Explore mountain villages, snowcapped peaks, and Onsen hot springs on this 6-day winter journey into the heart of Japan’s Northern Alps. Start in the feudal castle town of Matsumoto, venture into the Oku-Hida Mountains to find biodiverse highlands and secluded Ryokan inns, and end your stay in Hida-Furukawa and Takayama for an unforgettable winter experience.

Highlights

  • Snowshoe to frozen waterfalls, dense forests, and icy lakes
  • Stay in exquisitely preserved Ryokan Onsen inns
  • Bathe in natural thermal hot springs every evening
  • Visit the charming castle towns of Matsumoto, Hida-Furukawa, and Takayama
  • Discover the regional cuisine of Japan's Alpine region

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Matsumoto Matsumoto
Day 2 Shirahone Onsen Shirahone Onsen
Day 3 Snowshoe in the Norikura Highlands Shirahone Onsen
Day 4 Oku-Hida Oku-Hida
Day 5 Hotaka & Hida-Furukawa Hida
Day 6 Hida-Furukawa and Depart Takayama  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Matsumoto

Matsumoto Castle in winter.
Matsumoto Castle in winter.

Your winter adventure starts in Matsumoto. Nestled between high mountains in the heart of Japan, this feudal castle town serves as your gateway to the Alps.

Get settled into your accommodation at a local Onsen Ryokan (traditional hot-spring traveler’s inn), then take the afternoon to explore. Start at Matsumoto Castle, one of Japan's best-preserved fortresses, which provides panoramic views across the town and mountains from its highest windows. Browse the nearby Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, which houses the world’s most extensive collection of Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, and wander the town’s small historic alleys.

Day 2: Shirahone Onsen

Onsen hot springs in Shirahone, Nagano Prefecture.
Onsen hot springs in Shirahone, Nagano Prefecture.

Enjoy the morning in Matsumoto before catching a train and journeying deeper into the Alps, making your way towards the secluded Shirahone Onsen. After a spectacular journey filled with panoramic vistas, you’ll arrive at the peaceful and remote mountain village. Check into your Ryokan inn, and relax in the outdoor hot springs, set against a backdrop of dramatic mountain scenery.

Day 3: Snowshoe in the Norikura Highlands

Frozen waterfall in the Norijura Highlands.
Frozen waterfall in the Norijura Highlands.

Today you'll strap on some snowshoes to explore the Norikura Highland's pristine winter landscapes firsthand. A gentle scenic walk takes you through serene snow-covered forests before opening up into views of impressive frozen waterfalls, icy lakes, and grand vistas of the surrounding mountain ranges.

Head back to Shirahone Onsen for the evening for a well-earned soak in the thermal waters.

Walking distance:  3-4 miles (6-7 km)

Walking Time: About 7 hours in total, including lunch and rest breaks

Day 4: Oku-Hida

Onsen hot springs in Oku-Hida.
Onsen hot springs in Oku-Hida.

Day four takes you to Oku-Hida, a remote mountain valley famous for its hot springs. Explore the area’s five small Onsen villages and choose your base for the night—Hirayu Onsen is the oldest and largest,  Hirayu Minzokukan boasts a charming hot spring museum, and Suimeikan Karukaya offers the best views and prettiest setting. Each is home to rustic Ryokan inns, serving traditional regional cuisine and indoor and outdoor bathing pools.

Day 5: Hotaka & Hida-Furukawa

The Shinhotaka Ropeway cable car.
The Shinhotaka Ropeway cable car.

Today you’ll travel north into the rugged Hotaka Mountains. Start at the Shinhotaka Ropeway, where a cable car takes you on a breathtaking ride to the summit of Mount Okuhotaka, Japan's third-highest peak.

Stop for lunch in the atmospheric small city of Takayama,  then continue to your base for the night:  the peaceful castle town of Hida-Furukawa. This small mountain town was known historically for its master woodworkers and carpenters, and their influence can be seen in the architecture of its traditional timbered houses. Tour some of the local saké breweries, then stroll alongside the townhouses and canals. Spend your final evening in the mountains at one of the Hida's welcoming Ryokan inns, where you can savor one last soak in the region’s healing waters.

Day 6: Hida-Furukawa and Depart Takayama

A traditional breakfast from the Takayama region.
A traditional breakfast from the Takayama region.

Spend your last morning in the kitchen with a local Hida resident, learning how to prepare and savor the region’s traditional cuisine. After gaining some new cooking skills and recipes, head back to Takayama in the afternoon, where you’ll catch a train or transfer to your next destination.                                                                                                          

Map

Map of Winter in the Japan Alps: Mountains, Villages & Hot Springs - 6 Days
Map of Winter in the Japan Alps: Mountains, Villages & Hot Springs - 6 Days