5-Day Travel Guide in the Japanese Alps: Overnight hike from Kamikochi to Karasawa

Jun 08, 2022
 

We took our first trip to the Japanese Alps over Memorial Day weekend, for a 4-night/5-day trip. We flew to mainland Japan and embarked on an epic overnight hike in the pristine Chubu Sangaku National Park, hiking from Kamikochi Valley to Kawasara Cirque and back.

”yokoobridge”

Although the area we went to is most popular in the autumn for the fall foliage, I can't imagine the views being more beautiful than what we experienced. We had perfect weather with plenty of sunshine and crisp mountain air. The late spring weather provided a beautiful contrast of texture and color; picturesque blue sky days, impressive snow-capped mountains, and lush green trees.

I’ve been lucky enough to hike the gorgeous peaks of the Himalayas in Nepal, the Southern Alps in New Zealand, the jungles and rainforests of Hawaii and Central America, and across the national parks of North America like Yosemite, Glacier Mountain, Zion, and Banff. Even so, I would rank this hike in my top five favorite hikes! 

  •  Unlike many famous hikes, you are surrounded by incredible views for nearly the entire hike. I am all about the views! We were looking up at the mountains for almost the entire hike, walking parallel to a clear mountain river.
  •  Hiking with the snow monkeys, or Japanese macaque! These little guys were so fun and we got to see groups of them up close throughout the trail; play fighting with each other, momma’s nursing babies, and even some humping!
  •  The hike was 18 miles roundtrip- not too difficult, but just enough to earn your beer(s) at the end of the day. We had plenty of time on our hiking days to hang out with friends and enjoy the sunshine with an epic view. 
  •  As mentioned above, the weather in late May was perfect! Warm sun, crisp mountain air, and snow-capped mountains contrasted between blue skies and lush green trees. Late spring/early summer is the perfect season to avoid the rainy season and the crowds that come with autumn colors.
  •  Experiencing the hospitality of staying in mountain lodges, sleeping in shared rooms with bunks, and eating the local set meals is incredible. An added bonus is that you can pack light since you aren’t hauling all of your food and water.
  •  This trip is budget-friendly, relative to other trips in Japan. Including flight, transportation, accommodations, food and drinks, and even extra hiking gear (crampons), we spent about $600 per person.

If you want to plan a hiking trip in the Japanese Alps, look no further. I’ve packed this post with as much practical information as possible! We also took this trip as a group of 5 people, two couples and one friend, so I will share how to best plan this as a group trip.

(Sunrise from Karasawa Hutte)

In this post, I will share:

  •  Outline of our itinerary: brief breakdown of days
  •  About the Japanese Alps and Kamikochi: when and how to visit
  •  Details of our trip: where we stayed, transportation, hiking route 
  •  What to expect: packing list, general tips, budget
  •  How to plan your own trip

Brief Itinerary Overview

Friday, May 27: Arrived on a late flight from OKA to NGO

Saturday, May 28: Drove to Kamikochi, hiked to Myojinkan Lodge

Sunday, May 29: Hiked to Karasawa Hutte

Monday, May 30: Hiked back down to Kamikochi, drove to a town closer to airport

Tuesday, May 31: Finished drive, flight from NGO to OKA


(Celebrating at the top of Karasawa Cirque)


About the Japanese Alps

The hardest part of planning this trip was deciding where to go in the Japanese Alps! It’s a massive area with many hikes that vary in skill level, intensity, and duration. We also had to factor in that there would still be snow. After much research, we narrowed in on the Northern Alps and Kamikochi.

We flew from Okinawa (OKA) to Chubu Centrair International Airport (NGO) in Nagoya, drove from Nagoya to Kamikochi, hiked from Kamikochi to Karasawa, and then returned home the reverse way; OKA - NGO - Kamikochi - Karasawa - Kamikochi - NGO - OKA.

The Japanese Alps, named for their similarity to the European Alps, is a series of mountain ranges spread over multiple prefectures (states) on the main island of Honshu. The Japanese Alps encompass the Hida Mountains (aka the Northern Alps or Chubu Sangaku National Park), the Kiso Mountains (aka the Central Alps), and the Akaishi Mountains (aka the Southern Alps or Minami Alps National Park).

