By Matt Klampert
Though Yuzawa is often considered “a small town” in terms of its population size and relative distance from urban areas, it is actually quite expansive in terms of land area. Once you are away from the bustling onsen street outside of the Echigo-Yuzawa bullet train station, you are only a short bus ride from miles of untouched natural scenery in the very same town of Yuzawa. Though this area is commonly known as YUKIGUNI or “Snow Country,” people from all over regularly flock to this region in autumn to see the leaves changes color- both from the ground, as well as from the sky!
What is a Dragondola?
Yuzawa’s Naeba area, besides being a bustling ski resort, has two big claims to fame during Japan’s green season: the world-famous Fuji Rock Festival in summer, and the Dragondola! The Dragondola has the distinction of being the longest gondola ride in Japan, and one of the longest in the world! See the untouched natural splendor of both Mt. Naeba and Mt. Tashiro from the comfort of a cable car over 1,300 meters in the air! The length of the gondola is approximately 5,500 meters, which takes about half an hour in total. Each car seats eight people, and is even pet friendly! Here is a brief primer to help you plan your next Dragondola trip.
Helpful hints and things to know before you go
The Dragondola is accessible from the ropeway station at the Tashiro ski area. These gentle slopes make for a lovely stroll in the fall, but as it gets rather cold that high up a warm coat is definitely recommended. As your public transportation options are limited around Naeba, please keep a bus timetable handy. Alternatively, see below for a convenient, all-inclusive Dragondola tour that began this past year!
Things to see and do
From the Tashiro ski area, you will take a lift up to the slopes. Some of the ski lifts here are operational even during the green season, and you can admire the beauty of the area from above, which is said to resemble the back of a giant dragon. You can also freely wander the trails between Tashiro and Naeba, though some trails may not be accessible at all times. Aside from traversing the area on foot, you can also rent cycles on the mountain top, or even drive around in a buggy!
You may have traveled through the Fuji Rockers Forest during the Fuji Rock Festival in summer, but in the cool autumn it is much less crowded, making for a relaxing, serene journey. Because of this, it is even possible to see some of Niigata’s local wildlife, including serows (or kamoshika, known as the national animal of Japan), and even snow monkeys! If you are interested in spending a night among the stars, you can also camp out in the Tashiro area.
If you are interested in an educational detour, we also recommend the Okky Museum, a free museum where kids and adults alike can have a hands-on experience learning about the science behind the Oku-Kiyotsu hydroelectric plant, the largest hydroelectric power plant in Japan.
And then of course is the reason why you are here, the Dragondola! The Dragondola runs regularly between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., giving you panoramic views over Mt. Tairappyo and Lake Futai, which is said to change between seven different colors depending on the weather. There is also a separate Panorama Lift nearby, which will take you to the summit if you wish.
Things to eat
While the gentle slopes surrounding the Dragondola are a great place for a picnic, there are a variety of restaurants and food trucks to choose from around the Tashiro and Naeba grounds. The big restaurant by Dragondola tends to fill up rather early, but there are also a few smaller places around, and buffet-style dining facilities at the Naeba Prince Hotel itself. Enjoy Japanese food like kushiage, tempura, nabe, or mochi and crepes for those with a sweet tooth. There are other food stands located by the exit to Dragondola.
From the koyo season of October to November, the Snow Country Tourism Association has begun a new tour to allow visitors to see the majesty of the Naeba Dragondola with even more convenience. This tour includes bus service to and from the Dragondola, and tickets for both the Tashiro ski lift and the Dragondola itself. From the reception area at the Tashiro ski lift, you may purchase lift tickets and tickets for the Dragondola. This is also the place to exchange your voucher if you are here with the tour. Fare for the Panorama Lift to the summit is not included, but is not necessary to access the Dragondola.
Reservations for the Snow Country Tour Association’s Dragondola Tour are available online, and cost 4800 yen per adult. The brand new YUKIGUNI tour bus stops at the West side of Echigo-Yuzawa station. Reserve early for weekend trips, and keep in mind that seating is handled on a first-come-first served basis. You will be given information regarding the bus schedule, including departure times. Click HERE for more information.
Information for travelers
Address: 202 Mikuni, Yuzawa, Minamiuonuma District, Niigata 949-6212 (Naeba Prince Hotel)
Cost: 3500 yen (tickets only)
Phone: 025-789-2211 (Naeba Prince Hotel)
025-785-5353 (Snow Country Tourism Association)