Activities & Tours
Hakuba Activities and Tours
There are lots of Hakuba activities on offer, besides skiing and snowboarding at the resorts. You can visit the Japanese snow monkeys or take a Hakuba backcountry ski tour. There are also lots of other snow related activities and an array of day trips or cultural activities.
Hakuba Backcountry Ski Tours
The Hakuba backcountry is a highlight of the area for those willing to earn their turns. The pinnacle is the Happo backcountry, which has some easy bowls as well as lines of gnar. There are quite a few Hakuba backcountry tour operators, but choose wisely if you want longevity on earth. We’ve seen a couple of tour groups who’ve seemed a little too eager to get out onto the Happo Faces straight after a massive a snow storm.
There are various backcountry and off-piste tour operators. They can cater for varying abilities and the distance hiked or skinned, and they can rent you backcountry gear if you don’t have your own. Tours typically go from the top of Cortina or Tsugaike on stormy days, or Happo-One when the snowpack is adequately settled.
Hakuba Heli Skiing
Alternatively, the Tsugaike Kogen resort offers spring heli skiing. This isn’t typical heli skiing
as the terrain is all national park and there are various restrictions on where helicopters can land, so they repeatedly land at the same place. The “backcountry” is very mellow and sign-posted in places (!) so it’s more like tracked out piste than the virgin snow you’d expect from heli-skiing (unless you are lucky to be amongst the first few riders after a fresh dump). It’s still worth it though, just for the thrill of the helicopter ride and the scenery.
Japanese Snow Monkeys
Not far from Hakuba and Nagano is the Jigokudani Monkey Park
where the 200 odd “wild” Japanese snow monkeys warm themselves in the hot springs. The monkeys are used to the tourists, and you’ll get very close to these absolutely fascinating monkeys.
Make sure you have an empty memory card and fully charged batteries on your camera, as there will be endless photo opportunities as the monkeys perform very cute activities such as somersaults in the water. There’s a 25 minute hike each way along a scenic path from the bus parking, so wear sensible shoes.
The monkey tour is often combined with a trip to the Nagano Zenkoji Temple which is very enjoyable. This temple is designated a national treasure and has a very long history, which includes the first Buddha image brought to Japan in the 7th century. As to be expected, you have to take off your shoes in the temple, so wear really warm socks or you’ll get frostbite. You can also take a short tour under the temple which apparently provides some spiritual value, but the real fascination is walking around a small tunnel in complete darkness. The streets surrounding the temple demonstrate “traditional” Japanese architecture and have gorgeous lit lanterns.
Your accommodation can help you organise a tour to the Japanese snow monkeys
. There are different combo day trips, and the monkey tour may also include a visit to Obuse, a historic town near Nagano that has a sake brewery.
Other Sightseeing Activities
If you want a break from skiing or boarding, there are various other day tours available where you can take in some history and culture.
One tour is to see the Matsumoto Castle aka the “crow castle” because of its black exterior. The Matsumoto Castle was built about 400 years ago and is the oldest 5 tiered donjon castle in Japan. The Matsumoto castle tour is commonly combined with a tour of the Daio wasabi farm, which provides an opportunity to taste wasabi in many forms including yummy ice-cream.
There are lots of opportunities in Hakuba for touristy Japanese experiences such as soba noodle making, origami folding, sake tasting, and samarai evenings. For the ladies, organised cultural experiences include wearing a kimono, Japanese paper craft, and participating in a tea ceremony.
Other Hakuba Snow Activities
At Happo-One you can visit the ski jumping stadium and take an elevator up to the top of the jumps to appreciate how crazy the ski jumpers must be. Admission is fairly cheap.
Other snow alternatives can include evening fondue snowshoe tours, day time snowshoe tours, or snowmobiling. There’s even a little bit of cross country skiing with trails maintained at the Snow Harp Olympic Cross Country Stadium and the Iwatake Snowfield.
Of course, an essential part of any Japanese skiing holiday is to go to one of the onsens (hot springs) to soothe any aching muscles. In this mountainous region of Hakuba, the hot springs flow abundantly.
Onsens such as Juro No-Yu and Tenjin No-ju are off the main drag a little, but offer great views of the mountains that make your soak a little more therapeutic. Otherwise there are various options near the main village areas. There are various Hakuba hotels with their own onsen (e.g. Ryokan Shirouma-so
, Mominoki Hotel
, Tokyu Hotel
), some of which are also open to the public for a fee. When you arrive in Hakuba, pick up an onsen guide at the Happo Information Centre.
See our travel advice page for tips on onsen etiquette which includes not taking a can of beer into the onsen!