Kamikochi (上高地, Kamikōchi) is a mountain resort located in the Northern Alps, Nagano Prefecture only accessible between mid-April to mid-November. It is under Chubu Sangaku Park and is off-limits to private vehicles restricting access using only buses and taxis. It can be accessed by train and bus from Matsumoto Station if you are coming from Tokyo or via Nohi bus if you are coming from Takayama station and transfer at Hirayu Onsen for a bus bound for Kamikochi.
After the long ride up to the mountains, it would be good to stretch those legs. First stop would be Taisho pond. This is the recommended first stop to explore the entire area. You will see the Hotaka mountain range and the volcano Yakedake (焼岳). The eruption of Yakedake formed the present day Taisho pond.
Following the designated trail, head in the direction of Kappa Bridge. Once you reach the marshland, you may deviate from the main trail and head for Tashiro pond one of the most scenic spot in the area. The water is very clear and still that it is almost like a mirror. Once you have had your fill you may go back to the main trail and head for Kappa Bridge.
Kappa Bridge is a wooden suspension bridge that spans the clear Azusa river. Here the Hotaka Mountains create a perfect backdrop for the bridge although the mountains are stunning to see on their own. This is where the bulk of tourist can be found as this is the rest area where restaurants and shops can be found selling Omiyage. You might want to take a break here and although you might want to postpone your Omiyage shopping as the place has more to offer if you venture upstream.
After 45 minutes or an hour depending on your pace from Kappa Bridge you will reach Myojin pond. This is where the Hotaka Shrine festival is being held every 8th of October. The water at Myojin Pond is also clear however the water is coming from underground. Take note that you will need to pay an entrance fee (300 yen) to access Myojin Pond.
After Myojin Pond, loop back to Kappa bridge using the opposite side of the river depending on which side you came from. The Shinmura bridge is conveniently placed for you to cross to the other side of the Azusa river.
Japanese people usually speak of places that ‘heals’ (癒される or いやされる). Kamikochi has this serene and pure ambience that ‘heals’ even for a short time. Kamikochi is a picturesque place which offers great views the entire time it is open. From the fresh leaves and snow-capped mountains in the spring to the autumn foliage display in the early autumn. Kamikochi is a protected area. Along the trail you might encounter signs of bear sightings in the area however, you will hardly find yourself alone along the trails, but it does not hurt to be alert of your surroundings. Kamikochi is also one of the gateways to access the Hotaka mountain ranges. Just a reminder to all would be visitors to please refrain from straying from designated paths. As the famous quote by Chief Seattle and I quote “Take only memories, leave only footprints”.