Within of the northern range of the Japanese Alps lies Kamikochi National Park, an area comprised of a plateau surrounded by vertical peaks, reflective lakes and virgin forests. Kamikochi is considered part of Chubu Sangaku National Park (also known as the Japan Alps National Park) and was extensively used by the logging industry until the mid 19th century when British missionary Rev. Walter Weston (1861-1940) lobbied to preserve the area. There is a plaque commemorating him and on the first Sunday of every June, the Weston festival is held to celebrate the opening of mountain-climbing season.
Upon arrival, visitors are quickly captivated by the transparent waters of the Azusa River which direct the view towards snow-capped mountains and Mt. Yakedake, an active volcano. The river feeds into Lake Taisho, which was formed by the volcanic activity of Mt. Yakedake in the early 1900s and lies at the foot of the volcano. Another scenic spot in the park is Myojin Pond, with bamboo along the lakeside and a reflection of Mt. Myojindake. Throughout the park, you have a chance of seeing some native monkeys and birds, and maybe even a bear if you’re really (un)lucky!
Kamikochi is open from mid April until November 15 and shuts down during winter. Given the scope of the park, it is recommended to plan a multi-day visit for those who want to trek some of the more challenging trails that diverge from the primary park trails and lead toward the mountain summits (they are more than 3000 meters high). After all that exercise, don’t forget to treat yourself to a post-hike dip in the soothing rotenburo, an outside hot spring bath!