Japan draws millions of visitors every year to go hiking but locals say there is far more to the country than just hiking in the main tourist areas. The lesser-known areas like Niigata and Nagano have so many amazing hikes that not only involve being outdoors with nature but combines spirituality as well.
Niigata and Nagano Prefectures are located in the Chūbu region of Honshu with Niigata being the fifth-largest prefecture in Japan including the island of Sado. They are both west of Tokyo and roughly 2 and a half hours via train, making it easily accessible to visit both.
Hiking in Niigata and Nagano
Whether you are a beginner or an advanced hiker looking for a day or a couple of hours hike. Here are a few hiking routes around Niigata & Nagano area that can be accessed via train or car:
Hiking above the picturesque Rice Terrace, Tokamachi
If you are looking for a medium hike that combines stunning views and getting back to nature then a trip to the rice terrace of Tokamachi is a must. Also known as ‘Tokaichimachi Tanada trek’ is only a couple of hours away from Tokyo city in the Niigata countryside.
The Rice Terrace of Tokamachi has over 200 plots of varying sized rice fields producing the famous Uonuma Koshihikari Rice. With sweeping views of the nearby mountains covered in a sea of cloud and snow, the various rice fields below look like giant steps carved on the hillside. I can understand why the area attracts thousands of photographers and tourists yearly.
This 19km hike can be done in a day or over two days, depending on how long you want to hike and if want to combine it with other attractions in the area. In the near future, they are planning on opening up more of the area and extending it to a 30km track above the rice fields. This will then become a course for several days depending on your pace and fitness.
⇒ Don’t forget to wear good Hiking Boots/Shoes before you head off on your next hiking trip in Japan
Additional Information for hiking Rice Terrace of Tokamachi
- Duration: – 1 to 2 days
- Please do not enter the rice fields when taking photographs.
- There is a restroom available at the viewpoint. However, there are more options available at the stations.
Location and how to get there
- Location: – Matsushiro District, Tokachimachi City, Niigata
- Closest Train Stations: – Matsudai Station & Tokamachi Station
You can get to the Rice Terrance Tokamach by train and then by either taxi or car rental from either train stations. Matsudai Station is 20mins away and Tokamachi Station is 40mins away.
⇒ If you like to get a FREE, easy and fast comparison of hiring a car, then try out Skyscanner’s car comparison site.
Visit Matsudai Nohbutai while in the area
If you have time and are in the area then take a visit to Matsudai Nohbutai, which is only 5 minutes’ walk away from Matsudi station. Matsudai Nohbutai is a field museum that consists of a gallery, restaurant, shops and an observation deck where you can see some of the artwork displayed there.
- Opening Hrs: – 10:00 to 17:00 (last entry at 16:30)
- Prices – 500yen per adult, 300yen per child (preschool children and under are free)
- Closed – Wednesdays
Osado Ishina Natural Cedar Forest – Sado Island
Situated on the island of Sado 900 meters up in the mountains is the Osado Ishina Natural Cedar Forest. The 200 to 400 year old cedar trees are truly impressive to see and remind me of something straight out of a Lords of Rings movie.
What makes these Himalayan cedar trees different from most are the unusual complex shapes that they have formed into, like branches that resemble mammoth tusks. This endemic species formed this way due to hundreds of years of harsh weather conditions of wind and snow at a high elevation.
To preserve these majestic cedar trees and to allow tourist to see them, a 650-meter trail has been built with an observation point. The trail has been created to allow anyone young or old to enjoy the area and then to be able to stop and take in the views of the ocean beyond the forest trees.
Here are some good suggestions for day backpacks for walking and hiking, all are reasonably priced.
Additional Information for Osado Ishina Natural Cedar Fores
- Duration: – 1hr to walking around the trail
- Closed from the beginning of Nov to the beginning of May
- Make sure that you wear good walking shoes and rainwear as some parts can get slippery
Location and how to get there
- Location: – Ishina, Sado Island, Niigata
- Closest Train Stations: – There are no trains on Sado Island
- Closest Port: – Ryotsu Port, 353, Ryotsuminato
The Ishina Cedar Forest is located in the North of Sado Island and can only be reached by car. If you hire a car from the main ferry port Ryotsu then it should take you around a 40 minute drive.
Niigata University’s Field Practice hikes – Sado Island
If you are looking for a more challenging, longer hike that makes you feel a little bit like Indiana Jones, then I suggest taking a guided tour through Niigata university’s field practice forest on Sado Island.
