This post was last updated on June 11th, 2020 at 01:45 pm
Located in the Japanese Alps, Kamikochi is a paradise for hikers and nature lovers. The landscape consists of a valley with all kinds of forests, picturesque lakes, mountains whose tops are covered with ice, and various suspension bridges. A clear river flows through it. At times we were emotionally back in New Zealand.
This high valley is one of the more popular destinations among day-trippers in the region, so be prepared for some hustle and bustle. It also takes some effort to get there, but that effort is absolutely worth it.
In this article, we tell you how we experienced Kamikochi, we discuss the most beautiful sights and we will share useful tips with you. There’s one thing we can already tell you: you definitely want to visit this place!
From Matsumoto to Kamikochi
Kamikochi is accessible from both Takayama and Matsumoto. We traveled via Matsumoto. You can buy tickets opposite the train station at the bus station. A return ticket costs 4,550 yen (~ US$41.50)) and includes:
- The train journey from Matsumoto Station to Shimashima Station and back (30 minutes).
- The bus ride from Shimashima Station to Kamikochi and back (1 hour).
The organization that organizes this trip is Alpico Group, and the exact departure times can be found here. Entry to Kamikochi is free.
The bus trip, straight through the Japanese Alps, is actually an experience in itself. The view of the mountains is amazing and even a bit surreal. Especially when you are there in the peak period of autumn. It almost seems as if someone has colored everything with a paintbrush.
You can get off at different stops, but we recommend that you get out at Taisho Pond. There you can begin your walk towards the Kappa Bridge and the Kamikochi Bus Terminal, where you will catch the bus back to Shimashima Station later in the afternoon. This is the route most people follow.
Walk Alone or With a Group?
On the bus, we met a group of Indonesians who seemed pleasantly surprised when we spoke a few words of Bahasa Indonesia. They suggested walking together, although we soon felt that it would be a fairly noisy event. And we wanted to be able to explore Kamikochi in peace.
A little later we started talking to a boy from Brazil, who also indicated that he wanted to hike together. We thought about it and again came to the conclusion that we would rather do it alone. We were preparing how to get this message across because it remains difficult to reject someone. We told him that if we went together, we would probably talk a lot while we want to discover this beautiful nature reserve in silence. He agreed with this, although our directness seemed to hit quite hard.
Taisho Pond: a Beautiful Lake
From the place where we were dropped, we walked down towards Taisho Pond. Due to the clear weather, the almost completely snow-covered Hotaka Mountains were clearly visible, including a beautiful reflection on the water. It is a place with few people where you can completely relax, and then start your walk full of energy.
Tashiro Pond: Another Beautiful Place
A little further lies Tashiro Pond, a smaller but certainly no less beautiful lake. The pond is surrounded by swamp landscapes and trees. And if you pay close attention, at times the color of the water seems to change from green to yellow. There is also a bench, ideal to take a seat and enjoy this serene spot.
The Crystal Clear Water of the Azusa River
The path then leads you through a dense forest and you can see a strikingly clear river flowing next to you. This is the Azusa River, which is somewhat reminiscent of the seawater of a tropical island in terms of color. From time to time, take a walk off the main path to get a closer look at the river. In addition, enjoy the beautiful view of the mountain range behind it and the thousands of trees that curve around the Azusa River. Also stop at the Tashiro Bridge, which you will pass along the way.
The Iconic Kappa Bridge
The Kappabashi Bridge, or Kappa Bridge for short, is the symbol of Kamikochi and the most photographed place in the area. From a distance, you can see the huge wooden bridge over the Azusa River, and probably see a lot of people working on getting the perfect camera angle. And that is of course not without reason. The blue-green water, the white peaks, and the green nature provide a view that seems to be painted.
This is also the tourist center of Kamikochi. You will find the Kamikochi Visitor Center, food shops, an ice cream parlor, and an (expensive) shop to buy snacks and the like. The bus station is a 5-minute walk away, where you can catch the bus back to Shimashima Station, for example.
Behind the bridge, you will also find various trails that take you deeper into the nature of Kamikochi. You will find Takezawa Marsh nearby, about which we will tell you more.
