With spectacular views and beautiful scenery at every turn, there are hiking routes for all abilities so you will find something for everyone to enjoy. Summer gondolas will provide you with access to the lifts meaning you can explore more of the high altitude terrain and wonderful views without the hard slog!
Before you embark on any activities in the Hakuba mountains you should remember that you are likely to be at a considerably higher altitude with more rugged terrain than you are used to at home. For that reason it is particularly recommended that you:
- Are as physically fit as possible – Ensure you are fully aware of your limitations and of those accompanying you (children and elderly people).
- Are appropriately equipped – Choose sturdy footwear with ankle support, warm, water repellent clothing (even if the sun’s been beating down for days), sun cream, sunglasses, map, plenty water, food and snacks, first aid kit….
- Register your itinerary at the trail heads – Even the easiest and best marked trails can present unexpected hazards such as rock slides or snowfall.
- Allow plenty time for your chosen route – Additionally, leave an extra margin in case of incident. Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Nightfall may take you by surprise so it is wise to carry a flashlight.
- Stay on the marked trails – This is especially important on steep slopes or precipices. Never take short cuts as doing so causes erosion, channeling the rain water and resulting in deterioration of the trails that are so hard to maintain.
- Check the weather forecast – It is always advisable to check the weather forecast before setting off as this can greatly affect your walk or hike.
- Respect the environment – The mountains here are breathtakingly beautiful but the balance of nature is very fragile. In order to maintain the beauty of the valley; don’t light fires, ensure you take your rubbish with you, leave the flowers for others to admire and avoid making excessive noise that may disturb the wildlife.
After spending much of the last summer exploring the local trail throughout the Hakuba Valley, I have tended to my blisters and compiled the following list of Hakuba’s favorite hikes based on how much time or fitness you may have.
Short Family Walk
Located about a kilometer or so to the east of the main Hakuba train station this short walk or stroll mixes a sense of history as well as affording some awesome views of the Hakuba three peaks. Start the walk at the at the Oide suspension bridge parking area, where there is also a small ice cream shop for your treat when you return. Cross over the Himekawa River, aptly named Princess River in Japanese, and walk up through the forest keeping the river to your left. There are a couple of viewing points on the way up so don’t forget to bring your camera. At the top of the forest road there are steps that lead back down to the river, I forgot to count them but there must be a few hundred. Cross back over the river on another suspension bridge and then it is a short stroll back to the parking area – passing Oide Water Wheel which is still in use. Now it’s time to enjoy that ice cream. Gondola Accessed
This walk is for those who would like to have a stroll as well as having the thrill of a gondola ride then head over to Hakuba Iwatake Snowfield. In summer the snow is replaced by thousands upon thousands of brightly colored lilies. After the 8 minute ride to 1280m enjoy the beautiful 360 degree panoramic views of the Hakuba valley and mountains. There are a couple of loops you can try depending on your fitness and time available. The easiest one is a 30 minute stroll around the peak. You will walk through the lilly park, pas the dog run and then back to the top of the gondola. For a longer walk of about 90 minutes head to the left as you look up the mountain. This sign posted route will have you enjoying the “Natural Power Spot” of the forest – so says the guided literature! Enjoy local soba buckwheat noodles at Sky Arc café as you make your way back to the top of the gondola. Iwatake Snowfield lifts are open from 8:30 to 16:30 Season is from July 13 to September 2 Adult 2600yen Children 1460yen Tel: 0261-72-3280
Perhaps you have an entire morning or afternoon to adventure, if so then upload on the Tusgaike Kogen gondola and further upload on the Tsugaike Ropeway to 1829m to access the high alpine Tsugaike Nature Park. The path around the nature park is on elevated boards so you don’t need to have hiking boots – normal sneakers will suffice. There are a few loops all linked together with the longest being about 6km. In the summer there are an abundant of alpine flora, and in the fall there are some of the best autumnal colors you will find in the Hakuba Valley. Most walkers stroll around the course – please give yourself a few hours for a complete circuit. There are few restaurants at the entrance serving the usual hikers fayre, including my favorite “katsu curry” pork cutlet on curry and rice. And seeing as you have earned it why not treat yourself to some mountain grape flavored soft ice cream. Tsugaike Kogen lifts are open from 8:00 to 16:20 Season is from June 1 to November 4 Adult 3,300yen Children 1,750yen Tel: 0261-83-2255
Should you be both fortunate to and adventurous enough to devote an entire day to exploration – then the Happo Ike Pond is calling you. This adventure begins at Happo gondola where you are uploaded to the Usagi Daira Terrace. Make sure you spend a few minutes here on the open terrace watching the paragliders set off to fly back down to the village below. Next hop on the Alpen Grat followed by the Grat Quad to 1831m. This is Hakuba’s highest lift accessed point. You will feel a drop in temperature from this height so make sure you pack the sweaters even in the middle of summer.From here the hike gets a little tough with climbing to the xx Cairn at 1974m. There are actually a few cairns at different heights – they are good to give you little goals when they going gets hard. Upon reaching the Happo Ike Pond at 2060m take a rest and enjoy the magnificent views of the peaks and the valley below. If you are lucky then the pond will mirror the reflection of the peaks.As you leave the lift accessed area there are no places to buy anything so make sure you bring some snacks for this hike. I recommend hitting the local Lawson convenience store in Happo to stock up on energy bars or do the Japanese thing and buy plenty of rice balls, these are a great alternative to energy bars and just as nutritious. Happo-one lifts are open from 8:00 to 17:00 Season is from May 19 to November 4 Adult 2600yen Children 1460yen Tel: 0261-72-3280
For the ultimate hiking adventure take a few days and explore the 3,000 meter peaks of Hakuba. The best way to enjoy multi-day hiking is hut-to-hut carrying light packs. Hot food, cold beer and a comfortable bed awaits you at the end of each day. Alternatively you can pitch you tent at campsites that overlook magnificent alpine vistas. The favorite of many is begin the hike at top of the lifts at Happo-one ski area and follow the ridges back down to Tsugaike Kogen ski area. This hike is best carried out over 3 days though it can be done in two. After leaving the lifts at Happo-one climb up to Karamatsu Lodge at xxxm. It takes about xx hours. Drop your bag off at the lodge and do a quick climb of Mt. Karamatsu xxxm After a good night’s sleep rise before dawn and watch the sun rise over the eastern horizon before breakfast. You won’t be disappointed. After breakfast it’s a strenuous climb to the next mountain hut at Tengu-sanjo. Be careful when hiking, this is high alpine and some of the ridges are narrow with some long drops. It should take you about five hours to reach Tengu. For the fitter ones another three hours of hiking will get you to Hakuba Sanso and cut one day off the hike. After Tengu is time to tackle the three main Hakuba peaks. First is Mt. Yarigatake (2,903m), mostly known as Hakuba Yari to save confusion with another Yarigatake. The middle peak is Shakushidake (2,812m ). The last peak is Mt. Shirouma (2,932m) or Mt. Hakuba as the Chinese characters can be read both ways. Just before the peak you will come to Hakuba Sanso the largest of the mountain huts with beds for 800 persons! This is your hut for the last night on the mountains. It’s mostly downhill to the lifts at Tsugaike Kogen and then a short bus ride back to Hakuba. The Tourism Commission of Hakuba make a good map with booking contacts for the mountain huts. Make sure you are fit enough to tackle the mountains. Pack warm clothing – it can get very cold even in middle of summer.