- The Shin-etsu Trail runs along the ridge of the Sekida Mountains, forming the boundary between Nagano and Niigata Prefectures. Located around 1,000m above sea level, it is one of the few long trails of Japan. Historically, there were 16 passages through the mountains that connected Nagano with Niigata (traditionally called Shinano and Echigo, respectively). These passages were used for carrying salt and sea-products from Niigata, and Uchiyama paper and mustard seed oil from Nagano. The famous warlord Kenshin Uesugi is said to have led tens of thousands of his men through these passages to fight the Battle of Kawanakajima. Today, this area is blessed with a rich ecosystem, including magnificent Japanese beech tree forests.
Shin Etsu Trail – Day 1 Arrival and transfer
Tokyo Station depart for Iiyama by Hokuriku Shinkansen, leave luggage at tourist information and explore Iiyama City Downtown, Shonenji temple & Shohuan Temple, pick up luggage and transfer to Madarao Kogen Hotel by hotel shuttle.
Shin Etsu Trail – Day 2 Mt. Madarao to Akaike Pond (via Manzaka Gap and Mt.Hakamadake)
6hr, 8.5km (highest point: 1382m, lowest point: 910m above sea level)
Rewards: Great views can be had to the north and west of Mt Madarao.
Challenges: The first part of section 1 has a long steep ascent & decent of Mt Madarao.
Alternatives: In the case of bad weather or poor visibility, consider just doing the second part of section one from Manzaka Gap, from the point where the trail crosses the road, providing access to Madarao Kogen. This could also suit less able walkers.
Accommodation: in from Madarao Kogen resort, out to Madarao Kogen resort
Although the official start of the trail is from the top of Mt. Madarao, you need to get there first. Most walkers access the trail from the Madarao Kogen resort side of the mountain. Be aware that this access trail is a ski slope, so it is not only exposed to the weather, it is also quite arduous taking more than 60-90min to ascend depending on your strength. However, there are also forested trails from the south and south eastern side of Mt Madarao, which afford more protection from the elements, but require transport to reach. When approaching from the ski slope, there are some great views to be enjoyed.
Start of the Shin Etsu Trail
You will know that you have reached the start of the Shinetsu Trail when you hit a junction in the beech forests at the top of Mt Madarao (1382m) with some posts and signage. Take the short spur 10min west to Daimyojin Peak, which has great views of Lake Nojiri, the Five Peaks of Northern Nagano, and some of the Northern Japan Alps. Retrace your steps back to the junction at Mt Madarao and then take the Shinetsu Trail north, descending the switchback route to Manzaka Gap. Although you are walking down a ski slope, there are some excellent views and a few sheltered places on the way down where you can break for lunch.
When you reach the road at Manzaka Gap, the trail continues on the other side through beautiful Japanese beech and birch forests over a hill to the Hakama Wetlands, which you will pass through before talking a turn to the left to ascend Hakama Peak (1135m), which you should reach in less than 60min. From the summit of Hakama Peak, there is a great view of Mt Myoko to the west, and the space here makes it a great place to stop for a break. Next, descend to Akaike pond through a pleasant switchback trail. Keep following the signs to Akaike pond as there are a number of paths intersecting the trail in this area. There are bathrooms and a parking space at Akaike pond.
Shin Etsu Trail – Day 3 – Akaike Pond to Wakui (via Numanohara Wetland and Mt. Kenashi)
6hr, 10.7km (highest point: 1022 m, lowest point: 563m above sea level)
Access: Enter directly by road from Akaike pond. Exit directly by road from Wakui Village.
Alternatives: Section 2 is the easiest of all sections, however, less able walkers may want to arrange for transport to collect you from Numanohara wetlands. It has good links to Madarao Kogen and Iiyama City.
