Mt. Amakazari (雨飾山）
Mt. Amakazari is a majestically rocky peak located northeast of Hakuba on the Niigata-Nagano border. The mountain is famous for beech trees and fall foliage.
The hike: From the bus stop, you’ve got a 90-minute hike on a paved road before you reach the trailhead. Head up the road toward Amakazarisou (雨飾荘). This is a nice hut with its own hot spring bath, so consider staying here if you want a more leisurely weekend on the mountains. Continue on the forest road, following the signs to the trailhead. It’s impossible to get lost, and if there are any vehicles on this road, then try to hitch to the trailhead. After about an hour, the forest road will split, but turn right for another 10 minutes and you’ll be in the huge parking lot. There’s another hut here, but if you bring a sleeping bag you can stay in the rest house (休憩場) for free! This is what I did – I took the very last train to Minamiotari, then a taxi, and hiked in the dark along the road. I arrived at the trailhead at 1am and slept on the floor of the building between the toilets. Anyway, the trail starts to the left of the rest house. At first the trail is really flat, and winds its way through a spectacular marshland. Imagine Oze with half the crowds! The Mizubasho plants are stunning in the spring. After passing this wonderful area, the trail starts climbing through virgin beech forest. After about 2 hours of hiking, you’ll reach Arasugesawa (荒菅沢). This is one of the most beautiful cols in Japan (see picture), and you’ll have to descend into the col before climbing up the other side. Be careful in the spring because they’ll be a lot of snow in this area. Cross the small river, and follow the paint marks up the spine of the mountain. The views will start opening up as you get higher. The climb is pretty steep, gaining close to 500m of elevation in less than 1km. Eventually, you’ll reach the summit plateau, where a trail will branch off to the right. Ignore this and continue to the left. You’ll reach Sasadaira (笹平) in about 5 minutes. Another trail leads to the right, which is an alternative way off the mountain. Ignore this for now, and head straight, toward the knobby summit of Amakazari. It should take about 30 minutes or so to reach the rocky top. The views toward Mt. Shirouma are stunning, and you’ll be able to see Mt. Takazuma and Mt. Hiuchi as well. Take a well deserved break and lots of photos. From here retrace your steps back to Sasadaira. Now you’ve got 2 options. Take the same trail all the way back or turn left and head toward Amakazari-onsen (雨飾温泉). There is no public transport from the onsen, so you’ll have to hitch or ask a fellow hiker along the way to give you a lift. Luckily, I met a man on the summit who had a car and offered to give me a lift all the way to Toyama station! The trail descends rather steeply at first, and if you’re hiking before the rainy season then you’ve got a massive snow field awaiting you. After a half hour or so, you’ll reach Nakanoike (中ノ池) a small pond that was buried under snow when I went. From here the snow fields end and your shoes can start to dry out. The trail is easy to follow, and you should arrive at the hot spring in about 2 hours or so. The hut is really nice and a bath costs around 500 yen. There’s both an indoor and outdoor bath, but they’re separated, with the outdoor bath hidden in a garden in the front. You’ll have to walk outside naked, so bring a towel big enough to cover your family jewels.
When to go: This mountain gets a ton of snow in the winter and is heavily prone to avalanches. A spring hike is feasible in April if you’ve got an ice axe and crampons. Otherwise, aim for a hike between late May and November. The fall colors are really famous here, so try to avoid the weekends in October unless you want a human traffic jam.
Access: From Hakuba station, take a local train 4 stops north and get off at MinamiOtari station (南小谷駅). Then, take a bus bound for Amakazari-Kogen (雨飾高原) and get off at the last stop. You can also take a taxi from the station for about 5000 yen or so. Click here for the bus schedule.
Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 1103m)