I love Japanese ropeways (the Japanese term for gondola lifts), and last month I checked another one off my “to-ride” list: the Akechidaira Ropeway in Nikko (Tochigi Prefecture), north of Tokyo.
The ropeway sits in the mountains, not far from Lake Chuzenji in Upper Nikko, and is accessible either by car or by bus from JR Nikkō or Tobu Nikkō Station. Since my ride was actually the start of a day hike through the mountains, I hopped the bus from Tobu Nikkō station for the 30-minute ride.
The only thing at the bus stop is the ropeway itself, a parking lot, and a small restaurant and souvenir shop:
The parking lot has a beautiful view of the mountains and the entire length of the ropeway cable. Akechidaira is one of the shorter ropeways I’ve ridden in Japan, so it might be good for people who get nervous on longer ropeway rides.
After purchasing a one-way ticket (the clerk confirmed my decision twice, and seemed relieved when I explained that I planned to hike to Lake Chuzenji rather than returning via the ropeway) I boarded the gondola, which holds about a dozen people, and has enough benches for four people to make the trip sitting down.
As you can see from the picture above, the ropeway is very short – it’s only about a 4-minute ride from start to finish.
The ropeway has an excellent view of Mt. Nantai (the volcano center frame in the photo above) as well as the surrounding mountains.
The ropeway runs four times an hour, with the final trip down at 3:30pm year-round. (Times and other information can be found here.) In the autumn, it’s a great place to see Nikkō’s spectacular foliage.
The mountains were beautiful even in early summer.
When the gondola reached the upper station, I climbed the flight of stairs to the Akechidaira Observation Platform, a large open area with a 360-degree view. (Note on accessibility: there is no elevator to the platform, so visitors do need to be able to climb the stairs if they want to see the view.)
The picture below shows the view to the east, away from Lake Chuzenji. The red-roofed building is the lower ropeway station, and the buildings in the distance are Lower Nikkō.
The next photo shows the view to the West (the one most people ride the ropeway to see): Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji. The mountain rising on the right side of the frame is Mt. Nantai – a hyakumeizan peak that I climbed a few years ago.
I’d planned to ride the ropeway since learning about it several years before, but like so many adventures, it hadn’t reached the top of the list until now. The view is definitely worth the effort and the price–it’s one of the best (if slightly distant) views of Kegon Falls, and it’s probably incredible in the autumn during foliage season too–or in winter, when it snows.
As of 2022, a round-trip ropeway ticket costs 1000 JPY (about $9 USD), and one-way is 600 JPY (half price tickets are available for children under 12).
If you’d like to see the hike that followed my ropeway trip, a “virtual hike” is posted here. While it wasn’t a difficult hike down to Lake Chuzenji from a technical perspective, it’s probably not the best choice unless you’re reasonably confident in your hiking skills. That said, if you like to hike, it’s definitely a good one!
How do you feel about ropeways, yea or nay? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments!