Taisho pond is the most popular walk in Kamikochi and rightfully so. The mirror-like reflections of Mt. Yake and the Japan Alps are incredible in good weather. You may also have a chance of spotting a black bear in the unspoiled forests surrounding the lake.
The hike: From the bus terminal, turn left (past the restrooms) until you reach the river, where you’ll make another left. Follow the river for about 15 minutes until reaching a paved road. Cross over the road and follow the sign that says “Nature Trail” (自然研究路入口). The path will enter the forest before reaching a junction. You can take either course since they both meet up after 10 minutes or so. My advice would be to take the right fork that follows the Azusa River (梓川コース) and on the return take the forest path (林間コース). The forest path is your best chance of catching a black bear in the wild, so keep your eyes peeled, especially in the early morning or late evening. Anyway, after the paths converge you’ll reach another junction with a sign pointing towards Tashiro-ike (田代池). Take this side trail for 100 meters or so and you’ll reach the tranquil shores of the small, scenic lake. There are no reflections in this lake, but the yellow fields are serene. Retrace your steps back to the junction and turn left, following the signs towards Taisho pond. After crossing a wooden bridge you’ll reach a broad area with a lot of rocks. You can scramble down to the lake shore here if you like, or continue on the path to the base of the hotel, where the reflections are much better (and the crowds will regrettably be much larger). There’s a restroom on the other side of the hotel, as well as a bus stop if you want to take the lazy way back to Kamikochi. After admiring the views, retrace your steps all the way back to where you crossed the paved road, but instead of continuing straight towards the bus terminal, turn left and cross over Tashiro bridge (田代橋) and Hotaka bridge (穂高橋). Turn right on the path that follows the river (on the river bank opposite the bus terminal). This path will take you past the Walter Weston monument before passing by a couple of hotels. Look for the sign for Kamikochi Onsen Hotel (上高地温泉ホテル), where you’ll find a free foot bath. For 800 yen, you can also enter the hot spring baths here (highly recommended), but be careful of the time. The bath is only open between 7 and 9am, and 12:30 to 3pm. If you’ve missed the morning window then you can grab some lunch and come back for the afternoon session. The cheapest and tastiest lunch is at Kamikochi Alpen Hotel (上高地アルペンホテル), which has a great minestrone lunch for only 500 yen (weekdays only). For an additional 100 yen you can have hot coffee as well. If there’s still time in the day and you still have the energy, you can also do the Myojin Pond hike, but remember that the reflections for Myojin are best in the early morning light and you’ll have to pay 300 yen to enter the shoreline.
When to go: This hike can be done anytime from late April to mid-November, when the road to Kamikochi is open. Avoid the weekends if you don’t want to share the trail with half of Tokyo. Also, this walk is best done in the morning, when the Mt. Yake reflections are most striking.
Access: From Matsumoto (松本) station, take a train on the Matsumoto Denki Railway bound for Shin-shimashima (新島々) and get off at the last stop. The train leaves from the JR tracks, so enter the ticket gates and follow the signs. From Shin-shimashima you can transfer to a direct bus bound for Kamikochi. Click here for the schedule. You can also take a direct overnight bus from Osaka or Tokyo, as well as a bus from Takayama, but you’ll need to transfer at Hirayu Onsen. Private cars are not allowed in Kamikochi, so if coming by car then park at Sawando and transfer to a shuttle bus from there.
Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change negligible)
Distance: 8km (2 to 3 hours)