Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route, one of most spectacular sightseeing route in Northern Japan Alps

Famous snow wall is almost same height as 10 stories building. (C) Jonathan Ayre

This post is written by Mr. Jonathan Ayre. He is one of the frequent visitors. He offered me some images, writing articles such as Managing baggage during trip, Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine. I would like to thank you again, Jonathan for sharing your experience.

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The Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route is one of Japan’s famous sightseeing routes. It passes through the Japanese Alps to a height of 2450m above sea level, and often snows well into May and begins to snow in October. The Alpine Route includes famous places such as Kurobe Dam, Japan’s highest dam and Murodo, featuring the famous 20m high snow walls. There are also opportunities to experience natural surrounds, go skiing, and stay at resorts high in the mountains.

The Alpine Route only operates from mid-April to the end of November. Conditions are cold in spring and autumn and cool in summer. The area around Murodo is one of the the snowiest in Japan, and Kurobe Dam is equally spectacular in summer and autumn. As a destination, it is a great place to travel either through from Matsumoto to Toyama, or as a round trip from either city.

Orientation of Alpine Route


View Alpine Route in a larger map

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route official website

The Alpine Route runs from Toyama Station, in Toyama Prefecture, through to Shinano-Omachi Station in Omachi, Nagano Prefecture, on the JR Oito Line. The route consists of eight individual transport components, and a 15 minute walk. The cost for a full one-way trip is just over 10,500 yen and can take anywhere from 6 to 9 hours, depending on your pace and how busy each transport mode is. You can do the Alpine Route from either direction or even loop from one side to the major points and back to the starting point again.

Unfortunately, the entire route is private and no section is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. The most convenient ticket is a combination ticket that saves a bit, and is valid from Toyama all the way through to Ogizawa (second last station), and gives you your cablecar reservation. If coming from Shinano-Omachi you need to take the bus to Ogizawa, where you can buy your combination ticket to Toyama.

There is a convenient baggage forwarding service if you are travelling in one direction, allowing you to drop your bags at Dentetsu-Toyama Station (the private line station) or select hotels in Toyama City, and pick them up at a kiosk attached to Shinano-Omachi Station at the other end. From Matsumoto, you will have to bring your bags to the same kiosk at Shinano-Omachi Station to get them transported to Toyama. The service is very affordable and the staff are happy to help with your luggage. (link for baggage forwarding)

Toyama Chiho Railway

Toyama Chiho Railway Tateyama line goes along Jouganji river near Tateyama station. (C) Jonathan Ayre
Toyama Chiho Railway is a private railway company in Toyama. JR Pass do not cover this train service.

From Toyama, you start by taking the private Toyama Chiho Tateyama Line (staff are happy to direct you) from Toyama to Tateyama Station (about one hour). The trains are generally local but there is the occasional rapid service. From Tateyama, head upstairs to the gates for the cable car. If you don’t have a combination ticket you will need to purchase a ticket for the cablecar. Tickets are reserved for a time so be sure not to miss it. The cablecar will take you to Bijoudira Station, and takes about 10 minutes.

Tateyama Cablecar and Highland Bus

Tateyama Cablecar at Tateyama station (C) Jonathan Ayre

When you arrive at Bijoudaira, you will have to change to a bus. The buses are relatively frequent, but often busy, and depart when filled. If it is busy, you may have to wait, but it will give you an opportunity to stretch your legs outside, and a good chance to relax if you are taking it slow. The bus from Bijoudaira to Murodo takes just under an hour, and if you’re in the right season, will drive straight through the famous snow walls, and pass through 1500m of elevation and a pleasant forest view along the way. When you arrive at Murodo, you have the chance to walk a small section of the snow walls yourself, and experience being surrounded by up to twenty metres of snow! Murodo is also the highest point of the Alpine Route, at about 2450m.

Tateyama Trolleybus, Tateyama Ropeway and Kurobe Cablecar

View from Tateyama Trolleybus (C) Jonathan Ayre
In summer season, it is packed at Daikanbo station. (C) Jonathan Ayre

From Murodo, you walk into the mountain for the Tateyama Trolleybus, one of only two trolleybuses left in Japan. This electrified bus runs entirely inside Mount Tateyama through to Daikanbo Station, gateway to Kurobe Dam, in only 15 minutes. Exiting the trolleybus, you can change soon after to the Tateyama Ropeway to descend to the dam. Daikanbo Station is only small, and consists of only a waiting room and souvenir shop.

