If you want to see the Japan Alps with stunning mountain views, beautiful green and lush valleys, the famous and impressive 18-m tall snow wall, and turquoise lakes, then the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is a must! Read on to get everything you need to know about the Japan Alpine Route – how to get there, how to get tickets, how long it takes, and a description of the nine sections of the route.
After some days in the big a bustling city and capital of Japan,w Tokyo, we were ready to dig deeper into the country and discover its wild side. So, as a Swedish couple that we met on a train in Kyoto said: “What do Norwegians do when they get to a country with mountains?!”
Yep, you guessed it, since we come from a country packed with mountains and obviously love mountains, we headed inland to the Japan Alps to do the stunning Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. It was one of the biggest highlights of our entire Japan trip! 🙂
The Ultimate Guide To The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
The Japan Alps is a fairly big area inland of mid-Japan, with a few big cities such as Nagano and Toyama. This area is packed with high mountains and awesome peaks and wilderness. It surely is a hiker`s delight!
We decided to travel/ hike along the spectacular Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route when we visited Japan, and we loved it! It was so refreshing after spending weeks in big cities like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Tokyo!
Table of Contents:
What Is The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route?
♦ Season: Mid-April, May, June, July, August, September, October & November
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is a popular and scenic 90 km route that crosses the northern part of the Japanese Alps from the east (Shinano Omachi Station) to the west (Dentetsu Toyama Station).
These Northern Alps are also called the Hida Mountains and stretch through Nagano, Toyama, and Gifu prefectures with several tall mountain peaks. The tallest mountain along the Japan Alpine Route is Mt. Tateyama (3015 m).
The Alpine Route is open from the 15th of April to the 30th of November (full route between Shinano Omachi and Dentetsu Toyama).
A partial route is open from the 10th to the 14th of April (between Dentetsu Toyama and Midagahara). The Alpine Route is completely closed during winter (1st of December – 9th of April).
The Alpine Route connects Shinano Omachi Station on the east side of the Japan Alps with Dentetsu Toyama Station on the west side (see the map below):
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route goes from east to west through the northern part of the Japanese Alps. You will take nine different transport modes
It is an incredible journey through sacred mountains, wilderness, forests, impressive tunnels, high peaks, hot springs, and Japan`s highest dam Kurobe Dam. Plus a ton of fresh mountain air!
In spring, April – June, the Alpine Route is literally carved through the snow, making an impressive 18-meter high snow wall! The snow wall is a huge attraction in Japan and is a fantastic sight! Even at the end of June, the snow wall is usually over 10 meters high.
In autumn, September – November, the leaves change color from green to beautiful autumn colors of red, yellow, and brown. It is a stunning sight!
How To Buy Tickets For The Alpine Route
The only place you can reserve tickets for the Alpine Route is here (the official website of Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route).
The ticket is valid for five days after you have exchange your WEB reservation ticket into an actual ticket at the ticket office (for instance at Ogizawa Station if you start on the east side, or at Tateyama Station if you start at the west side of the route).
You can, of course, buy Alpine Route tickets directly at the Ogizawa Station or Tateyama Station (depending on which side you want to start the Alpine Route) without any reservations. But I recommend that you make a ticket reservation if you plan on doing the Alpine Route during the peak seasons of spring (April, May & June) and autumn (September & October).
We did the Alpine Route in July and had no problems getting tickets without any reservations. We just showed up at Ogizawa Station in the morning and bought the ticket at the ticket counter for the same day.
How Much Does The Alpine Route Ticket Cost?
The Alpine Route ticket for the full route one-way (Shinano Omachi to Dentetsu Toyama) cost:
- 11050 Yen = US$ 103 (adult)
- 5550 Yen = US$ 52 (child, 6-11 years old)
- Children below 6 years old can do the Alpine Route for free
The Alpine Route is unfortunately not covered by the JR Pass.
