Unique Visit:  2 Days in Iiyama

Iiyama is the ultimate escape to nature at its best.

written by Robert

Iiyama is the ultimate gateway to outdoor adventure in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture, and with a newly built Shinkansen line and station in the area, it is now easily accessible from Tokyo in just over an hour and a half. For the adventurous types who like getting as far from the big city as they can, Iiyama has a lot to offer, including hiking, cycling, kayaking, clean mountain streams, and beautiful fields of nanohana (rapeseed) flowers.  Details by Robert, a long-term resident of the prefecture.

(Iiyama City, population 20,989 [Oct 2016])


Day 1

Arrival / Iiyama Station 飯山駅 /  [1] in the map below

At just over 90 minutes from Tokyo, Iiyama Station is your arrival point and is central located in Iiyama City. This word “city” is misleading, as the whole place feels more like a sprawling town than anything else, completely absent of any tall buildings and limited only by the mountainous terrain all around. From here, get a taxi to your hotel.


Hotel (Luggage Drop-Off) / Alp Bach Madarao [2]

Located at the base of Madarao Ski Area, Alp Bach Madarao is a cozy lodge popular with skiers and snowboarders in the winter, yet is a delightful year-round accommodation for those looking to explore the abundant natural surroundings here. The proprietors speak English and can offer loads of information about activities and suggestions for the entire area.

Once you have left your luggage, it is time for a hike!


Hike with a Private Guide in Madarao Kogen / 斑尾高原のトレッキング

One of the best activities to do in Madarao Kogen during the green season is hiking. From late April to mid-October, you can take a four- or eight-hour guided hike with an expert, taking in the lush forests, quiet streams and mountain flowers. Your tour will be the four hour option, and as you hike through beech forests and wetlands, you can enjoy the quiet surroundings that are such a welcome change from the noise of the big city. If lunch is not provided with your tour, be sure to pack one with you.

The road will narrow and pass through the Niomon Gate, bringing you to Zenkoji’s Omotesando, a festive lane brimming with souvenir shops and soba restaurants.  Speaking of which…


Dinner at Alp Bach Madarao

After an afternoon of hiking, it is good to relax and have a nice dinner. Your hotel offers a European cuisine meal and delicious desserts in the peace and quiet to be expected in a Japanese highland. After dinner and before bed, enjoy a stroll around the area and take in the clean, cool mountain air.

Day 2
Breakfast at Alp Bach Madarao

Have an early breakfast at the hotel, because you are in for another adventurous day of a different kind today. Once finished with your meal, head out for a downhill fat bike tour through an abandoned mountain village.

Downhill Fat Bike Tour

For the entire morning, enjoy a downhill guided cycling tour passing through a little known abandoned village. Learn about the ancestors of current residents and get just as much of an educational experience as an adventurous one. Your tour will be on mountain trails riding on fat bikes, bicycles with extra large tires designed to handle any terrain including snow. Your guide will pick you up at your hotel and take care of your luggage, as well as provide bicycles, helmets and everything else needed for a great time. Enjoy the views from your bicycle and take care as you navigate along these mountain trails.

Return to Iiyama Station 飯山駅 / [1]

Once finished with your cycling tour, your guide can take you to Iiyama Station, where you can get a shinkansen back to Tokyo.

(Seasonal / Nearby Attractions)

Nanohana flowers in bloom.

Iiyama is so loaded with numerous activities to explore its natural surroundings that it would almost seem a shame to note only the two main tours of this itinerary. But since so many locations here are best visited at specific times of the year, it would be a good idea to note them here, so you can decide whether or not to visit them based on your travel schedule:

In late-April and early-May visit Nanohana Park [3], a spectacular spot to view the blossoming yellow nanohana flowers. This is always a popular attraction at this time of the year.

Take a side trip over to Nozawa Onsen [4] for a bath in a very hot and soothing onsen. Numerous public bathhouses, known as soto-yu, are free of charge and found throughout the village. Give it a try, though be sure to look into proper onsen etiquette so that you know what to do. Nozawa Onsen can be reached by taking the train from Iiyama Station three stops to Togari Nozawa Onsen Station. From there you can take a taxi into the center of the village.


Visit Ajisai-dera [5], a small Buddhist temple well off the beaten path that is surrounded by blossoming hydrangeas in June and July. It is quite a charming and delightful spot to visit. Nearby there is an archery training site where you may be able to observe visiting high schoolers practicing kyudo traditional Japanese archery.

Take a walk around Godo’s Big Ginkgo Biloba Tree [6], a giant tree with a huge trunk and a shrine at its base. It is well off the beaten path, but a delightful spot to visit.

Iiyama Suggested Tour. Click on the map for details and directions.