There is more to Hakuba than just world-renowned powder snow and some of the best backcountry skiing in Japan. While slashing pow and shredding the ski slopes may be the best way to spend your time in the Hakuba Valley, there are days when you just want to leave your pow skis in the rack. Not to fear, there are plenty of things to do outside the ski resorts. Look no further if you’re searching for things to do around Hakuba when you aren’t on the slopes.
Whether you’re looking for a day trip or an adventurous activity, there is something in Hakuba that will suit your needs. Some popular activities include snowmobiling through the stunningly beautiful backcountry, relaxing at one of the many hot springs in the area, or visiting the snow monkeys.
Things To Do Around Hakuba
- Day Trips
- Cultural Experiences
1) Day Trips
Jigokudani Monkey Park
The world-famous Japanese snow monkeys are a short day trip from Hakuba. Nestled in the mountains near the Shiga Kogen Ski resort region of central Nagano, the snow monkey park is a must-see attraction for any visitor to Hakuba. These mischievous monkeys laze around in the natural hot springs, making a fantastic photo opportunity.
The journey from Hakuba to the park is around 2 hours, but it is well worth it for the incredible experience that awaits you at this natural wonder.
The bathing monkeys can be a little shy initially, so make sure you give them space and time to warm up to you before snapping those perfect holiday photos!
While it is possible to get to Jigokudani Monkey Park by public transport, most people opt to either rent a car or take a tour. If you want to add a trip to the monkey park, mention it when you book your lessons, and we will be happy to help you arrange everything.
As one of Japan’s more impressive and complete castles, its long history stretches back some 500 years before stability was established in the region, evident in its defensive features such as murder holes and arrow slits. The castle is well preserved, and restorations have used timber instead of concrete (a fate to which other Japanese castles have succumbed). The castle walls, moat, grounds, and garden, are immaculately kept. A visit to Matsumoto Castle is a great day out – any time during the year.
The Ice Sculpture Festival that takes place every winter is an incredible display of creativity and craftsmanship, uniting sculptors worldwide. As the temperatures climb, springtime sees the cherry blossoms frame the castle, as coy carp lazily meander the moat in the foreground – drawing together all of the elements that make for a quintessential view of Japan. Summer seems numerous festivals held at the castle, including Taiko Drumming and an Illumination, while autumn will produce crisp, anticyclone blue skies, punctuated with dramatic bursts of fall foliage; the Japanese red maples contrast strikingly against a blue sky.
Not only known for the castle, the Matsumoto City Museum of Art is also another popular draw to the city. As the home of internationally renowned contemporary artist Kusama Yayoi, it stands to reason that her work is a permanent exhibition. The recently built Aeon Mall will win any shopper’s heart, while the quirky handful of riverside shops and stalls that comprise “frog street” offers a feel of a Japan gone by.
Matsumoto is 1.5 hours due south of Hakuba by car, though it can also be reached by train and bus. Golden Week (early May) and Obon (mid-August) can be very busy, so avoid those times if possible.
If you continue south from Matsumoto for one hour by car – though it makes more sense to do it as a separate day trip or stop overnight – you will reach the spectacularly underrated postal town of Narai-juku. In centuries gone by, The Nakasendo Way served as an ancient highway that connected the two major cities of Kyoto and Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Busy with weary travelers moving in both directions, postal towns emerged at intermitted points along the way, providing inns, rest houses, eating establishments, and small shops. As an exceptionally well-preserved section, the postal towns along the Kiso Valley are nothing short of remarkable.
Narai was said to be the wealthiest of them all, evident by the houses and shops that have found their place in history on the 3-meter-wide street. Despite the devastating fires that have consumed so much of Japan’s timber-framed history, significant efforts have been made to preserve this notch in time, and you cannot help but be wholly transported to the Edo era. With no two alike in size, shape, or design, the wooden buildings are squashed together – each making its bid to draw visitors inside. Whether you are gripped by history or not, a visit to one of Japan’s postal towns will be unlike any other experience on your trip.
You will also be unlikely to encounter other western tourists there, as almost no one that visits Hakuba – either as a one-off or regularly – has yet discovered the allure of Narai as a day trip.
Combining history, culture, and contemporary points of interest, Kanazawa has long since been coined a “mini Kyoto.” One of the main draws is the Kenroku-en Garden, considered one of Japan’s three best landscape gardens. Impressive every season, it seamlessly balances the six characteristics essential in making the perfect garden – following ancient Chinese garden design. As cherry blossoms are so iconic in Japan, a springtime visit will never disappoint, especially as the blossoms surrounding the castle and many of the walking streets are so dense and vibrant. The castle has been another casualty of fire in recent centuries, though once again, considerable efforts have been made to rebuild it as true to history as possible.
