Tsugaike Nature Park — a must-see place near Hakuba, Nagano (Part 2: Hiking in the high moor)

I recently wrote about the Tsugaike Visitor Center, located near the entrance of Tsugaike Shizen-en (Tsugaike Nature Park). Even though that facility is full of fun activities and is a place I highly recommend you to visit, it’d be a huge shame if you don’t walk around and explore the park itself!

Outside Tsugaike Visitor Center, looking toward the entrance to Tsugaike Shizen-en (Tsugaike Nature Park)

Tsugaike Shizen-en is part of the Chubu-Sangaku Kokuritsu Koen (Chubu-Sangaku National Park), and lies 1,900 to 2,000 meters (approx. 6,230 to 6,560 feet) above sea level. It’s known as one of Japan’s famous high moors, where plants such as sphagnum and cotton grass grow. Because the area is characterized by low temperature and high humidity, these plants do not rot when withered — and instead form peat. New plants then grow over that, raising the ground level. This type of landscape is normally found at higher elevations — over 1,200 meters (approx. 3,940 feet) above sea level in central Japan — with Oze (spanning Gunma, Niigata, Tochigi and Fukushima Prefectures) being the largest and most well-known in Japan.

Choose from several routes

Tsugaike Shizen-en has a 5.5-kilometer (approx. 3.4-mile) trekking route that goes around the park, which takes 3.5 to 4 hours to complete. Although following this route is highly recommended, it might not be an option to some, depending on how much time you can spare and how physically fit you are. If that’s the case, no worries. You have several shorter courses to choose from:

http://sizenen.otarimura.com/en/courseguide.html

Considering the fact that this was to be my first real hiking experience, I was going to opt for one of the shorter courses. But, I ended up switching my mind and deciding to take on a challenge of going around the park.

Seeing a rare flower at Mizubasho marshland

After paying the entrance fee of 300 yen per adult (250 yen per child) at Tsugaike Visitor Center, we set out to explore the park.

The sign at the entrance to Tsugaike Shizen-en

As soon as we entered the park, we saw “Mizubasho,” or Asian skunk cabbage, growing everywhere. I found this English name to be misleading, because the flower actually didn’t smell at all; I prefer to call it “marsh lily,” just like how it’s described in this article.

This flower is popular to the Japanese because of its beauty and rarity. It can only be found in the upland marshes and has a short season — at Tsugaike, it can be seen blooming only in June and July.

We also saw some “Iwana,” or Japanese char, in a stream. The Japanese often eat them grilled, and they taste wonderful.

Toward Cotton grass marshland and onto Ukishima marshland

We followed the wooden path further into the park.

We came across an area where the trees grow slanted due to the snow. We were told that they’re most likely Russian rock birch.

A Japanese blogger, Munesada-san, standing beside the slanted trees

From around this point, we started seeing some snow on the ground. A short time later, we found ourselves trekking on the snow.

In the picture above, you can see a guy holding a hose, with the water gushing out. You can enjoy some fresh meltwater here. It was quite cold, and — for lack of a better word — refreshing. I saw some people filling up their water bottles here too.

We crossed some rivers along the way. It was just after the snowmelt season, so the water was flowing fast.

Tsugaike Shizen-en, like I mentioned in my previous article, is home for hundreds of species of alpine plants and flowers. We saw some edible wild vegetables, such as “Zenmai,” or osmund, along the way.

By this time, we were walking uphill. For the most part, there was a wooden path; there were, however, some areas where you had to walk in the mud. That’s why I recommend you wear trekking shoes, not simple sneakers.

Just before reaching Ukishima marshland, we came upon a viewpoint. In the distance (a bit toward the right in the picture below), we could see the red roof of the old Tsugaike Hutte, located near the entrance to the park.

Upon reaching Ukishima marshland, we were treated to a wonderful view of “Shirouma Sanzan,” a term that collectively describes three famous mountains of the Hakuba area — Mount Shiroumadake (elevation 2,932 meters), Mount Shakushidake (elevation 2,812 meters) and Mount Hakuba Yarigatake (elevation 2,903 meters).

The term “ukishima” directly translates to “floating island.” In the pond pictured below, you can see a small island in middle. It’s difficult to tell from the picture, but I was told that the island is actually floating, hence why the area came to be known as “Ukishima marshland.”

Climbing up to Tenbo marshland

From here, we headed toward Tenbo marshland, the furthest point in the park from the entrance.

The path was no longer out in the open. We were walking in the forest most of the time.

By this time, the elevation was nearly 2,000 meters above sea level — which meant that I easily got short of breath. It’s important that you pace yourself and nourish yourself with water frequently.

We finally reached the highest point in Tsugaike Shizen-en: 2,020 meters above sea level. There was a small observation deck.

The view from here was just gorgeous.

We climbed up and down some more steep steps…

…to reach our final destination: Tenbo marshland. The mountains, unfortunately, were covered with clouds, but you could see in the picture below a mass of snow right behind the trees on the mountain slope. That is Hakuba Daisekkei, one of Japan’s three largest snowy valleys.

What’s surprising is that, even at the elevation of 2,010 meters, we could connect to a Wi-Fi network! We took a short break here to post some great pictures on our SNS accounts.

Heading back

It seemed like it was about to rain, so we hurried our way back to the entrance. This time, we took a different route.

Again, there were some spots that were still covered with snow.

We saw various cute little alpine flowers. Too bad I couldn’t figure out their names…

Walking past Cotton grass marshland toward Mizubasho marshland…

… we came across “Fuhketsu,” or wind caves. It felt cool — a bit chilly, actually — around here, as the cool breeze (apparently, less than 8 degrees Celsius!) came out of these holes.

From these wind caves, we walked for another 10 to 15 minutes when the red roof of the old Tsugaike Hutte came into our view.

After trekking in the mountains and forests for 4 hours and coming back to this place, I had mixed emotions — happy that I’ve finally and safely returned, and a bit perplexed that the hike is suddenly over.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — 
Tsugaike Shizen-en (Tsugaike Nature Park)
Address: 12883–1 Chikuniotsu, Otari-mura, Kitaazumi-gun, Nagano Prefecture
TEL: 0261–83–3113 (Tsugaike Sanso Lodge — the building standing next to the visitor center)
Website:
http://sizenen.otarimura.com/en/index.html
Open period: mid-May to late October
Entrance fee: 300 yen/adult, 250 yen/child

*** I participated in a press tour organized by Otari Shinko Kousha (Otari Development Corporation) and Michi no Eki Otari (Roadside Station Otari) from July 6–8, and am writing about my experiences while on the tour.

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