This post is part 2 of 3 on hiking destinations in the Japanese Alps.
If after a trip to Kamikochi you are still craving more hiking time in the mountains, or you purchased the Alpico multi-day bus pass (see here for the previous blog post) and are considering where to go next, Norikura is the place. Norikura is a 3,026 m high mountain located between Nagano and Gifu prefectures in Japan. In summer Norikura hosts a variety of trails to appeal to all abilities, from alpine forest paths at Norikura Kogen (plateau) to high altitude climbs at Norikura Tatamidaira (summit). A visit to Norikura Kogen in spring to admire the wild flowers and towering snow walls on the way to Norikura Tatamidaira. In summer you might find raichou, the thunder bird (ptarmigans) around the summits. In fall the forest change their green colours to yellows, reds and browns. In winter Norikura Kogen comes alive with snowshoeing and skiing. We think it’s always the right time of year to visit this place!
If you decide to visit Norikura Kogen to enjoy the alpine forest, it is easy to combine views of a couple of waterfalls and a pond into a daytrip. Zengoro falls, in the image below, is close the bus drop off point and is spectacular in summer or winter. Once you get off the bus, head into tourist information (Kanko Center) to pick up a map of the regions trails. If you want to walk more, you can continue to Sanbon falls. This area is also the last point that can be accessed with private car.
If you want to experience high altitude without too tough a hike, this is a great place. You can catch a bus up to 2,700 m a.s.l., where you can find a gift shop, somewhere to eat and toilet facilities. From there you can hike to the summit (Kengamine-dake) in less than 2 hours, with beautiful views of the Japanese Alps all around. Many people do this then take the bus back down, or hike back down alone hiking trails. When we did this in early July, we planned on hiking down, however the trails were just meltwater rivers at that time of year due to the large snow packs melting, so we decided to walk down following the road. This was the BEST decision. We loved this route. We saw almost nobody apart from a few hardcore bikers going uphill. Over the couple of hours it took us to hike back down, we probably only saw 2 buses on the road, so it felt safe. The great thing about this was the view. If we’d have followed the hiking trails down, we’d have been entering gorges and eventually we’d have been under the cover of trees, by staying on the road we were in the open all the way down with panoramic views of distant mountains and never ending forest. We’d completely recommend walking down the road!
To get here on public transport, you need to catch the train from Matsumoto to Shin-shimashima (30 mins), the same as if you were going to Kamikochi. From Shin-shimashima, you catch a bus to Norikura Kogen (45 mins). Here is were you need to go to to walk around the alpine forest and visit waterfalls. The return journey costs 3,300 Yen. To get to close to the summit, you then catch another bus from the bus top besides the tourist information, that will take you along a windy path up the mountain to Norikura Tatamidaira at 2,700 m altitude – if you get travel sick, take some tablets in advance! The return cost of this journey is 2,500 Yen. Bus timetables can be found here.
That´s all for Norikura. The next post will be in a few days talking about the Nakasendo trail, the old post route travelled by Samurai between Tokyo and Kyoto.