There are 3 different routes you can take, depending on your hiking experience and what you want to see. You will see various Japanese endemic species cedar trees, like Kongo Sugi or Daiou Sugi and the hikes should take you around 4 to 7 hours to complete. So make sure that you take enough snacks and water.
To preserve the environment in this area and these rare cedar trees, only a limited amount of people can do a hike in Niigata University’s Field Practice Forest. To book one of these guided hikes, you will need to contact the Sado Tourist Information Center in advance.
Additional Information for Niigata University’s Field hikes
- Duration: – 4 to 7 hours of hiking time
- Closed: from the beginning of Nov to the beginning of May
- Make sure that you wear good walking shoes as some parts can get slippery. Also good waterproof gear due to harsh weather.
Location and how to get there
- Location: – Ryoutsu port at the Aikawa Sotomefukasseika Center
- Closest Train Stations: – There are no trains on Sado Island. It’s the starting point of the trekking tour
- Closest Port: – Ryotsu Port, 353, Ryotsuminato
The meeting point for the guided tour is Aikawa Sotomefukasseika Center at Ryoutsu port, which is where you arrived by Ferry from the mainland of Japan. Then you will reach the forest by car/van, located in the North of Sado Island.
Naena Falls trekking – Myoko Niigata Japan
Enjoy a stunning hike to one of Japan’s top 100 greatest waterfalls in Myoko Niigata. With the autumn colours, Naena Falls (also known as Naenanotaki) was probably one of the most colourful hikes that I have ever done. Everything just popped with colour and it is definitely one to be added to hiking trips in Japan.
Don’t worry if you don’t make it in autumn to see the colours though because Naena Falls is open all year round. At a height of 55 meters, the sounds of massive amounts of water falling down against the rocks can be heard in all directions, giving it the nickname of “Earthquake Waterfalls”.
The distance to the waterfall from the main entrance is around 500 meters and the hike is relatively flat. The only bit that someone may find hard is the climbing of the stairs near the entrance, which is a few levels high. The entrance to the hike is free and should roughly take around 45mins-1hr round trip.
Myoko Niigata Additional Information
- Duration: – 45 minutes around trip
- The best time to go is between June-November (with the beautiful Autumn Foliage)
- There are only restrooms available near the entrance of the trail. There are none available along the trail.
Location and how to get there
- Location: – Suginozawa, Myoko City Niigata
- Closest Train Stations: – Myokokogen Station
You can catch a train to Myokokogen Station and then it is only a 15min taxi to Naena Falls entrance. If you are arriving by car there is a free car park available, a few minutes away from the entrance of the trail.
There is a restaurant next to the car park if you want something to eat. However, take a packed lunch and have it at the viewing point where you can watch Naena Falls.
Togakushi Shrine Trekking – Nagano
Togakushi Shrine is considered to be one of the most significant sacred places in Japan. Nestled amongst 900 year old cedar trees this place is not only beautiful but it is also famous for soba noodles. The shrine consists of five buildings connected by trails and roadways up to the mountain.
Walking between the shrines is part of a traditional pilgrimage route. However, the most popular route and the one that I completed was the one starting at Okusha Shrine entrance and ending at the upper shrine. Back and forth took a little less than two hours and was a distance of 2kms each way.
Read More – Steps to Travelling with a Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD)
The walk to the upper shrine was beautiful, especially in the autumn colours. The first bit of the trail is a paved path through a grove of Japanese Red Cryptomeria trees(sugi), before reaching an impressive-looking gate known as the Zuishinmon. Once you pass through the gate, you will be greeted by the towering rows of 400-year-old cedars which are something special.
Reaching the upper shrine required a healthy stair-step workout that even got my breath going. Just be aware that it might be a challenge for some people. After a small climb up the stairs, you will reach the Upper Shrine, where you can say a prayer.
Togakushi Shrine Additional Information
- There are restrooms at the information centre
- You are best to catch the bus between shrines, especially if you are short of time.
- You need a full day to go here
Try Soba Noddles
Even though soba is produced all over Japan, Togakushi soba buckwheat noodles are considered to be the best in the country. It is a typical Japanese dish and one to try, especially if you are in Togakushi.
Soba noodles used to be a treat for pilgrims and special guests, who were visiting Togahushi and the shrines.
We ate at 手打ち蕎麦 戸隠堂 which translates into Teuchi soba Togakushi-Do and the soba noddles were excellent.
Location and how to get there
- Location: – 3506 Togakushi, Nagano-shi, Nagano-ken
- Closest Train Stations: – Nagano Station
The only way to get to the Togakushi shines is via either car or by public bus. As Nagano station is around 50-70 minutes’ drive away depending on what shrine you want to stop at.
