Hiking in Japan: My Favorite Hikes and Walks
Hiking in Japan is one of my favorite activities and there are many hikes in Japan that are suitable for all levels of hikers. The trails are safe and often easily accessible thanks to the wonderful public transportation available in the entire country. This makes things very easy for a solo traveler, such as myself, who does not drive.
This post is based on the idea to offer one main post serving as a starting point for various individual posts in this blog where I go into the details of some of my favorite hikes and walks in Japan. The list includes various categories of trails ranging from road walks to peak hunts.
Best Hikes in Japan
The list below is not in any particular order of preference/like and I enjoyed all of these walks and hikes individually – for different reasons.
Mount Aso in Kyushu: Japan`s Largest Active Volcano
Mount Aso hike in Japan offers the best combination of the most unique things about hiking in Japan. The trail is easily accessible with a direct bus leaving from Aso town. Depending on the alert level, hikers can get closed to the craters which are often steaming in all their glory. This is a relatively easy hike with only short steep sections. The small town of Aso also makes a perfect base with handful but atmospheric eateries and a great and modern hostel suitable for solo hikers.
Kuju Mountain Range: Hike to a Mountain Top Onsen
Located on the northern part of Aso-Kuju National Park, Kuju is a hike with everything. The mountain range hosts dozens of trails suitable for all levels of hikers. Kuju offers a greater diversity of landscape compared to its neighbour Mountain Aso. Although all the trails in Kuju is suitable for day hikes, one of the most rewarding experiences that it offers is the Hokkein Onsen that can only be reached by hiking. The mountain cottage featuring an onsen offers both private and dorm style rooms. Is is a wonderful place to unwind after a day of hiking and mingle with other hikers and share trail stories.
The two popular trailheads are Chojabaru and Makinoto Pass (both accessible by public bus (though not very frequent) from nearby Yufuin, Aso or Kurokawa Onsen). If you have a chance, I recommend that you explore both trails as each exposes you to a different landscape.
Naka Dake Onsen Loop Hike in Daisetsuzan National Park – Hokkaido
A relatively long day hike of seven to eight hours that will make you feel like you really hiked at the end of the day. The more difficult part involves the hike up to Asahidake (the highest peak in Hokkaido) and then the steep descent that will take you around three hours in total. The rest of the hike involves pleasant hiking making you experience some of the best scenery that the largest national park in Japan has to offer. During July – the trail is covered by beautiful alpine flowers making one feel like hiking in Switzerland. Definitely one of my favorite hikes in Japan. You can read the detailed account of my Asahidake to Naka Daha Onsen Loop Hike.
Magome-Tsumago Trail Along Nakasendo Route – Nagano
A classic hike in Kiso Valley, which is relatively short (8km) and easy under the ideal weather conditions. I did this hike few years ago in early March. There was no snow along the trail and the weather was very pleasant and sunny all the way. Given that it was still early in the season, my hiking partner and I had almost the entire trail to ourselves and covered it in less than three hours with a long stop at an impossibly atmospheric tea house along the route. You need do road crossing certain sections but most of the walk takes you through forests (waterfall as well) and small villages loyal to classical Japanese home architecture. This is a historic trail connecting two of the Edo period postal towns Magome and Tsumago, which are both very well preserved but can consequentially get a little too busy during peak travel season. We combined this hike with a stay at Takayama town in Gifu.
Circling Yakushima – Kyushu
Where will I ever get to circle a perfectly circular shaped island covering a 100km in distance? During my second visit to Yakushima when I stayed for two months, I sure had the time to do something outside of the more famous hiking trails and circle the island on foot following the car route. I started from Anbo and planned out my walking days according to the availability of the accommodation along the route. I did it in two nights three days and did not really divide the days equally (first day being too short because of a wallet incident and my desire to stay at wonderful Yakushima South Village Hostel but it worked out okay. The favorite part was walking the famous West Forest Road where the only other creatures on foot were island monkeys and deers. You can take many detours along the route to visit some of the many waterfalls in Yakushima. I also strongly recommend an overnight stay in Nagata, one of the most picturesque towns in Yakushima, for the sunset and sunrise views. You can read a more detailed account of my Yakushima island walk – Circling Yakushima.
Mt. Miyanoura Hike in Yakushima – Kyushu
Another Yakushima hike, which is sure more popular than circling Yakushima. I took the Yodogawa trail to reach Kyushu`s highest peak – Mt. Miyanoura and spent the night at one of the mountain huts close to Jomon Sugi to follow the Arakawa trail on the second day to get out of the mountains. I did the hike during perfectly sunny two days – a rare find in Yakushima. I highly recommend this hike (long but not technically difficult) as the variety of landscape that you will come across along the hike keeps the things always very interesting. One of the most picturesque hikes that I have done in Japan. I wrote more about this hike recently with tips on the transportation and trail planing – Hiking Mt. Miyanoura.
