Hakuba Activities & Backcountry Tours

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Hakuba Activities & Backcountry Tours

Hokkaido Explorer Tour

Hakuba Activities  

There are lots of Hakuba activities on offer besides skiing and snowboarding at the resorts. You can visit the Japanese snow monkeys or take a Hakuba backcountry ski tour. There are also lots of other snow related activities and an array of day trips or cultural activities.

Hakuba Backcountry Ski Tours

The Hakuba backcountry is a highlight of the area for those willing to earn their turns. The pinnacle is the Happo backcountry, which has some easy bowls as well as lines of gnar. There are quite a few Hakuba backcountry tour operators, but choose wisely if you want longevity on earth. We’ve seen a couple of tour groups who’ve seemed a little too eager to get out onto the Happo Faces straight after a massive snow storm.

There are various Hakuba backcountry and sidecountry tour operators that offer multi-day tours based in Hakuba, single day tours, or both. They can cater for varying abilities and the distance hiked or skinned, and some rent out backcountry gear if you don’t have your own. These tend to be booked out well in advance, so they’re not just something you can do on a whim once you arrive Hakuba.

Tours often go from the top of Cortina or Tsugaike on stormy days, or Happo-One when the snowpack is adequately settled.

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Hakuba Heli Skiing

Tsugaike used to offer a form of lame heli skiing in the spring, but this activity seems to have been abandoned.

In the past a few charter Hakuba heli ski outfits have started up, considering the phenomenal backcountry terrain. Unfortunately these have been very short lived. The only real heli skiing in Japan remains the Shiribetsu Heli Skiing in Hokkaido.

Hakuba Onsen

Of course, an essential part of any Japanese skiing holiday is to go to one of the onsen (hot springs) to soothe any aching muscles. In this mountainous region of Hakuba, the hot springs flow abundantly. If you’re staying at a hotel with an onsen, it’s a very convenient way to have a soak. Most of these hotels also open the onsen to non-guests for a fee, although there may be restrictions on visiting hours. Examples include the Mominoki Hotel in Wadano, Tokyu Hotel in Wadano, and Ryokan Shirouma-so in Happo.

Sierra Resort Hotel has an upscale onsen that has large indoor baths and a small outdoor bath for each gender that overlooks the snow covered forest. The ice cream and coffee milk on offer post onsen tops off the experience. The Sierra Resort Hotel is located between Tsugaike and Iwatake and is a common stop on bus routes. Non-hotel guests can visit the onsen between from 1 to 4pm.

Happo no yu is a popular public onsen adjacent to the Happo information centre/bus terminal.

The Mimizuku Onsen is a lovely public onsen, especially for its views of the mountains from both the indoor and outdoor baths. It’s located about half way between the Happo bus terminal and the Hakuba train station.

The Hakuba Highland Onsen is east of the Hakuba train station and is a lovely locals’ style onsen.

Onsens such as Juro No-Yu and Tenjin No-ju are off the main drag a little, but offer great views of the mountains that make your soak a little more therapeutic.

See our travel advice page for tips on onsen etiquette which includes not taking a can of beer into the onsen! 

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Japanese Snow Monkeys

There are other Nagano ski resorts that are much closer to the Japanese snow monkeys than Hakuba, yet it’s still possible to do a day trip to see the snow monkeys.

The Jigokudani Monkey Park is where the 200 odd “wild” Japanese snow monkeys warm themselves in the hot springs. The monkeys are used to the tourists, and you’ll be able to get very close to these fascinating monkeys. Make sure you have fully charged batteries on your camera/phone, as there will be endless photo opportunities as the monkeys perform very cute activities such as somersaults in the water. There’s a 25 minute hike each way along a scenic path from the bus parking, so wear sensible shoes.

Alpico Bus run shuttles from the Happo bus terminal to the snow monkeys, although this didn’t operate for the 2022-23 season.

Chuo Taxi provide a door to door transport service to the snow monkeys in a mini bus. It’s expensive, although the mini bus accommodates up to 12 people so it’s financially viable if you have a group.

It’s also possible to get from Hakuba to the snow monkeys using trains between Hakuba and Yudanaka and then a local bus.

Alternatively there are various tour operators that offer snow monkey day trips from Hakuba. A snow monkey tour is often combined with a trip to the Nagano Zenkoji Temple which is very enjoyable. This temple is designated a national treasure and has a very long history, which includes the first Buddha image brought to Japan in the 7th century. As to be expected, you have to take off your shoes in the temple, so wear really warm socks or you’ll get frostbite. The streets surrounding the temple demonstrate “traditional” Japanese architecture and have gorgeous lit lanterns.

There are different combo day trips, and the monkey tour may also include a visit to Obuse, a historic town near Nagano that has a sake brewery.

Other Sightseeing Activities

If you want a break from skiing or boarding, there are various other day tours available where you can take in some history and culture.

One tour (or you can catch the train there) is to see the Matsumoto Castle aka the “crow castle” because of its black exterior. The Matsumoto Castle was built about 400 years ago and is the oldest 5 tiered donjon castle in Japan. The Matsumoto castle tour is commonly combined with a tour of the Daio wasabi farm, which provides an opportunity to taste wasabi in many forms including yummy ice-cream.

There are lots of opportunities in Hakuba for touristy Japanese experiences such as soba noodle making, origami folding, sake tasting, and samarai evenings. Organised cultural experiences include wearing a kimono, Japanese paper craft, and participating in a tea ceremony.

Kids Activities Hakuba

Some of the Hakuba ski resort base areas have snow play parks. For example, Snowland at the Nakiyama base of Happo One has a covered dome magic carpet to provide easy ascents for sledding. Happo One also has a kids park at the Sakka base (that has the beginner ski terrain) that has tubing and trampolines.

Other Hakuba Snow Activities

At Happo-One you can visit the ski jumping stadium and take an elevator up to the top of the jumps to appreciate how crazy the ski jumpers must be. Admission is fairly cheap.

Other snow alternatives can include snowshoe tours or snowmobiling. There’s even a little bit of cross country skiing, with trails maintained at the Snow Harp Olympic Cross Country Stadium to the east of the Sanosaka Ski Resort, and at the Iwatake Snowfield.
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