If you have luggage and you want to walk around without carrying it everywhere, you can choose to drop it off at the storage. As seen in the pictures below you can drop or pick up your luggage between 6:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Here are the rates per day:
- Small Size Luggage: 350 Yen (~ US$3.20) per day
- Medium Size Luggage: 400 Yen (~ US$3.65) per day
- Large Size Luggage: 500 Yen (~ US$4.55) per day
- Extra Size Luggage: 600 Yen (~ US$5.50) per day
And if you need even more space:
- 90L: 700 Yen (~ US$6.40) per day
- 100L: 800 Yen (~ US$7.30) per day
You can also get a great meal here. There is a menu with different types of Japanese food. Here is a photo of the menu with all the delicious dishes you can try:
The Enchanting Takezawa Marsh
We walked from the Kappa bridge into the forest and we saw fewer and fewer tourists. Via a wooden jetty, we ended up at Takezawa Marsh, a kind of swamp with a downright enchanting appearance. In the green, reflecting water there are wild, completely or almost bare trees, and further on you have a view of the mountains. It is a typical ‘wow!’ moment, especially when the sunrays descend on the water between the trees. We were really surprised by how beautiful it is here.
Moments later we walked on and saw another cute little waterfall crossing the woods. Since there’s mainly a big forest after that, we decided to turn around and catch the 3-hour bus to Matsumoto.
Moreover, it has cooled a lot in recent days when the sun went down, and since we had to cycle for half an hour from the station and did not have any gloves on us, we thought we had seen enough.
Ceremonies at the Myojin Pond
Contrary to what we did, you can also choose to hike a little further. You then arrive at Myojin Pond, another beautiful pond surrounded by a mix of conifers and bamboo grass.
Nearby is the Hotaka Shrine where the Omizugaeshi ceremony is held every November. Water is poured from the rivers during an earlier ceremony in Azumino into the pond of Myojin. So it comes back to the source.
The so-called Boat Festival is also organized every year on the 8th of October. Two holy boats sail across the water, and the gods are asked to give safety to the many climbers who enter the mountains of Kamikochi.
From the Kappa Bridge, the Myojin Pond is about a 1-hour walk. You have to pay an entrance fee here of 300 yen (~ US$2.75).
Kamikochi has many mountains to climb, both for beginners and experts. Think of Mount Yari, Mount Chogatake, Mount Jonen, Mount Hotakadake, and Mount Yakedake. Before you start your adventure, read up on the climb and what you should bring with you.
Located at a 1.5-hour walk from Kappa Bridge, Tokusawa is ideal to use as a base for most trekking tours. In the middle of nature, there’s a campsite and a lodge to spend the night.
Closed in the Winter
Kamikochi will close its doors in winter, from November 16 to April 16. Private transportation is not allowed, only up to the Sawando Parking Area, which is about 7 miles from Taisho Pond. And buses will no longer run after November 15.
Every year, on the last day, a traditional ceremony takes place to close the season. The same happens when Kamikochi opens again.
We honestly didn’t know about these dates, so we were lucky to arrive in Matsumoto exactly two days before closing. So we were able to visit Kamikochi on the last day. Or maybe it just had to be, who knows? 😉
Where to Stay in Kamikochi
If you want to spend the night in Kamikochi, it is great to do this at a campsite. You can camp at the Tokusawa Campground and the Konashidaira Campground. At Tokusawa you pay 700 yen (~ US$6.40) per person per night and at Konashidaira 800 yen (~ US$7.30). However, you will need to bring your own tent and sleeping gear. They also have tents ready and stuff like mattresses and sleeping bags for rent, although those are far from cheap.
You will not find hostels here and hotels and ryokans are very expensive. Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable options in Matsumoto. We stayed in the unique accommodation L-BASE.
The region of Kamikochi is not only known for its beautiful nature, but also for their hot springs. There are a number of resorts with a natural heat source such as the Kamikochi Nishi-itoya Mountain Lodge. Here you can enjoy fresh hot water for a fee. Please note that they don’t have private baths. This means that you will walk around completely naked with a lot of other Japanese and Chinese people.
Best Time to Visit Kamikochi
The best time to visit Kamikochi is from May to June and from July to August. In the spring Kamikochi comes to life with the most beautiful nature. Everything is beautifully green and there will be clear blue skies. In July and August, it is a bit warmer, but there’s also greater cloud cover.
In the fall, around October, it is cold, but the forests are colored in beautiful red and gold.
TIP – Keep in mind that Kamikochi can be very busy from July to August.