Traveling through the Japanese Alps was one of the highlights of our month in Japan and in my opinion an underrated region.
The Alps are a beautiful region, with mountains over 3000 meters high. Besides the amazing mountain views, there are lots of cultural sights and activities as well, such as the Kenruko-en garden in Kanazawa, the traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses in Shirakawa-go and the Hida Folk Village in Takayama (read more about these places below).
The Japanese Alps: itinerary
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When to visit the Japanese Alps
The best time to visit the Japanese Alps depends on what you want to do. We did this exact itinerary in May and had great weather and comfortable hiking temperatures.
Visiting Shirakawago during winter is nothing short of magical and something that is still on my bucket list.
The gassho-zukuri farmhouses were built to withstand this weather with ease and seeing them covered in heaps of snow is something you’ll surely never forget.
Kanazawa and Takayama are great destinations regardless of the season as you can visit many sights during winter as well.
Kamikochi on the other hand isn’t open year-round, usually the season starts mid-April and ends mid-November. Fall is the most popular time to visit Kamikochi, because of the beautiful foliage. We visited late May and even then lots of trails were still closed because of snow.
Always check with the Kamikochi Information Center about the conditions and accessibility of the hiking trails.
If hiking in the Japanese Alps is your priority, it’s best to travel between (late) June and September. In most years the snow will have melted away and you can safely access all trails.
6 day trip in the Japanese Alps: map
I spent six days in the Japanese Alps and visited Kanazawa, Shirakawa-go, Takayama, Kamikochi and Matsumoto. All the highlights and our accommodations are marked in the map below.
Things to do in Kanazawa
A must visit in Kanazawa is the famous Kenruko-en Garden (¥310 per person). It’s a beautiful garden and though we aren’t that much into plants, we enjoyed strolling around the ponds and the immaculately kept lanes.
Explore the old samurai neighborhoods
We also visited the old samurai neighborhoods, Nagamachi and Katamachi, and strolled along the river bank to enjoy the sunset. A lovely walk!
How to get to Kanazawa from Kyoto
At Kyoto station we bought a ticket for the local train to Kanazawa (¥4000 per person). There is also a Shinkansen from Kyoto to Kanazawa. The Shinkansen takes only 2 hours, the local option takes 4 hours. If you’re short on time and don’t mind paying double the price we paid for the local train, the Shinkansen is a great option.
Anyway, we took the local train to Kanazawa, meaning we had to change at Tsuruga. On the platform we found a tiny shop selling soup, perfect for lunch.
From Tsuruga we took the train to Fukui, at Fukui we boarded the train to Kanazawa. We got out at Nishi-Kanazawa where we hopped aboard a tiny train bound for Nomachi (¥140 per person). From Nomachi station it was only a short walk to our hotel.
Where to stay in Kanazawa
We stayed at the APA Hotel Katamachi for 1 night. I searched for quite a while and this was one of the cheapest options I found.
What I liked
+ The hotel was nice, clean and quiet.
+ The hotel staff was friendly and the check-in very smooth.
+ Close to the bus stop to Kanazawa JR Station.
What I didn’t like
– It smelled a bit like cigarettes in the bathroom (even though we had a smoke-free room).
Things to see in Shirakawa-go
The famous gassho-zukuri farmhouses
Yes, Shirakawa-go is rather touristy, but it’s definitely worth to visit. Being from Europe, I am used to seeing the Swiss and Austrian wooden cottages. But the gassho-zukuri farmhouses are very different, the roofs are made from thick layers of reed. Some of the houses are more than 250 years old!
We hiked up to the viewpoint, strolled around the quaint little streets and along the small rice fields of Shirakawa-go village.
How to get to Shirakawa-go from Kanazawa
From our hotel we took the bus to Kanazawa station, there we managed to buy tickets to Shirakawa-go costing ¥1850 per person. Yes, travel in this part of Japan is expensive! Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful trip to Shirakawa-go, green forest and snowy mountains in the backdrop!
Note: the first 2 buses leaving to Shirakawa-go from Kanazawa bus station were fully booked. If you want to be sure of your departure time (or if you are traveling in high season) it may be wise to buy tickets the day before.
At Shirakawa-go bus station, We stored our bags at the tourist information center so we didn’t have to carry them around when exploring the village. Costs: ¥1000 for 2 big backpacks (there are also ¥600 lockers but these were all taken).
Things to see in Takayama
Sanmachi Suji historic district
The historic center of Takayama is lovely, the streets are lined with wonderful wooden houses and tiny craft shops.
