Much like Kamikōchi, NORIKURA KŌGEN (乗鞍高原), an alpine village some 30km southwest of Matsumoto, offers splendid mountain scenery, hiking trails and onsen. In winter, ski lifts shoot up the lower slopes of Norikura-dake, while in summer the hike to the peak of the same mountain can be accomplished in ninety minutes from the car park, where the Echo Line road leaves Nagano-ken and becomes the Skyline Road in Gifu-ken. This is the highest road in Japan, providing spectacular mountain-top views (the upper section is closed Nov–end May). The car park is an hour’s drive from Norikura Kōgen.
The closest thing to a centre in this straggle of a village is the modern onsen complex, Yukemurikan (湯けむり館), which has both indoor wooden baths and rotemburo with mountain views. Nearby are the ski lifts and an hour-long trail east to Sanbon-daki (三本滝), where three waterfalls converge in one pool. An alternative hiking route from the ski lifts is south for twenty minutes to another beautiful waterfall, Zengorō-no-taki (善五郎の滝), reached along a clearly marked nature trail, with signs in English – a rainbow often forms in the spray across this impressive fall during the morning. Twenty minutes’ walk further south of Zengorō, a small reflecting pond, Ushidome-ike (牛留池), provides a perfect view of the mountains. Continuing downhill from the pond, you can choose to walk towards another small waterhole, Azami-ike (あざみ池), or to the main picnic area, Ichinose (一の瀬), a picturesque spot at the confluence of two streams. A cycle and walking track leads directly north from Ichinose back to Yukemurikan, where the best plan of action is to soak in the rotemburo.