Hiking Mt. Miyanoura in Yakushima

Even though I wrote many times about Yakushima including a post listing the most popular forest hikes such as Shiratani Unsuikyo and a diary of my three days circling the island, I saved the best for last. Not only in terms of writing. It took me three visits to Yakushima to finally reach the island`s and Kyushu`s highest peak – Mt. Miyanoura.

Although I had my unwarranted reasons to delay hiking one of the most famous trails of Yakushima – Mt. Miyanoura hike turned out to be a very memorable experience. One of the main reasons for my prior hesitation was the logistical issues that I touched upon in the next section.

I think I was also intimated by the word “traverse”, as in Yakushima Island Traverse – commonly used to describe this multi-day trail in Yakushima starting at Yodogawa trail and ending at either one of Arakawa or Shiratani trailheads after reaching Kyushu`s highest peak.

Mt. Miyanoura Hike - Yakushima

For the more subjective reasons, I am one of those hikers who is more interested in the beauty of the trail itself rather than the excitement that comes with peak hunting. I can happily hike for days with no vista views or without gaining any elevation if the trail is scenic or interesting enough. For a long time, I foolishly thought that the popularity of Mt. Miyanoura hike was due to its status as the highest peak in Kyushu – an aspect that did not matter to me. As you may have guessed, I am not on a quest to conquer the 100 famous mountains of Japan (日本百名山 – Nihon Hyaku-meizan). But little did I know that it was the beauty of the trail and the diversity of the landscape that you pass through, that make Mt. Miyanoura a very special hike. So I went up to the mountain with low expectations and came down with very high rewards. 

Mt. Miyanoura: logistics

I wanted to write this post for fellow hikers who are debating on whether to attempt the Mt. Miyanoura hike or stick to the lower elevation hikes, which are all very rewarding in their own right, during their trip to Yakushima.

I did the hike at the end of July, at a time when icing or snow along the trail was not a concern, but you are advised to check the trail and weather conditions with the Yakushima Tourism Association (especially if you are hiking outside of the summer season to minimize the risk of incidents).

You can also check out the approximate trail time/distance between various landmarks along the trail  using Yakushima Tozan Map. In this post, I will provide the kanji version of the milestones along the route as you may need the kanji reading to follow the trail signs and you can also pick up the Japanese version of the useful tozan map to match it with the English one. 

How to get to the trailheads for Mt. Miyanoura hike

Among the several trails leading to Mt. Miyanoura, the Yodogawa trail is the most popular one. It is the only trail that allows you a same-day roundtrip to the peak of Mt. Miyanoura. It is also arguably the easiest route to reach the peak. I also took the Yodogawa trail with an overnight stay at one of the mountain huts near Jomon Sugi and finished the hike at Arakawa trailhead.

Starting the hike at Yodogawa trailhead

Before my hike, I debated whether to start at the Arakawa trail (the famous trail leading to even more famous thousands of years old Jomon Sugi) instead of the Yodogawa trail. If you are not on a guided tour or do not have your own transportation, you may be debating the same due to the bus schedule.
For a same-day trip, which can only be done if you take the Yodogawa trail, a bus is not an option as there is no early morning bus to take you to Yodogawa trailhead early enough (most people need to start before 7 am as the roundtrip takes around 9-11 hours depending on their fitness level and trail conditions). Taxi to Yodogawa trailhead – which can be pre-booked – will cost you around 6000 Yen one way from Anbo (based on the fare in the summer of 2020) and the ride takes around an hour. I used Anbo Taxi but you have many alternative options.

Mt. Miyanoura Hike - Yakushima

If you have extra time (two nights to spend on the trail), no other option than taking the bus and want to take the Yodogawa trail – you may consider taking the afternoon bus to Kigen-suki and hike to Yodogawa hut (2 hours) to spend the night at the hut or in the designated tent area. This will allow you to have an early start the next morning and make it to the return bus to Anbo or Miyanoura. If you decide to take the bus (from Anbo to Yakusugiland), note that the bus does not go all the way up to Yodogawa trailhead. You will need to stay in the bus until the last stop, Kigen-suki, and then walk for 30 minutes minutes to the trailhead. You can check out the Yakushima Tourism Office webpage for the periodically updated Yakushima bus schedule.

Starting the hike at Arakawa trailhead

If you are relying on the bus and willing to spend the night at one of the huts near Jomon Sugi, the Arakawa trailhead is the better option since the bus gets you to Arakawa trailhead early enough. But even with this option, if you are not willing to or do not have time to spend a second night along the trail, you need to be very careful with your timing on the second day. The official Yakushima hiking map indicates a minimum hiking time of around 8-9 hours from Shin Takatsu Hut to the Yodogawa trailhead. The last bus from Kigen-suki leaves shortly before 3 pm.

I did not choose the Arakawa option mainly because I wanted to hike the more interesting and scenic part of the trail on the first day (in addition to not wanting to be pressed for time to make the last bus) and had already hiked the Arakawa trail to Jomon Sugi many times before. It is, however, not rare to come across people who started their hike from Arakawa trailhead.

Yodogawa trail to Mt. Miyanoura 淀川

There are several “landmarks” along the trail to Mt. Miyanoura, which will help you to track your time, keep you excited, and allow for some nice coffee/snack breaks.

Yodogawa Hut – along with the two other huts close to Jomon Sugi – is the most popular hut in Yakushima and can get crowded during peak vacation periods (Golden Week in early May and Obon in early August). In addition to the hut, which sleeps around 30 people, there is also a large tent area. There is a water source and a couple of toilet boots around the hut.