But you can use the JR Pass to get to the start of the Alpine Route. You can use the JR Pass to get to Shinano Omachi Station if you want to start on the east side of the Alpine Route, or to Dentetsu Toyama Station if you want to start on the west side.
We used JR Passes to get from Tokyo to Shinano Omachi Station where we started our Alpine Route trip.
Doing The Alpine Route From East To West
We did the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route from the east to west, starting in Shinano Omachi and ending up in Dentetsu Toyama.
You can do the Alpine Route in either direction, also from west to east (Dentetsu Toyama to Shinano Omachi). Most people do it one way only, but you can do it as a round-trip. Or you can only do half the Alpine Route, and do a return trip to Murodo which is the route´s highest point.
This guide describes how to do the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route from east to west, starting in Matsumoto and ending in Dentetsu Toyama, and on to Kanazawa.
The whole Alpine Route is divided into nine sections, each with different transport modes and walking distances:
Tokyo – Matsumoto – Shinano Omachi
From Tokyo, we took the train to Matsumoto city (a 4-hour train trip) where we stayed the night. Early next morning we took another train from Matsumoto Station to Shinano Omachi Station – the start of the Alpine Route (a 1-hour train trip).
We bought the Japan Railway Pass (JR Pass) online before entering Japan, which we used on these two train trips. I highly recommend that you buy a JR Pass. It will save you a lot of money!
Matsumoto is a relatively small valley city in Japan standard (243 000 inhabitants) embraced by seven tall peaks all above 3000 m as well as three smaller ones. The valley where Matsumoto is situated is no more than 20 km across at its widest. It is a cozy little city with a beautiful castle – Matsumoto Castle or Crow Castle as it is also called due to its black and white color.
We stayed at the Richmond Hotel in Matsumoto for one night, on our way to our Japanese Alpine Route adventure. Richmond Hotel has a convenient and central location, just a short walk from Matsumoto Train Station. The rooms are not the biggest, but most hotels in Japan have small rooms.
We woke up at the crack of dawn in Matsumoto, checked out of the hotel, and took the 08:00 (8 am) train to Shinano-Omachi station, where the Alpine Route starts.
1. Shinano Omachi – 712 m above sea level
When we arrived at the Shinano-Omachi Station, we went straight over to the Baggage Forwarding Service office to drop off our backpacks.
The Baggage Forwarding Service office (marked “Alps Roman Kan”) is on your right when you get out of the Shinano Omachi Train Station.
The cost per bag is 1300 JPY = US$ 12 from Shinano Omachi Station to Dentetsu Toyama Station (where the Alpine Route ends). It might be a little expensive, but it is really a must-do, as traveling with big backpacks on the Alpine Route would be really uncomfortable.
The Alpine Route Forwarding Service Office at Shinano Omachi Station has open from 8:00 a.m. to 11:10 a.m for drop-off. You can then pick up your bags at either Dentetsu Toyama Station (between 15:30 – 18:00) or Tateyama Station (between 15:30 – 17:30).
You can also have your bags picked up at your hotel and delivered to your next hotel. Read more about the Baggage Forwarding Service here
After we got rid of our bags, we bought a bus ticket to Ogizawa (just in front of the train station) and jumped on the bus.
2. Ogizawa – 1433 m
The bus ride from Shinano-Omachi to Ogizawa takes about 40 minutes.
During that time the weather, unfortunately, turned really bad! It was raining cats and dogs! 🙁 Ah, how unlucky! Our mood sank and we started to think that we had not picked the right day for our Alpine Route adventure and regretted the whole thing.
We actually even thought about skipping it, but we had already handed in our luggage and paid for the bus ride, so there was really no turning back at this point.
When we arrived at Ogizawa, we headed over to the ticket office and bought the Alpine Route tickets.
The Alpine Route tickets cost 11050 JPY (US$ 103) per person from Shinano Omachi to Dentetsu Toyama Station, including the bus ticket from Shinano Omachi to Ogizawa.
We made the 10:00 trolley-bus departure.
