Deep in the mountains of Nagano prefecture, sidling the Japanese Central Alps, lies the pristine Kiso Valley. The clear and cool Kiso River snakes its way through the landscape, flanked by wooded peaks that house rushing waterfalls and ancient trees. Each season transforms the appearance of the forests blanketing the hills, though there is always something exciting to do. Though remote, this area is imbued with a fascinating history belied by the sleepy country facade. It makes for a perfect short getaway and the following represent just a few of the possible day trips within the Kiso Valley.
Where to base yourself
While there are many places to stay in the Kiso Valley, I find Kiso Fukushima to be a well connected and well-facilitated town. From JR Fukushima Station, it’s easy to get to all of the attractions in the surrounding area by train or bus. There is also a great Tourist Information Center who can help arrange your activities. See this article about how to spend a day in Kiso Fukushima.
Day Trips in the Kiso Valley
Though Kiso Fukushima is a wonderful town to explore, there is plenty more to see further afield. Here are some of my top choices.
Walk the Nakasendo Trail
Arguably the biggest attraction of the Kiso area is the Nakasendo Trail, an ancient route winding 540km through the mountains between Tokyo and Kyoto. During the Edo Period (1603–1868), the towns along this trail became very prosperous with accommodation and restaurant options for travellers.
Today, visitors can still experience the ancient Edo aesthetic at a handful of well-preserved towns in the Kiso area, such as Magome, Tsumago and Narai. While it’s possible to cover a large section of the Nakasendo trail, many simply choose to walk the eight-kilometre stretch between Magome and Tsumago. This section winds through well-tended fields, ancient forests, past country homes and through the well-preserved streets of yesteryear.
To get to this walk from Kiso-Fukushima station, take the train to Nakatsugawa followed by a bus to Magome. There is good English signage at the stations, but the staff can help you, too. You will be able to find lunch in both Magome and Tsumago.
Explore Akasawa Natural Recreational Forest
Akasawa Natural Recreational Forest is Japan’s first-ever National Park, receiving the designation in 1970 after a tumultuous history of tree felling. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful forests in Japan and, at over 728 hectares, one of the largest. Akasawa also makes another official list; the ‘One Hundred Most Fragrant Scenic Areas in Japan’.
The scenery can be enjoyed via the winding walking trails or from the windows of the restored train. As it is the official birthplace of forest bathing (in 1982), Akasawa is the perfect spot to breathe deep and connect with nature. A must see.
To get there, take the dedicated bus from Kiso-Fukushima Station—ask at the Tourist Information Center for timetables and round-trip tickets. Alternatively, you can catch the train to Agematsu Station and get a bus from there. The Forest has a restaurant within, so you’ll be able to take your time and enjoy lunch. Read more.
Kayaking in Otaki Village
Otaki Village, located at the base of Mount Ontake, is decidedly off the beaten track. The area is 97% forested, home to pure mountain streams and lakes and various pilgrimage trails to the summit. It’s truly an outdoor lover’s paradise and a wonderful place to get away from it all. There are two fantastic lakes that can be explored by kayak; Lake Ontake and Lake Shizenko. Book your kayak tour in advance online or with the Kiso Fukushima Tourism Office or Otaki Tourist Information Center.
From Kiso-Fukushima Station, you can reach Otaki Village in 30 minutes by car. Though for those without wheels, it’s 40 minutes by ‘Ontake Kotsu’ bus. These buses run roughly every two hours and the last bus departs Otaki at 4:35pm. Check the Information Center on either end for timetables. Read more about this day trip here.
Other Full and Half Day Trips
When the weather is warm, outdoor activities abound in Kiso. And summer means hiking. While there are plenty of walks, the most popular (and sacred) are the hikes of Mount Ontake. These can even be multi-day treks for those willing and able. Though, if hiking’s not your thing, you can always take the Ontake Ropeway cable car up and just enjoy the views.
A little closer to ground, you could take the bus up to the Kaida Kogen (plateau) to meet the rare Kiso Horse, go berry picking or enjoy great views of Mount Ontake. In the winter, you can even go ice fishing there. Speaking of winter, the mountainous terrain in Kiso affords great winter sports, in fact, they extend all the way to April (in spring). There are a number of ski resorts nearby as well as steamy onsen to warm up in. The bottom line is that no matter what you choose to do, we’re sure you will have a great time doing it in the Kiso Valley.
How to Get to Kiso Fukushima
Kiso Fukushima is located 3.5 hours from Tokyo by train, 2.5 hours from Kyoto and 1.5 hours from Nagoya. The main access point for the Kiso Valley is the JR Kiso Fukushima Station (木曽福島), located on the JR Chuo Main Line.
For more information on things to do in the area visit the Kiso Ontake Tourism Office website.
Post by Japan Journeys.