Discover Nature and Parks in Nagano

With scenic hiking trails stretching across the Japanese Alps, cherry blossoms, and autumnal beauty in every direction, explore the tranquil landscape of Nagano Prefecture.
Discover Nature and Parks in Nagano

Nicknamed the ‘Roof of Japan,’ Nagano Prefecture is situated in the center of the country. Punctuated by the towering Japanese Alps, the region is best known for its amazing ski season, which hosted the 1998 Winter Olympic Games. However, the warmer months in Nagano are just as exceptional, with world-class hiking and forested hillsides that burst to life with koyo – or vibrant autumnal colors.

Nagano is home to some of Japan's most picturesque scenery, with cherry blossoms seen flowering throughout city streets and tranquil countryside until early May. The region also features many of the country’s most revered mountain shrines and castles, offering travelers a glimpse into Japan’s storied past.

If you’re ready to explore this striking part of the country, Matsumoto Airport is a 75-minute drive from Nagano city. For the best possible experience, consider renting a car so you can discover the area’s charms at your own pace.

Meet Jigokudani Monkey Park’s unique troop

Meet Jigokudani Monkey Park’s unique troop 

Situated in Joshin’etsukogen National Park, the Jigokudani Monkey Park is where you can find a troop of adorable primates who can't get enough of Nagano's natural hot springs. Established in 1964 as a conservation area for Japanese macaques, it didn’t take long for these cunning snow monkeys to discover the pleasures provided by a mountainside onsen.

Brought to international attention on the cover of TIME Magazine in 1970, the delightful Snow Monkey Park has been a hit tourist destination for animal lovers ever since. With the steamy onsens put to good use by these Japanese hot spring monkeys throughout the year, unsurprisingly, they find the heat particularly welcome during the wintertime. After seeing these monkeys having such a great time, you'll no doubt feel inspired to enjoy a soak at the next available onsen.

While the Jigokudani Monkey Park is somewhat remote, it can be visited relatively easily from Nagano city. Travelers can ride the Nagano Electric Railway to Yudanaka Station before catching a local bus to the park. You can also take the Nagaden Express Bus from Nagano Station directly to the monkey park. 

 Explore the Japanese Alps with hikes across Kamikochi and Norikura

 Explore the Japanese Alps with hikes across Kamikochi and Norikura

Stretching across Japan's Northern Alps in every direction is an interlinked network of beautiful hiking trails. The remote highland of Kamikochi is especially impressive, featuring outdoor activities suitable for both beginners and experienced mountaineers. The Myojin to Tokusawa Trail is a leisurely two-hour stroll through the scenic forest. Flanked by quaint ponds and marshes, fields of bright wildflowers spring up in summer. 

The Yokoo to Mount Chogatake trail leads travelers from the mountain lodge of Yokoo Sanso – a popular base camp – high into the surrounding Japanese Alps. After navigating the steep rocky path to the top of Mount Chogatake, soak up the vast panoramic views spanning the entire mountain range.

Mount Kamikochi can be visited from Matsumoto Airport by riding the shuttle service to Matsumoto Station. Take the Matsumoto Dentetsu Kamikochi Line to Shinshimashima Station, then catch the Alpico Kotsu Kamikochi Express Bus to Kamikochi Bus Terminal.

As one of the ‘100 Famous Japanese Mountains’, Mount Norikura presents visitors with tranquil waterfalls and lush green pastures. Taking around 40 minutes to walk to the summit from the bus terminal, you’ll pass by the crater basin of Tatamidaira and along jagged ridges to crest the top. Near the summit, the Katanokoya Hut sells snacks and drinks so you can enjoy a picnic overlooking the valleys far below.

For Mount Norikura, follow the same journey as Mount Kamikochi to Shinshimashima Station. Transfer to the Alpico bus for Norikura Kogen and get off at Kanko Center Mae Bus Stop.

Unmatched autumnal beauty at Senjojiki Cirque

Unmatched autumnal beauty at Senjojiki Cirque

There’s a lot of blissful alpine scenes to discover across Nagano, but few are as breathtaking as Senjojiki Cirque in autumn. Located in the Central Alps of Japan, even making your way to this attractive alpine destination is a treat as you soar high above the ground via the Komagatake Ropeway. Accessible throughout the year, the cirque’s relatively high altitude of 2,600 meters means visitors can see colorful foliage earlier and for longer than low-lying areas.

Alongside the multicolor landscape, Senjojiki Cirque is also where visitors will find one of Japan’s longest continuous waterfall chains. Whether you choose to hike or peer down from the ropeway above, the Nakagosho Valley’s waterfalls come to life with freshly melted alpine snow. If you’re planning to wander further into the mountains or don’t want to leave this peaceful place behind, the Hotel Senjojiki is the perfect place to stay. Situated 2,612 meters above sea level, rest inside your comfortable accommodation before enjoying some alluring star-gazing from this untouched location.

To reach Senjōjiki Cirque from Matsumoto Airport, take the shuttle bus to Matsumoto Station. Then, ride the JR Shinonoi Line to Okaya Station and take the JR Chuo Branch/Iida Line to Komagane Station. Here, you’ll find commuter buses traveling to Shirabi-daira Ropeway Station.