The trolley-bus ride was pretty cool and took us through a 5,8 km tunnel up to the giant Kurobe-dam. The trolley-bus ride took 16 minutes.
3. Kurobe Dam – 1470 m
When we got out of the trolley bus and the tunnel, the weather had improved and it had stopped raining! Yay! 🙂
The Kurobe Dam is Japan`s highest dam (186 m) and an very impressive sight!
From the trolley-bus station, we climbed the 220 steps up to the Observation Desk.
Once on top, we were rewarded with amazing views over the dam and its surroundings! All the steps were totally worth it! 🙂
Incredibly 10 tons of water shoot out of the dam every second! EVERY SECOND! Oh my god, that is a LOT of water! 🙂
After World War II, Japan had a sudden economic boom and faced a severe energy shortage. To generate additional electricity the government invested in hydroelectric power and decided to build the Kurobe Dam.
Unbelievably 10 million people worked on the dam during its construction! The hardest part was apparently digging the tunnel that the Kanden Tunnel Trolleybus now runs through.
After the construction of the dam, a movie entitled “Sun over Kurobe” was released starring famous Japanese actors. This film gave the Kurobe Dam a legendary status similar to the Hoover Dam in the USA.
Inside the mountain, there is also a museum, where you can read and see a movie from when the dam was built. Unfortunately, not much of it is in English. Here is also a monument over the 171 workers who sadly lost their lives during the construction of the dam.
After we had admired the view from the Observation Deck and been to the museum, we walked on the pathway across the dam (took about 15 minutes) to the Kurobeko cable car station on the other side of the dam.
Here we jumped on the underground cable car, which took us to Kurobedaira (5 minutes).
4. Kurobedaira – 1828 m
When we stepped out of the cable car, we were hit by the cool, fresh and clear mountain air. It was so refreshing to breathe in the air and take in the breathtaking mountain scenery all around us.
By this time the sun had decided to peak out from the clouds and say hi to us. Very nice! 🙂
After taking in the mountain view, we took the Tateyama Ropeway, which brought us 488 m further up to Daikanbo. The Ropeway took 7 minutes, and the views were spectacular!
5. Daikanbo – 2316 m
From Daikanbo the views were even better than at Kurobe dam. The view over the valley below with its small greenish lake was absolutely stunning!
After a short break and a sit-down at the Daikanbo observation deck, taking in the sun and the views, we boarded another trolley bus. This time it was a tunneling one through Mt Tateyama for 3,7 km to Murodo. This trolleybus took 10 minutes.
6. Murodo – The Highest Point Of The Alpine Route – 2450 m
And “wosh“, after 10 minutes on the trolley bus we were all of a sudden on the other side of the 3015 m high mountain Tateyama.
Murodo is the highest point on the Alpine Route unless you want to climb the Mt Tateyama by foot.
In the 17th-19th centuries, Mt Tateyama became one of Japan’s three holy mountains along with Mt. Fuji and Mt. Hakusan and became very popular among pilgrims. Mt. Tateyama overlooking the valley of hell came to represent heaven. People were climbing Mt. Tateyama hoping that their souls would go to heaven after their death. Unfortunately, due to the fog and cloudy weather, we did not even see Mt Tateyama.
From Murodo you can take several short and long hikes to the neighboring mountains and mountain huts, cafes, and onsens (hot springs).
Here you really feel that you are in nature and in the mountains. We decided to do a short hike to Mikurigaike Pond.
Even at 2450 m, we found some beautiful mountain flowers. In comparison, the highest mountain back home in Norway, actually the highest mountain in Scandinavia, is Galdhøpiggen at 2469 m. We have climbed it, and it is only rocks and snow and no grass, flowers or anything. So it is a bit strange but very nice to be at this latitude with so much vegetation around.
Finally, we reached Mikurigaike Pound.
At this highest point of the Alpine Route, there is actually a hotel called Hotel Tateyama! I know, it was a big surprise for us too.