Accommodation: in from Madarao Kogen, out to Togari Onsen
From Akaike, walk over a small hill and through the beech forest to Numanohara Wetlands, which blossom with flowers after the spring thaw, but is very pleasant at any time of year. There are various trails through here, but once you have explored the wetlands, aim for the northern side, where there are bathrooms and a parking lot. Make your way up another small hill towards Lake Nozomi. From the top of the hill, Mt. Madarao, Hakama Peak and even Mt. Myoko can be seen on a clear day. Descending along the trail, you will pass through a lovely forest before coming to the boat pier of Lake Nozomi, from where Mt. Madarao can be seen casting a reflection over the water on windless days. This is a good place to have lunch.
Climb to the top of Mt Kenashi 1022m
There is a bathroom near the entrance to the Mt. Kenashi climb. The climb to the top (1022m) takes about 30-40min and brings you to a superb view over the Iiyama Basin. You will then descend through the larch forest to the pond, known as Wakui Shin-ike. From there, continue down along the farm road. There is a small gully with some spring water off the trail, the perfect treat for an exhausted hiker. It is an easy walk down the farm road, where it comes out onto route 292 in Wakui Village, but it does take around 60min. There is a car park on the right.
Shin Etsu Trail – Day 4 – Wakui to Hotokegamine Tozanguchi (via Tomikura Gap, Lake Sobu, Mt.Kuroiwa and Katsura Pond)
7hr, 12.7km (highest point: 938m, lowest point: 563m above sea level)
Access: Enter directly by road from Wakui Village. Exit from Hotokegamine Tozanguchi by walking down the ski-slope trail to the ski-lift base by the Takahara Restaurant (open in winter only). You can arrange road transport from here.
Alternatives: Less able walkers may want to skip the last part, by arranging transport to collect you from route 411 at Katsuraike Pond. This road links well to Togari Onsen.
Accommodation: in from Togari Onsen, out to Togari Onsen
The trail starts from route 292 in Wakui with a 60min climb up to Tomikura Gap through a mixture of native forest and cedar plantation. It is a pleasant route, some of which is used by local people foraging for mushrooms and mountain vegetables. Tomikura Gap was once a well-used point of trade and commerce between Shinano and Echigo, and you can see stone remnants of the road where it crosses the Shinetsu Trail. Further up, there is a historical site called Taishojin, where Kenshin Uesugi (The warlord of Echigo in the 16th century) set up a lookout to keep an eye over Iiyama and Kita Gap territories. If you scramble up to the ridge above the trail, you will find a small shrine dedicated to the horses and cows that passed away helping Usesugi’s samurai army. The trail continues by a reservoir called Lake Sobu, where there is a small shrine by the water, and then onwards towards Mt. Kuroiwa. There is a sharp drop into a gully, and up the other side before reaching a shelter and view point that is ideal for lunch. The final climb up to Mt Kuroiwa (911m) is just a little further along, with a sharp ascent required.
National monument of Japan
The whole mountain is listed as a natural monument of Japan, being a rare habitat area for both Gifu Butterflies and Hime Gifu Butterflies, as well as the frog species, Rhacophorus arboreus (called “moriaogaeru” in Japanese). Within the beautiful Japanese beech forest, there is a vista that overlooks the Iiyama Basin. In the area surrounding Lake Katsura, where skunk cabbages bloom during springtime, there is a natural spring called, Taro Shimizu.
From Hiramaru Gap, walk along the western bank of Lake Nakafuruike. Walk past the Kitafuruike Wetlands on the forestry road, coming to an open space where you will find a Shinetsu Trail signboard. From this point, the trail enters a national forest, where there are many short ups and downs. Walk through the cedar forest, and cross over a few muddy gullies, to eventually arrive at the last steep ascent up to Hotokegamine Tozanguchi. This is the top of one of the slopes of the Togari Ski Resort and the end of section 3. A beautiful view opens here looking across to Nozawa Onsen, with the aging ski resort infrastructure providing novel foreground footage. Section 4 continues up from here, but to reach Togari Onsen, follow the gravel road 20min down the skip slope to the restaurant (closed in summer) and car park, from where you can be collected.
Shin Etsu Trail – Day 5 – Hotokegamine Tozanguchi to Sekida Gap (via Ozawa Gap and Mt. Nabekura)
6hr, 8.2km (highest point: 1288m, lowest point: 830m above sea level)
Access: Enter by road from the ski-lift base near the Takahara Restaurant, and walk up the ski-slope trail to Hotokegamine Tozanguchi. Exit directly by road from Sekida Gap.
