Toyama is one of the gateways to the Japan Alps with a popular attraction at it’s mountain tops; the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. Heavy snowfall in the winter closes the route and then reopens in the spring. Completely closed to private vehicles, the route is only accessible by using a combination of funicular, buses and cable car.
We went there to see the snow corridor where a maintained road meanders through the thick mountain snow, creating snow walls up to 20 metres tall. Using the final days of our rail pass we had to see this incredible sight with our own eyes so we planned a trip to Toyama.
Toyama city was our base it was easy to get to from Tokyo on the Shinkansen. Tateyama is the start of the Alpine Route (from Toyama it’s a 1 hour train ride) and finishes at Ogizawa Station. The whole route is 23 miles long (37 km) and uses a mix of transport carriers. It takes 6-7 hours to complete the route, this is excluding any transfer times to get to the entry points from the city. The route can be done in reverse from Shinano Omachi station or you can choose how far you want to go in the trail (the price of the ticket increases as you go further). We did the Tateyama to Murado section, with the highest point of the trail reaching 2450m in elevation and a better chance to see the snow walls.
Toyama city itself is worth exploring and more than just a quick stopover for the Alpine Route. It’s a pleasant medium sized city, the roads are tree-lined and the first city we saw in Japan that had dedicated cycle lanes. There are public bicycles you can rent from the multiple docking stations dotted around the city.
In the centre, lies the site of the former Toyama Castle – the building that stands there now is a reconstruction and is surrounded by a beautiful landscape garden and park. Just further down the main road towards the station, another sight worth visiting is the the City Hall Tower with it’s free to access observation floor at the top. On clear days, you will be able to see the snow capped mountains in the distance.
The Canal Park behind the station should not be missed, it’s the perfect place to have wonder, drink coffee and relax. There are two towers by the footbridge which you can go up to the top for the views. The park and it’s surrounding buildings felt like being in a modern university campus, very relaxed and safe.
The nearby Toyama Prefectural Museum of Art & Design is a newly opened museum and has some great art exhibits but it was the rooftop that attracted me – filled with open air art installations that you can interact with.
TATEYAMA KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE
The trip began at Toyama station, we purchased a rail ticket and boarded the local train bound for Tateyama. The journey took one hour, as we left the city the beautiful Toyama countryside comes into view.
When we arrived in Tateyama we collected our pre-booked tickets for the Alpine Route (purchased online a couple of days ago – more on this in Travel Tips.
A funicular train takes us up to Bijodaira and we continue the rest of route by bus. The timing of each mode of transport is carefully synchronised so you can connect at the various stations with ease.
We slowly ascended Mt. Tateyama, weaving through the windy roads and saw the first sightings of a snowy landscape. As we approached Murado the snow became thicker and then we drove through the famous snow corridor. The bus drops us off at the Murado station, where we then spent our time exploring this snowy wonderland.
WHERE TO STAY & EAT
We stayed at the Dormy Inn Hotel in Toyama city, a mile from the main train station. This modern hotel, unexpectedly came with a free to use onsen (brilliant after a long day on the alpine route). There is a 7-Eleven opposite the hotel where you can buy meals and snacks.
At the mountain tops, there are resturants and shops at the station points where you can buy food and drinks.
Gallery Preview below, to see more photos of Tateyama and Toyama city click here
- The snow corridor is opened between April until June. The whole Alpine Route is open until November (by the summer the snow is gone but the mountains come alive with meadow flowers). Please check the official website for up-to-date opening times.
- We had purchased our tickets for the Tateyama to Murado section online a couple of days before arriving at www.alpen-route.com/en/ Booking in advance is recommended particularly if you want an early start and make the most of the daylight as the whole route can demand more than 7 hours (more if you add the transfer times to and from the city).
- You can only purchase day tickets from 12pm at the station counter, but you maybe limited to as far as Murado (particularly if you doing a return trip the same way back) due to the remaining daylight hours.
- Major hotels in Toyama offer luggage forwarding services and deliver your luggage to your next hotel near the end of the alpine route, useful if you are planning a one way trip.
- You are free to spend as much time as you want at each stop and do some hiking in between. But keep an eye on the last buses and trains, and plan accordingly to your chosen time slot.
- Take care in the snow, stick to marked trails and dress wisely – layers recommended. We went in May on a calm sunny day and it wasn’t cold at all.
- Casual shoes and trainers are ok, but they may get wet if you walk in the snowy areas. Walking boots with good waterproofing recommended if you plan to do extended hikes.
- There are information desks at the stations where they can advise where you can hike.
SHORT DAY TRIP TO KANAZAWA
After Toyama we headed towards Kyoto but did a quick stop at Kanazawa along the way. It’s known as a mini Kyoto, with museums, traditional buildings and gardens.