Oirase Stream in Aomori – Tohoku
Perfect hike in any season outside the winter but particularly memorable during the fall season. You follow the gentle Oirase Stream all the way until you reach Lake Towada. It is a very easy hike with almost zero altitude change but very rewarding with various waterfalls along the route. The hike takes around two three hours on average. The area is surprisingly well served by bus with many stops along the way. The peak fall color season in the area is usually towards the end of October each year and JR`s Tohoku Pass (which is now also for a limited time available to resident foreign passport holders) really helps with the trip budget. I wrote about my visit to Lake Towada and Oirase Stream in a separate post.
Yakiyama and Magome Passes Along Iseji Route of Kumano Kodo
Well, two very different hikes in terms of the difficulty. Yakiyama Pass is known as the most difficult trail along the Iseji Route of Kumano Kodo. It can be done in about 4 hours and I found it not particularly difficult (if you pack really light and do not hike under or right after rain as the rocks get dangerously slippery) but extremely rewarding. The trailhead starts right outside of Owase town near Kumano Kodo center.
If Yakiyama Pass is rightfully known as the most difficult section of Iseji Route, Magome Pass (probably one of the easiest sections) is also rightfully known as one of the most beautiful sections of not only Iseji Route but entire Kumano Kodo network. It was also where I had my first encounter with mountain monks – yamabushis (山伏). Magome Pass, just like Yakiyama Pass, starts at Owase town (the other end of the trailhead being near a roadside station (eki no michi) outside of Owase. It can be done in less than two hours but there are two detours that you can take for a longer hike. I wrote about Iseji Route last year when I covered these two trails under mild weather conditions in February.
Okunikko Hike in Nikko
One of the most accessible hikes for me since I live in Tokyo (thanks to Nikko All Area Pass). It is not long, nor difficult but one of the most thrilling hikes for me that I try to repeat every year. Starting at the trailhead near Ryuzu Falls in Nikko – the trail offers many detours to the marshlands of Nikko National Park and also takes you all the way to Yunoko Onsen (the trails are often cut short though due to the weather events and it is best to check with the tourism office at Nikko Tobu station to see the available trails on the day of your visit). My favorite is the short trail to Odashirogahara. I was once greeted by a group of hummingbirds there adding to the atmosphere of an already impressive scenery where you get the views of the surrounding mountains at the end of a vast marshland. I wrote more about my hikes in Nikko, which is another fall colors favorite in Japan.
Kakurunji and Tairyuji Temple Hikes in Shikoku
Two steep hikes along Shikoku Pilgrimage Route earning both temples the title of 難所 (nansyo – difficult place). The trails leading up to these two very atmospheric temples are also known as possibly the most scenic hikes along the famous pilgrimage route. Like many others, I hiked the two temples on the same day consecutively, Kakurunji – Temple 20 and Tairyuji – Temple 21 under rainy weather. I had no complaints as the rain made the forest even more atmospheric and since the both trails almost entirely follow a forest route, with the cover offered by the trees, I was not much impacted by the rain. More about these two hikes and other Shikoku hikes in my Walking Shikoku post.
Minami Awa Sunline Route – Tokushima – Shikoku
This oceanside walk will take you from beautiful Hiwasa town to less eventful Minami town in less than 4 hours. You follow the car road all the way but it is a very low traffic route. There are many view points along the route where you can take a break and enjoy the Pacific Ocean. There are also number of detours that you can take down to the beaches where you may likely encounter the famous surfers of Shikoku. It feels like the famous Pacific Coast Highway road trip in California but from the other side and on foot. Minami town is very small with 6000 residents but is home to number of eateries for end of walk feast. Wrote more about the experience: Walking Shikoku.
Takijiri to Takahara – Nakahechi Route of Kumano Kodo
Please do not shoot me for recommending this short but very steep hike. Nothing technical or particularly dangerous but just steep. It is one of the most popular starting points of the best known route of Kumano Kodo – Nakahechi Route. I recommend this hike not only because it was my Kumano Kodo experience but also because of the reward at the end after 3 hours of climbing – Kiri no Sato Lodge in Takahara overlooking the valley below and the mountains. The best place that I stayed in during my two trips to Kumano Kodo – excellent food, bath but more importantly very beautiful morning fog scenery from the rooms, which all have a small deck overlooking the valley. I talk more about my first Kumano Kodo experience in my Walking Kumano Kodo post.
Yakusugiland Hike in Yakushima
I debated on whether to include this relatively well known hike in my list. I then decided in favor of it as I think the name of the area may be a little off-putting for fellow hikers keeping them from exploring this rewarding network of trails. Yakusugiland, which is easily accessible by bus from Anbo and Miyanoura is home to various trails including 30mn short walks and peak hunts such as the trail leading up to Tachu Dake. My favorite is the 2-3 hours circuit taking you into deep forest – Tenmon no Mori hike. There are also many suspension bridges in the area adding to the diversity of the scenery.
Other Trails for Best Hikes in Japan
These are some of my favorite hikes in Japan and I will be updating this post regularly as I get to discover new trails. For other Japan focused posts – you can visit my Japan Travel page.