Exploring Kamikochi and Mount Yake

Exploring Kamikochi and Mount Yake

Chubusangaku National Park

Type: Out and Back Dayhike
Distance: 12.7 km (7.9 mi)
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss: 1062 meters (3481 ft)
Date(s): July 6, 2018 – July 7, 2018
Mount Yake Trail Map (KTNP)

While our misadventures in Mount Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi were over, the rain from Typhoon Prapiroon continued. But it was time to head to Chubusangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園, Chūbusangaku Kokuritsu Kōen). We’d be spending almost a full week exploring the park, which encompasses the Northern Japanese Alps, so there are many opportunities for hiking and backpacking. Our first hike would be to Mount Yake (焼岳, Yakedake), an active volcano, near the town of Kamikochi (上高地, Kamikōchi).

Located in the southern part of Chubusangaku National Park, Kamikochi has spectacular views. It’s situated in a valley surrounded by mountains, so it’s a perfect jumping off point for hikes. The area is only open to visitors from mid/late April to November 15. Visitors have to take a bus or taxi to Kamikochi, since private vehicles are not permitted in the park.

The timeframe that we visited was both good and bad. It was the tail end of the rainy season, so it wasn’t crowded. In mid July, the park would get very busy. Days before we were set to arrive in Kamikochi, Typhoon Prapiroon hit Japan, causing widespread flooding. It significantly impacted our trip, so we worked around it (or through it) as best we could.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to the summit of Mt. Yake. We made it about three-quarters of the way up the mountain before wind and rain drove us back into the more protected valley. We’ll detail our experiences below.


The day we planned to travel from Lake Kawaguchi to Kamikochi, I got an email from Nishi-ito-ya Mountain Lodge (西糸屋山荘, Nishi-ito-ya Sansō), where we’d be staying in Kamikochi. We were informed that the narrow, winding road to Kamikochi was closed due to flooding. Never ones to give up, we decided to go anyway.

Thankfully, I got an email en route that the roads had re-opened, so we were relieved. Once we reached Matsumoto, we took a train to Shinshimashima, and then a bus to Kamikochi. Alpico, the operator of the route, provides a guide to help visitors travel to the park. The bus ride afforded mountain views as we entered the park. We also saw the swollen streams along the way, as rain continued to fall.

After about an hourlong bus ride, we arrived at Kamikochi Bus Terminal. Everything was soaked and dreary. Thankfully we had brought umbrellas. We made our way along the muddy path to Nishi-ito-ya Lodge. It’s a short walk, only about 10 minutes, and we crossed the picturesque Kappa Bridge (河童橋, Kappabashi) on the way.

We crossed Kappa Bridge (Kappabashi) on the way to Nishi-ito-ya

We had booked a traditional Japanese style room, which included a toilet and sink. Once we arrived at the lodge, we checked in and got organized. Afterward, we planned to explore the area around the lodge. At this point, it was still raining, and we borrowed some large umbrellas from Nishi-ito-ya, which were appreciated. We visited some small shops, and bought a few snacks and gifts.

Kamikochi’s most famous attraction is Kappa Bridge (河童橋, Kappabashi), which is close to Nishi-ito-ya. The bridge, named after a mythical aquatic Japanese creature, has become a symbol of the area. On an average day, you can see breathtaking views of the surrounding Hotaka Mountains, but on this day we couldn’t see much other than clouds. However, it was still quite pretty. Back at the lodge, we stored all our wet gear in the drying room. The staff helped us figure out where to put everything.

Nishi-ito-ya has a communal bath, and this would be our first time experiencing that. I was a bit nervous using the public bath initially, but Kristin was a bit more adventurous. After bathing, we dined at Nishi-ito-ya and got to bed early. We planned to hike to Mount Yake the next day, assuming the weather cooperated.

View of the Hotaka mountains from Kappa Bridge. The mountain peaks were mostly obscured, but it was still very scenic.
Our room at Nishi-ito-ya
First experience with the public bath in Japan

To Mount Yake

Mount Yake is an active volcano. Its Japanese name, Yakedake, means “burning mountain.” The highest peak is at 2,455 meters (8,054 feet), and there’s a small lake between the two main peaks.