If you want to go by bus, you will need to get a return ticket and take either the Number 70 or 71 from Nagano. If you are driving there is a main car park at the information centre and one at the upper shrine. I think there may be a small fee for the parking.
Trains and Boats
One of the most efficient and best ways to get around Japan hiking is via train. If you plan your trip in advance, then you can definitely take advantage of the passes on offer for trains around the country. Here are some of the rail passes for the areas I covered:
You can use the JR East Pass for the Niigata and Nagano area (You can get a discount if you purchase outside of Japan before you arrive). If you like something a little different, then you can also get the Genbi Shinkansen (known as the Joyful Train). It runs between Echigo Yuzawa and Niigata but you can also use it from Nagaoka to Niigata as well.
If you are using a JR East Pass to travel around Japan and you are wanting to go to Sado Island, then you can obtain a special discount for the Sado Niigata Pass
Would I recommend it?
I had an amazing time hiking/trekking around different parts of Niigata and Nagano, Japan, on the mainland and on Sado Island. It is truly a beautiful part of the country with polite people and delicious food. The history behind most of the hikes I found to be interesting and intriguing as well.
All of these hikes and treks you can do as a group or as a family, as most of them suit all levels of fitness. Not to mention all are accessible via the super-fast trains of Japan or by car.
Remember that you need to get some good Hiking Boots before your next adventure.
Top Tips for hiking in Japan
- Wear appropriate gear for all types of conditions (wet and hot). Layers are best (waterproof jacket, spare socks and hiking boots)
- Gaiters are options especially if you are up in the mountains and it is wet.
- Quick-dry convertible hiking trousers work well.
- A 1 Litre bladder bag (Also known as Hydration bladder) or a water bottle sports water bottle will do the trick.
- Depending on the time of year you are in Japan carry some sunscreen and a hat
- There are no toilets along the trail routes but there are some near the starting points. So best to go to the bathroom before you start any of the trails.
- Make sure that you take water and snacks for the trail hike
- Most of the trails are marked but best to let someone know where you are going just in case anything happens.
⇒ Make sure that you have the right travel insurance for your peace of mind before you go hiking. Compare the best holiday insurance for FREE
Basic Japanese phrases you might find useful
The main language spoken in Japan is Japanese; however, a lot of people speak English, especially the younger generation. I learned some basic Japanese words when I was there and it is amazing how far a few words and a smile can get you.
- Here are some useful Japanese phrases that you may find useful:
- Hello: – Konnichiwa (Kohn-nee-chee-wah)
- Thank you – Arigatō. (Ah-REE-gah-tohh)
- Yes: – Hai (Hai)
- No: – Iie (E-eh)
- Goodbye: – Sayōnara (Sah-yohh-nah-rah)
- Nice to meet you: – Haji memashite
- Sorry: – Gomen nasai (Goh-men-nah-sahy)
- Excuse me: – Sumimasen (Soo-mee-mah-SEN)
- Where is the toilet (Restroom): – Toire wa dokodesu ka
Suggestive reading Lonely Planet Japanese Phrasebook & Dictionary or Japanese Slanguage: A Fun Visual Guide to Japanese Terms and Phrases
Download google translate to help with saying longer sentences, it helps a lot especially when in the rural areas of Japan without a guide.
Other places to visit in Asia
If you are interested in discovering other places in Asia, feel free to read the following articles. All are great options for travelling with a group of friends or family.
- Best Night Markets to Visit in Taiwan – Taiwan
- Hints and tips for tackling Everest Base Camp – Himalayas Nepal
- What to see and do on Green Island – Taiwan
- Best things to do in Bohol – The Philippines
Thank you for reading this article ‘Hiking Routes of Niigata & Nagano Japan’. I hope it helped you to decide what hikes to do while in Japan. Have you been to Niigata or Nagano before or hiking in Japan? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments below.
If you want to take a break from your Adventures or are staying in Tokyo for the day before or after your trip. Then there is plenty to do.
Disclaimer: Even though I was a guest of Niigata Tourism. All views are my own and based on my own experience.
38 thoughts on “Hiking Routes of Niigata & Nagano Japan”
After reading this I’m longing to visit Japan and hike through this breathtaking scenery. Looks like you had an amazing trip
Suzanne, you would love it there the autumn colours were just so pretty to see. It made me want to stay longer and do other hiking routes.
I love a good hike but never really looked into hiking routes in Japan (haven’t reached the country yet but when I do, I plan to stay for a while and hope to do a few routes). I never heard of Nagano but by the looks of it, its not a place to be missed. Any hike with a waterfall is a good one and the view of the lake is amazing!
