Hakuba, located in the prefecture of Nagano, is famous for being blessed with wonderful powder snow in winter, and plentiful ski runs for everyone to enjoy, from families to expert skiers. In summer, people can come and enjoy trekking and mountain climbing in Japan's Northern Alps. With the end of June marking the approach of the summer peak, I went to find out what fun could be had in Hakuba.
Fukushima-san, who was born and raised in Hakuba and now works at the Hakuba Tokyu Hotel, acted as my guide.
The Happo-One Nature Study Trail trekking course offers a stunning view over the Hakuba mountain range of Japan's Northern Alps. This whole area is part of the Chubu Sangaku National Park area, and has been designated as a natural monument.
From Happo Station, you can take the gondola and then the chairlifts of the Happo Alpen Line that take you all the way up to Happouikesansou, 1,830 meters above sea level. The Happo-One Nature Study Trail is a treasure-trove of alpine plants, and guides to the mountain flowers' names, as well as to the mountain views, are on sale at the chair lift station. From here it is a 2.5 km walk to Happo-ike Pond.
The trekking course was for the most part made up of wooden planks and stairs, but the first rocky part to the trail took some effort to climb up! Aiming for the cairn made of piled up rocks, we made our way towards Happo-ike Pond.
After 1 hour and a half, we reached Happo-ike Pond. Despite it being the end of June, there was still snow covering some of the pond and its surroundings. The Happo-ike Pond was naturally formed by the piling up of earth and sand by the mountain snow. The surface of the water reflects the surrounding mountains like a mirror, giving the place a mysterious feel. The day I visited was very windy, meaning that I had to wait for the wind to die down before I could take a photo showing the reflection in the pond. I remember thinking at the time that I'd like to come back on a fine summer's day...
From Happo-ike Pond continues a mountain-climbing course leading up to the summit of Mt. Karamatsu, at 2,696 meters above sea-level. I felt that was a bit much for a beginner like me, so I headed back down the mountain along the staired route admiring the pretty alpine plants.
[Access] From JR Hakuba Station, Happo-One Gondola Lift Happo Station is about 10 minutes on foot or about 5 minutes by bus (look for buses headed in the direction of Happo).
On my second day I headed to Tsugaike National Park, with its four moors. While walking along the planked walkways, visitors can enjoy the spacious wetlands, the vegetation, and the lovely alpine plants. This also makes up part of the Chubu Sangaku National Park.
From Tsugaike Station, you can take the gondola and then ropeway of the Tsugaike Panorama Way that take you all the way up to the entrance of the Tsugaike National Park, 1,900 meters above sea level. At the top, you are greeted by fresh and pleasantly cool mountain air.
When I visited, Mizubasho flowers were in season.
Crossing through wetlands and streams still covered in snow...
...we finally made it to the park's innermost Tenbo Shitsugen viewing platform, which commands a superb view of the mountains of the Northern Alps and the Hakuba Daisekkei Gorge. An incredible view not to be missed!
Actually, during July and August you can go trekking among the remaining snow in the Hakuba Daisekkei Gorge; something I'd like to try myself next time I get the chance.
On returning to the entrance to the national park, We ate a wild strawberry soft ice cream and an apple soft ice cream from the kiosk. After a long trek, the sweet ice cream really tasted wonderful. A taste not to be missed either!
[Access] From JR Minamiotari Station it is about 20 minutes to Tsugaike Kougen Station by bus. Take the bus headed for Tsugaike Kougen and get off at the last stop.
In early October, the mountains in Hakuba are beautifully covered with brightly colored trees.
Tsugaike National Park
The Happo-ike Pond
Above 2 photos from Tokyu Hakuba corporation & SnowNavi Site, taken on October 8-10, 2008
On this trip I stayed at Hakuba's famous high-class Hakuba Tokyu Hotel. The view from the balcony of the Northern Alps' deep green verdure really cleanses the soul...
Here you can eat your breakfast in a sophisticated atmosphere on the terrace, feeling the morning breeze. After breakfast, why not take a walk in the hotel gardens?
*You can purchase discounted tickets for the Happo Alpen Line and the Tsugaike Panorama Way from the hotel.
Happo Alpen Line: Adult ticket 2,600 yen to 2,340 yen
Tsugaike Panorama Way: Adult ticket 3,300 yen to 2,950 yen
（300 yen Tsugaike National Park entry fee included）