Renge Onsen: high in the mountains
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Tucked away to the north of Shiroumadake (or Hakuba to you ski bunnies) lies Renge Onsen(蓮華温泉), one of the greatest treasures of the region. Inside the Chubu-Sangaku National park, Renge is a trip and a half to get there, but well worth the effort. While road access (both car and bus) is not available over the winter months, and the lodge is closed between the end of October March, I just had to include it here as it is a spectacular site and well worth the effort.
In the warmer months it can be included in a hike that would take in the peaks of Shiroumadake and nearby Asahidake. But unless you are really very experienced and prepared, this should not be attempted between October and March. The weather can change rapidly, and snow falls can be huge.
The onsen is serviced by the Renge Onsen Lodge. The lodge is self powered, and so lights out a 9PM. Facilities are clean, tidy and adequate, typical of mountain lodges in Japan. One night, two meals, 9,000 yen for adults, 7100 for children. There is also a camping ground available. In the lodge are two large internal kiburo (wooden baths), separated by gender.
But what makes Renge Onsen so special is what lies outdoors. Five minutes walk from the lodge, along a gentle path, is a collection of three kiburo sitting on the side of a mountain valley. Between each bath is a 5-minute walk. These are totally open to the elements, there are no changing rooms or facilities, and here you can strip off, slip into the bath and gaze out over the valley below. If you do make the trip, take the opportunity to take a night-time bath; the sky here in the mountains is often crystal clear.
Renge Onsen sits close to the junction of Nagano, Niigata and Toyama prefectures. Train access is by the Oitogawa Line (糸魚川線), which runs from Matsumoto north to Oitogawa station on the Japan sea. The closest station is Hiraiwa (平岩駅), from here you need to take a bus (about 1 hour). The bus only runs from July through to October. Contact 0255-52-0180 for bus schedules.
Coming by car, if coming from Matsumoto you would take route 147 north; this merges into route 148. The turn off is well signposted from Hiraiwa station on route 148.
Taxi is another option. There are no taxis at Hiraiwa, but from the nearby stations of Minami Ootani or Hakuba expect to grab a cab for between 10 and 15,000 yen. Not bad when split between say four of you, and I am sure the taxi driver could show you some other great sights on the way there and back.
Renge Lodge 090-2524-7237
Renge Lodge website: http://w2.avis.ne.jp/~renge/index.html
Oitogawa Bus: 0255-52-0180
Oitogawa bus website: http://www.marukei-g.com/busgroup/hakuba/hakuba.html