 

About Kamikochi

Kamikochi is a highland valley in Chubu Sangaku National Park, in the southern area of the Northern Alps. Kamikochi is said the be the front gate of the Northern Alps and is often referred to as the Japanese Yosemite Valley. Kamikochi can be experienced as a day trip or as a starting point for many multi-day hikes.

(Kamokochi Valley IRL and on canvas)

When to Visit Kamikochi

Kamikochi is open April 15-November 15 and closes during the winter. April and May tend to be cooler and require snow gear for hiking. June tends to be the rainy season. July and August tend to be busier due to the summer holiday and prime weather. September and October are most popular due to the fall colors. Kamikochi is most busy in mid-October during peak fall foliage. Check the official Kamikochi website for exact opening dates, seasonal conditions, and snow/foliage reports. 

We visited at the end of May for the Memorial Day long weekend. May is not considered peak season, but some parts were still pretty busy! If you don’t like hiking amongst crowds, avoid the peak fall colors. Although the weather was already hot in other parts of Japan in May, the Japanese Alps stay cool, and my research told me it would still be snowy in some areas. I looked at weather reports and the posted live camera feeds and asked for help from the ‘Hiking, Climbing, and Camping in Japan’ Facebook group. I was told about YAMAP, a hiking website and app where people post hiking diaries that share hiking routes, current snow conditions, timing, and other helpful tips. YAMAP is also great for following hiking routes because it works even when outside of service, and you can easily document your hiking trip to help others learn and plan.

Based on all of that information, we were able to pick a hike that would be reasonable for intermediate skill and gear. We were recommended to buy crampons and poles for the hike, and we are happy we did! More details on that are in the packing list.

If you are trying to save money and not purchase any extra gear, I’d recommend planning to hike in July and August, when the snow has completely melted. 

(The final hour of hiking in the snow, the only portion we needed crampons for)

How to Travel to the Japanese Alps and Kamikochi

The major airports near the Japanese Alps are the Nagoya (NGO) and Tokyo (HND) airports. There are some smaller, slightly closer options, but these tend to be very expensive or do not offer flights from Okinawa. Since we were traveling as a group of five people, it was most cost-effective to fly into Nagoya (NGO) and rent a car to get ourselves just outside of Kamikochi.

The entire Kamikochi valley is protected as part of the national park, so private vehicles are restricted, and it can only be accessed by bus or taxi. We parked our rental car at Sawando Bus Terminal and then took a taxi into Kamikochi Valley. If you have a group of 3 or more, it is more economical to take a taxi into the park instead of the shuttle bus. They offer regular taxis for groups of 3-5 people and larger taxis for groups of 6-8 people. Details on cost and how to call the taxi are in the detailed itinerary section.

Kamikochi can also be reached by direct buses from major cities like Tokyo/Osaka/Kyoto (5-7 hours) or Nagano (2-3 hours). Click here for more information on these express buses. There are also shuttle buses from Matsumoto or Takayama, ideal for those taking the JR train.

If you want to rent a car and avoid the shuttle bus/taxi cost, I’d recommend picking a hike that doesn’t start in Kamikochi.


Details of our trip: where we stayed, transportation, hiking route

Day 1: Friday, May 27

  •  10:00 pm: Arrived on a late flight from Okinawa (OKA) to Nagoya (NGO)
  •  10:45 pm: Took a 12-min train from the airport to the hotel in Tokoname, 5-min walk to the hotel, stay at Spring Sunny Hotel Nagoya,

Day 2: Saturday, May 28

  •  8:00 am- Check out, pick up breakfast and hiking snacks at the Lawson across the street
  •  9:00 am- Pick up the rental car at a 5-min walk from the hotel to Budget Car Rental
  •  9:30 am- Drive from Nagoya to Sawando Bus Terminal (4-hour drive)
  •  1:30 pm- Parked the car and requested a taxi at the taxi stand inside the bus terminal, about a 20-min drive by taxi to Kamikochi
  •  2:00 pm- Enjoy the views of Kamikochi Valley from Kappa Bridge with snacks (bao buns, ice cream, etc.); check out the visitors center
  •  2:30 pm- Walk to Myojinkan lodge, about 2-miles/1-hour of flat walking at a leisurely pace
  •  3:30 pm: Check in and spend the rest of the afternoon hanging out, drinking beers, and enjoying the views
  •  6:00pm: Japanese style dinner
  •  7:00pm: Optional bath 
  •  9:00 pm: Lights out, electricity turns off

