During summer, urban areas sizzle with heat, which is enough of a reason to head to the mountains where temperatures are milder. One of the best prefectures for mountains is Nagano. Temperatures are a bit lower and you can cool down even more with the numerous water activities that the prefecture offers.

Nagano has roaring rivers and quaint mountain lakes. Depending on the area, the possibilities include boat tours, paddle boating, stand-up-paddle boating (SUP), kayaking, canoeing and rafting. Or you can just swim and relax. There is a water activity in Nagano for everyone to cool off from the blazing summer heat.

Kayaking on Lake Suwa. Photo courtesy of the Suwa City Hall.

Lake Suwa

Lake Suwa is Nagano’s largest lake and it holds a special place in local culture with many legends originating from it. In summer time, people using sailboats and jet skis as well as windsurfers make use of the lake and in the early morning hours, high school kids in the rowing club practice diligently on the lake.

For those who want to enjoy water without getting wet, Lake Suwa boat tours are perfect. Suwako Yuransen leaves from the main pier and has signature boats shaped like swans. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, these boats are out of service and people are riding more spacious boats at the moment.

For a more in-depth tour of the lake, an amphibious vehicle called the Duck Tour departs from the Glass no Sato Museum and drives around the town before it plunges into the water for a tour of the lake. A third option is to command your own little swan paddle boat. Lake Suwa is where swans from Siberia migrate to in the winter, so they have become a symbol of the lake. Up to three people can ride in the boat and you are free to go anywhere on the lake. These boats are only available on weekends.

If a bit of splashing from water is no problem, the best way to interact with the lake is some kayaking. For two hours and a cost of ¥5,000 trained guides takes people out in kayaks. Participants wear life preservers and the guides give quick instructions before heading out into the lake. Once on the lake, the guide takes people to see a statue in the lake of a historical artist who wrote about Lake Suwa. The guide also takes the tourist to Lake Suwa’s only island called Hatsushima. Language barriers might be a problem, so please contact the tour providers to check for that.

summer in Nagano Hakuba

Himekawa River


In central Nagano, Hakuba was one of the venues for the 1998 Winter Olympics. As a result, it’s a popular ski resort, but in the summer, it turns into a haven for all kinds of outdoor sports, including many water sports. Because of the mountains, rivers run wild in Hakuba. The Himekawa and Saigawa rivers are among some of the best places in the prefecture for rafting. The rivers are full of rapids, but nothing too swift, making for quite an exhilarating ride, but not too dangerous. Trained guides lead the tours and give the participants plenty of protective gear.

Besides rafting, people enjoy water sports at Lake Aoki near Hakuba. This is Nagano’s third largest lake and its deepest one. On this calm lake people canoe, kayak and SUP. While paddling through pristine nature, people often see wildlife, such as fish and birds. At night you can also head out on canoes to see the fireflies.

Iiyama Photo courtesy of the local tourism association

Photo courtesy of the local tourism association of Iiyama


Iiyama in northern Nagano has great skiing in winter and great water fun in summer. Surrounding Iiyama is the Shinetsu Shizenkyo Nature Park. This park encompasses an area that overlaps into Niigata Prefecture and includes the Shinetsu Trail as well as the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park and the Myoko-Togakushi Renzan National Park. Within the nature park is Lake Nojiri, the second largest lake in Nagano. It offers water adventures such as kayaking and SUP. There are also many other smaller lakes perfect for water sports.

In this area there is also the Chikuma River, Japan’s longest and widest river. People usually raft in its rapids. You also usually have kayaking and canoeing (however, activities are currently suspended due to the pandemic). There are various tours that come with trained guides and prices vary depending on the tour and the number of people. You can visit the Shinetsu-Shizenkyo Activity Center located on the first floor of Iiyama Station to find out more.