by watching where the guide is pointing at different parts of the trip.
  • Take the left side of the trail from the river. I did a loop taking the right side, crossing the bridge and coming back on the left side and regretted that I didn’t take the left side both times. It was a lot more picturesque.
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Left side of the trail
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Right side of the trail
  • Take food and drinks with you to avoid high costs and plan to bring all your trash back. There are no trash cans anywhere in Kamikochi. Even if you buy food from a restaurant, you are required to bring the trash back with you to Matsumoto.
  • Take a break by the river. It’s amazingly blue and clear.
  • Make sure to pay attention to return times. The last bus leaves Kamikochi around 4pm and the schedule sometimes changes. Check the timetables before you go!
  • This is very important! Even if you bought a roundtrip ticket, you still need another ticket which lets them know you will be going back on the same day. You can get this ticket at the return bus stop when you are ready to leave. It will assign you a number and the number will be called when the bus is ready. A tip here: you don’t need to speak Japanese to know when they call you. Just find the person in line that has the number before you and pay attention to them- once they board, you should be next. Of course, this is only valid if they are not foreigners like you.
  • When you hike Kamikochi don’t forget basic trail etiquette: take only memories, leave only footprints and say hi to everyone you pass, which in Japanese is “Konnichiwa“, but if you really want to sound cool, just say “chiwaa!” If you don’t get a response, they are probably foreigners.
Myojin Bridge in Kamikochi Japan
Bridge

How to get to Kamikochi

Kamikochi (上高地, Kamikōchi) is one of the easiest access points to the Japanese Alps, just 45 mins from Matsumoto or 1.5 hrs from Takayama by bus.

There are other options for traveling from Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto by bus, but I would not recommend these options as they are long-trips (over 5hrs) and cost more than a plane ticket (100-200 Yen roundtrip). Especially if you have purchased the JR Rail Pass, you can take the Shinkansen to Matsumoto without extra charges.

From Matsumoto

If you are starting in Matsumoto, there are two ways to get to Kamikochi. One option and my recommendation is to buy a direct bus ticket to Kamikochi, which takes 45 minutes and drops you off right at the visitor center. This will cost you around 4650 yen roundtrip.

The second option is to take the Matsumoto Electric Railway from Matsumoto main rail station and then a bus ride to Kamikochi. This will cost you around 5300 yen roundtrip.

The advantages to taking the direct bus are shorter commuter time, lower cost and no need to figure out the bus schedules.

The downsides are that there are only a few timed departures from Matsumoto every morning and these sell out fast in peak season. Also they leave super early in the morning.

From Takayama

From Takayama, you can take a one-hour bus to Hirayu Onsen and then another bus to Kamikochi. The total trip takes around 1.5 hrs and costs around 5300 yen roundtrip.

You can also drive to Kamikochi, however private cars are not allowed in the park, so if you rent a car, you will need to take the bus for the last leg of the trip.


If you liked this hiking guide for Kamikochi, you might also like these other travel guides across Japan:

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