Distance: 23.3 km
Elevation change: 1095 metres
Highest point: 1955 metres
Start: Aoyagi Station (Chuo Main Line)
Finish: Fujimi Station (Chuo Main Line)
Map: Yama to Kogen Chizu 山と高原地図 ［No.42 北岳・甲斐駒 KITA-DAKE·KAIKOMA］
Best-in-class Hiking for Families, Beginners, and Adventure Seekers
Mt. Nyukasa lies at the north end of the Southern Alps in Nagano Prefecture though technically falls outside the Minami Alps National Park. Normally climbed as a leisurely day hike but can also be tackled as an overnighter with two campgrounds below the summit. The mountain is famed for its flowers which bloom from spring thru autumn in the Nyukasa Marsh and Wild Lily of the Valley (Suzuran). In the winter, the mountain slopes become the ‘Fujipara’ ski resort.
Day 1: Skip the Gondola and ‘Hike Like a Boss’ (11 km)
If you’re doing this as a day hike get off at Fujimi Station 富士見駅 and take the free Fujimi Panorama Shuttle Bus 富士見パノラマリゾート outside the exit which drops you at the lower gondola station. Departs daily from 10:00 with the last return bus leaving the lower gondola station at 15:00. For those coming by car there is a large carpark at the Sawairi trailhead 沢入登山口 for an out-and-back piston climb. If you’re after a little adventure I recommend hiking this mountain ‘like a boss’ directly from the Chuo Main Line. For starters you’ll meet next to no one as extremely few hikers start out from Aoyagi or Suzurannosato stations, you get to partake in lovely lowland forest as well as bask in the glory of having climbed near on 1,100 metres in vertical elevation.
To avoid the heat and ‘3Cs’ I took a 05:30 local train from Kokubunji Station, transferred once at Takao and arrived at Aoyagi Station 青柳駅 approximately 3 hours later (2,490 yen). The train was thankfully sparsely patronised. After exiting the station head across the Miyagawa River turn right past the liquor store and an old wooden building which looks straight out of the Taisho period. Cross the main highway and start snaking your way up the back streets. After 15 mins you should come across a faded sign 入笠山登山口コース motioning you up a 4WD track. The trail isn’t very well signposted so carry a handheld or smartphone enabled GPS.
Another 15-minutes of walking brings you to the trailhead proper. To say the start of the trail is overgrown would be a vast understatement. For the first 100 metres or so prepare to battle through a green wall of foliage. Mercifully, it soon peters out and becomes much easier to follow. At regular intervals, the trail crosses a vehicular road that winds its way up the mountainside. After another hour of walking you’ll arrive at a derelict mountain hut. A seemingly idyllic spot but evidently too far from the main tourist haunt to survive. Sit on the inviting log outside the cabin for an opportune rest stop.
When you’re ready to head off stick to the vehicular road as you steadily make headway towards the Nyukasa Marsh 入笠湿原. Along the way you’ll pass several mountain huts most of which were closed on this particular weekend. Only the Yamabiko and Manaslu lodges at the trailhead were open. Feeling pooped out from summer heat I headed directly to the Nyukasa House 入笠JAハウス campground a 25-minute walk away.
Upon arrival the owner asked if I had made a reservation to which I replied I hadn’t. At first, he grumbled “no reservation no stay” after some gentle persuasion he relented and pointed to a clearing away from the main shaded campground (1,500 yen). Rather fortuitous as a large group set up base camp and weren’t shy in making their presence known. A timely reminder to ring ahead during this time of COVID-19. If you’re planning to camp on a weekend, you’d probably fair better staying at the small campground behind Restaurant Koyoken 紅葉軒 (2,000 yen) adjacent to the Mt. Nyukasa trailhead. As cattle graze in the area it’s recommended to either boil or treat the water at the campground.
In the late afternoon I returned to the Mt. Nyukasa trailhead for the short 30-minute climb to the summit (1,955 m). Halfway up you can choose from two paths which lead to the top. Fine weather provides a commanding 360-degree panorama spanning the Southern, Central and Northern Alps taking in 22 of Kyuya Fukada’s auspicious Nihon Hyaku-meizan.
Day 2: Meadows, Mountain Ridges, and Idyllic Grazing Scenery (12.3 km)
I woke up early, broke camp, and did a quick meishi exchange with the owner, to my surprise he even asked me to return in the autumn! First mission was dropping by the Nyukasa Marsh and wandering around the elevated board walks. Rather than repeating the route from the previous day I decided instead to shoot for Fujimi Station. The hiking trail down to the Sawairi trailhead which begins at the marsh is quite nice with the serenity only punctuated by the steady stream of day trippers heading up.
When you reach the carpark turn left and begin approximately 8 km of roadside walking to Fujimi Station. There wasn’t too much traffic and it’s well shaded. After the final long hairpin turn, veer left just above the Takechi River. When you reach Fujimi Park head right and make your way over to the station. This last part is somewhat convoluted so best navigated using your smartphone or handheld GPS.