|From Tokyo:||2-5 hr|
|From Osaka:||4-8 hr|
|From Karuizawa:||0 hr|
How to Get There
Joshin’etsukogen National Park offers some of Japan’s best hiking, skiing and hot-spring towns. The massive park is located northwest of Tokyo in Gunma, Niigata and Nagano prefectures, with attractions that include Japan’s largest ski resort in Shiga Kogen, dramatic natural views at Mount Tanigawa, the noted hot-spring town of Kusatsu Onsen, and bathing snow monkeys in Jigokudani. Renting a car will help you see it all, but there are plenty of transportation options if you limit your itinerary to selected highlights.
Highway buses depart regularly from Tokyo, taking you straight to Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal in the center of town in about four hours. You can also take a limited express train from Ueno Station to Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi Station (2 hr 30 min) and then transfer to a JR bus to Kusatsu Onsen Bus Terminal (the town has no train station). Highway buses also depart from Tokyo to Shima Onsen, which is famous for hot springs, public bath houses and traditional Japanese inns. To see the snow monkeys (Japanese macaques), travel from Tokyo to Nagano Station on the Hokuriku Shinkansen (80-100 min) and then transfer to one of the 10 buses departing daily for Jigokudani Monkey Park (40 min). Many buses also leave for Shiga Kogen from Nagano Station (70 min), or you can take a direct highway bus from Tokyo. For Mount Tanigawa, take the Joetsu Shinkansen to Jomo-Kogen Station (80 min) then transfer to a bus headed for Tanigawadake Ropeway (50 min).
To reach Nagano Station—the hub for buses to many park attractions such as Shiga Kogen and Jigokudani Monkey Park—take the Tokaido Shinkansen to Nagoya Station (50 min) and transfer to the Shinano limited express train to Nagano Station (2 hr 40 min). Getting to Kusatsu Onsen from Osaka Station is tricky as there are no direct buses or convenient trains. It’s often faster to travel to Tokyo first and then follow the directions above, or travel to Nagano Station, then take the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Karuizawa Station (30 min) and a KusaKaru Kotsu Bus to Kusatsu Onsen (80 min). Mount Tanigawa is also difficult to access from Osaka, so traveling to Tokyo first is often quicker.
Karuizawa is a charming mountain town that was a favorite of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. It sits at the southernmost part of Joshin’etsukogen National Park and offers excellent access to many of its highlights, either by renting a car or via public transportation. Karuizawa is also a stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen running between Tokyo and Nagano. It’s just 30 minutes from Nagano Station, where many buses depart for destinations such as the Jigokudani Monkey Park and Shiga Kogen. There are also direct buses from Karuizawa to Kusatsu Onsen.
Joshin’etsukogen National Park’s large size, mountainous terrain and snowy winters make traveling directly between some areas of the park time-consuming or impossible. For example, the road between Kusatsu Onsen and Shiga Kogen is closed during the winter despite their relative proximity. It’s thus best to base yourself at a hub near the parts of the park you’d like to see, such as the onsen-resort towns of Kusatsu Onsen or Yudanaka Onsen, the charming mountain town of Karuizawa, or the large city of Nagano. Joshin’etsukogen National Park’s popularity means there is a good bus and train network to various destinations once you’re in the right hub. There are also numerous car-rental options.