(Hiking with views for almost the entire trail)

 Details: Since we flew in so late, there were no rental places open when we landed. We chose to rent our car from the Budget rental in Tokoname, just a few minutes away from the airport, since it was closer to our hotel and we wouldn’t have to backtrack to the airport the next day. I always rent using rentalcars.com. It’s super easy to book ahead of time, and they have a generous cancellation policy if our plans change. I always decline the added insurance when paying with a travel credit card since many offer rental car travel insurance. If you are doing this, be sure to read the fine print of your travel card and have it saved on your phone in case of an accident. When picking up the rental car, they tried to give me a smaller car, and I showed them my booking for a “Honda Fit or Similar,” and they gave us a slightly larger car. With five people and five bags and hiking gear, we needed extra space. Don’t forget to ask for the ETC Card so you can easily drive on the toll roads. They will check the card when you return the car and charge you for any tolls. 

There are two parking areas/bus terminals that you can access Kamikochi from, Sawando Parking Area (closer to Matsumoto) or Hirayu Parking Area (closer to Takayama). They are only 15-20 minutes apart, so pick whichever one makes the most sense on your driving route.

We parked at Sawando in parking lot #3 (closest to the bus station) and walked from the car to the bus station. When you walk in, you will see a taxi counter. There are also bathrooms and vending machines in that area, be sure to use this before you request your taxi. When ready, let the attendant know how many people you have, and she will call the taxi for you. They arrived within 2-min of asking! Taxis to accept cards. Again, the regular taxi can fit five people (in addition to the driver), and all of our bags fit easily. If you have six or more people, they will put you in a larger taxi. It’s only cost-effective to take a taxi if you’re traveling with three or more people. If you are traveling solo or as a couple, it makes more sense to take the bus, which leaves every 30 minutes. 

(Checking out Myojin Bridge after checking into the lodge)

A few notes on the lodge: There are many options for accommodation on this night. If you plan to hike to Karasawa Hutte, I’d recommend staying at one of the lodges along the trail. Hotels can be quite expensive in Kamikochi Valley, so we opted to walk further into the park to save money and break up the hiking for the next day. There are three lodges that I would recommend along the way:

  • Myojinkan Lodge – 2-miles/1-hour walk from Kamikochi, can be booked online, accept credit cards and yen.
  • Tokusawaen Lodge & Campsite – 3.7-mile/2-hour walk from Kamikochi, can only be booked via phone call, yen only.
  • Yokoo Sanso: 6-mile/3-hour walk from Kamikochi, can only be booked via a phone call, yen only

All of the lodges offer Japanese-style dinner and breakfast. I thought the food was fantastic at Myojinkan, but some of my travel buddies didn't feel it was enough food and/or weren’t huge fans of the Japanese-style food. I wouldn’t recommend opting out of the meal options unless you plan to bring your own food since there are no other food options. If you tend to eat more food than usual or dislike Japanese-style food, I’d recommend bringing your own extra food. At Myojinkan, dinner was served at 6 pm, and breakfast was served at 7 am. There was an option to skip breakfast in exchange for a packed bento meal.

(Dinner at Myojinkan)

All of the lodges request that you arrive by 4 pm due to the early sunset in the mountains. We stayed at Myojinkan Lodge since we knew we would be arriving around 3:30 pm. If we had extra time, we would have stayed at Tokusawaen Lodge or Yokoo Sanso, which are slightly more expensive but look much nicer. 

Sleeping arrangements: We traveled as a group of 5 people, two couples and one friend, which broke down into three women and two men. They put us in 2 private bunk rooms, one for the girls and one for the guys. The bunks here were extremely uncomfortable at Myojinkan! If you are a sensitive sleeper, I’d recommend bringing your pillow and perhaps even a sleeping pad. I enjoy sleeping on the harder futon, and I just used some extra clothes as a pillow. I would definitely recommend earplugs and an eye mask! Note- around 4:30 am; there is a lot of noise made by people waking up early to watch the sunrise or hike.

