Kamikouchi (上高地）is literally known as the Upper Highlands and is located in the Hida mountain range in the western part of Nagano Prefecture. Often referred to as the "Japanese Yosemite" it attracts visitors from Spring to Winter, many coming to appreciate the area's spectacular natural beauty. Despite being a relatively popular destination spot, Kamikouchi still manages to retain a very peaceful, scenic and ambient atmosphere and is definitely a must-visit for people looking to get away from the more touristy sights and engross themselves in Japan's unique landscape.
Kamikouchi is beautiful all year around, and each season manages to bring something different out from the area. As the season the peaks of the mountains are covered in snow, transporting the visitor to a place once thought only imaginable through the pages of a National Geographic magazine. The best time to visit would be the months leading into Autumn, around early October through to early November. Its at this time that Kamikouchi earns its reputation as one of Japans most beautiful Autumn foliage viewing spots. Come at the right time and you'll be greeted by a sea of red, orange and yellow. Although attracting a consistent amount of annual visitors, the area is extremely well preserved as it is part of Chubu Sangaku National Park. This means that there are only a minimal amount of souvenir shops and restaurants.
Kamikouchi has a few designated hiking trails that are accommodating for all travellers. If one fancies, they are can take a leisurely stroll at their own pace and enjoy the unique scenery. For the more adventurous traveller, hiking routes are available that lead up the mountains. Temperatures are known to dip though, so make sure you are well prepared if you plan to take this route. However, travellers will be rewarded for their efforts. One of Kamikouchi's most famed sights is its sunrises. Catching a an early morning sunrise peek itself over the northern Japanese Alps as it lights up a sea of golden autumn pine trees is bound to captivate even the most experienced nature enthusiasts. Kamikouchi offers many ways for travellers to stay overnight. There are hotels nearby where visitors can stay the night in traditional Japanese lodging along with being able to visit an onsen. Cabins are also available for overnight rental, which give travellers the opportunity to stay the night in the woods and fully immerse themselves in nature. For the ultimate experience in immersion however, camping is definitely the way to go. There are designated camping grounds where hikers can set up for the evening, roast marshmallows, enjoy a nice cup of hot cocoa and fall asleep underneath the stars.
Along the way, visitors may also catch a glimpse of Kamikouchi's abundant wildlife. Japanese Macaques can be commonly scene in a group wandering the mountainsides and along the hiking trails, often carrying infants in search of berries. Rare species of birds can also be found native to the Japanese Alps. Bears are also known to be in the area, but are rarely if ever seen, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective.
Kamikouchi is open from mid/late April to late November. It closes during the winter as weather conditions become harsher, making it dangerous for casual visitors. The easiest way to access Kamikouchi is via Matsumoto or Takayama to Shin-Shimashima station by train. From there, several buses are available that will take you to Kamikouchi. For more information, please visit this link. Other methods of gong to Kamikouchi include tour buses and the Meitetsu Express Bus. These methods provide inexpensive, easy ways to get to and from Kamikouchi without the added stress of changing trains.