From north to south, the five villages are Shin-Hotaka (新穂高), Tochio (栃尾), Shin-Hirayu (新平湯), Fukuchi (福地) and Hirayu (平湯).
The easiest option is a direct bus from Shinjuku in Tokyo (4½ hr, ¥5700). Alternatively, take a train to the nearest stations Matsumoto (if coming from the east) or Hida-Takayama (if coming from the west), then hop on a bus for the final leg (1½ hr and ¥2,300-2,800 from Matsumoto, 50 min from Takayama).
Infrequent bus services connect the villages, but to free yourself from limited bus schedules, this is one of those few places in Japan where renting a car may be a good option. Still, the scenic mountain roads are slow, twisty and tiring to drive, and are not a good place to learn to drive on the left.
Every village has an open-air bath (露天風呂 rotenburo) open to the public for free or a token fee. Note that these are communal and mixed, ladies wishing to retain their modesty may wish to bring a bathing suit.
- 1 Hirayu Waterfall (平湯大滝 Hirayu ōtaki) (A few minutes' drive south of Hirayu.). A 64-meter-high waterfall, well marked and easily accessible along a short path. In winter the frozen waterfall is illuminated. Occasional buses, but check schedules carefully so you don't get stranded.
Being located in the heart of the northern Japan Alps, there are copious opportunities for hiking in the area, but do your research beforehand as many of the mountains are quite tough and the climbing season is very short — many peaks will still be covered in snow in June. A popular, if fairly challenging, three-day course is to scale all three peaks listed below in a row, crossing over from Oku-Hida to Kamikochi (or vice versa).
- 1 Mt. Yarigatake (槍ケ岳). The 3,180m mountain name means "Spear Mountain" for a reason, is occasionally dubbed Japan's Matterhorn.
- 2 Mt. Hotakadake (穂高岳 Hotaka-dake). At 3,190 m, this is the third-highest mountain in Japan. The mountain has several peaks, and the highest of these is Mount Okuhotaka (奥穂高岳 Okuhotakadake). It is on the border with Nagano.
- 3 Mt. Nishi-Hotakadake (西穂高岳). This 2,908 m peak is part of Mt. Hotakadake, and climbing it is relatively easy thanks to the cable car from Shin-Hotaka which takes you halfway up. Cable car ¥1500 one way, ¥2800 round trip, ¥300 large packs.
- 4 Shinhotaka Ropeway ((新穂高ロープウェイ Shinhotaka Rōpuwei) (Walk uphill after last bus stop, past Hotel Hotaka), ☏ . The ropeway, from its lower terminal in Shin-Hotaka Onsen, the ropeway climbs 1,033 m, the greatest altitude change of any ropeway in Asia, in two stages to its upper terminal at Nishihihodaka-guchi. The trip takes 20 minutes, during which you’ll travel over 3 km before being deposited at the top. From here, stunning views of the Japanese Alps open in every direction, with hiking paths leading on into the mountains for the more adventurous.
The Hida region is well known for its fatty, well marbled beef and you are practically guaranteed to get a taste of it at dinner. Prices tend to be fairly stratospheric though.
There are plentiful accommodation options in the villages, but most of it is distinctly high-end. Pretty much the only budget option is camping... but, then again, if you're going to splurge one on your Japan trip this is quite possibly the best place to do it. Unless otherwise noted, all prices listed below are per person with two meals included.
- 1 Hotakasou Club Hirayu (穂高荘倶楽部), Okuhidaonsengo Hirayu (In the center of Hirayu Village), ☏ . Check-in: 4PM, check-out: 9AM. Hotakaso Club has a 'nap room' which can be used for overnight stays. The nap room is actually fairly comfortable as each guest is provided with a mattress (on the floor), blanket and pillow. Included in the price is access to the main public bathing area which includes 2 indoor baths, 1 outdoor bath and a wet sauna. There is also restaurant where you can order Japanese food. Reservations required. Closed Sep. 2020 because of COVID-19, no concrete plans for reopening.. ¥1,900.
- 2 Hirayukan (平湯館), 726 Hirayu Onsen (At the end of the bus line in Hirayu), ☏ . Established 1923 and thus one of the older operations around. Gasshozukuri-style building with outdoor rock baths and an indoor hinoki tub. ¥10,000.
- 3 Yari-no-Sato (槍の郷), Nakao 4-8, ☏ . An outstanding little inn featuring no less than 2 indoor and 3 outdoor baths, with all outdoor baths reservable for private use for you and yours. Unlike most lodgings in the area, the rooms here are Western style (beds, not tatami) and the lodge is a Japanese fantasy of a Swiss chalet. ¥13,000.