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The Japanese Alps: A 6 Day Itinerary With All The Highlights

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While most people traveling to Japan visit famous cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, Japan offers some pretty stunning nature as well.

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.

During your trip around the Japanese Alps, you can’t miss the Kenruko-en garden in Kanazawa, the traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses in Shirakawa-go, and the Hida Folk Village in Takayama.

The Japanese Alps: itinerary

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View over Kamikochi valley - Japanese Alps itinerary

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.

Shirakawago Village in winter

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 in mid-April and ends in mid-November.

Fall is the most popular time to visit Kamikochi, because of the beautiful foliage. We visited in 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.

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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 accommodation can be found on the map below.

Japanese Alps itinerary

Click here for the interactive map.

The Japanese Alps itinerary summary

  • Day 1 Kanazawa: visit the Kenruko-en Garden and explore old samurai neighborhoods.
  • Day 2 Shirakawa-go: check out the historic gassho-zukuri farmhouses and admire the view from the Shirakawago viewpoint.
  • Day 3 Takayama: explore the Sanmachi Suji historic district and visit the Hida folk village.
  • Day 4-5 Kamikochi: go hiking and camping in Kamikochi, one of the most beautiful places in Japan.
  • Day 6 Matsumoto: say goodbye to Kamikochi and visit Matsumoto Castle before you head back to Tokyo.

Where to stay in the Japanese Alps

Here is a list of all the places we stayed during our travels around Japan.

LocationWhere to stayPriceBook/info
KanazawaAPA Hotel Katamachi€37/$39Book here
TakayamaGuesthouse Tomaru€47/$49Book here
KamikochiKonashi-daira campsite€13/$14,50Read more
MatsumotoAlpico Plaza Hotel€59/$62 Book here

Note: Prices for accommodation are dependent on the time of year and how far in advance you book. Therefore, the prices mentioned above are a rough indication of the price per night to help you compare the different options. Click ‘book here’ to see the latest prices on Booking and book ahead to get the best deal.

Things to do in Kanazawa

Kenruko-en Garden

Kenruko-en Garden 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

River bank Kanazawa Japan Japanese Alps

We also visited the old samurai neighborhoods, Nagamachi and Katamachi, and strolled along the river bank to enjoy the sunset. It’s 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 have a Japan Rail Pass, the Shinkansen is obviously the better 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.

Tsuruga train station noodle shop

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 was 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

Gassho-zukuri farmhouse in Shirakawago village in the Japanese alps

Yes, Shirakawa-go is rather touristy, but it’s definitely worth visiting.

Being from Europe, I am used to seeing 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!

Shirakawa-go viewpoint

shirakawago-viewpoint-phenomenalglobe.com

We hiked up to the viewpoint and 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, with 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).

Village of Shirakawago Japanese alps

Things to see in Takayama

Sanmachi Suji historic district

Old shops in Sanmachi Suji historic district in Takayama village Japanese Alps

The historic center of Takayama is lovely, the streets are lined with wonderful wooden houses and tiny craft shops.

Hida folk village

Hida Folk Village Takayama Japanese Alps

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.

Takayama Hida Folk Village Japanese Alps

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),

Things to eat in Takayama - abura soba

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 Guesthouse Tomaru, located within easy walking distance to the train and bus station as well as Takayama historic district.

What I liked

+ Nice guesthouse with good facilities (tea kettle, Wi-Fi, and clean bathroom).
+ The rooms are spacious (both the communal living room as well as our bedroom) and the Japanese futons we slept on were comfortable.
+ The owners are friendly and helpful.

What I didn’t like

There is only one bathroom and it gets a bit crowded at times.

Things to do in Kamikochi

Hiking in Kamikochi in the Japanese Alps

Kamikochi is a wonderful place that truly stole my heart… How could it not with these amazing views!

If you love the outdoors, you should add Kamikochi to your Japan itinerary. There are lots of epic hiking trails, during our 3 days in Kamikochi we tackled these trails:

  • Dakesawa hut hike (3-4 hours)
  • Mount Yakedake hike (5 hours)

Be sure to read my in-depth 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.

Admiring the view in Kamikochi Japanese Alps

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

Campsite information

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 websiteAgoda, or Booking).

Kamikochi valley view from Dakesawa hike Japanese Alps

Things to do in Matsumoto

Matsumoto Castle

One cannot visit Matsumoto and not go to the 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.

Within the castle, there is a museum where we learned more about its history.

Matsumoto Castle - black wooden castle in Japan

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. Be sure to climb all the way to the top for a lovely view over the gardens.

