Unusual adventures and hidden discoveries. Explore our 2018 trips now »

Tateyama-machi, Japan

Snow Canyon

A massive wintry wall of snow up to 66 feet tall flanks a highway through Japan's mountains. 

Mt. Tateyama, one of Japan’s Three Holy Mountains, is no stranger to snow. Mounds of the solid substance coat the area. In the winter, traveling along the road that snakes along the mountain is impossible. Yet each spring, those who do venture into the winter wonderland are greeted by a wondrous wall of solid snow.

The wall reaches as much as 66 feet high. It hugs the edges of a roughly quarter-mile stretch of road, forming a “snow canyon” with the pavement as its base. It looks like something straight out of Game of Thrones—an icy, impenetrable barrier forged with something greater than human strength.

But this wall wasn’t forged with any sort of icy magic. Every March, fleets of bulldozers begin clearing the snow along the highway. Little by little, the massive machines shove the snow out of the way. Once they’ve come within six feet or so of revealing the pavement buried below, teams of workers bearing rotary blowers set to work blasting away the last bits of snow. The final result is a driveable pathway, carved between two mammoth wintry walls.

Driving through the cleared mountain pass is one of those rare life experiences that truly makes you feel small. It’s possible to drive or hop on a tour bus that’ll take you along the cleared road. The walls dwarf buses, making them look like tiny toy cars. You’ll want to get out and join the other folk wandering along the foot of the wall and try to snap a photo that truly depicts the scale.

Know Before You Go

Remember to dress appropriately as the temperature in the plains and cities at this time of year is hinting at shorts weather, but by the time you get to the walls it can feel like mid-winter again!