Other tips for Myojinkan: Bring cards to play games, grab some beers, and sit outside to pass the time before dinner. I also recommend walking to the Myojin bridge and enjoying the view, but I wouldn’t recommend paying to view the pond. They have indoor and outdoor slippers for guests, so you don’t have to bring extra shoes if you’re tired of your hiking boots. They have a Japanese-style bath, but note it's not a natural hot spring! I definitely recommend a bath after dinner, before bed.

As soon as you know your dates, I’d recommend reserving the lodges. These tend to book up quickly as they have limited space, especially during high season. Most offer a penalty-free cancelation if you cancel at least 24-hr before your reservation. I would recommend Tokusawaen or Yokoo Sanso for the nicest accommodations and the best views.

(Hanging out at Myojinkan)

Day 3: Sunday, May 29

  •  7:00 am: Breakfast at Myojin
  •  8:00 am: Start hike to Karasawa Hutte, a 7-mile/5-hour hike (about 3 hours of flat hiking, 1 hour of uphill hiking, and 1 hour of uphill snow hiking)
  •  1:00 pm: Arrive at Karasawa Hutte, have ramen and beers for lunch, hang out on the patio and enjoy the views, and get souvenirs inside the cute
  •  5:00 pm: Dinner and then hangout
  •  8:30 pm: Lights out; check out the stars!

(Enjoying beer and ramen for lunch at the Karasawa Cirque)

Details: After Yokoo Sanso, there are no more bathrooms or water refill stops. I would strongly recommend at least one pole (two poles are ideal) for the last 2 hours. Depending on the snow conditions, you will need crampons for the last portion of the hike. We put our crampons on for the final hour of hiking when we were above the tree line and could only see snow. If you want to climb the peaks surrounding Karawasa (the hutte is in the valley), you need at least 6 hours. It’s recommended to spend two nights in Karasawa if you want to go any higher. There are two huttes in Karasawa, Karasawa Hutte and Karasawa-goya. We stayed at Karasawa Hutte, and I think the views are better from here with the panoramic view from the patio. 

(Enjoying the sunshine with friends at the top!) 

Karasawa Hutte accommodation: We loved this place! The patio is incredible, with 360 views. We had a lot of fun hanging outside. Everyone enjoyed the food. The dining room has a stunning view! We found the bedding to be much more comfortable here, although earplugs and an eye mask would still be helpful. Note- they do not have sheets or pillowcases here. Bring your own pillowcase, or cover your pillow with a shirt if you're weirded out with sharing pillows. They also have outdoor slippers for use. It's also worth noting that since this location is so isolated, there are no showers, the drinking water is fresh from the snow melt, and there are composting toilets.

(Karasawa Hutte dining room)

(Karasawa Hutte dorm room, divided into sections with curtains)

Monday, May 30

  •  4:15 am: Wake up to catch the 4:30 am sunrise; the mountains turn pink!
  •  5:30 am: Breakfast at Karasawa Hutte
  •  6:00 am: Hike 9-mile/5-6hr back down to Kamikochi, about 1 hour of downhill snow hiking, 1 hour of downhill hiking, and 3-4 hours of flat hiking
  •  12:00pm: Arrive back at Kamikochi, rest, and refuel! 
  •  1:00 pm: take a 20-min taxi back to the car; there is a taxi stand by the bus station
  •  1:30 pm: Drive 2.5-hour to our guesthouse in Nakastugawa, Gifu (about halfway from Kamikochi and the airport)
  •  4:00 pm: Check-in at our guesthouse, Guesthouse Tenman-Ya
  •  5:00 pm: Dinner and hangout

Details: We absolutely needed our crampons for the first hour of the descent! We picked a random town halfway to the airport to spend the night in. It was super cute and had a historic, small-town feel. There were a lot of cute coffee shops, stores, and izakayas. We loved our guest house! It can accommodate up to 12 people, but we had the entire guest house to ourselves since we were staying on a weekday. It had a living room and small kitchen, two showers, two toilets, and two rooms with relatively comfortable bunk beds. It is perfect for a big group! After our early sunrise and 9-mile hike, we were pretty exhausted, so we only went out to dinner and then returned to the house to play Jenga! If you book the same house, there were no convenience stores within walking distance of the house, so be sure to stock up on drinks and snacks before checking in.