Matsumoto Castle Japanese Alps view from the top

If you’d like to learn more about Matsumoto and the main sights in the city, book this Matsumoto private walking tour with a knowledgeable local guide.

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!

This post was updated in October 2022.

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Helena Hiltunen

Sunday 18th of August 2019

Hi Lotte, I have read your blog and I am doing the trip in the reverse order. Just a quick question, do you think it is worthwhile to buy the 4-7 day bus pass or pay for each separate trip? And I was also wondering what your thoughts are about Shirakawa-go. We have one night in Takayama and not sure if we should explore more here instead of travelling to Shirakawa-go on our way to Kanazawa.

You have inspired me. Helena

Lotte

Wednesday 28th of August 2019

Hi Helena,

Thank you for reading my post and I'm happy to hear this has inspired you to visit the Japanese Alps! I'm sure you'll love it, it's such a beautiful region of Japan... Regarding your question, we purchased separate tickets, probably because I calculated it was cheaper (we took our trip in 2016 so I'm a bit rusty on the numbers). We stayed in Kamikochi for 3 days so I think that was the reason I found the daily fee too high as we knew we wouldn't be using the bus pass these days.

I found Shirakawa-go definitely worthwhile, especially in off-peak season (we visited in May). It's a lovely village and the houses are very interesting to learn more about.

Have a great trip! Lotte

Erin Redd

Sunday 18th of August 2019

Hi! I am currently planning a 3 week trip to Japan for the end of October- mid November. I very much want to incorporate your itinerary to the alps! Question- do you have any recommendations for seeing all these places without moving around as much? Can we stay in one place (maybe near Kamikochi) and take day trips to the other places? Also any advice on where to stay in Kamikochi but not camping? Thank you for your help! Erin

Lotte

Wednesday 28th of August 2019

Hi Erin,

Thank you for reading my blog and how wonderful you'll be traveling to Japan in October/November! The Alps are a beautiful region of Japan, I'm happy you've decided to include them in your itinerary:-) Regarding your question, you could base yourself in Takayama and take day trips to both Shirakawa-go and Kamikochi. Kamikochi is very expensive to stay (which is why we went camping). There are beautiful lodges such as the Kamikochi Nishi-itoya Mountain lodge (https://bit.ly/2Znwdsz) but this costs around $250 a night. In Takayama accommodation is much cheaper (https://bit.ly/32aBwsl).

I hope this helps! Have a great trip:-) Lotte

Javon

Tuesday 26th of February 2019

This campsite sounds like a great place to base several great hikes out of. I go to Japan every summer and am thinking of finding a time in my itinerary for it. How long would you suggest for moderate hikers? We will also be doing scuba in Ishigaki, biking the Shimanami Kaido, and relaxing near Hakone.

Lotte

Wednesday 27th of February 2019

Hi Javon,

Wow, every summer to Japan, that's awesome! I'd love to make another trip to Japan... One day I will! I feel our 6 day trip was perfect, we did most of our hiking in Kamikichi. In the other places we strolled around to see the sights but I don't consider that hiking;-) I wish you a wonderful trip and I would love to hear about your scuba experience in Ishigaki!

Lotte

Petrina

Friday 31st of August 2018

Kamikochi looks amazing! What a bummer that we wont be able to go there, since we'll be there around end November. I will definitely try to arrange this into our next visits! When do you think will be the best time to do the hikes? I guess the mid of summer will be too hot, and probably too crowded though.

Lotte

Tuesday 4th of September 2018

Hi Petrina,

Kamikochi was amazing indeed! I reckon November will be too late to visit, there will probably be lots of snow already:-) About the best time for hiking, I have been wondering the same thing. Summer is crowded but some trails still have snow until the end of June. So July, August and September are probably the best months in terms of accessibility of the trails. And because of the altitude the temperatures should be manageable, though I think it will be hot in the valleys. I would love to do a multi-day trail in the Kamikochi area, who knows we'll come across each other one day. Enjoy your trip in November!

Lotte

Sophie

Monday 20th of August 2018

Hi, I am going there in november !! But I was wondering which bus company did you book for Japanese Alps ? Thanks,

Sophie

Lotte

Tuesday 21st of August 2018

Hi Sophie,

Great you are going to explore the Japanese Alps! You can find more information about the bus company here: https://www.japan-guide.com/bus/shirakawago.html. We didn't book ahead but just went to Kanazawa bus station to buy a ticket on the day itself. Have a great trip!

Lotte