We planned to hike to the summit of Mt. Yake (Yakedake). The route from Kappa Bridge to Mt. Yake is a 12.7 km (7.9 mi) out-and-back (round trip). The hike boasts gorgeous views, volcanic features like steam vents (fumaroles), and precariously placed ladders. It’s a strenuous hike, with 1,062 meters (3,481 feet) in elevation gain/loss. A mountain hut, called Yakedake Goya (焼岳小屋), is located near the summit. Reservations are required to stay overnight.

The next morning, it was still pouring, but we were tired of cancelling plans. After breakfast, we picked up the bento we had requested the night before from Nishi-ito-ya; this would be our lunch on the trail.

After leaving Nishi-ito-ya, we turned right onto the main trail. Our route took us south, beside the Azusa River (梓川, Azusagawa). There are multiple intersecting trails here. While some are paved, we mainly used the gravel path by the river. Usually, the Azusa River is a lucid blue (or so we heard), but on this day it was turbid and murky. The rain slowed, and even stopped intermittently. This was an improvement, so we kept going, and noticed other visitors who were equally committed to exploring the area.

Next to the path, we came upon Weston Monument, a small relief of Walter Weston (1861-1940). He introduced western mountain climbing to Kamikochi and is credited with popularizing the area as the “Japanese Alps.” Conveniently, there’s also a restroom located nearby.

We passed some hotels and lodges, followed by Tashiro Bridge on our left. Then, the trail veered away from the river. As we were hiking, we heard a loud roaring sound, and wondered if we were in trouble. Thankfully, we quickly realized it was a swollen stream flowing underneath the trail. All the streams we’d seen were at a higher volume than normal, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Shortly after, we ran into a sign blocking our path. We had no clue what it said, but we assumed it said something about cars not being allowed past this section (and you know what they say about assuming), so we went around and continued on. Later, Google Translate helped us determine that the sign stated that “traffic is prohibited due to mudflow.” Thankfully, that hadn’t been an issue. We turned right onto the main trail to Mt. Yake. At this point the trail turned from a level walking path to more of a true hiking trail.

Climbing Mount Yake, Sort of

While we had seen other visitors on the gravel path along the river, we saw no one in the forest. The trail was rocky, wet, and muddy, with a subtle but increasingly steep incline. Water was everywhere! Streams flowed on, across, and through the trail. It was still raining, but the path became too narrow to use our umbrellas, so we had to rely on our other rain gear. As we crossed bridges, roaring streams flowed underneath them. The weather was miserable, but we were still enjoying the hike.

Along the trail we spotted a frog (or possibly a toad?), and I spent a lot of time trying a get a good photo. Probably too long, as Kristin was ready to move. As we continued, we started encountering multiple ladders along the trail. They’re kind of fun, but also scary since the ladders aren’t always in the best shape. They looked rickety, but they felt solid.

Some of the bridges go over a gap between rocks, which also seemed sketchy at first. Thankfully, there are handholds – either chains or ropes. Some of the ladders are literally just placed vertically on a hillside, and are attached to rods that have been hammered into the hill. At one ladder, we encountered a worker carrying gear on his back in crates. We guessed he worked at one of the mountain huts. He would be the only person we’d see before returning from our hike.

After ascending a ways, we started to get some scenic mountain and valley views. Thick clouds covered the sky, but the rain had stopped temporarily. After hiking up a hillside we reached the tallest ladder yet, going up a cliff. On closer inspection, it was actually multiple smaller ladders attached to each other. It looked scary, but wasn’t that bad when we actually got on it. Looking back, the photos appear scarier than the hike actually felt.

As we continued, we encountered chains to help us climb up the rock face. We were back under tree cover, but we could tell the rain was picking up again. As we entered an open area, weather conditions became rainy and very windy. Our umbrellas were useless at this point, but we continued on.

Eventually, we took a break under tree cover to eat lunch. The bento boxes were nothing special – two onigiri with raw umeboshi and a small fish. Breakfast and dinner had been very good at Nishi-ito-ya, so it was disappointing.

After reviewing our map, we realized we were close to Yakedake Goya mountain hut. But the weather was getting worse, we were already soaked, and we couldn’t see much because of the clouds. We also acknowledged that we could be in trouble if the weather suddenly worsened. It was disappointing, but we decided to hike back down.