(Even after 18 miles, we were still in disbelief with the beauty!)

Tuesday, May 31

  •  8:00 am: Drive 1.5-hour back to Budget Car Rental
  •  10:00 am: Return the rental car and take a 10-min shuttle back to the airport
  •  10 am-12 pm: Hangout at the airport until check-in
  •  1:30pm: Depart 

Details: If you are flying Jetstar, you will fly out of Terminal 2, not the main terminal! They have an area called “The Park of Dreams,” which is Seattle-themed with a Boeing plane exhibit and a small food court with Seattle-themed food. If you need food, be sure to eat here before going through security! Once you go through security, there is only one small snack shop.


Hiking Route Details 

DAY 1

  •  2:00 pm: Start at Kamikochi, enjoy Kappa Bridge and view of the valley
  •  2:30 pm: Walk from Kamikochi to Myojinkan Lodge: 2-miles/1-hour of flat walking at a leisurely pace
  •  3:30 pm: Arrive at Myojinkan Lodge
  • Route advice: “A short walk along paved roads takes you from the Kamikochi Bus Terminal to Kappa Bridge (Kappabashi). There are many hotels and souvenir shops in the area around the Bridge, and it is usually crowded with tourists. Continue without crossing the Bridge, and go past the Konashidaira Camping Area to the Myojin area.”

DAY 2

  •  Hike from Myojinkan Lodge to Karasawa Hutte: 7 miles/5 hours
    •  Myojinkan to Yokoo Sanso: 2 hours of flat hiking
    •  Yokoo Sanso to Hodani Bridge: 1 hour of easy hiking (460ft elevation gain)
    •  Hodani Bridge to Karasawa Hutte: 2 hours of uphill hiking (1700ft elevation gain)
      • Immediately after, Hodani bridge is a nice spot for a break to snack, take off layers, and take out poles. Poles are helpful for this entire climbing section. The final hour was in all snow, and we needed crampons.
      • Just below the Karasawa Cirque, you will come to a fork in the path and turn left to reach Karasawa Hutte.
  • Route advice: “From Myojin, cross a small slope as the path curves away from the riverside and into the forest. The hike from Myojin to Tokusawa takes approximately 1 hour. From Tokusawa, it takes another hour to get to Yokoo. The path branches at Yokoo into separate paths leading to Mt. Karasawa and Mt. Hotaka and a path leading to Mt. Yarigatake. From Yokoo, cross the Yokoo-ohashi Bridge and follow the path through a forested area. On the other side of the valley, you can see the Byobu-iwa Rock. Once you cross the Hontani Bridge, the slope becomes significantly steeper. A zigzagging path continues for some time after this, but the well-maintained course weaves through the rocky terrain to make it easy to negotiate. The path then traverses a collapsed area of the course and passes through birch trees and shrubs. As you emerge into the clearing, your field of view opens up. Next, hike up through a rocky section of the course. In years with heavy snowfall, there might be snow left around the course until mid-August. You will come to a fork in the path, the right side of which leads to the Karasawa-goya mountain hut. Turn left and ascend the stone steps to reach the Karasawa Hutte. You have now reached the Karasawa Cirque. On a clear day, you can see the panorama of mountain peaks surrounding the Cirque.

DAY 3

  •  Hike from Karasawa to Kamikochi: 9-mile/5-6 hours. Reverse Day 1 and 2. 
    •  1 hour of downhill snow hiking
    •  1 hour of downhill hiking
    •  3-4 hours of flat hiking
  •  Arrive back at Kamikochi, rest, and refuel!