Outdoor adventures at Hakuba’s Iwatake Mountain and Happo-One resorts

Outdoor adventures at Hakuba’s Iwatake Mountain and Happo-One resorts

Hakuba Valley is celebrated around the globe for its wintertime slopes, but the region also offers some incredible experiences once the temperature starts to rise.

Hakuba Iwatake MTB Park is a heart-pumping thrill, with fast-flowing downhill mountain bike trails featuring remarkable views across the Northern Alps. Cruise the entire length of the Alpine Downhill Course’s 6,900 meters for the ultimate experience. With training lessons and bike rentals available on-site, everyone is welcome to get amongst the action.

A short distance away, the Happo-One Mountain Resort is another lovely alpine destination that's simply wonderful outside of winter. Take the chairlift up the hillside and enjoy a 90-minute hike to the pristine waters of Happo-ike Pond, where the surrounding peaks reflect off the azure waters. On a clear day from this lofty position, travelers can see as far as Mount Fuji, over 200 kilometers away.

The Sky Blue Happo-One Paraglider School offers a more extreme perspective, with tandem sightseeing flights available with a professional pilot. Meanwhile, the Hakuba Happo Onsen is the ideal spot to rest your weary legs after a long day of activities.

For Hakuba Iwatake Mountain Resort, ride the shuttle service from Matsumoto Airport to Hotaka Station. Take the JR Oito Line to Shinano-Moriue Station and then walk or catch a taxi. For the Happo-One Mountain Resort, ride the JR Oito Line to Hakuba Station, then take a Sarakura line bus to your destination.

Karuizawa’s stunning waterfalls, cherry blossoms, and castle ruins

Karuizawa’s stunning waterfalls, cherry blossoms, and castle ruins

Not to be confused with the waterfall of the same name found in the foothills of Mt Fuji, Karuizawa's Shiraito Falls sees cascading water rush over a 70-meter curved bed of black rock. 

Surrounded by lush plant life that drapes gracefully from the steep gully above, Shiraito Falls makes for a transcendent experience when the landscape shifts from green to reddish hues. If you plan to visit from Matsumoto Airport, catch the JR Shinano Line to Nagano Station from Matsumoto Station. Then, take a 30-minute shinkansen trip to Karuizawa Station and ride the Kusakaru Kotsu bus to the Shiraito no Taki stop.

Another splendid scene awaits in Karuizawa, just a few kilometers to the south. The Kumoba Pond is renowned for its attractive biodiversity that shifts throughout the year. While the peak of summer is marked by green water contrasting against the clear blue sky, autumn brings a myriad of reds, oranges, and yellows to the enveloping trees. Nicknamed ‘Swan Lake’ for its beauty and wildlife, visit Kumoba Pond by taking the shinkansen from Nagano Station to Karuizawa Station before walking for 20 minutes along the tree-lined Kumobahara Street.

Nagano is also well-known for its cherry blossom season. You can capture one of Japan’s most enduring images at the Komoro Castle Ruins. Built in 1554, wander through the castle gates and see how autumnal leaves and cherry blossoms dot this serene parkland. Explore the castle ruins by riding the JR Shinonoi Line to Komoro Station and walking 800 meters. Alternatively, take the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Nagano Station, change at Ueno Station to the Shinano Tetsudo Line, and continue to Komoro Station.

Experience Shiga Kogen’s UNESCO biosphere reserve

Experience Shiga Kogen’s UNESCO biosphere reserve

Rising to international fame following the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, Shiga Kogen is recognized by UNESCO as one of Japan’s 10 pristine biosphere reserves. With this eye-opening landscape forming over millions of years due to volcanic activity, travelers will discover everything from soaring snow-capped mountains to paddy fields and fruit orchards.

The powdery slopes bustle with activity in winter as skiers and snowboarders glide across 80 kilometers of trails. However, the sunnier months are also great to experience, with a labyrinth of hiking trails making their way up into the hinterland past scenic ponds and wetlands. Featuring around 500 varieties of alpine plant life, Shiga Kogen is magical during springtime in particular.

Alongside rewarding trails for beginners and experienced hikers alike, the area is also considered a top-notch cycling destination. Rising 2,172 meters above sea level, the Shibu Pass along National Route 292 is a unique vantage point, perched high above Joshin’etsukogen National Park. 

You can reach Shiga Kogen in approximately 90 minutes from Nagano city by riding the Nagano Electric Railway to Yudanaka Station. Then, change to the Nagaden bus service and get off at the Shiga Kogen Yamanoeki stop.

Take off to Nagano with Japan Airlines

You won’t need to look far to find awe-inspiring landscapes in Nagano. Ranging from gorgeous alpine hiking trails to parklands that overflow with cherry blossoms, there’s never a dull moment amid the vibrant colors of this fascinating region.

If you’re ready to book your trip to Nagano and its famous Northern Alps, our Japan Explorer Pass helps travelers see even more of the country for a great price. Across over 30 cities in JAL’s domestic network, exploring the wonders of Nagano and beyond is easier than ever.

Getting There