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Sun or snow, Hakuba is one of the best weekend getaways in Japan for nature lovers. This mountain destination is one of the most popular snow resorts in the winter and has gorgeous lakes for paddle boarding and swimming in the summer.
Hakuba Valley is at the base of the Japanese Alps and is roughly 3.5 hours north by train and bus from Tokyo. The valley is an outdoor activities paradise with opportunities to ski and snowboard, hike, swim in lakes, mountain bike, and even go canyoning.
I love visiting Hakuba year round, but contrary to popular opinion, I have to say I enjoy the area the most in the summer. The mountains become so lush and green and I really love taking a dip in the many rivers and lakes to escape the heat.
In this guide, I’ll share my recommendations for the best weekend getaway to Hakuba, Japan.
Looking for a romantic getaway? Hakuba makes my list of best places to honeymoon in Japan.
What is the best travel itinerary for Hakuba?
How To Get There
There are a few different ways to reach Hakuba from Tokyo. I either took the Shinkansen + Bus or rented a car when I visited Hakuba.
Shinkansen (Bullet Train) + Bus
The most popular way to arrive in Hakuba is to take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station or Ōmiya Station to Nagano Station. From Nagano Station, depart from the east exit at bus stop #26 to Hakuba. The bus leave roughly every hour from 8:20AM to 8:00PM.
This route will take roughly 3-3.5 hours door-to-door and cost about ¥12,500 one-way for an adult.
Rent A Car
Driving to Hakuba from Tokyo takes roughly 4 hours and is generally a more economical option than the train and bus route for groups of 3 or more.
In the winter or on the weekends, expect congestion on the roads and budget more time accordingly.
From Shinjuku Bus Terminal in Tokyo, there are a few expressway bus options to Hakuba. The bus ride will take roughly 5 hours and cost an adult about ¥6,500 one-way.
The most expensive option to reach Hakuba is via chartered taxi. Companies like Nagano Luxury Taxi will take you and a small group to Hakuba from Tokyo for around ¥95,000 one-way.
Where To Stay
Hakuba is split by the Matsu River, which is flanked by mountain resorts. Both sides of the river have a condense town area near the base of the mountains, although although the south side has a few more hotel and restaurant options near it.
I recommend the following accommodations in Hakuba:
I stayed in Happo Apartments on my most recent trip to Hakuba. The apartments have fully equipped kitchens and several bedrooms, so are great options for groups.
What To Do
Ski / Snowboard
Hakuba is most famous for its world-class snow resorts. In the winter, Hakuba transforms into a snowy wonderland with some of the best slopes and back country runs available in Japan.
Japan is known globally for its unbeatable powder and opportunities for off-piste skiing/snowboarding through the trees. While most Japanese resorts don’t formally allow visitors to go off-piste, some of the resorts in Hakuba (Cortina and Hakuba 47) do.
Several different resorts comprise Hakuba, but here is a very high-level summary of a few:
- Tsugaike Kogen (best for beginner / intermediate)
- Cortina (best for back country)
- Iwatake (best for beginner / intermediate)
- Happo-One (best for intermediate / advanced)
- Hakuba 47 (suitable for all levels – if you want to go off-piste, sign up at the Double Black Diamond Club upon arrival to receive a special bib)
- Goryu (suitable for all levels)
The Hakuba Valley website has a lot of great information about the specific snow resorts.
Paddle Board / Swim
If you visit in the warmer months (May – September), paddle boarding and swimming in Lake Aoki is a must. I rented my paddle board from Lake Aoki Paddle Club and had an incredible time paddling around the lake. Unlike many paddle board rental shops in Japan, Lake Aoki Paddle Club lets you explore the lake on your own without a guide.
You need a car to access Lake Aoki and it’s a quick 15 minute drive from the downtown area of Hakuba.
Lake Aoki is surrounded by rolling mountains and lush greenery, so it’s a beautiful place to spend a few hours. I highly recommend bringing your swimsuit and enjoying the stunning Japanese nature.
In the spring, summer, and fall, Hakuba is an excellent place for hiking. The mountains have dozens of different trails for all levels with incredible scenery.
If you’re looking for an easy walking trail, I recommend the long grassy pathway by Matsu River. This river cuts through the center of Hakuba and is flanked on either side by rocks you can sit and relax on. In my photos above, I accessed the river via the Hakuba Bridge. You do not need to wear hiking or exercise gear to walk along the river since it is very flat and meant more for a leisurely stroll.
For longer hikes, consider Happo Pond, Tsugaike Nature Park, Mt. Kotoomi, or Iwatake Nezuko Forest. All four of these areas have trails accessible for beginner to intermediate hikers. I suggest this website as a resource for details about each hiking area.
What To Eat
Hakuba has a fantastic selection of restaurants to enjoy during your trip. More options are open in the winter than in the other seasons since that’s the busiest time in the region, but year round you’ll find delicious meals.
Some of my favorite spots include:
- Komakusa (soba)
- The City Bakery (bakery)
- Hummingbird (general Japanese)
- Chitose (tonkatsu – breaded and deep fried pork)
- Chichukai Gelato Cafe (gelato)
- The Clubhouse Café & Bar (cafe / bar)