Hida folk village
We also visited the Hida Folk Village (¥700 per person), which is a really nice place! In the Hida Folk Village you find many old houses in building styles typical for the region.
The houses were all taken apart at their original locations and rebuilt in the Hida village, to conserve them and share their unique designs.
What I liked about the village is that you could enter many of the houses, which made it easy to imagine how people lived in ancient times.
There were also a lot of great things to eat in Takayama, such as delicious abura Soba at Le Midi (2 Chome-10 Honmachi, Takayama-shi, Gifu-ken 506-0011, +81 577-35-3566),
How to get to Takayama from Shirakawa-go
The buses to Takayama leave just outside the Shirakawa-go tourist information center. You can buy a ticket at the tourist information center in Shirakawa-go or at Kanazawa bus station, the bus costs ¥2470 per person.
Where to stay in Takayama
We stayed at Hida Takayama Guesthouse Gekka for 1 night. It was not in the center of Takayama, but within walking distance from the bus station.
What I liked
+ Nice guesthouse with good facilities (tea kettle, Wi-Fi and clean bathroom).
+ The rooms were spacious (both the communal living room as well as our bedroom) and the Japanese futons we slept on were comfortable.
+ The owners were friendly and helpful.
What I didn’t like
– It was rather noisy, the walls are very thin and you hear pretty much every word your neighbor says.
– There were only 3 rooms occupied during our stay but the shower and toilet were continuously in use already. There is no other place to wash your hands than in the shower and in the morning it gets pretty busy. I felt €50 a night was a little expensive considering the shared facilities.
Things to do in Kamikochi
Kamikochi is a wonderful place that truly stole my heart… How could it not with these amazing views!
We spent 3 days in Kamikochi, you can read my post about hiking and camping in Kamikochi here.
How to travel from Takayama to Kamikochi
From Takayama we traveled to Hirayu Onsen by bus, at Hirayu Onsen we changed to another bus taking us to Kamikochi. More information can be found here.
We booked our bus ticket at the bus station in Takayama, only a couple of hours before our departure. The price for a ticket is ¥2600 per person.
Where to stay in Kamikochi
We stayed at the Konashi-daira campsite for 3 nights.
What I liked
+ The campsite in Kamikochi was also the best managed campsite we stayed at during our 1 month trip around Japan.
+ There was a campsite manager who spoke English (a first), a restaurant where we could have breakfast, lunch and dinner (a first as well) and an onsen. I could have stayed in Kamikochi for months…
What I didn’t like
– Absolutely nothing, the only downside was having to leave?.
• Check the website for more information.
• We paid €13/$14,50 per night.
Best hotel in Kamikochi
If you don’t want to go camping be prepared to spend a lot of money on accommodation in Kamikochi. The lodges here are beautiful but expensive with prices starting at ¥8400/€67/$76 per night (see the Kamikochi accommodation website, Agoda or Booking).
Things to do in Matsumoto
One cannot visit Matsumoto and not go to famous Matsumoto Castle (¥610 per person). Of the four Japanese castles I visited during my trip, Matsumoto is my favorite!
Matsumoto Castle was built in 1504 and is made entirely out of wood. It’s nicknamed the ‘Crow Castle’, because of the black exterior.
A really cool thing about Matsumoto Castle is the secret floor, which is hidden between the levels. The secret 3rd floor doesn’t have any windows, so from the outside it looks like Matsumoto Castle only has five stories, but secretly there are six! The purpose of the secret floor is to mislead the enemy about the number of soldiers inside the castle.
Within the castle there is a museum where we learned more about its history. From the top we had a nice view over the gardens of the castle.
How to get to Matsumoto from Kamikochi
From Kamikochi bus station we took a bus to Shinshimashima train station where we changed to a tiny train taking us to Matsumoto. More information can be found here.
We booked the combined bus-train ticket a day before our departure, you can do so at Kamikochi bus station. The price for a ticket is ¥2450 per person.
Our Japanese Alps itinerary: in conclusion
From Matsumoto we traveled back to Tokyo by bus to catch our flight home. If you have more time, I recommend visiting Nagano, the Jigokudani snow monkey park and Mount Fuji.
You can download the map of my 6-day itinerary around the Japanese Alps below. And if you want to read more about Japan, check out my other Japan posts!
- Alternative places to visit in Japan
- How to pack for a trip to Japan
- Japan on a budget
- Driving on Hokkaido
- Hokkaido road trip itinerary
- Hiroshima itinerary
- Miyajima itinerary
- Hiking Mount Koyasan
- Quirky things in Japan
This post was updated in December 2021.