(Celebrating the end of a great hike with ice cream while soaking sore feet in the ice-cold river)

Helpful Links

(One of the many Japanese macaque along the trail)


What to expect: packing list, general tips, budget

General tips: 

  •  Food: Meals at the lodges are Japanese-style. If you don’t enjoy Japanese-style food or have a sensitive stomach, I would recommend bringing your own food
  •  Beds: Expect the bedding to be Japanese-style, with thin pads on wood mats and buckwheat husk pillows
  •  Trash: Expect to carry in and carry out trash
  •  Cell service: Above Myojin, the service is limited. Be sure to save or screenshot the trail description, download google maps offline, download google translate offline, and use YAMAP to view the hiking route offline.
  •  Weather: We found google weather to be accurate!
  •  Airline baggage: If you are traveling with crampons or poles, you will have to check a bag!

What to pack

  • Backpack: this is an easy hike to pack light on; I recommend trying to keep it under a 40L day-pack size 
  • Hydration pack or reusable water bottles: There are places to refill water at least every 3 hours; there is no need to carry more than 1-1.5L of water at a time 
  • Layered hiking clothes: The weather can change from hot to cold quickly. Pack quick-dry clothes that can be layered, and be okay with re-wearing top layers. Recommended two short-sleeved shirts, one long-sleeved shirt, two leggings, one hiking pants, one micro puff jacket
  • Post-hike clothes: Once you’re done hiking for the day, pack a comfy top and bottom you can relax in (in public) and can wear to sleep
  • Raincoat and backpack cover or poncho
  • Hiking boots, wool hiking socks, blister bandaids
  • Sunglasses, sunscreen, hat
  • Crampons and hiking poles: Check snow conditions, and if there is snow leading up to Karasawa Hutte, you must have crampons. At least one hiking pole helps greatly with hiking in the snow. If you have a hiking pole set, this helps reduce strain on lower body muscles and joints.
  • Earplugs and eye mask: You’ll need these while staying in the shared rooms at the lodges. I’d even recommend noise-canceling headphones if you're a sensitive sleeper!
  • Headlamp or flashlight: lights are turned off inside the lodge around 9 pm; you might need a light if you need to go to the bathroom at night
  • Cash: Almost everything past the Kamikochi station is cash only. Bring enough to cover the stays at the lodges, snacks, drinks, and souvenirs. Also be sure to bring 100 yen coins. Nearly all toilets ask for a 100 yen donation for maintenance
  • Snacks: nuts, protein bars, pretzels - there are many opportunities to buy snacks along the way, so it is not necessary to overpack snacks!
  • (Optional) Alcohol: If you plan on having a good time with your friends, pack your own flask to save money on the pricy drinks
  • (Optional) Games: Deck of cards or Uno for fun hanging out!
  • (What not to pack) Post-hike shoes: outdoor slippers are provided at every lodge

Expenses

Total Transportation Costs: ¥40,692

  •  Car Rental ¥16,682
  •  ETC (Tolls) ¥8,750
  •  Sawando Parking Area ¥2,100
  •  Round trip taxi from Sawando to Kamikochi ¥9,200
  •  Gas ¥3,960

Total Accommodation Costs: 

Misc. Costs:

  • Crampons from Montbell ¥6,380 (purchased in Okinawa)
  •  Hiking poles purchased from thrift store ¥1,000
  •  Alcohol: Canned beverages ¥500-700, pints of beer ¥800-1000, bottles of wine ¥2,500
  •  Snacks: Bao buns ¥300-500, ice cream ¥400
  •  Toilets along the trail ¥100 (exact coins only!)
  •  Dinner on last night ~¥4,000 per person

Total costs per person, not including flights: ~ ¥51,000 or ~ $400

Roundtrip flights in May 2022 from Okinawa to Nagoya were $100-200. 

Recommended budget of $600-800 per person for the entire trip.

(Sharing a special bottle of wine... talking about how we should have brought a box of our wine up haha!)

 


Planning your own trip

  1. Decide on the dates and create a rough itinerary outline. Check weather conditions and make sure the Karasawa Cirque trail is open and safe to hike. Look at flight options to help guide which timing works best. Budget for about $600-800 per person on everything (including flights).

Example A: 5 days, fly in late on day 1 and early afternoon on day 5. Most convenient for military travelling for a 96hr liberty.

