Mt. Utsukushigahara （美ヶ原）
Utsukushigahara is the only Hyakumeizan that you can “climb” in sandals. Though not very exciting in summer, winter transforms the place into a truly beautiful plateau. My friends and I have nicknamed this place Utskushikunaikara (美しくない原), meaning “ugly plain”.
The hike: From either bus stop, follow the sign (and crowds) to the summit area, called Ougatou (王ケ頭), easily recognizable with all of the radio towers and antennae. The entire path is paved and quite overdeveloped, but if you’re climbing the Hyakumeizan you’ve got to come here to check it off your list. That’s why I recommend coming in the winter. The cows are gone, and the snow piles up over the fences, so you can roam anywhere. Plus, it’s deserted, there’s no avalanche danger, and it’s relatively flat. A good place to have a snowball war, practice making snow caves, and brush up on those snowshoeing skills. There’s a smaller, lesser known peak called Ougahana (王ケ鼻), which is about 20 minutes west of the high point. Follow the signs. If you go here, you have an outstanding panorama of the Kita Alps, no ugly towers, and much fewer people.
When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got your own transport in the winter. Summer is crowded with tacky tourists, who come to view the cows. Go on a clear day so you can see the panoramic views.
Access: From Matsumoto station, take a bus bound for Utsukushigahara Open-Air Museum (美ヶ原高原美術館) and get off at Yamamotogoya (山本小屋). From there, it’s about an hour to the top. Click here for the schedule. Alternatively, from Ueda station, take a bus to Yamamotogoya (山本小屋). There’s one bus a day, departing Ueda station at 9:05am. Click here for that schedule. In winter there’s no public transport unless you stay at the expensive hotel on the summit, which offers shuttle service from Matsumoto station. Click here for the hotel website.
Level of difficulty: 0 out of 5 (elevation change 129m)