Hiking in Japan: My Favorite Hikes and Walks
Hiking in Japan is one of my favorite activities. The trails are safe and often easily accessible thanks to the wonderful public transportation network covering the entire country. This makes things considerably easy for a solo traveler who does not drive.
This is a list of some of my favorite hikes in Japan. Most of these hikes are not very strenuous, and the list covers various types of trails including road walks, easy hikes by rivers as well as peak hunts.
Best hikes in Japan
The list below is not in any particular order of preference. I enjoyed all of these walks and hikes for very 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 close to the craters, which steam in all their glory. This is a relatively easy hike with only a few short steep sections. The small town of Aso also makes a perfect base with atmospheric eateries and a modern hostel suitable for solo hikers.
Karasawa Cirque: the most popular autumn colors hike in Japan
Karasawa Cirque trail, located in Kamikochi of Nagano, is one of the most popular fall colors hikes in Japan, if not the most. The long trail that leads to Karasawa Cirque from the Kamikochi bus stop is, however, beautiful in every season. Most people prefer to finish the Karasawa hike in two days with an overnight stay at one of the mountain huts or valley lodges. I hiked the trail in early September with a one-night stay at Tokusawa Lodge.
While there are some steep sections (for maybe 20 – 30 minutes), the hike is suitable for all levels of hikers, and the views along the way and at the top are worth the effort. This is easily one of the most visually pleasing hikes in Japan.
Kuju Mountain Range: hike to a mountain top onsen
Located in the northern section 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 than its neighbor Mountain Aso where the main attraction is the active volcano.
Although all the trails in Kuju are suitable for day hikes, the main allure of Kuju is the Hokkein Onsen where you can spend the night (and only accessible by hiking). The mountain cottage featuring an onsen offers both private and dorm-style rooms. It is a wonderful place to unwind after a full day of hiking, mingle with other hikers, and share trail stories.
The two popular trailheads are Chojabaru and Makinoto Pass (both accessible by public bus from nearby Yufuin, Aso, and Kurokawa Onsen). If you have a chance, I would recommend exploring both trails as each offers a very different but equally beautiful landscape scenery.
Circling Yakushima – Kyushu
Where will I ever get to circle a perfectly circular-shaped island covering 100 kilometers in distance? During my second visit to Yakushima (when I stayed for two months), I sure had plenty of time to explore the trails (or roads in this case) not listed among the famous hiking trails of Yakushima: I circled the island on foot following the car route.
I started my walk in Anbo and planned out my walking days according to the availability of the accommodation along the route. I finished the island walk in two nights and three days.
My favorite part was walking the famous West Forest Road where the only other creatures on foot were island monkeys and deer. 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.
Naka Dake Onsen loop hike in Daisetsuzan National Park – Hokkaido
This is a relatively long day hike taking around seven to eight hours but luckily not a very strenuous one. The more difficult section involves the hike up to Asahidake (the highest peak in Hokkaido) and then the steep descent down to the valley (which takes around 3 hours).
The rest of the trail goes through a gentle terrain where you experience some of the best scenery that the largest national park in Japan has to offer. During July – the trail is covered with beautiful alpine flowers making one feel like hiking in Switzerland. Asahidake-Naka Dake Onsen Loop hike is definitely one of my favorite hikes in Japan. You can read the detailed account of my hike here: Asahidake to Naka Daha Onsen Loop Hike.
Magome-Tsumago Trail along Nakasendo Route – Nagano
A classic hike in Kiso Valley, which is relatively short (8-kilometers), and easy under the ideal weather conditions. I did this hike a few years ago in early March. There was no snow along the trail, and we had sunshine all day. Given that it was still early in the season, my hiking partner and I had 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 to cross the car road in certain sections but most of the walk takes you through forests ( and waterfalls) and small villages featuring traditional Japanese 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.
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. On the second day, I took the Arakawa trail to walk 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) to anyone visiting Yakushima. The variety of landscape scenery that the trail is home to is incomparably rich (thus the UNESCO Heritage status). This was one of the most picturesque hikes that I have done in Japan. I wrote a separate post about this hike – Hiking Mt. Miyanoura.
Oirase Stream in Aomori – Tohoku
Perfect hike in any season outside the winter but is particularly memorable in the fall. You follow the gentle Oirase Stream until you reach Lake Towada. It is a very easy hike with almost zero altitude change but still rewarding with several waterfalls along the route.
The hike takes around two to three hours on average. The area is surprisingly well served by bus with many stops along the way. The peak fall color season in Towada and Oirase area occurs towards the end of October each year and JR`s Tohoku Pass (which is now also available to resident foreign passport holders) is a great deal for those departing from Tokyo. I wrote about my visit to Lake Towada and Oirase Stream in a separate post.
Yakiyama and Magose Passes along Iseji Route of Kumano Kodo
Two very different trails in terms of difficulty. Yakiyama Pass is known to be the most difficult trail along the Iseji Route of Kumano Kodo. Since I was heavily warned about the difficulty of this trail, I packed super light and in the end, did not find it to be particularly difficult. However, I hiked on a fully sunny day under the perfect weather conditions. Due to the mossy rocks (which makes this trail a highly rewarding one in terms of the scenery), this is not a trail I would want to cover on a rainy day. The trailhead is located right next to the Kumano Kodo information center right outside of Owase town.
Magose Pass, much easier than Yakiyama Pass, is known to be one of the most beautiful sections of not only the Iseji Route but the entire Kumano Kodo network. Magose Pass will always hold a special place in my heart as it was where I had my first encounter with mountain monks – yamabushis (山伏).
Magose Pass, also easily accessible from Owase town, can be walked in less than two hours (with several optional detours to turn it into a longer hiker). More about both trails in my Iseji Route post.
Kakurunji and Tairyuji Temple hikes in Shikoku
Two steep hikes along the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route earned both temples the title of 難所 (nansyo – difficult place). The trails leading up to these two 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, Kakurunji – Temple 20 and Tairyuji – Temple 21 on a rainy day. I had no complaints as the rain made the forest even more atmospheric. I wrote more about these two trails in my Walking Shikoku post.
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.