Mt. Azumaya (四阿山）
Mt. Azumaya is a dormant volcano overlooking nearby Mt. Asama. It’s one of the few places where you can see cherry blossoms in May, and the panoramic views of the Kita Alps are second to none when the cloud isn’t in.
The hike: From the bus stop, hike up the road toward Dabosu dairy farm (ダボス牧場). The trail starts from the farm, where you’ll see tons of cows in the summer. There are 2 different ways up the mountain, so I’ll describe a loop hike. Follow the signposts straight ahead to Mt. Neko (根子岳). It should take around 2 hours of moderate hiking to reach the summit. If the weather is clear then you’ll be completely surrounded by the Japan Alps! It really is one of the best views of the Alps anywhere in Japan. From the top of Mt. Neko, you can see the peak of Mt. Azumaya to the east. You’ve got to drop about 200m of altitude, down to a scenic valley that’ll have lingering snow in May. The descent is steep and rocky but gradually flattens out. From the low point, it’s a 300m vertical ascent to the summit. It should take about 90 minutes to traverse between the 2 peaks. Along the way, you’ll reach a trail junction, but head left to reach the top. The summit area is small and rocky, but the views of Mt. Asama are wonderful. Retrace your steps to the junction, but instead of going back to Mt. Neko, continue straight ahead to Mt. Naka-azumaya (中四阿). From here, keep descending for about 90 minutes and you’ll eventually reach the pastures again. Take a right when you hit the road in front of the cows, and you’ll be back at the parking lot. Reward yourself with delicious ice cream made from the milk at the farm!
When to go: This hike can be done year round if you take the helicopter to the top of Mt. Neko (根子岳)! (no joke on the heli-skiiing). Otherwise, aim for an ascent bewteen April and November. I did this hike in May and there was still a little snow in the valley between Mt. Neko and Mt. Azumaya. Click here for a report of a person who skied to the top in March.
Access: From Nagano station, take either a local train or a Shinkansen to Ueda station (上田駅). The local train takes about 40 minutes, while the Shinkansen takes a whopping 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can take the Nagano Shinkansen from Tokyo and get off at Ueda. From Ueda station, take a bus bound for Sugadaira (菅平) and get off at the Sugadaira-kogen bus stop (菅平高原). Click here for the bus schedule. If you’ve got a car, then you can drive to the actual trailhead, which is a one hour walk from the bus stop.
Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~900m)