There are thousands of natural hot springs in Japan, but only one is so famous that visitors travel for four days round-trip only to take a dip and relax. Takamagahara Onsen is known as Japan’s most rural hot spring, and it is tucked away in the Hida Mountains near Toyama.
Only the most determined explorers and hikers will see this rural jewel. The trailhead is almost an hour from the closest settlement, along a quiet road (closed half the year) via mountain tunnels leading to a dam, so tourists feel isolated before they even begin trekking. You’ll need three to four days of hiking (round trip) to reach the hot springs.
The journey to this onsen has to be planned well in advance, and the best time to tackle it is from June to October. This is before the yamagoya huts (for hikers) shut down for the winter, but they can get booked up, too.
You should try this trip with proper planning and at least one seasoned hiker in your party. Tourists to Japan who want to attempt this hike will have to rent a car and drive themselves to the region.
Another alternative is to take the Chitetsu taxi service, which can be a good value for travelers in a group of three or four. Whichever path you take, remember to plan your return trip.
A third way to get to the trailhead is to reserve a seat on one of the few buses from Toyama in advance. Because the online booking system is in Japanese only, it may be more convenient to have someone fluent in Japanese make the phone reservation for you. If successful in making a reservation through the internet, you will be required to make payment for your tickets at a local convenience shop.
Once you start hiking, you’ll make your journey down a river that requires navigating various terrains, from level plateaus to steep wooded walks to rocks to jump over. Although you don’t go to the top of any mountains, the path’s long expanses of open plateaus and sparse tree cover provide some breathtaking views.
Mineral Hot Spring
At an elevation of 2,130 meters, Takamagahara is the third-highest geothermal spring in Japan. The hot springs provide the water for three stone-walled baths that were built along the stream:
- Bijin no Yu is an enclosed bath for ladies.
- Karamatsu no Yu is a covered bath used by males.
- Noyu is a free-for-all mixed genders bath.
The water has a faint sulfur smell and is somewhat hazy, which may make people more comfortable chatting in the mixed bath.
Lodging in yamagoyas
Due to its remote location, camping is possible, but almost everyone recommends staying in the mountain huts geared for hikers called “yamagoyas”. You can book these places ahead of time, and they offer food, shelter, and bathrooms while you’re on your way to the hot springs. While staying there, expect to be around a larger crowd, similar to a hostel environment.
Address: Arimine, Toyama, 930-1458, Japan
Season: June to October