3 of us are coming to this area in October – coming from Kyoto and returning to Tokyo after about 10 days. I am trying to work out the best means of transport – a JR pass or just taking train to Nagano (or Matsumoto) and hiring a car from there for the duration. Do the JR trains cover this area well? We are thinking of doing some of the walking around the Post towns (Nakasendo trail). Would like some advice!
JR passes are convenient for the longer trips, but don’t cover as much of the transportation in Nagano as might be desired. To get to the mountains, like the Kamikochi and Norikura areas, buses are often necessary. Several train lines in the Nagano area are also private and therefore not covered by the JR pass.
I personally think that driving through Nagano is one of the best ways to enjoy it, and allows you to see much more of the prefecture. You can see more of the post towns of the Nakasendo, because you’ll be able to move freely between them instead of waiting for the hourly train. You can also enjoy the beautiful drive along the Venus line (from Suwa to Matsumoto), or the Shiga-Kusatsu route (from Yamanouchi to Kusatsu in Gunma).
I hope that helps answer your question.