Day 1- fly into Nagoya (NGO) or Tokyo (HND) in the evening, overnight in hotel by airport

Day 2- pick up rental car, drive to Sawando Parking Area, taxi/bus to Kamikochi, walk to first lodge

Day 3- hike to Karasawa Hutte

Day 4- hike back down to Kamikochi, taxi/bus to rental car, drive to hotel halfway to airport

Day 5- finish drive towards airport, return rental car, fly out early afternoon

Example B: 4 days, fly in early on day 1 and late on day 4  

Day 1- fly into Nagoya (NGO) or Tokyo (HND) in the morning, pick up rental car, drive to Kamikochi, overnight near Kamikochi

Day 2- early morning taxi/bus from Sawando to Kamikochi, hike to Karasawa Hutte

Day 3- hike back down to Kamikochi, taxi/bus to rental car, stay near Matsumoto

Day 4- drive back towards airport, return rental car, fly out in the evening

Example C: 5 days, fly in early on day 1 and spend an extra night at Karasawa Hutte so you can summit Mt. Hotaka (if I were ever to go back, I would pick this plan!)

Day 1- fly into Nagoya (NGO) or Tokyo (HND) in the morning, pick up rental car, drive to Kamikochi, overnight near Kamikochi

Day 2- early morning taxi/bus from Sawando to Kamikochi, hike to Karasawa Hutte

Day 3- hike up to Mt. Hotaka, spend 2nd night at Karasawa Hutte

Day 4- hike back down to Kamikochi, taxi/bus to rental car, stay near Matsumoto

Day 5- drive back towards airport, return rental car, fly out in the later afternoon or evening

Example D: 5 days, fly in early on day 1 and spend an extra day exploring the area

Day 1- fly into Nagoya (NGO) or Tokyo (HND) in the morning, pick up rental car, drive to Kamikochi, overnight near Kamikochi

Day 2- early morning taxi/bus from Sawando to Kamikochi, hike to Karasawa Hutte

Day 3- hike back down to Kamikochi, taxi/bus to rental car, stay near Matsumoto

Day 4- explore Mastumoto

Day 5- drive back towards airport, return rental car, fly out in the later afternoon or evening

2) Call and book your mountain huttes for Day 2 and 3 (if you are following example A). I use the LINE app to make low cost international calls. Have one person book for the entire group. Make sure everyone is okay with booking two meals for each day.

Day 2 lodge: Calculate your timing for Day 2, and pick your lodge based on where you will arrive by 4pm. If you plan to arrive between 12pm-1pm, I’d recommend staying at Tokusawa Lodge! 

  • Myojinkan Lodge – 2-miles/1-hour walk from Kamikochi, can be booked online, accept credit cards and yen.
  • Tokusawaen Lodge & Campsite – 3.7-mile/2-hour walk from Kamikochi, can only be booked via phone call, yen only.
  • Yokoo Sanso: 6-mile/3-hour walk from Kamikochi, can only be booked via a phone call, yen only 

Day 3 lodge: Karasawa Hutte (recommended) or Karasawa Goya (will be Day 2 if you are following example B or C)

3) Book flights. I like to search on google flights and then buy directly on the airline website. Note: if you are traveling with crampons or poles, you will have to check a bag!

4) Book rental car. I like rentalcars.com!

5) Book hotels for the nights on either end. I like to use agoda.com for booking in Asia!

6) Check weather conditions and what the trail to Karasawa Cirque is like. Purchase poles and crampons if needed.

7) Be sure to bring enough yen cash and coins. I’d recommend about ¥40,000 in cash and ¥2000 in 100 yen coins.

8) Pack and execute! Have a great time enjoying the epic views.


Final Thoughts on Group Travel

Of course, travelling is always better with friends. I'm extremely grateful for the incredible group we traveled with. Not only did they all help with planning and preparation, they also shared the burden of dealing with the language barrier and Japanese customs. It can be exhuasting to do an adventure trip that requires early wake up calls, difficult hiking, uncomfortable sleeping conditions, and unpredictble weather. A trip like this can make or break friendships. If you're planning a group hiking trip, always make sure everyone is on the same page and has a positive attitude. I am extremely grateful to have friends who value adventure and natural beauty as much as I do, and to have had this opportunity to travel and deepend my friendship with them.

Cheers and happy hiking!

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