Photo of Zao Onsen

About Zao Onsen

With records dating back to 110 AD, Zaō Onsen is a truly ancient resort that's known across Japan for both its splendid skiing and rejuvenating hot springs, with the best places to stay in Zaō offering easy access to these both. Located 800 metres above sea level, it's a lovely natural haven full of gorgeous mountainous forests.

One of the most stunning features of Zaō Onsen is its 'snow monsters', ice-covered trees that take on a mysterious shape in the midst of winter due to extreme cold, heavy snowfall and high winds. Skiers more used to European slopes might be slightly perturbed when they first see these large, spiky, icy structures lining the slides of the pistes, but you soon get used to it!

Their sulfur hot springs are the perfect place to relax after a long day on the slopes and are even alleged to have wonderful healing properties - though unfortunately they smell of rotten eggs, so that's a slight caveat that you should be well aware of before you visit.

Casting that aside, its beautiful setting makes it an ideal resort year-round. Whether you're skiing in the winter or hiking in the summer, it's a great resort town for active types.

What Not To Miss

  • Stop off and admire the Zao Jizoson statue whilst trekking to Mount Zao.
  • Nearby Okahama Crater, a volcanic lake, is another truly stunning place to see.
  • Head to Dokkonuma Swamp in the summer or autumn and bask in the area' natural beauty.

Given its beauty no matter the season, be sure to book ahead as the best places to stay in Zaō Onsen get quickly booked up.

The best places to stay in Zaō Onsen

For a smart stay

  • Takamiya Hotel Lucent is a chic stay with traditional Japanese accommodation and scrumptious cuisine. A top all-round spot.
  • Zao Shiki No Hotel is a mountainous retreat with simply superb views. It offers both contemporary Western and traditional Japanese-style accommodation, as well as lovely healing onsens in which to unwind.
  • Miyamoso Takamiya is an historic ryokan with traditional accommodation and kaiseki cuisine. What's more, it's located within close proximity to the village's hot springs.

For a holiday home

If you'd prefer the privacy of a self-catering option then browse through the wide variety available online with our partner, Booking.com.

Travel Information

  • Fly into Tokyo Haneda Airport before taking the Yamagata Shinkansen train to Yamagata and a bus on to Zaō Onsen.
  • If you're here for the skiing then visit from December to March.
  • Or, if you want to see the stunning scenery, visit in the summer months - the temperature rises to 15-25°C in August.
  • If you want to explore the area independently then consider hiring a car with Rentalcars.

Still Not Sure?

Best Hotels in Zao Onsen

  • Takamiya Hotel Lucent Zao Onsen from €130

    A chic hotel located in the Zao Onsen hot spring area. Light and airy rooms are clean and contemporary and dressd in the traditional Japanese style; think paper screens, floor level beds, polished wooden floors and tatami mats. Exemplary regional dishes are served in the restaurant. Fabulous.

    Active Holiday  -  In close proximity to both cultural attractions and outdoor pursuits.
    Sights nearby  -  Visit the Okama Crater Lake and marvel at its mystical colour.
    Views  -  Great views from hotel
    Traditional
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  • Zao Shiki No Hotel Zao Onsen 48 rooms from €210

    A mountain property boasting spectacular views. Interiors mix traditional Japanese styles with contemporary design. Rooms are light and airy with large expanses of glass, clean lines and light polished wood. Find tranquil surrounds, healing onsens and attentive service. A spoiling stay.

    Total relaxation  -  Be healed by the medicinal waters in the hotel's hot spring baths.
    Active Holiday  -  The surrounding mountains offer a wide range of outdoor pursuits.
    Sights nearby  -  Make a trip to the mystical Okama Crater Lake.
    Secluded setting  -  For escaping.
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  • Miyamaso Takamiya Zao Onsen (Yamagata-City) 18 rooms from €353

    A historic and luxurious ryokan situated in the Zao Hot Spring area. Traditianal rooms are atmospheric and authentic with floor level dining tables, delicate paper shutters and tatami mats. Unwind in the healing onsens and feast on regional Hana no kaiseki cuisine. A spoiling stay.

    Total relaxation  -  Experience the authentic bath culture of Zao Hot Spring at this traditional Japanese ryokan.
    Skiing  -  Located a short walk from the Yamagata Zao Onsen Ski Resort lifts.
    Sights nearby  -  Visit the mysterious Okama crater lake.
    Romantic  -  Good for couples.
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