Nagano Prefecture, which is called the “Roof of Japan”, is located in the center of the country. The region, where the Japanese Alps soar skyward, is known for its amazing skiing season and the 1998 Winter Olympics. The warmer months in Nagano are just as exceptional, with world-class hiking opportunities and wooded hillsides that light up in bright autumn colors (koyo).
Nagano has some of the most scenic scenery in Japan, and cherry blossoms are everywhere along the streets and in the tranquil countryside until early May. The region also has many sacred mountain temples and castles where tourists can glimpse into Japan’s storied past.
If you’re ready to explore this stunning part of the country, Matsumoto Airport is only a 75-minute drive from Nagano. For maximum comfort, rent a car and explore the charming corners of the country at your own pace.
Meet the unique inhabitants of Jigokudani Monkey Park
At the Jigokudani Monkey Park, located in Joshin’etsukogen National Park, you will see groups of cute primates who simply love to relax in Nagano’s natural hot springs. The park was established in 1964 to conserve the Japanese macaques, and very soon these cunning snow monkeys learned the pleasure of swimming in mountain onsen.
Captured on the cover of TIME magazine in 1970, the stunning Snow Monkey Park has been a popular tourist destination ever since. Japanese monkeys relax in the smoking onsen all year round, but they especially like it here during the cool winters. When you see how nice these monkeys are having a good time, you will definitely want to dive into the next hot spring.
Despite its remote location, Jigokudani Monkey Park is relatively easy to get to from Nagano. Tourists can get to the park by electric train from Nagano to Yudanaka Station, and then by bus. You can also take the Nagaden Express Bus from Nagano Station. It goes straight to the monkey park.
Explore the Japanese Alps while hiking in Kamikochi and Norikura
Throughout the Northern Japanese Alps, there are beautiful hiking trails in every direction. Particularly impressive is the remote Kamikochi Plateau, where there are many outdoor activities for beginners and experienced climbers. The trail from Mount Myojin to Tokusawa takes two hours through a scenic forest. Along the way, you will see quaint ponds and marshes, as well as fields of vibrant wildflowers that bloom in spring and summer.
The trail from Yoko to Mt. Chogatake takes hikers from Yokoo Sanso mountain inn, a popular base camp, up to the heights of the surrounding Japanese Alps. Walking along the steep rocky path to the top of Mount Chogatake, you can admire the impressive panoramas of the entire mountain range.
Mount Kamikochi can be reached from Matsumoto Airport. The shuttle will take you to Matsumoto Station, where you need to take the Matsumoto Denetsu Kamikochi Line train to Shinshimashima Station, and then take the Alpico Kotsu Kamikochi Express Bus to Kamikochi Bus Terminal.
Mount Norikura, one of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains, delights tourists with soothing waterfalls and luscious green pastures. The journey from the bus terminal to the summit takes approximately 40 minutes. The road leads through the Tatamidaira bowl and along jagged ridges. Near the summit, at Katanokoya Hut, you can buy food and drink, and have a picnic with views of the valleys far below.
You can get to Mount Norikura in the same way as to Mount Kamikochi – go to Shinshimashima Station, transfer to the Alpico bus in the direction of Norikura Kogen and get off at the Kanko Center Mae bus stop.
Incredible Autumn Beauty at the Senzojiki Amphitheater
Nagano is full of picture-perfect mountain scenery, but few are as striking as the Senzojiki Amphitheater in autumn. Given its location in the Central Japanese Alps, even the drive itself to this attractive mountain location will give you incredible pleasure when you soar high above the ground on the Komagatake funicular. The natural amphitheater, open all year round, is located at a relatively high altitude of 2600 meters. Therefore, multi-colored foliage appears here earlier and lingers longer than below.
In addition to the colorful scenery, the Senzojiki Amphitheater will also feature the longest unbroken chain of waterfalls in Japan. Both from the hiking trails and from the funicular, you can see the waterfalls in the Nakagoso Valley, covered with freshly melted snow from the mountains. If you plan to continue your journey through the mountains or don’t want to leave this peaceful place, stay at Senjojiki Hotel. It is located at an altitude of 2612 meters above sea level and offers a comfortable stay, as well as the opportunity to admire the stars from this place in its pristine beauty.
There is a shuttle bus from Matsumoto Airport to Senzojiki Amphitheater to Matsumoto Station, where you take the JR Shinonoi Line to Okaya Station, and then the JR Chuo Branch/Lida Line to Komagane Station. From here there are regular buses to the Shirabi-daira funicular station.