Explore the mountains, rivers, valleys, and hot springs of northern Gunma
Last updated: December 21, 2020
The Minakami area is a year-round haven for outdoor adventure, offering thrilling activities like canyoning, river rafting, hiking, skiing, and snowboarding. Most activities are centered around Mt. Tanigawa, Mt. Hotaka and the Tone River, while Japanese inns (ryokan), hotels and hot springs are spread out across the area, so you can enjoy them wherever you go.
Escape the city and spend a few days in the mountains of northern Gunma, less than two hours from central Tokyo by shinkansen. The mountain air, outdoor activities, and natural hot springs will leave you feeling rejuvenated in mind and body.
Start your exploration with a trip up Mt. Tanigawa via the Tanigawadake Ropeway. The 10-minute ride takes you up to an elevation of 1,319 meters. The mountain draws avid hikers from summer through fall, but you don’t need to climb all the way to the 1,977-meter summit for spectacular panoramas across the area. You can take a chair lift near the ropeway’s top station for sweeping views of the surrounding mountains.
Mt. Tanigawa’s slopes are covered in a dense forest of broadleaved trees that turn shades red and yellow in fall. Prime autumn leaf-viewing begins in early October and ends in late October.
In winter, get an introduction to the Minakami area’s mountainous terrain on a half-day snowshoe tour. Tour operators offer guided treks around the base of Mt. Tanigawa to Ichinokurasawa Gorge, for breathtaking vistas of the Tanigawa mountain range from the valley.
After an active afternoon exploring Mt. Tanigawa, have a relaxing soak in one of the area’s onsen baths open for day trip visitors. Take a stroll through the town’s narrow streets and indulge in a footbath; Yuhara Park has an open-air footbath overlooking the Tone River.
A visit to Minakami would not be complete without a stay at a traditional-style ryokan inn. There are many ryokan to choose from, all equipped with hot spring baths. Some are located along the Tone River and have river-view or mountain-view rooms.
Nakaya Ryokan, in the heart of Minakami, has both classic and modern Japanese-style rooms, as well as private onsen facilities. For a luxurious experience, stay at Kanzan Super Hydrogen Rich Spa. With only six rooms, you will enjoy privacy and exclusivity. The boutique inn features relaxing hydrogen baths and shakuhachi flute performances after dinner.
Alternatively, enjoy lakeside views and exquisite tofu-based cuisine at Sarugakyo Hotel on Lake Akaya.
The cuisine is a highlight of any ryokan stay. After a relaxing dip in your accommodation’s hot spring baths, enjoy a traditional, multi-course dinner made with local, seasonal ingredients. Many of Minakami’s inns serve meals using Gunma specialties like ayu (a river fish), mountain vegetables, pork and beef. Tatsumikan, located on the banks of the Tone River, specializes in meals that feature local ingredients cooked over charcoal.
From summer through early autumn, Canyons Ltd. offers full day river adventure packages. Start with an adrenaline-pumping canyoning expedition in one of the area’s gorges, sliding down waterfalls and jumping from cliffs into transparent river pools. After a barbecue lunch back at the Canyons base, go rafting down the Tone River. There are some exciting rapids mixed in with gentle cruising downriver, with chances to jump in and play. Canyoning tours are offered from July to October.
Between April and November, you can combine a half-day river rafting tour with a bungee jump at Suwakyo Ohashi Bridge. Alternatively, you can enjoy the scenery of Suwakyo Gorge from the walkway along the Tone River.
During the snow season (December to March), spend the day skiing or snowboarding at one of the Minakami area’s several ski resorts. Beginners and families will appreciate Fujiwara Snow & Spa Resort’s gentle slopes, while more experienced skiers will enjoy Minakami Hodaigi Ski Area or White Valley Ski Area. Experts will love Tanigawadake Tenjindaira’s world-class backcountry and sidecountry terrain, best explored on a guided tour.
Rejuvenate with an onsen bath and another traditional dinner at your ryokan. For a change of pace, you may wish to sample some of Minakami Onsen’s local fare in town. There are several restaurants along the main street that runs parallel to the Tone River. Options range from sushi and yakiniku to wood-fired pizza.
After breakfast, head to Takaragawa Onsen Osenkaku, Japan’s largest outdoor hot spring. This onsen ryokan, open to day-trip visitors, is set within a deep valley along the Takaragawa River. The pools along the river allow you to take in the seasonal scenery as you bathe. Relaxing in the warm water under winter snow flurries is particularly magical.
Enjoy an afternoon of Japanese craft-making at Takuminosato. This picturesque area consists of four villages spread throughout a mountain valley. There are more than 20 different artisan studios in Takuminosato that offer woodworking, bamboo-working, dyeing, and Japanese paper-making workshops, among many others. Depending on the season, visitors can enjoy fruit picking in Takuminosato’s apple orchard or strawberry garden.
Mizukikokan Roadside Station, on the way to Takaragawa Onsen, has walking paths along the Suwakyo Gorge, a farmer’s market selling Gunma specialties, and an aquarium where you can view freshwater fish species that live in the Tone River. Before leaving Minakami, make a brief stop at the souvenir shop just outside Jomo-Kogen Station, which sells local crafts and other items.