The best swimming spots in Northern Nagano

I used to think Japanese folding fans were just for decoration, I also used to think it wasn’t necessary to ever take 3 showers in one day, I used to think I wasn’t really a “sweaty person”, and then I experienced my first Japanese summer. They say some like it hot, but when the thermometer hits the mid-thirties (Celsius) and the humidity is over 85%, there’s nothing for it but to head for your favorite cool-down spot. Here’s my top 4 swimming holes in the area.

4. Nozawa Grand Hotel Pool

The pool at Nozawa Grand Hotel
The pool at Nozawa Grand Hotel

The pool at Nozawa Grand Hotel is available to non-guests for Y500 per time, or Y1500 for a season pass, making this an extremely affordable option. It’s never crowded and large enough to get in a effective workout. The changing rooms are basically in a forgotten about store room though, which is a shame as the rest of the hotel, and the onsen are lovely.

15 minutes from Hunters Gate Lodge

3. Iiyama Shimin Pool

The Iiyama city pool, has a definite municipal vibe about it, but the lazy river and slides make it a big hit with families. It’s only open from mid-July to mid-August to coincide with the school holidays so it can get pretty busy at weekends. It’s only Y250 for adults and Y150 for kids but under 2s are not allowed to swim. The changing rooms are pretty basic, but there are showers available. 9:30AM-4:30 PM Closed on Wednesdays

10 minutes from Hunters Gate Lodge

2. Sparena

Outside pool, with paddling pool and fountain
The Sparena pool feels like a resort

Is that a mash-up of the words Spa, and Arena? you ask. Why yes, it is. The concept of a concert hall, with it’s own onsen, pool and restaurant complex attached might be a little quirky but somehow they pulled it off, making it seem like you are staying in a resort hotel, but… without the room. If you have heard of chotto zeitaku, or something which feels like a luxury but actually has a reasonable price tag, then you’ll love this. They also have a mixed rotemburo (swimsuits required) and an air-conditioned kids play room making this a great way to spend a whole day. Y700 for adults Y500. Open 10AM to 9PM.

12 minutes from Hunters Gate Lodge

1. Nojiri Lake

Lake with mountain in background, blue sky
One of my favorite spots in Japan

Ah, Nojiri. Where the mammoths once roamed. Surrounded by dense woodland, the temperatures at the lake are around 4-5 degrees cooler than the surrounding towns. It’s a freshwater lake, fed by mountain streams, and has a variety of spots to swim. My current favorite is Nature Park, where there are benches in a pretty lakeside park, with a nice sandy beach leading to the waterside.

Mammoths are a theme around here

There are plenty of things to do at the lake, with kayak, SUP and even swan boat pedalos to rent, as well as fishing and cycling rentals. My perfect day looks like this: Get a delicious burger lunch at Lamp, ride my bike for a 15km circuit of the lake then take a swim, read a book, swim again. The best way to spend a summer day.

Avocado burger at LAMP

40 minutes from Hunters Gate Lodge

For more information about the history and activities available at Nojiri Lake check out this post