On the eastern edge of Matsumoto City lies Utsukushigahara (literally beautiful highland). From here you can begin a short refreshing walk or a long adventure. Not far from the parking lot here is a peaceful meadow with grazing cows and lovely wild flowers, along with an old bell tower once used by those lost in the fog.
On a clear day, the 360 degree view is breathtaking and worth a few pictures. One can see Mt. Fuji and Mt. Kitadake to the south, the Hotaka Range and Mt. Yari to the west, and Mt. Asama to the east. A short ways down the road you will also find the Open-air Art Museum looking out on Matsumoto and a gift shop selling interesting treats. It has some of the craziest and eclectic outdoor art anywhere in Japan.
Utsukushigahara Heights is an 70-minute drive from Matsumoto JR train station or a 105-minute bus ride from Matsumoto Bus Terminal in front of the Matsumoto JR train station to the Art Museum by Utsukushigahara Open-air Museum Line bus, which operates only early August to mid-August. In 2017, another bus to Utsukushigahara Highlands operates from the Alps (west) Exit of the station weekend of June 17 to September 30 and everyday of July 18 to September 1 (twice per day, 8:15 and 13:15).
If you visit the art museum first via the Open-air Museum Line bus, you can take a 30-minute hike to Utsukushinoto (a small bell tower). If you have time, go to the highest point of Utsukushigahara Highlands (Ogato) by the Ogato Hotel by hiking another 40 minutes.
There are also various hiking trails in the mountains around the highlands. For hiking, get off the bus at the Sanjiro Bus Stop and the trailhead is about a 15-20 minute walk from there. Allow about 1-1/2 hours to hike up to the Utsukushigahara Highlands.