The Norikura Skyline
Norikura Skyline, named after it’s saddle-like shape, consists of 23 peaks, the highest being Norikuradake. This beautiful mountain range in the Northern Alps is shared between Gifu and Nagano prefectures - from the summit of Mt Norikuradake you can see Matsumoto in one direction and Hirayu in the other. At such a height, Norikuradake is popular for skiers and also one of the first places in Japan to spot the fiery red autumn colours of the alpine trees.
Of the 23 peaks, the highest mountain on the Norikura Skyline is over 3,000m high. The snow-capped peaks are home to giant squirrels and falcons who live amongst the trees. As you get further up the skyline, look out for the umbrella-shaped mountain, Mt. Kasa, and the active volcano, Mt Yake. Although the journey up Norikura Skyline is an experience in itself, the excitement does not end once you reach the terminal bus stop.
There is a lot to keep you busy in this beautiful national park, from hiking to walking through the snow walls that get up to seven metres high in May. Though they might be smaller than the more famous ice walls of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, these walls are a sight to be seen, and they are less crowded and a short downhill stroll from the bus terminal. There are restaurants, a shrine, souvenir shops and even a sledge rental shop to keep you busy without venturing too far off track. Even though the weather warms up in May, keep in mind that there is still a fair amount of snow and the temperature is at least 10ºC colder up at Mt Norikuradake.
The Norikura Skyline bus routes are only open from May to October due to the heavy snow that affects the area in the colder months. The Nohi Bus offers a guided trip that provides access to the Norikura Skyline bus stop, the hightest bus terminal in Japan. If you are planning on traveling around Gifu prefecture by public transport, the Shinshu/Hida Apls four-day ticket offers unlimited access to over seven locations between Gifu City and Matsumoto. We took a bus from Hirayu Onsen Bus Terminal, picking up a Hida Beef croquette from the well-stocked transport hub. The hour long journey made a brief stop at Honoki-daira, a well known ski resort. The ride up the mountain was comfortable, clean and offered guided tours in both Japanese and English. From July 15th to September, the Sunrise Bus arrives at the terminus around 4:30am and is the best way to beat the crowds and take in a memorable experience.
Cars are banned beyond a certain point of the route up to the summit, but you can drive as far as Sanbondaki in Nagano or Hirayu Onsen in Gifu. It is possible to cycle up to the terminus however, this is a 1,500m climb requiring a fair amount of fitness and preparation. The European style terminal building offers amazing views from the second floor where you can also browse the souvenir shop or warm up after a mountain walk with a hot bowl of Gifu soba at the Norikura restaurant. As the snow melts, the hiking route to Kengamine Peak is enjoyed by many hikers from May onwards. It is about a 60 minute hike to the peak and this is one of the best ways to explore the untouched paradise of the Hida Alps.