Hikes can begin at the Visitor Center, or, after a brief drive into the gated wilderness area, at different points on the mountainside. Professional guides lead visitors along the three longer hiking routes—Shirabiso, Kamoshika and Gosuwara. Each can take up to 8 hours including breaks and lunch, though shorter routes covering less distance and elevation changes are easily arranged.
The Shirabiso route offers a range of spectacular natural wonders and up to 7.3 kilometers of trekking through a range of terrains at 1,360 to 1,640 meters of elevation. Hikes can begin from the bottom or near the top of the route.
Starting from Iwanami Goya hut at 1,620 meters, the trail leads through a beautiful grove of Japanese larch (karamatsu, a popular bonsai tree) before a gentle descent through Shirabezawa gully where springs form small pools feeding a rivulet. This quickly becomes a brook splashing over mossy lava rocks, filling the air with negatively charged ions, which are said to have wellness benefits. The trail crisscrosses the brook over footbridges, and, making things easier for hikers, down stair-like ladders on tricky parts. The air here is still, pure and deeply nourishing.
The forest along Shirabezawa is dominated by a tree that the course is named after—Shirabiso, or Veitch’s silver fir, a coniferous evergreen that is native to Japan, growing above 1,500 meters. Along the brook are small growths of baby silver firs that take root in the mountain mulch, on rocks and even on the trunks of old fallen firs, creating a kind of fir tree nursery. It’s remarkable that these tiny saplings can grow as tall as 30 meters.
Other trees found along the trail include Marie’s fir, Japanese thuja, Erman’s birch, monarch birch, Japanese white birch and Japanese beech. In season, hikers can admire the flowers of plant species such as Oyama magnolia, a delicate white blossom with rose-colored stamens, and Albrecht’s azalea, a hardy mountain shrub that erupts into electric pink flowers in spring.
Norikura also has a variety of wildlife adapted to its harsh alpine environment. Animals making their home here include Asian black bears, Japanese serows, foxes, stoats, Japanese hares and Japanese macaques. Bird species include spotted nutcrackers, red-flanked bluetails, house martins, and the Japanese rock ptarmigan, a protected endangered species of Japan and the official bird of Gifu Prefecture. If you’re not lucky enough to see one of these beautiful animals, your guide may point out tracks, claw marks or other signs of their presence.