Alternatives: There are no alternative access points into section 4, so if you are feeling tired, this section may be the one to skip.
Accommodation: in from Togari Onsen, out to Nabekura Kogen.
From section 4, you are taken further away from civilisation into wilder terrain than the proceeding sections. To reach Hotokegamine Tozanguchi, where section 4 begins, you must first walk up the ski slope to the track head. It takes approximately 30min to reach this point, and then from there, the trail sharpens as it ascends through the beech forests to Hotokegamine Peak (1146m). It takes about 1hr30min to achieve the top from Hotokegamine Tozanguchi, so all up you have a spectacular yet arduous 2hr climb to start the day. Fortunately though, you will get a beautiful outlook over Nabekura Kogen and Iiyama Valley from here. After going up and down a few hills, you will arrive at Ozawa Gap. If you go down the Niigata side, you will come to Lake Yoshihachi, and if you go down the Nagano side, you will come to Tondaira Slope of the Togari Ski Resort.
Gorgous 100 year old beach forest
The trail will then lead you through a beautiful 100 year-old beech forest, a lovely spot to break for lunch. The climb to Mt. Nabekura (1288m) involves many narrow ridges, so caution is needed, particularly in the case of bad weather. The climb to the top can be a bit strenuous, but the effort will be well rewarded by the view of Mt. Myoko, Mt. Hiuchi and the majestic Chikuma River winding through Iiyama Basin. It is just a short leap over to Mt. Kurokura (1242m), where you will see the Sea of Japan. Pass by Dogata Gap, and then finally descend to Sekida Gap where there is a parking space. On the Niigata side, there is a Shientsu Trail visitors center, called Green Pal Kogenso, where trail information is available. Near Sekida Gap, there is a pond called Chayaike. There is also a bathroom and a rest house.
Shin Etsu Trail – Day 6 – Sekida Gap to Busuno Gap (via Maki Gap and Utsunomata Gap)
6hr, 12.4km (highest point: 1140m, lowest point: 970m above sea level)
Access: Enter directly by road from Sekida Gap. Exit directly by road from Busuno Gap.
Alternatives: For less able walkers, there is an access road with a car park midway at Maki Gap. This road links well to Nabekura Kogen “Mori-no-ie”, making it an excellent alternative start or finish point.
Accommodation: in from Nabekura Kogen, out to Nabekura Kogen
Tent site: None. Continue walking an additional 7km to Nonomi Gap in section 6 (prepare for 20km total walk day). Nonomi Kogen, Y1000 / person (20min from Nonomi Gap, 10min to Misaka Gap).
Section 5 is one of the wilder parts of the Shinetsu Trail. Although when taking first glance at a topographic map, it can look deceptively flat, your walk will reveal many short sharp ups and downs, making this section one of the toughest. However, it rewards walkers with its gorgeous bounty of nature. The area is dotted with seasonal flowers and fungi, as well as young beech trees bent by the weight of winter snow.
Sekida Gap to Maki Gap
From Sekida Gap, it takes about 2hr15min to reach Maki Gap, and on a clear day, you can see the Sea of Japan and Sado Island. Maki Gap is also a well-known point from which to spot the rare Japanese Golden Eagle; and you are likely to see a number of photographers there set up with awesome kit. From Maki Gap, it is a relatively sharp 40min ascent up the ridge to Mt. Hanatate (1069m), where a breathtaking view unfolds and a great spot for lunch.
Continue on, walking past Utsunomata Gap to find Maboroshi-no-ike, Lake of the Phantom. Surrounded by a native beech forest, Maboroshi-no-ike is about 300m round and is a spawning ground for moriaogaeru (the frog species Rhacophorus arboreus) and Japanese black salamanders. You will start to see Mt. Hishigatake, a Niigata landmark, as you approach Busuno Gap with the walk from Maboroshi-no-ike to Busono Gap taking about 80min.