Gentle hike to Yodogawa River

The first one is Yodogawa Hut, which can be reached within 60 minutes from the trailhead. The hut is a beautiful wooden cottage sitting right by the Yodogawa River (淀川). On a sunny day, the lighting above the river has an eternal feeling to it, so eternal that it can keep you staring at it for hours. One can easily spend a day hanging out by the Yodogawa River (some hiking guides in Yakushima offer a half-day brunch tour to the Yodogawa River).

From Yodogawa Hut to Hana-no-ego Marshland  花之江河

The real climb to Mt. Miyanoura starts after the Yodogawa Hut. I thought that the section between Yodogawa Hut and Hana-no-ego Marshland (花之江河), which takes around 90 minutes according to the map, was the most challenging part of this otherwise relatively manageable trail.

On the way up to the marshland area, you will see Mt. Koban and Tofu Rock on your left. As the adopted name suggests, it is a tofu-shaped rock that features in many Yakushima hiking photos.

Hana-no-ego Marshland is Japan`s southernmost high-altitude marsh and a testament to the variety of the landscape that you will encounter during the hike up to Mt. Miyanoura. The landscape along the trail changes so frequently that the views never get repetitive. You are always surrounded by unique and often changing scenery to distract you from your tired legs.

Encounter with a yamabushi, mountain monks of Japan

The second surprise of the day for me – following the eternal light encounter at Yodogawa – came at Hana-no-ego Marshland where I ran into a yamabushi – a mountain monk. This took me back to my first encounter with a yamabushi during my walk on the Iseji Route of Kumano Kodo. After the beautiful morning light at Yodogawa trail, my brief encounter with a yamabushi – who kindly played his horagai (法螺貝) for me and the fellow hikers – made me feel  so content and satisfied that I would not mind if the hike ended right there. But I am glad that I pressed on to discover the even more unique offerings of the Mt. Miyanoura trail.

Reaching the peak of Mt. Miyanoura 宮之浦岳

Shortly after you leave Hana-no-ego Marshland, you will pass by a detour to Kuromi Dake, another peak in Yakushima with beautiful vista views. I saved the Kuromi Dake hike for another day (I did it a week later by taking the bus and basing myself at Yodogawa Hut for the night) and continued on the trail to Mt. Miyanoura (宮之浦岳).

I soon came across a variety of interesting rock formations. The views and the general feeling of the section between Hana-no-ego Marshland and Mt. Miyanoura reminded me of Scotland – an endless sea of greenery.

Mt. Miyanoura Yakushima

As I approached the peak, monkeys and beautiful deers of Yakushima joined me to keep me company. I had sunny weather for the better part of my ascent, which made it possible to observe the interior mountains of Yakushima. 

There are a couple of short sections between Hana-no-ego Marshland and the peak that require rope climbing, but nothing too difficult or technical to tackle on a sunny and dry day. 

As if the views were not already magnificent enough, the iconic view of Mt. Nagata accompanied me during my final push to the peak of Mt. Miyanoura. If you have seen photos from this hike – it is likely that the photo features Mt. Nagata as seen from Mt. Miyanoura. Once you are at the peak – and if you find a room – you can enjoy your lunch there (unlike some other view spots in Yakushima such as the Taiko Iwa Rock where lunch is now allowed due to the congestion).

Return through Arakawa Trail 荒川

Since I was planning to spend the night at Shin Takatsu Hut (新高塚小屋) on the way down to Arakawa Trail (荒川) and had plenty of time to make it before the dark, I spent almost an hour at the peak. However, a friend rightly warned me that the hike down to Shin Takatsu Hut from Mt. Miyanoura usually takes people longer than they originally anticipate. So it is advisable to be cautious when assessing the time required between the main stops on the way down.

As opposed to my ascent under cloudless skies, I descended under foggy conditions, which brought out that dark forest atmosphere that I adore. I was the only one on the trail and thoroughly enjoyed the mystique atmosphere. While there are no vista views on the way down, you may still want to take into account many photo stops when working on your trail schedule.

I chose the Shin Takatsu Hut for my overnight stay as it was the closest one along my path and reportedly less crowded compared to the original Takatsu Hut closer to Jomon Sugi. I and a fellow Japanese hiker – who hiked the opposite way starting at Arakawa aiming for a sunrise at Mt. Miyanoura – were the only ones at the hut that night. We both had our town tents and camped outside the hut following the advice of the tourism office (due to the pandemic). I had a good night’s sleep testing out my new tent and sleeping bag.

The next day was uneventful as I followed the Arakawa trail to Jomon Sugi, a hike that I had done many times before. If you have additional energy left, you can partially follow the Arakawa trail and then take the detour to Shiratani to extend your hike and have a taste of the beautiful Shiratani valley if you have not hiked there before.

Other sources on Yakushima

For more info on the Mt. Miyanoura hike and various trail options in Yakushima – you can check out this very helpful tool created by a former Yakushima guide. For my more detailed post on Yakushima covering the lower altitude trails and practical info on how to get to Yakushima and where to stay – you can refer to my main post – Yakushima: Land of Beautiful Hikes.

If you have a lot of time in Yakushima and want to develop a different perspective on the island, you can also check out my Circling Yakushima post – my three-day journeys walking not through but around the island. Finally for more photos from Yakushima, my Yakushima Gallery. For more hikes – Hikes in Japan post is where I list some of my favorites. There is nothing I enjoy more than travel talk so please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have any further questions about hiking in Yakushima. I am not an expert but willing to share my own experience.