A short distance from Kenrokuen and the castle grounds is the Higashi Chaya District – a small area of traditional tea houses where Geisha can entertain visitors. As one of just a few places in Japan where Geisha remain, three establishments have been well protected throughout their centuries-old history.
Contrasting old Japan entirely, Kanazawa is also home to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, frequently changing its exhibits to showcase some of the most influential artists of this time. The city’s location on the Sea of Japan (southwest of Hakuba, but with the spine of Japan’s Northern Alps running north to south in between) means that the seafood is fresh and not short in supply, with some of the region’s most celebrated sushi chefs established in the city. The fish market is an experience; the area is known for its high-quality sake. A brewery tour is always on the cards. Kanazawa is unique – bringing together the best of Japan and allowing you to enjoy them in one place.
Heading deep into the mountains due east of Hakuba Village, an hour in the car will place you in the high mountain village of Togakushi. As a notorious ninja stronghold, Japan’s foregone assassins were housed and trained here. Fully embracing this unique history, there are museums full of ninja paraphernalia and information plaques regaling stories of the region’s most notable ninjas. And for kids (and adults, too, as it is surprisingly fun), there is a “ninja” or “trick house” from which you must find your way out through one seemingly impossible room after another.
The genuine intrigue of Togakushi, however, lies with the four-hundred-year-old cedar trees that line the approach to the Okusha Shrine, some two kilometers on foot from the trailhead to the shrine itself. Designated a Natural Monument, more than 300 hundred trees stand tall like majestic sentinels, guarding the mystery beyond as you draw closer to the sheer rock wall of Mount Togakushi – telling of your arrival at the shrine. The transportive power of this walk is remarkable; the history, religion, superstition, and mystique that shroud it is almost tangible.
Finished in 2018, this modern and thoughtfully designed aquarium replicates the Sea Of Japan. Starting on the open-air top floor, you can look down onto the main tank, distinguishing the to-scale features that define this section of the Nihon Kai (that is, Sea of Japan), such as Sado Island and Toyama Bay. As you work through the building, the marine life living in the sea beyond the aquarium is on display. As you descend lower into the building, you encounter deeper sea creatures – such as Japanese Spider Crabs, octopi, and squid.
There is excellent information in English, and considerable effort has gone into making it an informative and educational experience while remaining authentic in reflecting the ocean life that exists just meters from the building and surrounds a large part of this island nation. A highlight is the dolphin show; if you observe them on the open-air top floor, their infinity tank seamlessly meets the Nihon Kai beyond. Joetsu Aquarium is 1.5 hours north of Hakuba, and the drive along the coastal road – instead of the expressway – is picturesque as you work your way through forgotten fishing villages.
Nozawa Fire Festival
Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival, Nozawa Onsen Dosojin Matsuri, is one of Japan’s three great fire festivals.
On January 15th of every year, the Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival takes place in honor of Dosojin, a deity in Japan’s Hokuriku Shinetsu region. The festival is carried out by village men aged 25 and 42- which are considered unlucky years according to Japanese beliefs. These men hold torches that light up the night as they battle to burn down a temporary shrine called a shaden.
If you are in Hakuba on January 15th, consider going to the Nozawa fire festival. Several tour operators provide shuttles directly to and from the festival. If you want to make the journey on your own, you can take a highway bus to Nagano station and then a bus from Nagano to Nozawa Onsen.
Hakuba Fire Festival
With over 50 years of history, the Happo One Ski Resort’s Fire Festival is a highlight of every winter season. The taiko drumming and fireworks are a memorable traditional Japan experience. The evening culminates in a torch run as hundreds of skiers carrying flaming torches weave their way to the mountain’s base and light the large bonfire.
3) Hakuba Shopping
Located in the picturesque town of Hakuba, North Face Gravity is a premier outdoor sports store offering exciting things to do around Hakuba throughout the four seasons. Find the perfect gear and clothing for your next hiking trip, or relax with a cup of coffee while taking in the majestic views of the surrounding mountains.
Opened in December 2013, Patagonia combines traditional Japanese architecture with a mountain lodge feel. The store is on the main road between Hakuba station and the Happo Bus terminal and offers beautiful views of the Hakuba mountains. Patagonia offers outdoor clothing and gear for climbing, surfing, skiing and snowboarding, fly fishing, and trail running.