At Hotel Tateyama there is a restaurant/ cafe, and even Japan’s highest onsen (hot spring)! This is the perfect place to stay if you want to do the Alpine Route over several days and go hiking in the area or just relax a bit with fantastic mountain views.
From Hotel Tateyama there are several great hiking options, like the Jigokudani Onsen (Hell Valley Hot Springs) which is about 20 minutes hike. But this is not a bathing onsen, as the water is boiling hot!
You can also hike to the east, for about two hours, to the peak Oyama (3003 m), which apparently has a very steep final section. It is also possible to hike for several days/ a week further south to Kamikochi. Or you can hike to Mt. Tateyama (about 4 hours).
The hotel organized several nice free tours, like stargazing, hiking, and bird-watching. And you can borrow snow boots and hiking poles for free.
7. The Way Down – Bijodaira 927 m & Tateyama 475 m
After our hike to Mikurigaike Pond, we continued the trek down with a bus to Bijodaira. The bus ride took about 50 minutes, through green and lush forest with huge cedar trees.
It is possible to break the trip from Murodo to Bijodaira and stop for walks along the way, but we did unfortunately not have the time.
The last stage of the Alpine Route is with the cable car down from Bijodaira to Tateyama, which takes 7 minutes.
8. The End – Tateyama and Toyama
From Tateyama we took the train to Toyama (1 hour). At Toyama train station we picked up our backpacks. It was, however, a bit tricky to find the office where the Baggage Delivery Center is! It turned out there is no real office, you just have to talk to the ticket officer at the train platform, and he will give you your luggage. 🙂
We reached Toyama at approximately 5 p.m. We started out in Matsumoto at around 8 a.m, so altogether the whole Alpine Route took us nine hours (from Matsumoto to Toyama).
The baggage pick-up office at the other end of the Alpine Route (Toyama Station) closes at 20:00 (8 pm), so make sure that you reach Toyama Station before it closes.
From Toyama, we took the train to Kanazawa (35 min) where we had booked a room at Hotel Trusty. The hotel was fantastic! Very good location in the middle of everything, and brand new. Will highly recommend it! It was the nicest hotel we stayed at in Japan.
Click here for the latest prices on Hotel Trusty, Kanazawa
⇒ Check out why we think you should visit Kanazawa and read about the top things to do in Kanazawa
The Alpine Route Japan is a very nice trip! We really enjoyed it, and we’re pleased that the weather turned out OK in the end. It was lovely to breathe in some fresh mountain air again and get to see some breathtaking mountain scenery. We highly recommend the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route!
If you want to join book a guided mountain hiking tour, like to Mt Tateyama or a snowshoe tour, then the Tateco – Tateyama Eco Tours is a great choice and has a lot of tours to choose from.
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route Step-By-Step Summary
Altogether we spent approximately this amount of time on the transport and walking around at each place of the route:
1. Train from Matsumoto (where we slept) to Shinano-Omachi – 1 hour
This train is NOT included in the Alpine Route ticket, so you have to buy this train ticket in addition.
I recommend that you buy a Japan Rail Pass. This pass is only for tourists, however, and you have to buy this outside of Japan before you go there. We bought the 14 days pass (441 us$) and saved a lot of money compared to buying single tickets on the train. You can order a JR Pass online from official JR Pass agents such as JRailPass.com.
Shinano-Omachi Train Station is where the baggage delivery service is, so you hand in your luggage here. 1540 JPY = 15 us$ per bag to get it delivered to Toyama Train Station.
2. Bus from Shinano-Omachi to Ogizawa – 40 min
This is NOT included in the Alpine Route ticket. This bus ticket cost 1360 JPY = 13 us$ per person.
3. Trolleybus from Ogizawa to Kurobe Dam – 16 min
At Kurobe Dam we spent some time, maybe about 1,5 hours. We walked around, took pictures, looked at the small museum and so on. You can spend less time there, or more time. There is also a small ferry cruise on the dam (takes 2,5 hours), but we did not take this. Don`t know how much that cost.
