Kamikochi: Hiking in the Japanese Alps
Kamikochi is one of Japan’s most famous hiking destinations with stunning views from above and within the valley. This popular destination is found within the Chubu Sangaku National Park and makes up part of the Hida Mountain Range in the Northern Japanese Alps.
The Kamikochi Hiking Trails
Kamikochi offers a wide variety of hiking trails for all abilities and attracts people of all ages. One of the easiest hikes to do is to hike along the Azusa River that runs the length of the valley. This hike is basically flat the whole way and has many different sections so you can choose what you want to see. The most popular route is the section from the Taisho Pond to the Kappa Bridge. I would recommend getting off the bus at Taishoike Bus Stop which is the first stop within the park and the start of the valley hike.
Stunning Nature Views
Taisho Pond is famous for being a mirror pond that reflects the mountains above if you visit at the right time. The hike then heads along the river to another pond called Tashiro Pond which is continuously getting smaller from the silt washing from the mountains above. From here the trail continues and eventually splits to both sides of the river so you choose which side will interest you more.
Kamikochi’s Shops and Visitor Center
Eventually you will reach the main center of Kamikochi where you will find most of the shops and hotels as well as the Visitor Centre. This is a good spot to stop for a bite to eat and admire the Kappabashi bridge. From here you can continue walking up the valley to Myojin Bridge which will take another 1 hr. There are many other hikes in Kamikochi that will take you from the valley floor up into the mountains but most of them are full day hikes so make sure you are prepared for them.
Nature and Wildlife in the Japanese Alps
Kamikochi is home to a lot of Japanese Macaque which unfortunately are not very afraid of people and tend to hang around where all the people do. When we were visiting we saw a few groups of monkeys in different areas of the park. One group of monkeys was hanging out on the walking path near the Kappa Bridge and getting very close to people. Eventually all of them headed down to the river where they were lifting up rocks to find things to eat which was entertaining to watch. Unfortunately the male leader was getting very aggressive towards people when they were getting to close to him and at one point he started charging and nearly jumping on someone. That’s why it’s so important to keep your distance and hopefully they will remain wild. It’s such a big problem that they employ monkey controllers in the park to scare the monkeys away from the heavily touristed spots.
When to Visit Kamikochi
Kamikochi is only open during the warmer months typically from April to November and during this time you can only access the National Park by bus or taxi so anyone driving needs to park in the designated parking areas outside the park. From the parking lots you then can catch a bus into the park. Some of the bus routes require you to book a return ticket on arrival in the park as there are limited buses or you could be left behind. Kamikochi also has baggage storage so if you are travelling between Takayama and Matsumoto you can stop over in Kamikochi on the way fairly easily.
How to Get the Best Experience at Kamikochi
The best way to experience Kamikochi would be to stay overnight so you can experience it after the masses of tourists leave. It gets extremely busy especially during summer and when the fall leaves change colour so try to avoid the peak times if you can. The landscape here is so beautiful and worth visiting if you enjoy the outdoors and want to explore some of the Japanese Alps.