Tateyama Kurobe alpine route one of World’s best

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is a classic journey over and under the highest peaks of the Japan Alps from Nagano to Toyama Prefectures. You will ride on trains, funiculars (they call them cable cars), ropeways (which we call cable cars), trolley buses and buses – including in spring through the amazing Yuki-no-Otani snow wall – along this amazing route which is one of the World’s best alpine journeys accessible to anyone.

Yuki-no-Otani snow wall on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route can reach up to 20m high
The Yuki-no-Otani snow wall can reach up to 20m when it opens in late April

Details and highlights of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

You can do it as a long day trip, or break up the journey staying along the way. This is doing it west to east.

Starting from Toyama City Dentetsu Toyama station, which is next to the JR Toyama station, it’s one hour on the Toyama Chiho line to Tateyama Station at 475m.

From Tateyama a side excursion to Shomyo Falls , claimed as the highest waterfall in Japan, can be done on the Shomyo Falls sightseeing bus and returning on the 2.6km walking trail in under 2 hours, or just done on the bus both ways with a 20 minute walk to the observation deck. It’s cool and refreshing in summer, and gorgeous with autumn foliage colours from mid-October.

Next stage is the 7 minute ride up the Tateyama ‘Cable Car’ (actually a funicular) to Bijodaira at 977m.

Bijodaira is famous for the centuries old Tateyama cedar and beech forest. Several of the oldest and largest cedars have been named, including the ‘Beautiful Woman Cedar’ next to the funicular station. Take a hike on your choice of short, medium or long loops through the forest and along the road. Around 60 native bird species inhabit the trees. From late October to early November the autumn colours are at their peak.

From Bijodaira the Tetayama Highland Bus runs up to Midagahara at 2000m in 30 minutes. There are a couple of hotels here, the main attraction being the summer wild flowers in the extensive alpine wetland. Boardwalks let you hike out around them on a 1km short loop or 2km long loop, around 40 minutes or 80 minutes respectively. Alternatively or additionally, a 600m walk to the Tateyama caldera viewpoint provides some great views.

The Highland Bus continues on another 20 minutes to Murodo, at 2400m the highest point on the whole Tateyama Kurobe alpine route journey. There are plenty of hikes and options around here, including overnighting in mountain huts.

Mikurigaike Pond at Murodo

If you are just doing a day trip full journey then at least do the 600m / 30 minute return hike to Mikurigaike pond to see the peaks reflected in the water. The loop trail takes an hour.

Raicho Hot Spring is a 30 minute each way hike for an onsen with a great view. Raicho means ptarmigan, birds designated as a national treasure that live in the alpine area.

For keen hikers climbing up to Mt Tateyama is around 4 hours and 2.5km, a test of your fitness rewarded by magnificent views from the 3000m summit.

Or easier, the 2km 2.5 hour hike to Mt Murodo and the Murodayama view point also provides great views. Remember to take appropriate clothing to add layers quickly however nice the day appears when you start any mountain hikes here.

To really enjoy the experience it’s good to spend at least one night here. The Hotel Tateyama is a popular choice for that, with snow lasting outside and on the peaks there all through summer. Clear nights bring incredibly bright stars, a major attraction for urban dwellers who rarely get to see the night sky in its full glory.

If the hotel is out of your budget there’s a campsite at Raichozawa and more basic bunk accommodation at Lodge Tateyamarenpo. Or stay back at Midagahara and start early from there and allow all morning to early afternoon to explore and enjoy around Murodo

The Yuki-no-Otani snow wall can reach up to 20m high, the equivalent of a 10 storey building! They excavate the road out in late April, which is not surprisingly therefore one of the peak times to experience the journey. The wall is at its highest from then into May. From June it shrinks away quite quickly, but snow for playing around in lasts most of summer.

From Murodo a short 10 minute trolley bus tunnel ride takes you though the mountain to Daikanbo at 2316m. From the viewing platform here you look out over the Kurobe Dam lake and serried ranges of the Japanese Alps and uplands beyond them.

Tateyama ropeway
Tateyama Ropeway is unique in Japan for having no towers

The Tateyama Ropeway is a 7 minute cable car (or tram for American readers) ride down from Daikanbo to Kurobedaira at 1828m. It is claimed as the longest unsupported ropeway in Japan, at it’s best in autumn for the colours. At the Kurobedaira station check out the botanic garden highlighting high altitude plants.

Then the Kurobe Cable Car, which we would call a funicular, takes you on down in 5 minutes to Kurobe at 1455m.

Kurobe Dam boasts the highest dam wall in the country at 186m, and has iconic status in Japan similar to that of the Hoover Dam in America. A symbol and result of the post war boom that saw a huge rise in demand fo renergy, it sadly cost the lives of 171 construction workers. Toughest part of the job was excavating the Kanden tunnel from Ogizawa on the Nagano side of the Alps through to the dam site. Now the electric bus through the tunnel is either the first or last part of the journey.

On the west side of the dam a series of viewing platforms are available, or just have a ‘Kurobe Dam Curry’ in the restaurant and take it all in from there. On the east side there is a 30 minute lake cruise option, and a walking path along the shore.

It’s a short 15 minute walk from the funicular to the Kanden Tunnel bus. Then the bus trip takes 16 minutes through to Ogizawa. From here a 40 minute local bus takes you to Shinano-Omachi on the JR Oito Line. Alpico run express buses from Nagano Station east gate to Ogizawa in as little as 95 minutes – check times here.

Kurobe Dam is a highlight of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Mighty Kurobe Dam is Japan’s highest

How long is the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route?

Doing the full trip in either direction between Dentetsu Toyama and Shinano-Omachi takes 8 – 9 hours one way.

For those with limited time keen to see most of the highlights a round trip from Tateyama station as far as Kurobe Dam and back can be done in 8 – 9 hours, while a round trip from Ogizawa to Murodo can be done in 5 – 7 hours.

To allow enough time to do the longer hikes around the summit area overnighting en-route is really a must.

Alpine Route Ticket options and deals

Individual sector ticket costs are available here.

For full timetables and recommendations for estimated waiting times according to dates check the official route website here.

The best deal for doing the whole alpine route, giving you up to 5 days for that, is JRs Tateyama Kurobe one way option ticket for ¥9,800. This ticket can be used from JR Nagano/Shinano-Omachi Station to Dentetsu-Toyama Station on the Toyama Chiho Railway, or from Dentetsu-Toyama Station to JR Shinano-Omachi Station/Nagano Station.

It’s not valid for round-trip travel or partial trip round-trip travel. The deal is available for temporary visitors to Japan.

Alternatively JR Rail have a seasonal Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area Tourist Pass including the Alpine Route valid for a 5 day period.

Purchasing from a travel agent outside Japan
Adult: ¥17,830 Child: ¥8,910

Purchasing at a station etc. in Japan or online
Adult: ¥18,850 Child: ¥9,420
*Child: 6 to 11 years of age

Validity Period 5 consecutive days

Baggage can be sent ahead for Y1,000 – 2,500 per bag from hotels in Toyama City and Omachi Onsenkyo, and from stations including Nagano.

More to see and do in Toyama? Don’t miss the Gokoyama World Heritage thatch roof villages.