Kamikochi snowshoeing in winter
Kamikochi snowshoeing in winter
Kamikochi is a beautiful highland valley in the central part of Japan, near Matsumoto city in the Nagano prefecture of Japan. Its name literally means “a higher ground” in Japanese. It can also be interpreted as the land where gods descend and it’s not difficult to see why with its stunning view all year round.
Kamikochi through the seasons
Kamikochi is popular during summer with its lush greenery and flowers in bloom. They offer campsites throughout the park and a whole range of other accommodations from hotels to traditional ryokans. Even during summer, the weather in Kamikochi is still cool and the highest temperature would be around 24°C.
During autumn, the landscape takes on a warm hue and is complemented by the snow-dotted mountains in the background and the park opens up to its peak season.
However, the most divine season would be winter. While the park is usually teeming with visitors during the other seasons, Kamikochi quietens down during winter. There is a slight catch though – Kamikochi is closed to vehicles during the winter months from mid-November to mid-April and you will need to get in on foot!
There are various live cameras at Kamikochi for you to view the scenery in real-time and here’s one of them: https://www.gosenjaku.co.jp/english/live-camera/
How to get to Kamikochi during winter
If you are planning to visit Kamikochi during winter, there are two ways to do so.
The first is to join a tour with a local guide to enter on foot as no vehicles, even public buses, are allowed into Kamikochi during winter. This gives you access to an experienced guide who knows the area well to avoid risky spots and can help ensure that your vacation goes smoothly.
Alternatively, if you’re experienced and confident, you can also get to Kamikochi on your own via Nakanoyu Gate but a registration form will need to be submitted.
As we were doing snowshoeing for the first time and winter is a very foreign season to us, we opted to join a Kamikochi half-day tour with our host at Guesthouse Raicho.
Winter snowshoeing in Kamikochi with a guide
It was a bit of a challenge for us even with an experienced guide because I had never snowshoed before, so it took me a while to get used to the activity, especially through the thick snow with the heavy clothing and long snowshoes. But it was worth the effort and time spent going through the gorgeous scenery of Kamikochi and it wasn’t that cold because of the walking.
To get to Kamikochi during winter, you’ll start at Nakanoyu gate, then trek through the almost 2-km Kama & Kamikochi tunnels. Looks absolutely depressing but the promise of the winter wonderland kept us going. As we exited from the dreary tunnel, the undisturbed Kamikochi winter landscape would be the most magical scenery we had ever seen: a terrain covered in a blanket of thick, powdery snow set against the spectacular Japanese Alps veiled by layers of endless snowfall.
Besides the incredible snowfall, one of the best sights to see in Kamikochi during winter is the Taisho pond which is just 1 km from the tunnel. We also met less than 5 others on our snowshoe hike which is a rare feat in such a popular destination. During other seasons, Kamikochi will be teeming with visitors.
Our snowshoeing tour took us just half a day with the tour ending at the Tashiro pond. The vast mountain range reflected in the pristine waters of the pond with hardly anyone else around is a surreal and humbling experience and a great way to end the exploration. We enjoyed a hot ginger tea prepared by our guide before we returned the same way. The tunnel was a lot less bearable on the return, unfortunately.
Snowshoeing tour in Kamikochi
For this winter foray, don’t scrimp on a professional guide if you are not a seasoned winter hiker. Our half-day hike was led by an experienced guide, Yuma, from Guesthouse Raicho. An experienced guide is crucial as they will navigate you through the unmarked terrain and potential avalanches and also ensure you’re properly equipped. While it’s not impossible to explore the place on your own, you surely will not want to be caught in a blizzard or get lost in the wild!
I also highly recommend doing the tour with Guesthouse Raicho because (1) the tour includes the transport to Nakanoyu gate which I have no idea how to get there in winter; (2) the guesthouse is absolutely lovely.
How to prepare for snowshoeing in Kamikochi
We rented our snowshoeing equipment from our guide including goggles, waterproof hiking shoes, snowshoes, gaiters, and poles since we were unlikely to be reusing these items. For clothes, gloves, and shoes, you will need to make sure they are waterproof so we bought water-repellant snow hiking apparel from Decathlon which is really affordable. For the coat, we went with waterproof puffer jackets from Uniqlo.
Overall, I really enjoyed this activity and found Kamikochi absolutely divine in winter. Would definitely revisit in winter when my son gets a little older! In the meantime, I’m eager to return in the other seasons as well.