Hiking Distance: 4 - 13 km
Time: 1-2 Days
Elevation Gain: 220m - 610m
A complete guide to hiking in Kamikochi
8km - 36km
100m - 2610m
4 hrs - 4 days
Tents, Huts & Lodges
Kamikochi is the most popular hiking destination in the Japanese alps, and arguably contains the most beautiful mountains in the whole country. Its stunning beauty and well organised bus system also make it the busiest hiking destination in Japan, aside from Mt. Fuji. But how do you choose which hikes to do with the limited amount of time you have when you visit? Confronted with this problem myself, I wrote this article to efficiently summarise all the most essential information you need when trying to choose which hiking trail is best suited for your situation - an easy to browse summary of quality photos, hike data, logistics, expected crowd density, difficulty, and accomodation options.
Kamikochi is a mountainous valley centred around the Azusa river, with an elevation of about 1500m. The mellow plateau and turquoise river is the main reason it gets so busy, anyone can come here for a casual walk or a weekend of camping without the need to hike any mountains. In the peak seasons of summer and autumn, the crowds can be very intense for a peaceful hiker - some weekends and public holidays can even make you feel like you've arrived at Disney Land. But amidst all the hotels, busses, and rude tourists, there are spectacular mountains to explore and you can easily leave the crowds behind on certain trails.
The most popular mountains in Kamikochi are Yarigatake and Oku-Hotaka, both requiring two days to complete. They are the 5th and 3rd highest mountains in Japan and are connected by a famous ridgeline called the Daikiretto, this is highly regarded and often claimed to be the best multi-day hike in Japan - although somewhat dangerous for people without rock climbing experience.
Here's a list of the hikes I'll cover, it's worth noting that the trails and itineraries described here are flexible:
The best multi-day hikes
Yarigatake - 2/3 days
The Daikiretto - 3/4 days
The Panorama Ginza Trail - 3/4 days
Nishi-Hotaka - 2 days
Mt. Hotaka - 2 days
Day hikes and easier trails
Yakedake - The best day hike
Karasawa - The easiest overnight hike
Tokusawa and Yokoo - The easiest hikes
Kasumizawa - The quietest trail for busy days
Cheapest Option: For Kyoto and Osaka, there is a direct bus to the Shinhotaka ropeway which can also be used to access the mountains in Kamikochi. You can make reservations here, it's only ¥7500.
Note: Kamikochi is closed from 15th Nov to the end of April
The final climb to the peak of Yarigatake
Weather and Seasons
Summer and autumn, from June to October, are the best times for hiking in Kamikochi. There is likely to be snow hanging around until June. The autumn leaves will be colourful from mid-September to mid-October. Kamikochi is closed during winter, from November to April.
Yarigatake, sometimes referred to as the Matterhorn of Japan, is the 5th highest mountain in Japan and the most recognisable peak in the Japanese Alps. It's one of the most popular hikes in the Alps and definitely the most popular in Kamikochi. There are multiple trails leading to the peak, with the two main hikes starting from Kamikochi or the Shinhotaka Ropeway, both requiring 2 days of hiking. It features a mountain lodge just below the peak and is often included as part of a famous 3 day hike to Mt. Hotaka via the notorious Daikiretto ridgeline. There are many options for accomodation, the Yarigatake Sanso is the closest mountain hut (20 mins from the peak) and offers both beds and tent sites. Check the map to decide on where you would like to stay and make a reservation in advance if you want to sleep in one of the huts. You can make the hike easier if you plan for 3 days instead of 2.
Due to it's location and popularity, it's very crowded on public holidays and weekends. If hiking on the weekend, starting on the Sunday will help you to avoid some of the crowds.
The Panorama Ginza Trail is one of the most visually spectacular multi-day hikes in Japan. Starting in either Kamikochi or Nakabusa Onsen (Azumino), you will spend 3+ days hiking up and down ridgelines with beautiful panoramic views. There are numerous mountain huts and campsites to choose from, although they can be crowded on weekends and holidays. The recommendation here is to start from Kamikochi as the terrain in this direction is more enjoyable, plus Nakabusa tends to be a lot less crowded and includes a nice onsen, so it's the perfect way to end your hike. The itinerary I've described here is for 3 days, but you can change it to a more leisurely 4 or 5 days by spending an extra night at one of the other mountain huts along the way.
The Yarigatake to Mt. Hotaka circuit is the most revered hike in Japan. It covers both the 3rd and 5th highest mountains in Japan while also including a notorious ridgeline known as the Daikiretto.
The Daikiretto is a steep and technical ridgeline that requires rock climbing on a narrow section of rock with dangerous drops on each side. Most of the rock climbing is assisted with chains and bolts, but the risk is quite high in some places and people have died here before. However, as scary as it sounds, no rock climbing gear is required and it's a popular trail - people of all ages complete it without problems, including the elderly. You will need to be okay with rock climbing on exposed terrain, so prior experience with heights is recommended, and good weather conditions are absolutely essential.
Completed over 3-4 days, the loop starts in Kamikochi (or Shinhotaka) with the first day spent hiking up to Yarigatake and sleeping at the Yarigatake mountain hut. The second day is spent hiking along the daikiretto, and then most people choose to stay at the large Hotaka-dake mountain hut. However, this is not the best option. The views at the Kita-Hotaka mountain hut are profoundly superior, looking out over the daikiretto and Yarigatake. The Kita-Hotaka mountain hut is also more charming, with beautiful rooms and a warm cozy atmosphere.
The 3rd and final day includes a 4 hour hike across to Mt. Hotaka which also involves a lot of risky rock climbing similar to the daikiretto, and then a final 5 hour decent back to Kamikochi. You can make this hike easier by extending it to 4 days if you stay at another mountain hut.
Mt. Hotaka, and the main peak Oku-Hotaka, is the 3rd highest mountain in Japan, reaching 3190m. It overlooks Kamikochi and has many different trails leading to the peak. It's position is perfect for a variety of multi-day hikes accessible from Kamikochi or Shinhotaka. The views are stunning and the terrain has heaps of variety. This itinerary focuses on a beautiful 2 day loop hike from Kamikochi with one night camping at the Hotakadake mountain hut located near the peak. The second day takes you down through Kawasara which is famous for it's autumn colours from mid-September to mid-October, expect large crowds here during this period.