Kurobe Gorge: Secluded Hot Springs, Scenic Walks, and Spectacular Scenery-1

Kurobe Gorge: Secluded Hot Springs, Scenic Walks, and Spectacular Scenery

A breezy open-air train hugs the mountainside, carrying visitors through the rugged Kurobe Gorge to secluded hot-spring resorts and scenic hiking trails. This beautiful gorge gives the impression of having ventured into remote, unspoiled countryside, while still being easily accessible in under 90 minutes from Toyama City. Highlights include the dramatic yet beautiful Sarutobikyo Gorge, which is designated one of Japan’s Special Places of Scenic Beauty.

Many of the most breathtaking views here are visible with little effort, from the Kurobe Gorge Torokko Trolley Train. Each of the four stations along this train route is a mini-destination in its own right. Around these stops, you will find hot springs (onsen) that each have their own distinct atmosphere, as well as spots from which you can take in the grandeur of Kurobe Gorge at your own pace.

Standout views from the Kurobe Gorge Trolley Train

The compact train has no glass windows or other obstructions, so passengers can feel fully immersed in the nature that surrounds them (a first-class carriage with windows is also available on many journeys). The Trolley Train heads 20.1 km upstream through the foothills of the Tateyama Mountain Range from Unazuki Station to Keyakidaira, stopping at Kuronagi and Kanetsuri along the way.

Passengers travel at a leisurely speed past a succession of captivating sights. These include the photogenic, red-hued Yamabiko Bridge which frames the valley and contrasts beautifully with the forests and sky. Mt. Higashikanetsuri, seen further into the ride, is a 759-meter-high limestone mountain with a distinctive bell-like shape. The return journey proceeds back along the same single track, and the full journey takes just under 90 minutes each way.*

Around Kanetsuri

Kanetsuri is the third stop on the railway, and is famous for its hot springs, some of which bubble up from the bed of the Kurobe River. Visitors alighting at Kanetsuri can enjoy a scenic 20-minute-stroll to the secluded riverside. Rocks dot the clear, shallow water and form pools along the riverside where you can paddle and sometimes bathe.

Around Keyakidaira

Keyakidaira Station is the final stop of the train line, and the alighting point for one of Kurobe Gorge’s most spectacular sights. Sarutobikyo Gorge is the narrowest point of the main stem of the Kurobe River, where water flows dramatically around sharp turns and between jagged gorge walls with overhangs that almost touch. There is a riverside observation area to view Sarutobikyo, as well as walking paths around the gorge. Sarutobikyo gets its name from the local legend that a monkey once jumped the span of the gorge. It takes about 30 minutes to walk from the station to the riverside observation area.

Trails from the station also lead to open-air hot-spring baths at Sarutobi Sanso (10 minutes) and a public footbath with views of the river at the Kawara Observation Deck (15 minutes). A longer trail connects Keyakidaira with the secluded hot springs of Meiken Onsen and Babadani Onsen. The scenic trail follows the river upstream and includes a stretch carved out of the mountainside called Hitokui Iwa (“people-eating rock”). The walk to Meiken Onsen takes about 40 minutes round trip, and Babadani Onsen is 5.2 kilometers from the station and takes about two hours round trip. Guided tours of the area are offered at Keyakidaira Visitor Center.

Hot-spring highlights

Hot springs are available at all of the stops along the Kurobe Gorge Railway. Unazuki Onsen, close to the starting point of the railway, is one of the most popular hot-spring resorts in both Toyama and the wider Hokuriku region. Streets of traditional buildings give this resort a village-like atmosphere, and there are foot baths, and several restaurants serving seafood from Toyama Bay. Multiple bathing and accommodation options make Unazuki Onsen a great base for exploring the gorge over several days.

Kuronagi Onsen is another popular resort, with only a single ryokan inn. Here hot water gushes from a natural spring at a rate of 2,000 liters per minute. The slightly alkaline quality of this water leaves the skin feeling smooth, and the water is said to be good for tired muscles and stiff shoulders. The open-air riverside baths at Kuronagi Onsen Ryokan are some of the largest in the area and are open 24 hours for overnight guests, meaning you can bathe under the stars if the sky is clear.

Getting there and other practicalities

Kurobe Gorge is easily accessible from Toyama Station, by taking the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Kurobe-Unazukionsen Station, then walking about six minutes to Shin-Kurobe Station. From there, take the Toyama Chihou Railway Main Line (local service) to Unazukionsen Station. This journey takes around 1 hour 20 minutes, and from there you can board the Kurobe Gorge Trolley Train at Unazuki Station, about a four-minute-walk away. By car, the journey from Toyama to Unazuki Station takes about an hour, via the Hokuriku Expressway.

*The Trolley Train operates seasonally, usually from late April through to late November. Trains may not always make the full four-station trip, so please confirm the route and return timetable before departing. 

Other outdoor destinations in Toyama

Toyama, a prefecture rich in natural beauty, boasts numerous other outdoor destinations. Among these is the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, whose “snow walls” are considered one of Toyama’s most iconic sights. Also found along the Alpine Route are the Shomyo Falls, Japan’s tallest waterfall; and the vast Midagahara Wetlands.

Another nature-rich location is Gokayama, whose settlements of thatched-roof gassho-style houses have allowed the area to be given a UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

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