I wanted to start a series on onsen (hot springs) but not just any old hot springs found in tourist pamphlets. No, the joy of discovering a hidden onsen is almost unique to Japan and in my opinion, an essential component of any active trip here. Renge Onsen is just one of these hidden hot springs, called Hitou in Japanese. The very fact that there is a word for it and a Hitou association shows the Japanese’s proclivity for seeking out these hidden treasures.
Renge Onsen is a lodge with a series of hot springs dotted around the surrounding mountainside. The furthest onsen is about a 15 minute walk up the trail, while the closest is actually inside the lodge. The lodge is a starting point for hikers climbing to Hakuba Oike and Mt. Shirouma or Mt. Asahidake in Toyama Prefecture. It’s bare bones and the electricity shuts off promptly at 9:00 PM, but it’s warm, the food is tasty and it’s a couple of steps above a typical mountain lodge, having a bath and private rooms.
Renge Onsen is located deep in the mountains of Niigata Prefecture in Itoigawa City, near the Sea of Japan Coast. It’s at the very North end of the Northern Japanese Alps, and as the crow flies, it’s closest to Hakuba but because of the roads, it’s about a 1.5 hour drive and a 1 hour drive from Itoigawa City. Hiking to Hakuba involves a 3 hour uphill slog to Hakuba Oike, then 3-4 hours down to the Tsugaike Gondola. The lift only operates until around 4:30 PM so make sure you leave with plenty of time. There is also a mountain hut at Hakuba Oike to make it a shorter, more relaxing day. Renge Onsen is open in the Winter, but getting there involves back country skiing from Hakuba on a guided tour from Mt. Yukikura.
If you’ve been to Japan before and you’re looking for something adventurous, Renge Onsen is definitely that. For guided tour options, please check out activetraveljapan.com or contact us at email@example.com