Hiking Distance: 31km
Time: 2 days
Elevation change: ➚1150m ➘1150m
Karasawa Cirque & the Byobu Ridge
➚ 1150m ➘ 1150m
Huts & Campgrounds
The Karasawa Cirque is perhaps the most popular hike in Kamikochi, its especially famous for it's autumn colours which reach their peak around the end of September and the start of October. During this time, the Karasawa campsite fills up with hundreds of tents, creating a colourful "tent city" that compliments well with the surrounding autumn colours. Although very busy, the large crowds and hundreds of tents add to the unique experience. It's most commonly done as an out-an-back hike through the valley, as this is the easiest trail. However, including the Byobu ridge adds more excitement and variety to the hike, with incredible views and fun terrain involving some ropes and chains.
The route described here includes the Byobu ridge, but you can easily skip this section for an easier hike which is accessible to all skill levels. The Karasawa Cirque is the easiest overnight hike in Kamikochi and a great way to experience the area without climbing any of the large mountains.
Direct Bus: There is a direct bus from Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo. You can view all the details and make reservations here. The price ranges from ¥10,000 to ¥13,000.
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 (but not this trail). You can make reservations here, it's only ¥7500.
Train + Bus: You can also come from Matsumoto Station in Nagano or from Takayama Station in Gifu. The official Kamikochi website provides a detailed overview of all the travel times and options, google maps is also very helpful.
Note: Kamikochi is closed from 15th Nov to the end of April
Time: 6.5 hrs
Distance: 14 km
Elevation change: ➚ 1100m gain ➘ 250m loss
Once you get off the bus at Kamikochi, it will take about 2 hours of walking along the river to reach the beautiful Tokusawa campground. Shortly after Tokusawa, you'll reach the intersection for Shinmura bridge which marks the start of the trail to Byobu ridge. From Shinmura, the trail gradually becomes steeper until you eventually reach the ridgeline. The trail up to the peak involves some steep scrambling and takes about 15 mins. Once you reach the top, don't get confused by the allure of another nearby peak known as Byobu-iwa rock, the trail is not maintained and as it's primarily used by climbers with appropriate rock climbing gear.
From the Byobu-no-mimi peak head back down the way you came and continue along the ridge toward Karasawa. The trail between Byobu ridge and Karasawa is on the side of a modest cliff with chains and ropes to assist with climbing, it will take about 1 hour to reach Karasawa from the ridge.
Time: 4.5 hrs
Elevation change: ➚ 50m gain ➘ 900m loss
Your return journey takes you on the traditional Karasawa route, heading back this way will be easier as it's a nice gradual descent. Try to leave early to avoid waiting for large groups of people between Karasawa and Hontani Bridge. About 50 mins before you reach the Kamikochi bus stop you will come to the Myojin Hut, I recommend crossing the bridge here and taking the boardwalk back as it's a lovely way to end your hike.
Weather and Seasons
Summer and autumn, from June to October, are the best times for this hike. 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.
Altitude & Weather
Hiking Distance: 31 km
Time: 2 days
Elevation gain: 1150m