Hakuba’s ski and hike outlet store, Yamatoya, offers great deals on this and previous season skiing and hiking goods. Located next to the Hakuba train station Yamatoya has a variety of clothing and sporting goods.
If you’re looking for backcountry gear and local advice, Rappie is your store of choice. Located on the 148 main road, Rappie is your go-to store for anything backcountry.
Check out Rhythm’s selection of over 4,500 skis, snowboards, boots, poles, outerwear, and après boots! They have the latest ski and snowboard brands and packages to fit any budget. The store is located at the old Wadano Visitors Centre across from the Mominoki Hotel.
Snow Peak Land Station
The Snow Peak’s largest store in Japan offers a wide range of camping equipment, apparel, and local specialties. Snowpeak provides some beautiful views of Hakuba’s mountains and is the home of the only Starbucks in Hakuba. Enjoy a coffee and Hakuba’s scenery at Snow Peak Land Station.
4) Hakuba Activities
After a quick introduction, the tour will take you through the stunning foothills of the Japanese Alps. No matter your level of experience, the knowledgeable staff will ensure that each tour matches your riding ability.
The tour is held at 47 Ski Field in Hakuba.
Snow Shoe Tours
Why not experience the Japanese Alps at a slower pace? Hakuba offers some spectacular backcountry snowshoeing adventures. Head above the Tsugaike ski resort to the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, or take a walk around the Himekawa headwaters. Whether you’re looking for a heart-pounding workout or a relaxing tour in the mountains, Hakuba has a snowshoeing adventure for you.
4) Cultural Experiences
Kimono Dressing, Japanese Paper Craft & Tea Ceremony
Dress like a geisha in this traditional Japanese cultural experience. A professional teacher will help you select and put on a traditional kimono. The experience includes a tea ceremony, where you can learn about this centuries-old ritual’s traditional customs and etiquette. This fun and immersive cultural experience are perfect for tourists looking to taste traditional Japanese culture. A professional teacher will guide you as
Make new friends and learn about Japanese culture by participating in a traditional tea ceremony. This experience takes place in a beautiful, authentic café where you will sit on tatami floors–something Nagano is known for. Your local guide will ensure that you’re using locally-sourced materials and create the best possible tea-ceremony experience.
Japanese Cooking Class
Learn to cook traditional Japanese gyoza, okonomiyaki, and traditional hand-rolled sushi from a Japanese chef.
Hakuba has some amazing hot springs, from historic ryokan with classic Japanese baths to modern facilities with stunning views. Whether looking for a place to relax and unwind or enjoy some time in the healing waters, there are plenty of options around the Hakuba Valley.
Obinata no yu offers private onsen tours during the winter if you are uncomfortable getting naked in front of others.
What is Hakuba known for?
Hakuba is best known for its incredible variety of outdoor activities. Whether you are a skier or snowboarder, a nature lover, or just looking for adventure, there is something for everyone in Hakuba. From hiking and mountain biking in the summer to skiing and snowboarding in the winter, Hakuba offers endless opportunities to experience the Japanese Alps.
Why is Jigokudani Monkey Park famous?
Jigokudani Monkey Park is famous for its unique population of wild Japanese macaques. The snow monkeys have adapted to the cold winter temperatures by bathing in the natural onsen hot springs, calling them “snow monkeys.” The park attracts visitors from around the world.
Can you go inside Matsumoto Castle?
Yes, you can go inside Matsumoto castle. There is a small entrance fee.
What is an onsen?
An onsen is a traditional Japanese hot spring, typically found in natural settings like mountains or lakes. Many people visit onsen for their relaxing and healing properties and for the social aspect of communal bathing.
Do you wear clothes in an onsen?
No, an onsen is a bathing experience, not a swimming pool. However, private onsens like Obinata no Yu will allow you to wear a bathing suit if you choose.
If you are looking for an exciting and unique travel experience, Hakuba is the place for you. With its incredible range of outdoor activities, from a day at the ski resort to hiking and mountain biking, visiting Hakuba offers something for every adventurer. And if that’s not enough, check out Jigokudani Monkey Park or explore the historic Matsumoto Castle. Whether looking for a relaxing day in an onsen or an action-packed adventure, Hakuba has it all! So what are you waiting for? Explore the Hakuba Valley and Nagano prefecture today.
Hakuba Ski Concierge is a ski school in Hakuba, Japan, offering high-end personalized lessons to small groups and private individuals. We provide great lessons with instructors who go beyond to ensure you have the best experience possible.