Journey Through the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

10/17/2022

Passing through the Japanese Northern Alps is a scenic trek through stunning landscapes and—what it is most famous for—literal walls of snow. Local and international travelers alike make their way to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route largely because of the immense amount of snow that is carved away to create a walkway amid the mountain pass. These snow walls soar up towards the sky, creating a truly unique experience. 

Buses aren’t the only mode of transportation on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, as the mountain terrain is closed to private vehicles and calls for a few alternates — making it a truly memorable journey between Tateyama, Toyama prefecture and Omachi, Nagano prefecture. Inaccessible in the winter, the route is only open from April through November.

 

Journey through the Pass

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is located within Japan’s Chubu Sangaku National Park, which is reason enough to add the pass to your travel itinerary. As one of the country’s 34 national parks, Chubu Sangaku is known for its breathtaking scenery, alpine views, as well as some of Japan’s best hiking. Chubu Sangaku encompasses almost the entirety of the Northern Japan Alps, which are sometimes referred to as “Japan’s Hat.”

Without stopping to spend any time at stations or scenic viewpoints, it takes about eight hours to travel the full length of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. However, rushing through would be a disservice to the curious traveler. All throughout the pass there are station stops ripe for exploration. Part of what makes it possible to spend an entire day (if not more) exploring the pass are the opportunities to refuel on noodles and snacks at many of the stations. Restaurants are available at the Tateyama, Midagahara, Murodo, Kurobedaira and Kurobe Dam stops.   

Those interested in a light hike should step outside of the Bijodaira stop, where three walking loops ranging from 2 km to 4 km can be found. This part of Chubu Sangaku is a primeval forest home to centuries-old cedars and beech trees. In the spring and early summer this is an excellent area for spotting wildflowers, while in the fall it is rich with autumnal hues. 

Considered the main attraction point in the pass, many travelers stop to explore the Murodo Terminal. It’s home to Hotel Tateyama, Japan’s highest hotel, and offers easy access to the scenic Takeyama Nature Conservation Center. Hiking trails guide travelers throughout the mountains, with many making their way to Mikurigaike Pond thanks to its views of Mt. Oyama—one of the Three Holy Mountains of Japan. 

Of course, walking through the snow wall draws many curious travelers. Highlighting the region’s immense snowfall (it is some of the heaviest in the world, ranging from seven to 23 meters annually), a path is plowed—creating two massive walls of snow. Spring is the best time of year to see the snow walls, however, depending on temperatures and the amount of snowfall, the walls sometimes last into summer.

 

 

A Transportation Marathon

Traversing the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route requires an incredible series of buses, cable cars, trolley-buses and even a ropeway. This series of transportation switches get travelers across (and sometimes straight through) the Japanese Northern Alps. The route can be taken east to west or west to east, depending on your starting point. Here is what to expect when traveling through the pass: 

 

Toyama Dentetsu Station

A local station just south of the main station, the Toyama Dentetsu Station is where many Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route travelers begin. Be sure to purchase a Tateyama Kurobe Option Ticket a day in advance from the main station. From here, travelers board a train for an hour-long ride on the Toyama Chiho Railroad. As it stretches outside of the town and through rural areas, the mountains will come into view.

Tateyama Station

This stop is a transfer from the train to the Tateyama Cable Car. Only a seven-minute ride, the cable car offers incredible views. 

 

Bijodaira 

The cable car will stop at Bijodaira, a popular stop thanks to its walking trails. From here, travelers board a bus to either Midagahara (30 minutes) or straight through to Murodo (50 minutes). 

 

Midagahara

For those who stop at Midagahara, the summer is a great time to spot wildflowers in this protected wetland. In the spring, from here the 20-minute bus ride passes through the famous snow walls.  

 

Murodo

This popular spot is ripe with activities—with numerous hikes taking visitors to ponds, nature trails, through the snow walls and more. Japan’s highest hotel and onsen can also be found here. From Murodo, travelers board the Tateyama Tunnel Trolley-Bus for a 10-minute ride through the mountain itself. 

 

Daikanbo

Once through the mountain, travelers emerge to scenic views of the valley below and the lake formed by the Kurobe Dam. From here, the Tateyama Ropeway offers a 7-minute ride to Kurobedaira.

Kurobedaira

This connection point has a viewing platform on the roof which allows for impressive views of the ropeway gondolas against the verdant mountain range. A traveler’s next mode of transportation is the Kurobe Cable Car, which takes a 5-minute descent to the dam. 

 

Kurobe Dam

Worth exploring, the Kurobe Dam is the highest in Japan. This stop has a restaurant as well as a 30-minute lake cruise—which of course makes it Japan’s highest cruise ship. Once done exploring, the Kanden Electric Tunnel Bus takes travelers on a 16-minute drive through Mt. Akazawa-dake.

 

Ogizawa Station 

As the final transfer point, the Ogizawa Station is ideal for picking up a souvenir and snack before taking the 40-minute bus ride to Shinano-Omachi Station.

 

Shinano-Omachi Station

While travelers can continue to the Nagano Station, this is the last official stop on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.

 

 

Where to Stay

If the wonder of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route and the beauty of Chubu Sangaku National Park have you thinking about extending your time in the alps, you’re not alone. There are accommodations available from the Murodo stop.

 

​​Raichozawa Campsite

As the only campsite around Murodo, ​​Rachiozawa is an ideal base camp for those hiking in the Tateyama area. This plateau offers beautiful foliage and impressive scenery. Just a 45-minute walk from the Murodo bus stop, the ​​Rachiozawa campsite has running water and toilet facilities.

 

Hotel Tateyama

Sitting at the highest altitude of any hotel in Japan, Hotel Tateyama is a resort like no other. The hotel offers guests guided seasonal activities like stargazing, backcountry skiing, bird watching, walking tours and more. In addition to a cafe and bar, the hotel has two restaurants: Tsurugi, which serves authentic French cuisine and Tateyama, which serves local sake and Japanese cuisine.

 

Seasonal Guide

What time of year you pass through the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route can drastically change the scenery and options for exploration. While many are drawn to the snow walls of spring, there is plenty more to do and see.  

 

Late Spring and Early Summer 

Lingering snow makes it possible for winter sports enthusiasts to explore the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route via backcountry skiing. As winter melts away, the trails become more accessible and begin to offer seasonal blooms and vibrant views. From the popular Murodo stop, hikers of all experience levels can find a trail to enjoy. It’s also a great time to catch a glimpse of the rare Raicho bird (Ptarmigan).

 

Late Summer and Early Autumn 

A kaleidoscope of fall’s best colors begins to appear in August, which happens to be the peak of the area’s climbing season. This is perhaps the best time to attempt the intense ascent of Mt. Tateyama, one of the Three Holy Mountains of Japan. As the weather begins to cool, and especially after climbing Mt. Tateyama, a visit to the Mikurigaike Onsen is in order. Drawing water from the Jigokudani and rich with sulfur components, this is the highest onsen, or hot spring, in Japan.

Traveling through the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Japan and the Chubu Sangaku National Park. The experience of slowly working through the scenic pass and transitioning from one transportation mode to another is an unexpected opportunity to find appreciation for the region’s dynamic terrain and wide-ranging flora. With each season the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route puts on a new display to entice visitors.