Forest Zao Onsen

Mt. Zao

Every year Zao Onsen ski resort draws local and international visitors to its snowy slopes, lured by legendary powder, incredible hot springs, its famous “snow monsters,” and pristine natural beauty. Those looking for reasonable accommodation will find a gem of a place in the aptly named Forest Zao Onsen, just down the road from the Zao Chuo Ropeway and nestled at the edge of a great cedar forest. This hotel is a fantastic location for those looking to explore Zao, but between the spacious rooms, the on-site hot springs, and unbelievable nightly dinners (all inclusive), you might be hard pressed to leave. And the kind staff at Forest Zao Onsen goes above and beyond with the kind of omotenashi-style Japanese hospitality that the Yamagata countryside is so famous for.

Quick Info: 


Year Round


  • Buffet-style dinner and breakfast

  • Mens’ and womens’ indoor and outdoor onsen spa

  • Shuttle service to ropeways

  • Ski and board rentals and hot wax service (see below)

  • Wifi on 1st floor lobby

  • Game center


Getting There:

Zao Onsen can be accessed by bus from the JR Yamagata Station East Exit (about 45 minutes). From the Zao Onsen terminal, about a 15 minute walk (taxis also available).

If driving from Yamagata City, take the Yamagata Expressway to the exit for Zao Onsen. Continue on Prefectural Route 21 (Nishi-Zao Kogen Line) for another 16 km.

Credit Cards Accepted:

Visa, Mastercard, American Express, UnionPay, JCB


The Rooms 

Forest Zao Onsen’s rooms offer views of the quaint Zao Onsen village and beautiful ridgeline stretching towards Mount Zao, or—toward Kaminoyama—a wonderful view of the valley. Accommodations are outfitted in either Western or Japanese styles (the latter, complete with tatami mats, futon, tea table and zabuton cushions), or suites that include both, so you can relax in whichever suits your preference. From comfortable twin-size rooms, to expansive suites, Forest Zao Onsen has ample options to satisfy everyone from the solo ski bum to the whole family.


Other amenities include private bath and shower, television, and complimentary tea and senbei (traditional Japanese rice snacks).  Suites additionally come with a breakfast nook, hide-a-bed sofa in the bedroom, and even a separate dining room. You’ll also find a comfy, traditional yukata robe waiting for you in the closet.

The Onsen

For those looking to luxuriate either after a long day on the slopes or from the moment you set foot in the lobby, feel free to slip on that yukata robe and head own down to the on-premise onsen, or natural hot spring. Not just an ofuro (hot bathing pool), the mens’ and womens’ bathing areas draw Zao’s legendary aquamarine waters directly up and into their steaming indoor and outdoor pools. If you feel like taking in some crisp mountain air while you soak, head out to one of the rotenburo for a rejuvenating dip with a private view of the forest. Don’t be surprised if a couple kamoshima (mountain serow) drop by as well.

The onsen are also equipped with spacious pre- and post-soak showering and dressing rooms, which include skin moisturizer, beauty oil, and hair driers for patrons’ use.

The Food

Forest Zao Onsen’s dinners are a true feast. At the head of this “Viking-style” (Japanese all-you-can-eat) ten-meter-long buffet a huge sushi boat will send you on a food odyssey that culminates with a chef-manned Yamagata-bred beef grill.

The food here always focuses on natural, locally sourced ingredients and regional classic dishes, such as “dashi” (which in Yamagata is a savory blend of finely chopped vegetables), piping hot imoni, or tamakonnyaku served with spicy mustard. Some of these dishes aren’t even that well-known to Japanese guests coming from far off prefectures, so handy descriptions are occasionally included. You’ll find great salad and vegetable options too, along with a fantastic selection of tsukemono (Japanese-style pickles—don’t miss out on the cherries), Chinese dishes, and a delectable fruit and dessert bar. Oh, and a chocolate fountain.

Numerous alcohol and non-alcohol drink options can be found at the bar, with ice cold Asahi Super Dry always on tap.

Breakfast (again, “Viking” style) also doesn’t disappoint, with innumerable Western and Japanese style options to choose from. And while not the best part (since the best part is the food itself), dinner and breakfast are both totally included in the cost of the room.

Other Amenities

This hotel also has its own dedicated rental shop and free shuttle bus transportation right to the ski lifts!


For the money, Forest Zao Onsen offers so many perks and conveniences to make one’s stay worthwhile, but it is the honest-to-goodness service of the staff and management that make for a truly charming visit. While not everyone on staff is necessarily fluent in English, the Forest Zao Onsen crew are always incredibly welcoming to international visitors and are dedicated to making your stay in Zao Onsen something special.

Forest Zao Onsen Hotel

The town and ski lifts of Mt. Zao 

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