The Hakuba Valley is located at the bottom of one of the highest sections of the Japanese Alps, which makes it unsurprising that it is home to seven different ski resorts (read my skiing post here). It is quite a spread out valley – a number of smaller villages, rather than one concentrated township. Consequently there are a number of areas you can stay in and explore, with many different accommodation and food options available at each. It is also quite a popular area in the summer – the gondolas around provide access to a number of beautiful hikes.
Where to stay
As mentioned above there are quite a few different areas where you can stay. I loved our accommodation – we stayed at the Hakuba Powder Lodge, located just on the end of Echoland, just back from the Main Olympic Road. There was a bus stop just outside, there was a mass of eateries within about a 15 minute radius, and the supermarket wasn’t too far either. Nick and Hiro are super lovely and accommodating hosts, and the lodge has a cosy, social and relaxed vibe. It also has quite a loyal following – we were often surprised at peoples reactions to this only being our first time in Japan.
If I were to stay elsewhere I would probably choose Echoland itself, mainly because of the food options available, but also because the main street just had such a ‘winter wonderland’ feel about it, which I absolutely adored. Staying near a bus stop is ideal if you don’t have a car (it makes access to ski resorts so easy) but also staying at the base of one of the resorts, such as Happo-One Ski Resort would ensure a lively vibe, as there is inevitably always going to be people about.
What to do (besides ski of course!)
No matter how much of a snow bunny you are, it is reasonable to expect that you’ll want a few days off from the slopes, just to recover and see some of the nearby sights.
There are two popular day trips to be had from Hakuba: one is to visit the snow monkeys up in Yudanaka, and the other is Matsumoto to see the castle (you can review that post here). The ‘official‘ snow monkey tour costs about $NZD 150 per person, and includes lunch and a tour of Zenkoji temple as well as visiting the monkeys. Alternatively you can plan the trip yourself for much cheaper, but it involves first getting to Nagano and then transferring to another train. We had planned to do the second option, until we got a fresh dumping of snow in Hakuba and opted to hit the slopes again instead. Visiting the snow monkeys is totally a trip worth enquiring about though, because people do say it is fantastic.
Closer to Hakuba itself is the Hakuba Brewery. Unfortunately due to all the national holidays occurring during our stay, it was always closed when we tried to go, but we did get to eat at the Hakuba Brew Pub (read about that in my food post here) and we drank more than enough of the Hakuba Brewery Beer.
If you are walking around the area, two quite cool spots to stop in at are the Olympic sign and the Hakuba Jumping Stadium. The Olympic sign is located on Olympic Road, a kilometre or two up the road from where we stayed at the Powder Lodge, but about a half hour walk from Echoland.
The Jumping Stadium is right next door to Happo-One Ski resort, and it is possible to catch a chairlift up between the two ramps. It is quite amazing to see, and thinking about people racing down that massive ramp and hurtling through the air – petrifying!
Onsens and massages are popular ways to unwind after an exhausting day skiing. At the end of an active day, relaxing in an onsen may be just the cure for those sore muscles and tired legs, and most of the onsen in this area come with some terrific views. Although I didn’t actually visit Mimizuku-no-yu myself, it is supposed to be one of the best. There is also an onsen onsite at Cortina Ski Resort.