View from Tateyama Ropeway (C) Jonathan Ayre

The ropeway is unique in not having a support tower in the middle, making for a panoramic experience as you descend almost 500m to Kurobedaira Station in only 7 minutes. Once you arrive at Kurobedaira Station, you change again to the Kurobe Cablecar, Japan’s only all underground cablecar, for another 400m descent to arrive finally at Kurobe Dam.

Kurobe Dam

Kurobe Dam is sometimes called Kuroyon Dam. Means Kuro(=Kurobe) yon (=4) because it is Kurobe River No.4 hydro powerplant.
Breathtaking valley view from Kurobe Dam. (C) Jonathan Ayre

Kurobe Dam is another scenic spot on the Alpine Route. Japan’s highest dam at an elevation of 1500m, the damn walk reveals an amazing construction looking down over the river and valley and is famous for its autumn colours. A 15-minute walk across the dam leads to a rest house, access to an observatory, and a lower deck walk on the mountainside near the dam, as well as access to the Kanden Trolleybus for the descent to Ogizawa Station. With less frequent departures of the trolleybus, Kurobe Dam is the perfect place to enjoy a meal and take a walk around this amazing combination of nature and engineering.

Ogizawa to Shinano-Omachi and Matsumoto

After the 15 minute trip to Ogizawa, there is only one more change before arriving at Shinano-Omachi Station on the JR Oito Line. Exiting the trolleybus, simply go downstairs and exit to find the bus platform for the bus to Shinano-Omachi (some buses go to Nagano, too). Here is where the combination ticket ends, so you’ll have to get a new ticket (1,480 yen) from Ogizawa to Shinano-Omachi Station. The final trip takes 40 minutes, and at Shinano-Omachi Station you can get frequent connections to Matsumoto and Tokyo, or less frequent connections to Minami-Otari and Itoigawa.

188 thoughts on “Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route, one of most spectacular sightseeing route in Northern Japan Alps”

  1. Good day Takeshi san!

    After our Kansai-Hiroshima-Himeji-Kobe trip 2 years ago, we will be back in Japan in 2020 for our TOKYO-HOKKAIDO trip.

    We thank you so much for your help during our last trip and looking forward to more suggestions and advice from you for our next Japan getaway!
    This early, I am already starting to do researches for our forthcoming trip.
    We plan to go maybe EARLY JUNE; for approximately 14 days TOKYO-HOKKAIDO.
    We will be arriving at Narita International Airport.

    Tour Tokyo first-
    Do day trips to Mt. Fuji Hakone, Lake Ashi and some more places
    Then travel to Hokkaido. Tour the popular spots of Hokkaido.
    Not sure if we will depart via Tokyo again or Hokkaido.

    I wrote my comment in this page (Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route page) because I would like to ask if we can include this place in our trip. Is it doable?

    And another very impt. question, what pass is the best for our trip?
    JR 7 day pass?
    Hokkaido Rail Pass 7 days?
    Pls advice.

    Thank you so much, Takeshi-san!

    Best regards,
    Ann

    1. Hi Ann san,

      Before you choose the pass, you have to make sure the following things:

      1. Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
      You can include this trip. Actually you can do it as even day trip from Tokyo. Please see the link below:
      https://jprail.com/destinations/chubu-area/sample-itinerary-of-day-trip-to-kurobe-tateyama-alpine-route-from-tokyo.html

      Of course if you can stay overnight there, it’s much easier.
      If you include this trip, your choice is JR pass or JR East Pass Nagano Niigata + extra fare.
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-visitors/jr-east-pass-niigata-and-nagano-flex-5-days-pass-in-14-days-period-to-cover-kanto-region-nagano-and-niigata.html

      I cannot say which one is your choice, JR pass or JR East Pass Nagano Niigata. It depends on how you get Hokkaido.
      If you don’t include this trip, JR pass may not be your choice. You don’t need JR East Pass either.