4. Cable car from Kurobe Dam to Kurobedaira – 5 min
We did not spend much time at Kurobedaira but had lunch at a cafe there (maybe 30 min).
5. The ropeway from Kurobedaira to Daikanbo – 7 min
We did not spend much time at Daikanbo. It is not a big area to walk on there, just a platform/viewpoint.
6. Trolleybus from Daikanbo to Murodo – 10 min
This is the highest point of the route. Now you are really in the mountains and can go for long or short walks. We spent maybe 1,5 hours here altogether. We hiked the Mukurigaike Pond Loop (1 hour). But we did not take a bath in the Onsen at Mukurigaike Inn (which I regret).
From Murodo you can also climb Mt. Tateyama (takes about 4 hours).
7. Bus from Murodo to Bijodaira – 50 min
We spent no time in Bijodaira, only waited for the cable car. But you can do walks from Bijodaira too, or jump off the bus on its way from Murodo to Bijodaira to do walks along the way. We did not do this.
8. Cable car from Bijodaira to Tateyama – 7 min
We spent no time in Tateyama, only waited for the train. You can choose to end your Alpine Route journey here if you want to sleep in Tateyama. But there is not much to see in Tateyama.
9. Train from Tateyama to Toyama – 1 hour
Toyama is the end of the Alpine Route, and the end of the Alpine Route ticket. Here we picked up our bags.
10. Train from Toyama to Kanazawa – 35 min
We chose to go to Kanazawa straight away, and not sleep in Toyama as we had heard that Kanazawa is a nicer city with much more to see. But you can of course sleep in Toyama. It is a quite big city. We reached Kanazawa around 6 pm.
⇒ Check out our ultimate guide to the best things to do in Kanazawa if you are planning on heading there
Doing The Alpine Route Over 2-3 Days
We did the Alpine Route as a day trip, but it is a great idea to do it over 2-3 days. Then you can do some more hiking and see more of the stunning landscape. It is also a bit more relaxed and you can enjoy it more.
The best place to stay when doing the Alpine Route over several days is to stay at one of the hotels along the route, or at either of the starting point – Shinano-Omachi Station (east side of the route) or Dentetsu Toyama (west side).
Hotels Along The Alpine Route
There are two nice hotels in the mountains along the Alpine Route:
Hotel Tateyama is a resort hotel located at the highest point of the Alpine Route – Murodo (see step 6. Murodo in this article), 2 450 meters above sea level. The hotel is at the center of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. The panoramic view of the 3 000-meter mountains surrounding the hotel is stunning!
Here you can go hiking, and the hotel has several free tours that you can join like a special bus tour to see the sunrise from a mountain top, snow wall walking tour, star gazing tour, and bird watching tour. You also get to borrow snow boots and trekking poles for free. This is the place to stay if you want to hike Mt. Tateyama.
The hotel offers a baggage forwarding service (to and from the hotel) and has free lockers where you can leave your belongings after check-out and go exploring the area. The hotel’s hot spring (onsen) is fantastic, and you can even book a private bath if you like. The set dinner is great too with high-quality food (Japanese and French). The WIFI is actually quite strong too. Staying on top of the mountain is a unique experience!
Click here for the latest prices
The Midagahara Hotel is located right in the national park that the Alpine Route runs through and is the perfect hotel to stay at for exploring the Alpine Route. You can reach the hotel from either the eastern side (Shinano-Omachi and Ogizawa Station) or the western side (Tateyama Station). You take the cable car and bus to reach it, and the hotel is right beside the bus stop (2 min walk). The hotel has luggage storage so you can store your luggage at the hotel while you do the Alpine Route.
The hotel has two nice restaurants, one serving traditional and delicious Japanese food (Dainichi Restaurant), and the other French cuisine (Yakushi Restaurant). The service is fantastic and the staff speaks English. The breakfast buffet is great with a lot to choose from, perfect before embarking on the Alpine Route. And the public bath (onsen) is fantastic and just what you need after being out in the alps the whole day. There are nice hiking trails just around the hotel and there is also a free guided tour. Nothing beats the mountain views from the hotel.
