Togakushi is often overlooked during winter in favor of Jigokudani’s snow monkeys or Hakuba’s ski slopes, but it offers a memorable winter experience you won’t find anywhere else. Walking effortlessly on freshly fallen snow, you can admire the forest’s towering, 400-year-old trees and ancient Shinto shrines—not to mention the precipitous face of Mt. Togakushi itself.
My girlfriend and I visited Togakushi last weekend to try snowshoeing for ourselves. We drove up from Nagano City and parked in front of the Okusha Trailhead, where we rented some snowshoes at the Okushamae Naosuke Restaurant. We decided to take the trail to Kagami Pond, which according to the shopkeeper was a 3-hour roundtrip journey—as long as we didn’t take too many “detours.” We picked up a topographical map from the counter and headed off, taking a left before the grey torii gate.
Half-buried signposts guided us in the right direction and the trail was relatively flat and well-beaten. But after ten or fifteen minutes into the woods, we were beckoned by the fresh powder off the trail. Jumping off the small boardwalk, I was surprised by how well the snowshoes kept me above the snow and how soft the landing was. I was hooked. From there, we meandered through fields of fresh snow, finding interesting natural landmarks and small animal tracks, occasionally checking the map to make sure we were going in the right direction. The freedom to walk wherever we pleased was truly liberating.
We reached Kagami Pond after an hour and a half of wandering through the woods. The skies were cloudy but we could see the steep face of Mt. Togakushi clearly in the distance. We sat down beside the frozen pond to enjoy a hot cup of cocoa and the nice view.
We were starting to get hungry (I forgot to bring snacks) so we decided to head back. On the last leg of our journey we took the back route towards the middle of the Okusha shrine trail. We passed a few small statues whose heads poked out from underneath the snow as well as a small shrine in the middle of the woods. A row of bright-orange torii gates stood before the main hall of the shrine, contrasting fiercely against the snowy backdrop.
Finally, we returned to the Okusha Shrine trail, arriving at the Zuishinmon Gate. Snow covered its thatched straw roof and stone lanterns. Behind it was the lane of giant 400-year-old cypress trees. The contrast of the crimson paint, green pines and white snow was stunning.
While we wanted to venture further, all we could think about at that point was a nice hot bowl of noodles. We returned our snowshoes to the restaurant and then sat down to eat Togakushi’s specialty: soba. I chose the kamo zarusoba (cold soba served with duck soup) and she chose tempura soba (also cold), but Okushamae Naosuke also has plenty of hot dishes to warm back up after a long day in the snow. When we finished up, we walked a few minutes to the car park and headed back home to hibernate under the kotatsu.
Getting to the Okusha Shrine in Winter
By car, the Okusha Shrine is about a 55-minute drive from Nagano Station or a 70-minute drive from the Nagano IC exit (there is a faster route, but I recommend taking the loop line, Route 506, up the mountain instead). Parking is available at the Okusha Trailhead.
If you’re traveling via public transportation, take the Togakushi line bus from Nagano Station to the Togakushi Ski Resort bus stop (75 minutes). The Okusha trailhead is a 25-minute walk from there. There is a snowshoe trail between the ski resort and Okusha trailhead, so the walk should be enjoyable.
Snowshoe Rentals in Togakushi
If you’re driving, you can park at the trailhead parking lot and rent from the Okushamae Naosuke restaurant. If you’re taking the Togakushi line bus, you’ll have to get off at the Togakushi Ski Resort bus stop, so you may want to rent your snowshoes at Soba Restaurant Togakure instead.
Soba Restaurant Togakure
Season: Late December to Early April
Holidays: Closed on Tuesdays
Hours: 8:30 to 17:00
Prices: Snowshoes and Stocks: 1,500 Yen
Wear (Jacket and Pants): 2,000 Yen
Long Boots: 300 Yen
Spats: 300 Yen
Okushamae Naosuke (Winter Hours)
Season: Early December to Mid April
Holidays: Mondays and Tuesdays (may fluctuate)
Hours: 10:30 to 16:00
Prices: Snowshoes: 1,500 Yen
Stocks: 300 Yen
Long Boots: 300 Yen
If you’d like to read more about Nagano’s winter activities, check out our blog Five Ways to Enjoy the Snow. Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave a comment below!