Sunday, February 24, 2013

Kamikochi, Japan Alps

During the koyo (autumn leaf) season in Japan, one of the best places for autumn foliage as well as spectacular mountain scenery has to be Kamikochi (上高地).

Situated between Matsumoto and Takayama, it fits right into your itinerary as both Matsumoto and Takayama are excellent and popular destinations as well. However, it is open only from mid/late Apr to mid Nov. If you visit during late Oct like what I did, be prepared for the crowds!

There are numerous hiking trails within the park area and thus, spending a night or two in the park is highly recommended. Accommodation options though, are limited and expensive. However, there are campsites in the park too, so for those who have their own tents etc, then it makes even more sense to stay overnight. With forests and mountains as backdrop, and no light pollution, Kamikochi is an excellent location for star trail photography! Also, after the last bus leave, you can also enjoy the peace and beauty of the mountains without the crowds.

Mountain lodges within Kamikochi
Tashiro Pond, one of the scenic attractions along the hiking trails

Kamikochi is excellent for Star Trails photography
For those who are not camping, there are dormitory-style accommodations too. I stayed at Nishi-Itoya mountain lodge for 8000yen (~US$85) a night which I thought was my most expensive dorm bed yet! BUT, the price comes with dinner and breakfast just like a ryokan stay, and the food easily rival those in a restaurant. I met a Japanese guy in the lodge, who was a 3-time return visitor and he claimed that he came back for the food!! Moreover, within the lodge they have an onsen, so after a hard day of hiking, it's pure relaxation soaking in the onsen!!

Kappabashi, the central iconic hub of Kamikochi
Beautiful autumn foliage!
Great food!

Kamikochi is not directly accessible from Tokyo. It is only reached by bus (Nohi) from either Matsumoto or Takayama. So for those who have rail passes, you can still reach Matsumoto and Takayama via trains, and then transfer to buses. Of course, as mentioned previously, either way, do spend time in Matsumoto and Takayama as well!

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