Six Ropeways to the Roof of Japan
Soar to picturesque highlands and mountaintop terraces in and around the Japanese Alps.
Ropeways were traditionally a means of transporting goods across rivers or ravines in mountainous areas. Nowadays, they provide visitors access to some of the most scenic and inaccessible mountainous areas in Japan. They quickly transport passengers from valleys and lowland areas to the other worldly highlands and peaks where the weather and scenery are often completely transformed.
Because of its many ski resorts and hiking areas, Nagano has an abundance of ropeways to explore. Whether you use the ropeways just for a scenic ride or as a launching point for a longer hike or backcountry expedition, Nagano's ropeways are a great way to see the countryside and enhance your Nagano experience.
Ryuoo Ropeway and Sora Terrace
With a capacity of 166 passengers, the Ryuoo Ski Park Ropeway is the largest of its kind in the world. The ropeway is over 2 kilometers long and rises quickly to an altitude of 1,770 meters. Even without the views, riding the ropeway alone is an exciting adventure. In Winter, use the ropeway to access Ryuoo Ski Park's Skyland area and Kiotoshi area, an advanced only run that requires helmets and registration to access. Green season activities include glamping, hiking and a night cruise. Even canine friends are welcome!
The Sora Terrace is another reason to visit. Located at the top of the ropeway, the panoramic views of the surrounding mountains are like a different world. You can see the famed unkai phenomenon, where clouds completely cover the valley and mountain peaks stick out like islands on the ocean, on over 60% of its operating days. The Sora Terrace Cafe also offers hearty meals, an assortment of beverages and their famous sea of clouds pie.
The Kita-Yatsugatake Ropeway offers breathtaking views of the Northern Alps, the Yatsugatake mountain range and the Kirigamine Kurumayama Plateau. Going from an altitude of 1,771 to 2,237 meters in just 7 minutes, it offers easy access to amazing views on a clear day. The ropeway departs every 20 minutes or so, holds around 100 people and is in operation year-round except for a couple of weeks for maintenance in April and November.
For a short hike from the top of the ropeway station, check out the otherworldly wind-swept pine trees and rock formations of Tsuboniwa park. The entire loop takes around 40 minutes through mostly flat or undulating terrain. For more avid hikers, use the top of the ropeway as a launch point for summiting nearby Mt. Kitayokodake, which takes around 1 hour each way. There are also various trails and loops in the area to check out.
Another great option is snowshoeing around the rock formations or even to Mt. Kitayokodake depending on the snow conditions. Snowshoe and boot rentals are available at the ropeway base station; 2,500 yen and 1,000 yen respectively.
Mt. Ontake is Japan's second highest volcano at an altitude of 3,067 meters and is one of the holiest mountains in all of Japan. Home to a form of ascetic mountain Buddhism called Shugendo, the mountain attracted pilgrims from all over who would practice meditation and climb the mountain, seeking enlightenment. Nowadays, mountain enthusiasts climb Mt. Ontake for its spectacular nature and views.
The Ontake Ropeway departs the 5th station of Mt. Ontake (accessible by car) and goes to the 7th station at 2,150 meters. Here, you can enjoy the restaurant, the photogenic mirror deck or the Alps deck with great views of the Central Japanese Alps including Mt. Norikura, Mt. Hotaka and Mt. Yarigatake. You can also begin hiking from the 7th station to the 9th station of Mt. Ontake. Access to the Summit is currently restricted due volcanic activity. Because of its proximity to the Kiso Valley and the Nakasendo, a side trip to Mt. Ontake is a great way to extend your trip.
Komagatake Ropeway and Senjojiki Cirque
The Komagatake Ropeway features both the most elevation gain (950 meters) and Japan's highest terminal station (2,612 meters). Operating year-round, this ropeway allows visitors to visit the beautiful Senjojiki Cirque area in all four seasons. At the top station, there are amenities such as a restaurant, cafe and viewing platform.
For a short hike, enjoy the Senjojiki Cirque hiking trail. Beginning at Komagatake Shrine, walk through fields of various alpine flora to Kengaike Pond, offering wonderful views of the Central Alps and valley below. On certain days, you can see the unkai phenomenon here as well. More avid climbers can depart from the top station towards Mt. Kiso Komagatake, about a 2 hour climb. For the best views of starry nights, sunsets and sunrises make sure to stay at Hotel Senjojiki, one of the highest elevation accommodations in Japan.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is most famous for its snow walls but is a great place to travel year-round. The Tateyama Ropeway itself is the longest single span ropeway in all of Japan and offers unrivaled access deep into the Northern Japanese Alps. Other sights include the Kurobe Dam (the tallest dam in Japan), the Daikanbo trolleybus/cable car station, Murodo, Shomyo Falls and a variety of mountain flora and fauna. Though the ropeway is in Toyama Prefecture, to complete the entire route you must either depart or arrive in Nagano's Shinano Omachi and Ogisawa stations.
Please note that the ropeway is not accessible by itself but is part of the entire route. There are various ways to travel on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route and options for accommodations along the way. Depending on your hiking level, you can walk portions of this route or complete almost the entire route by a combination of buses, railroads and cable cars. Please find more information on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route Website.
Although the Shinhotaka Ropeway is also not located in Nagano Prefecture, it is a quick drive from Nagano's Kamikochi or Norikura Kogen areas. Technically split into ropeways 1 and 2, the Shinhotaka Ropeway takes about 25 minutes total and culminates at an elevation of 2,156 meters at Nishihotakaguchi Station. The viewing platform above the ropeway is truly breathtaking, offering 360-degree views of the Northern Alps. Along the way, there are restaurants and cafes located at Nabedaira Kogen Station, Shirakabadaira Kogen Station and Nishihotakaguchi Station.
For a quick stroll, make sure to check out the Sengokuenchi field with various wildflowers and highland plants in bloom at different times of the year. In the winter, paths are cut out into the walls of snow for a very different but beautiful view. For a longer hike, visit the Nishiho mountain hut or even summit Mt. Nishihotaka for extreme hikers (make sure to bring appropriate hiking equipment).
There are many great ropeways in Nagano to explore and get you into the mountains. Ropeways are great for scenic viewing or for easier access to high altitude hiking. Make sure to research the times and schedules before going to make sure the ropeway you would like to visit is open and enjoy your trip!