We made good time on our way back down. The rain and wind cleared up as we descended into the protected valley. At that point, we decided to stay on the paved trail, away from the river since we had taken the gravel paths on the way to Mt. Yake. The paved trail doubles as a maintenance road, so we had to watch out for vehicles.

Near a trail intersection with the Mt. Nishihotaka (西穂高岳, Nishihotakadake) trailhead, we saw an animal that made the whole hike worth it: a Japanese macaque in a tree. It was the first monkey we’ve ever seen in the wild! It was a novel experience, so we snapped some photos, and made sure to keep our distance. Eventually we moved on, passing the small Oyama Shrine (Oyamanokami), or shrine to the Mountain God.

Back at Nishi-ito-ya, we were exhausted and soaked. The friendly front desk employee helped us with our gear and outerwear – shoes, umbrellas, backpack covers, rain pants, and rain jackets. He hung them up to dry, while we put on slippers and headed toward a much appreciated hot bath in the ofuro (Japanese bath), followed by dinner.

We can’t give a complete guide or review of the hike to Mt. Yake since we didn’t actually finish it. The unique obstacles – ladders, chains, and bridges – provided a fun challenge, so I can see us enjoying the hike in milder weather. I was looking forward to seeing the views and volcanic features, and maybe someday we’ll get another chance.

Back at Nishi-ito-ya, a sign directs us to the public bath for a much appreciated soak

Mount Yake Trail

Date: Saturday, July 7, 2018
Out and back day hike
Total Distance:
12.7 km (7.9 mi)
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss:
1,062 meters (3,481 ft)
Time: 6.5 hours to do 75% of the hike in terrible weather. Our Shobunsha Mapple map of the trail estimates around 8 hours for the entire hike.
Trail Markings: Signs at intersections
Difficulty: Strenuous
Crowds: A few people along the river only
Water: River, many streams, a volcanic lake at the top we didn’t get to.
Highlights: Volcanic features, views, water, mountain hut, wildlife, wildflowers
Directions to Kappa Bridge (Kappabashi): Google Maps Directions

Trail Directions

  • 0.0 km (0.0 mi) – From Kappa Bridge (Kappabashi), head southwest along the path with the Azusa River on your left. You’ll pass Nishi-ito-ya and other lodges on your right. Numerous paths, paved and unpaved, go parallel to the river. All trails lead to Mt. Yake.
  • 1.1 km (0.7 mi) – You’ll arrive at an intersection with a restroom, and then the Weston Memorial. Continue heading southwest, either along the paved transport road or gravel path by the river (distances are for gravel path). You’ll pass two onsen hotels on your right.
  • 1.5 km (0.9 mi) – Arrive near Tashiro Bridge and around the Mt. Nishihotaka Trailhead. There are a few intersecting trails/roads here; just follow signs for Mt. Yake.
  • 2.3 km (1.4 mi) – Turn right to exit the walking path, and begin the hiking trail to Mt. Yake. There is a large sign indicating the turnoff. Elevation gain begins here.
  • 5.0 km (3.1 mi) – Turn left toward Mt. Yake. Yakedake Goya mountain hut is located at this intersection, if you want to make it an overnight.
  • 5.4 km (3.4 mi) – Continue straight past the intersection.
  • 6.3 km (3.9 mi) – Turn right onto a short path to Mt. Yake
  • 6.35 km (3.95 mi) – At the end of the trail, turn around and head back down when ready.
  • 6.4 km (4.0 mi) – Turn left and return to the main trail to head back down.
  • 7.3 km (4.5 mi) – Continue straight past the intersection.
  • 7.7 km (4.8 mi) – Turn right, going past Yakedake Goya.
  • 10.4 km (6.5 mi) – Turn left, onto the level walking path heading north to Kamikochi.
  • 11.3 km (7.0 mi) – Continue straight, past Tashiro Bridge and Mt. Nishihotaka Trailhead. You can return via the transport road or paths by the river. If you take the transport road, you’ll pass a small shrine on your left.
  • 11.7 km (7.3 mi) – At the intersection with Weston Monument, take the paved or gravel path.
  • 12.7 km (7.9 mi) – Back at Kappa Bridge!




Elevation Graph

Interactive Map

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