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.
Obinata No Yu is tucked away along the side of Happo (a ten minute drive or taxi from Happo and the Hakuba Springs Hotel) and is only open during the Green Season. Set alongside the river, it is truly and example of an old style rustic outdoor onsen. The shower facilities are very basic, but the feeling of sitting in the bath, listening to the birds sing and gazing out on the mountains behind is truly magical.
Open every day from 10 am to 6 pm (closed from November to approximately the end of February), at a cost of 500 yen for adults.
Mimizuku No Yu is a local favourite, located half way between the Happo and the Hakuba Springs Hotel and Hakuba Station. On a clear day, the view from the outdoor bath up towards the mountains is spectacular. It's a little bit off the main foreign tourist path, and you're likely to find it busy with locals unwinding after a long day.
Open every day from 10 am to 9:30 pm in winter, closed Thursdays during the green season. A cost of 500 yen for adults.
Kurashita no Yu is perhaps my favourite onsen in Hakuba... the sodium, chlorine and carbonated salt give the waters a rusty brown colour and you can feel the soothing effects on your body and mind right away. Located a short bus or taxi away from the hotel, or a 15 minute walk in green season, this is definitely a local favourite. The views, both in winter and in summer, up towards Happo help you to further appreciate the beautiful space you're in!
Open every day from 10 am to 10 pm, at a cost of 600 yen for adults.
The weather had started out rainy and cold in Hakuba, but had
cleared a bit by midday, so some friends and I decided to take the
drive up through Omachi and up towards the series of dams and onsen
through the Takase Ravine (about 30 minutes outside Hakuba).
There are three main dams, the Omachi, Nanakura and Takase dam itself,
and they form a beautiful backdrop to the drive. We stopped at
the Kajika Onsen, first taking a stroll alongside the stream, where
Mizubasho, or the unatrractively named in English, "Skunk Cabbage",
were in full foliage and bloom.
The every popular monkeys of the Japanese Alps also made an appearance,
though they don't deign to bathe with you as they do at Jigokudani.
Our timing was perfect, and we had the onsen pretty much to
ourselves. While they are both lined with cypress wood, "hi no
ki" in Japanese, the inner bath and the outer are fed from different
springs, and there was a noticable difference both in temperature and
in sulphur content. Both extremely refreshing however, and a
great way to while away a lazy Friday afternoon..
About a 30 minute drive from Hakuba towards Oomachi, and near the route up to Kurobe Dam.