Kurobe Gorge Railway. © touristinajapan.com
Attractions, Chubu, Nature

Kurobe Gorge

Kurobe Gorge is a highly scenic, and nearly uninhabited, gorge in the the Toyama Prefecture in Chūbu. The gorge (a canyon with a river flowing in it), which was formed by the Kurobe river, has mesmerizing steep sides, covered in wild forrest, which is especially scenic during the fall time when the leaves turn red. The small, yet popular tourist train, the Kurobe Gorge Railway, runs up through the gorge offering amazing views of the beautiful mountains and stops at a few stations, at many of which visitors can enjoy the natural hot springs (onsen).

Book tickets for Kurobe Gorge Railway

Kurobe river is formed by a number of small streams and rivers which flow from the top of the Japanese alps. The small streams join to the larger Kurobe River. Since 1963 energy has been harvested from the river through the Kurobe Dam – the tallest dam in all of Japan. The Kurobe Gorge Railway was built to aid the construction of the Kurobe Dam between 1956 and 1963. Today the line is primarily used for tourism, but there are still trains transporting workers and cargo to the dam and its facilities.

Map of Kurobe Gorge

all photos above © touristinajapan.com

Kurobe Gorge Railway

A ride on the Kurobe Gorge Railway is a highly unique experience. The small, narrow gauge train snakes its way up through the gorge, along the river. It traverses multiple tunnels and crosses stunning bridges. There are 10 stops along the 20km long railway, but only 4 of the stops service tourists. At each of the 4 stops visitors find beautiful views, small hiking paths, and beautiful, isolated onsen hotspring baths with views of the mountains. The train runs from May through November, upwards of 14 times daily. You can find the latest schedules on the Kurotetu website.

The trains are cute, narrow trains configured with three classes of cars. 3rd class cars are open sided, and have benches like a small resort train. The 2nd class cars have windows and proper seats with backrests and the 1st class cars have windows, more space and reversible seats for change of direction. It is possible to buy ticket upgrades from one class to another. On rainy days it can be nice to sit behind a window, rather than in an open car. Be aware though, that the windows can have a tendency to fog up, covering part of the beautiful view.

Map of Kurobe Gorge Railway. © openstreetmap-contributors and touristinjapan.com
Map of Kurobe Gorge Railway. © openstreetmap-contributors and touristinjapan.com

all photos above © touristinajapan.com

Stations of Kurobe Gorge Railway

Unazuki

Unazuki is a small town which is home of the first station on the Kurobe Gorge Railway. In fact, the town has two stations, located right next to each other. Unazuki Onsen Station and Kurobe Gorge Railway Unazuki Station. Visitors who arrive by train from Kurobe or Toyama will arrive at the Onsen station, and can then transfer by foot to the Kurobe Gorge Station.

Unazuki has a few attractions for itself, most notably the majestic, red Shin-Yamabiko Bridge, the Unazuski Dam and the curious Shin-Yanagawara Power Plant which is shaped like a European castle. Near the station there is also a small museum “Kurobe River Electric Memorial Hall” telling the story of energy production in Kurobe Gorge and the Selene Museum of Art is also worth a visit.

Hotels in Unazuki: Hotel Kurobe, Sunyanagitei, Entaijiso or find more here.


Kuronagi

Kuronagi Station is the first stop on the Kurobe Gorge Railway, where tourists can get on or off. It is a smaller station without much service, and it is the only of the four stations which is not served by all trains, so plan accordingly.

From Kuronagi Station there is a great view of the blue Atobiki Bridge from which the passing trains mysteriously disappear into the depths of the mountain. The main attraction at Kuronagi is Kuronagi Onsen, a natural outdoor hot spring bath and Ryokan hotel which is located a 20 minute hike from the station. There is no other way to get to this Onsen and Ryokan than by the slippery footpath. It is a magnificent place to spend a night, out in the forrest, next to the river and with a hot spring in the river bed, overlooking the whole thing. The ryokan can only be booked by phone or e-mail, and there is no english spoken at the hotel. Dinner and breakfast is included and there is a drink vending machine in the hall.

Hotel in Kuronagi: Kuronagi Onsen.


Kanetsuri

Photo by 掬茶 CC BY-SA 4.0.

Kanetsuri Station is a fully serviced station, and the second last to be serviced by the Kurobe Gorge Railway tourist train.

The top attractions at Kanetsuri include the Kurobe Mannen Yuki (eternal snow patch) and Kanetsuri Kawara river-side hot spring. The hot spring is free to use, but it is fully visible to all the tourists who pass by. You should generally be completely naked when taking a bath in an Onsen, so you probably want to be comfortable with all the tourists seeing you bath.


Keyakidaira

Keyakidaira is the last station on the Kurobe Gorge Railway which is serviced by the tourist train. It is a great place to explore the stunning nature, the steep mountains, lush forrest and the natural hot springs.

The attractions around Keyakidaira include a free hot spring footpath, the spectacular Sarutobikyo Observation Platform, the vermilion Okukane Bridge, Hitokui Iwa “People-eating Crag”, Meiken Onsen, Babadani Onsen, and several hiking trails of which one is right behind the station, and another one to Karamatsu-Dake extends from near Babadani onsen. There is also access to the Shirouma-dake hiking trail.

Hotels near Keyakidaira: Meiken Onsen

Getting there

Getting to Kurobe Gorge by train is quite easy, however the station names may confuse a little due their similarity.

From Tokyo, take Hokuriku-Shinkansen to Kurobe-Unazukionsen Station (2 hours 30 minutes). The train is free if you have a Japan Rail Pass. From there, transfer by foot to the small neighboring Shin-Kurobe Station. Take the Toyama Chihou Railway Main Line 25 minutes to Unazukionsen Station (¥630, not covered by the JR Pass). From there, walk to the neighboring Unazuki Station where the Kurobe Gorge Railway departs.

Tokyo Station—> Kurobe-Unazukionsen Station

Kurobe-Unazukionsen Station Walk icon4min—> Shin-Kurobe Station

Shin-Kurobe Station—> Unazukionsen Station

Unazukionsen StationWalk icon2min—> Unazuki Station


From Kanazawa, take Hokuriku-Shinkansen to Kurobe-Unazukionsen Station (36 minutes). The train is free if you have a Japan Rail Pass. From there, transfer by foot to the small neighboring Shin-Kurobe Station. Take the Toyama Chihou Railway Main Line 25 minutes to Unazukionsen Station (¥630, not covered by the JR Pass). From there, walk to the neighboring Unazuki Station where the Kurobe Gorge Railway trains depart.

Kanazawa Station—> Kurobe-Unazukionsen Station

Kurobe-Unazukionsen Station Walk icon4min—> Shin-Kurobe Station

Shin-Kurobe Station—> Unazukionsen Station

Unazukionsen StationWalk icon2min—> Unazuki Station

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