Escape the tourist trail with a trip to Nagano Prefecture's biggest lake - Suwa-ko - Waku Waku

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Escape the tourist trail with a trip to Nagano Prefecture's biggest lake - Suwa-ko

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Escape the tourist trail with a trip to Nagano Prefecture's biggest lake - Suwa-ko

Within easy reach of Tokyo, this mountainous region boasts areas of natural beauty and stunning scenery.

Claire

Claire

Published on 25 Dec 2021, 12:00

For most visitors to Japan, there are plenty of must-see destinations on their itinerary. Of course, everyone wants to stroll through the temples of Kyoto, see the Tokyo cityscape from the top of the Tokyo Skytree or surge through the crowds at Shibuya Scramble Crossing.

But for your next trip to Japan, why not try something a little off the beaten path and break away from usual tourist sites to see more of the hidden beauty that Japan has to offer?

Nagano Prefecture is located within easy reach of Tokyo, with plenty of trains and busses carrying visitors to this beautiful mountainous region. I made the city of Matsumoto my base for this trip, which allowed easy access to many areas of natural beauty.

Travelers' tip: the JR East Nagano & Niigata rail pass costs ¥18,000 and allows for five consecutive days of travel in those areas, including on some Shinkansen bullet trains, and is great value if you plan to tour the area for a longer time. Visit the JR East website for full details.

From Matsumoto Station, I took a 45-minute train journey (or you can try 25 minutes on the more expensive express train) through the countryside which brought me to Kami-Suwa station, which I chose as the starting point for my plan to complete the Suwa-ko circuit.

The lake is 16km in circumference with a fully paved path all around and plenty of rest spots for picnicking and taking in the views.

There were beautiful mountain views in all directions from the shores of Suwa-ko.
There were beautiful mountain views in all directions from the shores of Suwa-ko.

Rental bicycles are available or you can walk or run the route too. The course is divided into sections with convenient markers to indicate every time you complete a kilometer and maps showing your position on the lake, so it's impossible to lose your way. The signs even show how much energy you are burning in the form of onigiri rice balls!

The helpful signs around the lake showed how much energy I was burning in the form of onigiri.
The helpful signs around the lake showed how much energy I was burning in the form of onigiri.

There are lots of interesting spots to enjoy all along the course but the highlight for me was the Suwa Lake Geyser Center. The geyser erupts on a set schedule multiple times a day and I was lucky enough to arrive just as it was starting.

Inside the center, there are exhibitions about the local area and a viewing platform on the third floor where you can take in the sight of the erupting geyser from above.

The Lake Suwa Geyser Center was one of the highlights of the area, with the geyser shooting up to 5 metres into the air.
The Lake Suwa Geyser Center was one of the highlights of the area, with the geyser shooting up to 5 metres into the air.

Just outside the Geyser Center is a free hot spring foot bath, where you can rest and relax your tired feet after the hard work of circling the lake.

Families are also well catered for at Suwa-ko, with many playgrounds dotted around the lake. If cycling or walking is not your thing, there are also swan boats taking visitors out on the lake so there really is something for everyone.

So what are you waiting for? Let's break free from the tourist trail and enjoy the nature of Nagano!

2
Claire

Claire

Irish girl living in Tokyo, enjoying the mountains and nature that Japan has to offer.

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