The Japanese love of Hot Springs, or "onsen" is inseparable from the national character. People will gladly travel many hours just for the chance to have a soak in one of the many thousands of hot springs throughout this volcanic country. The "onsen" experience, like so many things in Japan, is a multilayered experience. Some hot springs form the focal point for a whole tour...
A boundless range of other activities can be found in Hakuba and area, from canyoning to paragliding to rafting to kayaking to canoeing, arts and crafts and more!
The Nagano Prefecture area and beyond offer a variety of sightseeing opportunities, from the laid back ambiance of Matsumoto, with it's justly famed Matsumoto Castle, to he beauty of Zenkouji Temple in Nagano City, to the resort shopping town feel of Karuizawa...and more.
There are many hiking opportunities around the Hakuba area, ranging from challenging multiday hikes to ones that are more suited to the "strolling". The one constant is views of the Japanese Alps and the surrounding countryside that is sure to soothe the soul.
Japan is a cyclist's paradise in a number of respects. Forgetting the highways for a moment, it is a country of well kept roads, many of them with very light traffic (thanks to those highways!) which lead you through blissful scenery and villages where time seems to have stopped, or at least has slowed down a bit, with a refreshment stop or lodging for the night never more than a few km...
Hakuba can be your base for many fascinating day trips, on the way up or back from the major centres, or to break up your ski vacation.
When you tell people that you like cycling, most assume either a road bike and 60 kms before breakfast, or they think mountain bike and thrills and the odd spill. Well, for me, I prefer just poking around to be honest. Kind of like taking a leisurely walk, except with the added range that a bicycle gives you. I, on occasion, will put some serious mileage under me, but that's not really my goal.
The first short outing led me out from Happo and towards Goryu. The village of Hakuba does have a somewhat detailed cycle route laid out (maps available at the hotel), as you can see by the first photo, but I find I tend to come across these signs rather haphazardly as opposed to following them station by station, though I suppose you could. This particular one leads you off the Olympic Road, still within the village proper, and through a patch of rice fields rolling up towards the Hakuba 47 and Goryu resorts. Lovely views on both sides in usual circumstance, though obviously the cloud cover and mist does me no favours on this particular day. Still, when thinking about all the groaning I've heard from my Tokyo based friends about the heat and humidity recently… no complaints here.
The rest of the day was spent pleasantly getting lost… starting out by descending from the Green Plaza towards the main highway along another winding road, with rice patties tucked in every scenic nook and cranny, I took a side turn on to the portion of the "shio no michi", or "salt road" which runs through Otari and Hakuba. This route's history apparently dates back to the middle ages, when salt and other essential goods would be carried overland from the Sea of Japan port at Itoigawa. Not an easy process I'm sure.
The part of the route I turned onto rapidly turned from small path to a trail, not at all suited for a bicycle. Happily carrying my bicycle along, I was justifiably laughed at by the two groups of hikers I met along the way. I finally made it back to the road about, erm, 45 minutes later and at that point… decided to head back to town and bath and dinner… and bed.
Fantastic day, and I can't wait to try the same again with a little sunshine along for company!
The area around the source contains several well groomed trails through fairly dense forest. There are a couple of courses one can follow, neither of them very long, but all in all... it's an extremely nice place for an afternoon walk. As it's along the Himekawa Cycling road, it's an ideal place to take a bit of a break before perhaps continuing on to Aoki Lake or turning around back into Hakuba proper.
The parking lot for Sanosaka, is about 10 minutes drive from the hotel. If you are coming into town from Matsumoto, you'll see the Sanosaka Ski area and parking area on your left as you come down the hill from Lake Aoki. Entrance to the park itself is only signed in Japanese, but enquiries at the Sanosaka Tourism Center should get you pointed in the right direction.
Information (in Japanese)
Like many a man since the dawn of time... woke up with a few problems on my mind. Got myself to the top of a mountain, took a look around, and by the time I got back down, all those problems seemed to be less important somehow.
Happoike is a pond up towards the top of Happo-one. Sitting at an elevation of 2060 m it is, in all honesty, a fairly easy hike if you take the gondola and lift part of the way up. Great views of the valley, though it was a little hazy on the day I was up there. The surrounding mountains of Yariga-take, Shakushi-dake and Shirouma-dake were imposing and luckily able to be seen clearly.
Happo-ike is the entry point to climbing Karamatsu-dake, where full scale climbing gear is required. Next time!
Happo "Adam Gondola" is a seven minute walk from our front doors, and the round trip hike, if you take the gondola and lifts, can be completed in about 4 hours. Longer and more challenging options for those who feel like spreading out a bit more.
A friend's birthday celebration provided the occasion to put the pedal down and let loose for some go-kart action… at Circuit Azumino (about an hour or so outside of Hakuba, or on your way up from Matsumoto). The competition was fierce, there can be no doubt… I have to say I'm not entirely satisfied with my 7th place showing, but what can you do… not all of us are cut out to be speed demons.
Great fun though, and they really do it up right. The cars are powerful enough that you get a real feel of the g-force when cornering. On the straights, you may feel the desire for a little more oomph, but soon enough you're into a turn again.
We paid 9,000 yen each for a solid half days outing and left genuinely feeling we had gotten our moneys worth. You get a chance to go through a warm up circuit (5 laps??), a number of qualifying time trials (10 laps each??), and then down through various semi-final heats to the championship race. By the end, these somewhat old bones, not used to all the g force had had enough to be certain.
The champions were saluted with a podium presentation, complete with bottles of sparkling wine.
There are various options and pricing plans depending on how long you want to be there, whether you have a proper license or not (go-kart license that is), and there is a chance to rent the entire circuit out for your party if you so desire. Will certainly go back again… hopefully all the way to the podium next time.