The Japanese Alps offer an easy escape from the summer heat- and amazing views.
Tsugaike Kogen, near Hakuba, is a great place to beat the heat. Tsugaike’s gondola and ropeway (running from around 7:00 to 16:30) can be the starting point for a few hours stroll or a few days backpacking trek.
The ticket costs 3000 yen (with an additional 300 yen for bags weighing over 10kg) and brings visitors to the Tsugaike Shizenen Nature Park (additional 300 yen) via a gondola ride and a trip on the ropeway. There are a few easy foot paths between the two if you want to explore at leisure.
For the more adventurous, a trailhead for Hakuba Ooike (Big Pond) and Shiroumadake (Mt. Shirouma) begins at the top of the ropeway near the nature park.
I recently did an easy overnight hike to Ooike. To Hakuba Ooike it took about 3.5 hours up and 2 hours down. It’s another 3 hours to Shiroumadake from Hakuba Ooike. Although the day I started my hike was a bit cloudy, it only added to my excitement as I glimpsed mountain peaks, glaciers, and marshland through the constantly shifting clouds. When it was too cloudy to look up, the view near my feet held an abundance of wild flowers
Hakuba Ooike really is a big pond! The pond is crystal clear and on a sunny day, reflects the surrounding landscape like a mirror. Next to Hakuba Ooike is a mountain hut (8000 yen/night with breakfast and dinner) and tent sites (600 yen/person) and a free drinkable water source.
Once there, I continued up along the trail to Shiroumadake for a bit to get a better view. It’s a peaceful, beautiful place.
After an early night and a very early morning, I waited to catch a reflection of the sunrise in Ooike. But no luck! For a brief few seconds, the sun rose above the mountain ridges, turning the pond’s hillside rosy pink, before it was hidden by the pale grey rain clouds. Although I left that morning wet and without any fantastic sunrise photos, I knew the hike had been well worth the effort.