      2. How you get Hokkaido?
      Do you think you get there by a domestic flight? Do you take the train? If you take the train, please see the link below:
      https://jprail.com/destinations/hokkaido-area/how-to-get-sapporo.html

      If you are okay, you have three choices.
      a. JR Pass (Alpine route + Hokkaido)
      b. JR East South Hokkaido Rail Pass (No alpine route and only visit southern Hokkaido area only)
      https://jprail.com/destinations/hokkaido-area/jr-east-south-hokkaido-rail-pass-user-guide-perfect-deal-for-the-travelers-who-visit-tokyo-and-sapporo-by-train.html

      If you don’t go to Hokkaido by the train, your choice is JR East Pass Nagano Niigata + Hokkaido Rail Pass (Alpine route + Hokkaido)

      So at this point, there are many choices. And you may use Hakone Free Pass. So you don’t need to include Hakone by JR Pass or other pass duration.
      https://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/1to3-days/how-to-build-the-trip-plan-to-hakone-various-sample-itineraries-of-hakone.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Thanks for the quick reply, Takeshi san 🙂

        “1. Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
        You can include this trip. Actually you can do it as even day trip from Tokyo.”

        – – That’s awesome! If we do this day tour, do we still need to go back to Tokyo? Can’t we just travel from there towards Hokkaido?

        “2. How you get Hokkaido?
        Do you think you get there by a domestic flight? Do you take the train?”

        – – What is the better option? May I hear the suggestion of an expert?
        I came across this in my reading:
        “By train. Take the JR Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto (4 hours) and transfer to the Hokuto limited express to Sapporo (3.5 hours). The entire one way trip costs around 27,000 yen and takes around eight hours. It is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass and JR East South Hokkaido Rail Pass.”

        Does that mean the JR 7day Pass (worth 29,000 yen) is so worth it if we travel by TRAIN?!
        At what point in our travel can we start using the JR Pass?

        Is it advisable to stay in Hakodate for maybe a day first, then travel to Sapporo the next day so as not to be travelling continuously for 8 hrs?! Is Hakodate worth staying for a day?
        By the way, we plan to visit the other cities of Hokkaido too. Not just Sapporo.

        Thanks Takeshi san.

        Best regards,
        Ann

        1. Hi Ann san,

          1. You cannot go to Hokkaido from Alpine route. You have to go back to Tokyo anyway. The directions of Hokkaido and Alpine route are completely different.

          2. I cannot say which one is better if you want to compare the costs. The flight fare is always varied by the availability and seasonality. But the flight is faster. So if you want to move quicker, the flight is better choice.

          I also cannot say that 7-day is enough to cover your trip or not. You have to decide where you go and how many days you stay in each places. If you spend only 7 days for Alpine route and Hokkaido, and take a train to get Hokkaido, you can use 7-day pass.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

          1. Thanks Takeshi san!

            We plan to spend around 14 days for our TOKYO-HOKKAIDO Trip with Day Tours in between.

            If ever we decide to travel by land from Tokyo, are there places to see and worth visiting en route to Hokkaido so we can include those places in our itinerary?

            Looking forward to our upcoming trip.

            Best regards,
            Ann

              1. Thank you so much Takeshi san.

                I will do a more thorough research then message you every once in a while for my questions. Hope you can bear with me.

                Best regards,
                Ann

  2. Hi Takeshi San,

    Thank you for all the information you provide. We will be in Japan for two weeks and have purchased the two week JR rail pass. We will be in Takayama for two days in April (1st and 2nd). The first day we would like to visit the city of Takayama and the second day we would like to visit Shin Hotaka ropeway, Hirayu Onsen, Mt. Norikuradake/Alpine Route.

    My questions are:
    1) What is the best way to optimize our time in Takayama?
    2) We will be taking the Nohi bus to visit Shirakawa-go and Kanazawa and then take JR – Thunderbird to Kyoto.
    3) What is the best pass that suits our plan in the Takyama/Shirakawa-go/Kanazawa?
    4) Will the Alpine route be open during April 1st and 2nd?
    5) will we be able to see Mt. Norikuradake?

    I thank you in advance for your responses.

    Sincerely
    Madhu

  3. Hi,

    My family and I will arrive at Narita Airport on 15th April 2019 and we are planning for day trip visit to Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route on 16th or 17th April 2019 and staying at Tokyo for the next 5 days. Should we purchase JR Hokuriku Arch Pass or just pay for single fare (Tokyo to Nagano and Toyama to Tokyo). I’m asking this because I found out that single fare is actually cheaper than the pass.

    Thanks!

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