Click here for the latest prices
Hotels Near The Start Of The Alpine Route
Another option is to stay close to where the Alpine Route starts on the east side, close to the JR Shinano-Omachi Station, or on the west side, close to JR Toyama Station. Why not try a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in this area?
Here are a few nice hotels/ ryokans close to the start of the Alpine Route on the east side – JR Shinano-Omachi Station:
When Is The Best Time To Do The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
The closing and opening dates for the Alpine Route Tateyama Kurobe are:
- Full route (Shinano Omachi – Dentetsu Toyama) is open: 15th of April – 30th of November
- Partial route (Dentetsu Toyama – Midagahara) is open: 10th – 14th of April
- The route is completely closed during winter: 1st of December – 9th of April
The Alpine Route is awesome all year round (when it is open), and each season has its highlight:
Spring – April, May & June
When the route opens in mid-April, you can see huge and impressive 18-meter tall snow/ice walls on each side of the road. This melts during April, May, and June and is more or less completely gone in July.
In June, spring is on in the mountains with beautiful spring flowers, birds singing, and everything gets green. Even in late June, the snow walls are still over 10 meters high. There are fewer visitors in June, so you can enjoy a more relaxing experience.
Summer – July & August
Summer is the best season for hiking, sightseeing, climbing, and walking in the mountains as the temperatures are pleasantly warm. There is still some snow at the highest point of the route (Murodo) that you can play around with.
Autumn – September, October & November
The autumn is on in September, turning nature into stunning colors of yellow, orange, and red. The leaves take six weeks to change color and it begins at the end of September.
The autumn colors last until the beginning of November. The change begins in higher areas and moves down the mountain. During a trip, you can see all kinds of colors and white snow-covered mountain peaks. Stunning!
How Long Does The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route Take
The full one-way Tatekyama Kurobe Alpine Route takes at least six to seven hours, depending on the wait for transport and how much hiking you want to do.
We used nine hours all together from Matsumoto to Kanazawa:
- Transport: 4,5 hours from Matsumoto to Toyama. 35 min more to Kanazawa.
- Walking and waiting for transport: 4,5 hours (but can be done shorter, or longer)
- Total time spent on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route: 9 hours
We spent the exact same amount of time on transport and on walking/ waiting for transport.
Baggage Delivery Service
We dropped off our luggage at the Baggage Delivery Service counter at the Shinano-Omachi Station, also called “Alps Roman Kan” (located just next to JR Shinano Omachi Station). Drop off time is between 08:00 (8 am) and 11:10 (11:10 am) and no reservation is needed. You are given a baggage forwarding tag that you fill out and attach to your luggage and it will be delivered to your end stop, for instance, Toyama train station where the alpine route ends.
Your bags can then be reclaimed at Dentetsu Toyama train station between 15:30 (3:30 pm) and 20:00 (8 pm). The cost per bag is 1300 JPY = 12 us$ from Shinano Omachi train station to Toyama train station.
You can also have your luggage shipped directly from your hotel and to the next hotel that you plan on staying at. Read more about that here.
It is possible to only do parts of this trip, and also do it the other way around. You can get more information about this trip on the Alpine Route webpage: http://www.alpen-route.com/en/
⇒ We love the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route and it is on our recommended two-week Japan Itinerary which you can find here
Unfortunately, you cannot see Mount Fuji on this alpine route. If seeing Mt Fuji is on your bucket list, you should consider visiting Hakone and/ or Fuji Five Lakes which are both close to Tokyo (1,5 – 2 hours train ride).
We used Lonely Planet`s Japan Travel Guide on our trip. You can get that and other great books by clicking on the pictures below which will take you to Amazon.com (affiliate links):
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Is the Japanese Alpine Route something you can picture yourself doing? Have you done similar routes somewhere else? Please leave a comment in the comment area below! Thank you! 🙂