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? Confronted with this problem myself, I wrote this article to efficiently summarise the most essential information you need when choosing which hike is best for your trip - 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 late-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.