With easy access to the Northern Japan Alps and Kamikochi, the Okuhida area is a key base for alpine enthusiasts of all levels. As an added bonus, the area is scattered with rustic hot spring villages offering accommodation and soothing post-hike bathing opportunities.
Located in the center of Japan, Okuhida Onsen can be accessed by public transport from Nagoya, Matsumoto or Takayama.
From JR Nagoya station, take the Takayama Line to JR Takayama Station. You can take a one-hour bus from there to Hirayu. From Hirayu, there is a bus line that runs to Fukuji, Shin-Hirayu, Tochi and Shin-Hotaka. Another line runs to Mt. Norikura.
The Matusmoto Line bus runs from Matsumoto to Takayama, stopping at Hirayu. There are only a few buses a day so check an up-to-date timetable before traveling.
Okuhida boasts five postcard worthy hot spring resorts: Hirayu, Fukuji, Shin-Hirayu, Tochio and Shin-Hotaka. All are conveniently accessible on the same bus route. You can spend the day shuttling between them, sampling baths with different mineral content and competing views.
Alternatively, stay at one of the hotels or ryokan (traditional inns) and indulge in a multi-course meal of assorted local delicacies.
A rugged volcano and among Japan's tallest mountains, Norikura is linked to Hirayu via a road that reaches an elevation of 2,700 meters. The road is closed to public vehicles but buses operate from the Norikura Kogen Tourist Information Center and Hirayu between mid-April and late October.
There are many hiking paths around Norikura and the 3,026-meter peak can be reached relatively easily in just 90 minutes from the the 2,700-meter Tatamidaira bus terminal.
Another destination in the area is the two-section cable car system at Shin-Hotaka. While the first section of the cable car is fairly standard, the upper section is a rare double-decker tram, which is as popular an attraction with photographers as the views down the mountainside.
The sights from the observation deck at the cable car terminus are spectacular. Reaching 2,150 meters, the ropeway is a convenient way to reach dizzying heights without the effort of a long, difficult hike.
With well-signposted trails leading from and around the terminus and a restaurant serving snacks and refreshments, it is easy to spend a leisurely half day in the mountains.
To fully experience the Northern Japan Alps, you can make a day of it, hiking from the cable car terminus to Nishihotaka Doppyo (2701 meters) and then down into Kamikochi via the nearby Nishihotakadake Mountain Hut. Be prepared to start early, however, because the total journey takes a full eight hours with few breaks.