Shin Etsu Trail – Day 7 – Busuno Gap to Mt. Amamizu (via Sugawa Gap, Nonomi Gap and Misaka Gap)
6hr, 12.65km (highest point: 1151m, lowest point: 1015m above sea level)
Access: Enter directly by road from Busuno Gap. Exit by trail to Matsunoyamaguchi (45min), or Tsunanguchi (1hr), or Sakaeguchi (2hr30min), from where transport can collect you.
Alternatives: At Misaka Gap, there is an access road crossing the trail that links with Matsunoyama Onsen on the north side, and Hirataki Station on the south side. From Misaka Gap, it is about 1hr45min walk to the end of the trail at Mt Amamizu.
Accommodation: in from Nabekura Kogen, out to various points: north to Matsunoyama Onsen (nearest), east to Tsunan, south to Sakae
This is the final section of the Shinetsu Trail leading to Mt. Amamizu, the northern endpoint. It is also one of the most aesthetically rewarding. This part of the trail is almost entirely shrouded in beautiful beech forests, with many viewpoints over the Niigata Delta.
Ancient Meiji path
From Busuno Gap, you will make you way up to Sagawa Gap in around 45min. You will see the old Meiji period path crossing over here. Then continue towards Nonomi Gap. About 1km before reaching there, you will see the delightful Nishimado Wetlands just off the trail. Be aware that access to the wetlands is restricted due to the presence of protected wetland plants. From Nonomi Gap, a forestry road leads you past Lake Nonomi to Misaka Gap, which is a great rest spot with a nice view. The final 1hr45min to 2hr of walking between Misaka Gap and Mt Amamizu, taking you over Mt Sanpodake (1138m), is particularly pretty. The trail meanders in and out of the Beech trees with some great views to be had to the north and south. Reaching the peak of Mt. Amamizu (1088m), you can gaze out at the landscape of Tsunan, comparing it to that of Madarao from the first day of your trek. You have reached the end of your journey and if you started from Mt Madarao, you have accomplished the Shinetsu Trail in its entirety!
To exit the Shinetsu Trail, you have three options. The nearest transport point is at Matsunoyamaguchi to the north. it takes about 45min to reach, but you also have the option of heading for Tsunan in the east (1hr), or Sakae to the south (2hr30min).
Shin Etsu Trail – Day 8 – Departure for Tokyo(B)
After breakfast check-out of your accommodation transfer to JR Togari Nozawaonsne Station for JR train to JR Iiyama Station then change for Shinkansen to Tokyo or beyond
Shin Etsu Trail – Accommodation:
All accommodation is depending on standard required however from small family run Japanese Inn (Minshuku) to commercial larger Japanese Inns (Ryokan) all offer meals and some offer pre purchased lunch packs, meal requests ie vegetarian etc can be accommodated. Most accommodations have their own Japanese hot spring (onsen) which all in all provides and magnificent Japanese cultural experience. Some accommodation has shared bathrooms others private.
Shin Etsu Trail – Food:
All food along the Shin Etsu Trail is Japanese style, meal requests can be made. Shin Etsu Trail is a great place to enjoy the delicious traditional cuisine of the Japanese countryside and mountains.
Shin Etsu Trail – Inclusions
Inclusions for your private Shin Etsu Trail journey is 7 nights accommodation twin share being along the Nagano/NiiGatta region staying in traditional Japanese style & western style accommodation dinner and breakfast daily as itinerary, lunch packs where available, GPS track set up with your Android or Apple device (no data required) full indepth breifing on arrival at Liyama prior to the walk and full information pack on travelling Japan and what to pack etc
Shin Etsu Trail – Luggage Transfers
Luggage transfers can be arranged, average of each transfer is about $17 yes you can skip a couple of nights or just send on each day, luggage transfers in Japan are both safe and efficient and highly recommended for those not used to carrying a light backpack. Assitance will be given on what to take and how to pack.
Shin Etsu Trail – Prices
From $1990 per person twin share
Prices as per inclusions above. All prices are based on two walkers sharing accommodation twin share. All prices subject to currency fluctuations, availability and change. Please contact us for a quote.
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