Hopefully, you will get to Japan sooner rather than later. I just loved the place and could have hiked for days. I love waterfalls as well, so I completely understand about going if there is a waterfall involved.
I would LOVE to visit Japan in the fall to see those beautiful autumn colors 😍 thanks for the tips! I hope you enjoyed that delicious bowl of ramen
I loved all the colours of Autumn in Japan it was so very pretty and everything popped.
I have not heard of Niigata and Nagano before this. When one hears about Japan they usually hear about Tokyo and other popular places. The views are really gorgeous especially in autumn and though I don’t hike much I would love to try it someday. Thanks for sharing the tips and other information.
Some of these are great for none hikers, they are not too long or hard to do. A good introduction to hiking and lovely days out especially with the autumn colours.
Niigata and Nagano look and sound like great places to visit. The Togakushi Shrine is especially one I would go to. The 900-year old cedar trees tower to the heavens. And of course, the soba noodles look like the best comfort food.
I really loved Togakushi Shrine hike though I spent a lot time taking to many pictures and not hiking as such. The day was even better when we stopped off for the soba noodles yum yum.
Hiking in Japan has so many things that are different than I have experienced. I would love to see rice paddies, but also haven’t been in a cedar forest and always love a waterfall.
Japan had some amazing hikes and lot of them are medium which most people could do. The views across the mountain were just something else too.
The autumn colours make a wonderful backdrop for hiking in Niigata Nagano. Hiking routes seem well chalked out and quite easy for beginners like me. A steaming bowl of soba noodles would be a welcome add-on.
Some of these hikes are great for beginners and the best bit is that you can take your time and take it all in.
I’m from Japan and am guilty of not doing any hiking in Japan. After reading the different hikes you trekked, I feel the need to go hiking the next time I go home. I would love to hike Naena Falls. Waterfalls are always a great reward after a hike 🙂
I just loved Japan so much and I think you are such a lucky lady being from there and living in LA. Definitely take me back with you next time you visit 🙂 and I will personally take you on the hikes.
Hiking above the picturesque Rice Terrace -Tokamachi is really wonderful due to those beautiful nature trails. I loved the autumn colors at Upper Shrine. I would love to visit Togakushi Shrine which is considered to be one of the most significant sacred places in Japan.
I loved all the areas that I hiked in especially because of the autumn colours. I am just so amazed at how beautiful the country is. I can’t wait to go back one day.
Such a beautiful area for hiking, especially in the autumn and combined with the incredible culture in Japan too. In the past I never thought of the county as a hiking destination but we’re looking at going back next year and will certainly be taking our boots this time!
Japan had a lot of amazing areas to go hiking in and I was impressed especially of the autumn colours. I definitely keen to see more of the country and its hiking routes. Good luck with your next trip there.
Hiking in fall has to be one of my favorite things to go! The colours just make everything worth it. I honestly did not know about Niigata and Nagano hikes and it just got added to my Japan list of things to do!
Mine too I think it is because of all those beautiful colours that there are. I loved Japan it was so nice to explore these areas that I hadn’t been to before either.
Oh WOW! These look stunning <3 And Naena falls is such a dream!
I really loved Naena falls and it is not that far from Tokyo. Definitely add it to your list.
This makes me want to put on my hiking boots! I love those autumn colours – which I just experienced in Japan in autumn as well. Can’t wait to get back and experience more of this amazing country!
Me too, I can’t wait to go back and see more of the country. I just loved it there and there are so many more hikes that I want to do.
I’m not with hiking but these places are beautiful. Thanks for sharing with us this guide.
You are welcome but these hikes a lot of people who don’t hike can do some of these.
What a fantastic post about Japan. Looks like an amazing adventure. I’d love to go!
I love the name of Sado Island. What are the locals called?
Oh Japan looks so amazing! I didn´t have the chance to go yet, definitely putting this on the list, thanks for sharing x
Japan is such an interesting country and history is so amazing. One of those places you can go over and over again.
Japan is my dream destination … and after knowing that it’s great for hiking… I hope I can travel there soon.
Japan was definitely a backlist item of mine and one that I am so glad I got to go and see. Definitely keen to head back there though and do some more exploring.
This looks amazing. Japan has now been added to the bucket list for good places to hike.
I loved Japan so much and loved to go back there and ski. The views hiking were amazing and glad it is now added to your list.
After reading your article, I have a desire to visit Japan and hike on those trails. Just to get permission from my wife for this trip 🙂
I loved Japan and I highly recommend these hikes. You should take your wife with you 🙂
Comments are closed.