Myojin Pond (明神池)
Myojin is another incredibly popular but enjoyable walk in Kamikochi valley. You’ll have wonderful mirror reflections in a pair of idyllic ponds sitting in a tranquil forest.
The hike: From the bus terminal, turn left (past the restrooms) until you reach the river, where you’ll turn right. Walk past Kappabashi bridge (the long suspension bridge that everyon and their child line up to have their picture taken beside). Don’t cross the bridge, but stay on this side of the river. The path will cross a small concrete bridge before entering Onashidaira (小梨平) campsite. Follow the broad path (it’s actually a forest road) through the campsite and the neighboring forest. The trail will climb gradually for a couple of kilometers until arriving at Myojin (明神) junction. There’s a mountain hut here where you can stay. You’ll see a sign pointed towards the left that says 明神池０．６ｋｍ. Turn left here and cross the suspension bridge across the river. After crossing, turn left and follow the river for a short distance, where you’ll see a sign pointing to the right that reads “Pond Myoujinike”. Turn right here, follow the gravel path, and pass under the wooden shrine gate. You’ll see an old mountain hut on your left called Kamonji-goya. It’s a really popular place for lunch and it’s also a hut that Walter Weston stayed in when he made his historic visits to Kamikochi. Just past the hut you’ll see a small shrine and the entrance to Myojin Pond. Unfortunately, there’s a 300 yen entrance fee to enter the pond. If the clouds are in you can give it a miss, but you should definitely spend some time looking around if the skies are clear, as the reflections are stunning. The best time to visit is in the early morning when the lighting on Mt. Myojin is best. After visiting, retrace your steps back to the river and turn right, following the signs to Kappabashi. The path is wonderful on this side of the river, with wooden walkways and a lot more up-and-downs than the campground side of the river. At one point the path will meet up with a paved forest road, but you’ll soon dip back down in the forest. Your next landmark will be the turnoff for Dakesawa (岳沢), another place well worth visiting if you’ve got the time. It’s a steep 2-hour hike to reach the mountain hut up there, which sits near the edge of the tree line and has incredible views of Kamikochi valley. Anyway, ignore this turnoff and enjoy the wonderful color of the stream feeding into a majestic pond. Follow the wooden walkway for about a minute and you’ll reach a lookout area over the pond. This is an excellent place to hone those photography skills. Afternoon light is best here, and as it’s not too far from Kappabashi bridge, you can always come back here to visit later in the day if you’d like. Stay on the main trail and you’ll reach Kappabashi in about 20 minutes or so, depending on your speed. Just before reaching the bridge you’ll come across a large hotel, and the views of Mt. Hotaka from the river’s edge here are better than the views from the bridge itself, and much less crowded. If the weather is good there’ll probably be a few people doing some oil paintings from here. After reaching Kappabashi bridge, you can continue walking downstream and do the Taisho-ike hike (breaking up this walk by stopping for the minestrone lunch at Kamikochi Alpen Hotel during weekdays only). Another alternative is to head to Kamikochi Onsen hotel for a hot spring bath (open between 12:30 and 3pm).
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. Myojin 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: 6.5km (2 to 3 hours)