Hiking Mt. Miyanoura in Yakushima
Although I wrote many times about Yakushima including a post listing the most popular forest hikes such as Shiratani Unsuikyo in addition to 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 long visits to Yakushima to finally reach the islands 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 a little bit intimated by the word “traverse” – commonly used to describe this multi-day trail in Yakushima covering Yodogawa trail, Mt. Miyanoura and ending at either one of Arakawa or Shiratani trailheads. As for more personal 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 the 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. I for a long time foolishly thought that the popularity of Mt. Miyanoura hike was all about its status as the highest peak in Kyushu – an aspect that did not matter to me so much, as opposed to the beauty of the trail. As you may have guessed, I am definitely 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, which made Mt. Miyanoura a very special hike. So I went up to the mountain with low expectations and came down with very high rewards.
I wanted to write this post for fellow hikers who are debating on whether to try Mt. Miyanoura hike or stick to the lower elevation hikes, which are all very rewarding as well, during their trip to Yakushima. Mt. Miyanoura has an altitude of 1936 meter and the most popular trail – Yodogawa – starts at 1365m. I did the hike at the end of July so icing or snow along the trail was not a concern for me but you are highly advised to check the trail and weather conditions with 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 – Yakushima Tozan Map. In this post, I will provide the kanji version of main stops along the route as you may need the kanji reading to follow the trail signs (and almost everywhere in Japan) and you can also pick up the Japanese version of the highly useful tozan map to match it with the English one.
Yodogawa Trail to Mt. Miyanoura
There are numerous trails leading to Mt. Miyanoura. Yodogawa trail is the most popular one for number of reasons. It is the only trail that allows you a same day roundtrip to the peak of Mt. Miyanoura. It is also arguably the easiest path to the peak. Like many others, I also took the Yodogawa trail to reach the peak and then followed the Arakawa trail the next day to get out of the mountains.
Prior to my hike, I debated whether to start at Arakawa trail (the famous trail leading to even more famous thousands years old Jomon Sugi) instead of Yodogawa trail. If you are not on a guided tour or 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 through Yodogawa trail, bus is not an option as there is no early morning bus to take you to Yodogawa trailhead early enough (in most cases, you need to start before 7am as the roundtrip takes around 9-11 hours depending on your fitness level and trail conditions). Taxi, 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 takes around an hour. I used Anbo Taxi but you can check out your options here.
If you have extra time (two nights to spend on the trail), no other option than taking the bus and want to take Yodogawa trail – you may consider taking the afternoon bus to Kigen-suki and hike the approximate two hours to Yodogawa hut to spend the night. This will allow you to have an early start the next morning. If you are taking the bus, note that the bus does not go all the way up to Yodogawa trailhead. You will need to get on the bus going to Yakusugiland and continue until the last stop at Kigen-suki. From Kigen-suki – it is an easy 30mn walk to Yodogawa trailhead. You can check out the Yakushima Tourism Offices webpage for the periodically updated Yakushima bus schedule.
If you are relying on the bus and willing to spend the night at one of the huts near Jomon Sugi, Arakawa trailhead is the better option since the bus gets you to Arakawa trailhead early enough. But even in this option, if you are not willing 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 last bus from Kigen-suki leaves around 3pm and even the official map indicates a minimum hiking time of around 8-9 hours from Shin Takatsu Hut to the Yodogawa trailhead. I did not chose 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. While the Yodogawa trail is the more popular option (and slightly easier) not only for day but also overnight hikers, it is not rare to see people hiking the opposite way.
There are number of “landmarks” along the trail to Mt. Miyanoura, which will help you to track your timing, keep you excited and allow some nice coffee/snack breaks. The first one is Yodogawa Hut, which can be reached within 60 minutes from the trailhead. This is a wooden hut sitting right by the beautiful Yodogawa River (淀川). On a sunny day, the lighting above the river has an eternal feeling into it. The early morning light was so captivating that I had hard time leaving the scene continuing the hike. You can watch my short clip of a Yodogawa morning. One can easily spend a day hanging out by the Yodogawa River.
Few notes if you are planning to spend the night at Yodogawa Hut. Although it was not the case during my two visits to Yodogawa Hut in the summer of 2020 (due to the pandemic), Yodogawa Hut – along with the ones close to Jomon Sugi – is the most popular hut in Yakushima and can get crowded during peak vacation periods including Golden Week. In addition to the hut (which sleeps around 30 people), there is also a large tent area right in front that hikers are highly encouraged to use during the pandemic. There is also a water source and couple of toilet boots around the hut.
Hana-no-ego Marshland 花之江河
Remember that the real climb to Mt. Miyanoura starts after Yodogawa Hut. I thought the section between Yodogawa Hut and Hana-no-ego Marshland (花之江河), which takes around 90 minutes according to the map, is the more 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: a very interesting tofu shaped rock. Hana-no-ego Marshland is the Japan`s southernmost high altitude marsh and offers a great intro to the variety of the landscape that you will encounter during the relatively short hike up to Mt. Miyanoura. The landscape along the trail changes so frequently that the hike never gets repetitive. You are always surrounded by unique and often changing views to distract you from your tiredness.
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 very exciting encounter with yamabushis (mountain monks) during my walk on 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 other 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 Mt. Miyanoura trail.
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 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 variety of very interesting rock formations. The views and the general feeling of the section between Hana-no-ego Marshland and Mt. Miyanoura reminded me of Scotland – endless sea of green.
As I approached the peak, monkeys and beautiful deers of Yakushima joined me to keep me company. I had sunny weather for better part of my ascent, which made it possible to clearly observe the interior mountains of Yakushima (there was no ocean view once I reached the peak but the atmosphere brought on by the partial fog cover over the neighboring peaks felt more special). There are couple of very short rope climbing sections between Hana-no-ego Marshland and the peak of Mt. Miyanoura but nothing too difficult 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 Mt. Miyanoura hike – it is likely that it is the view of Mt. Nagata as you approach Mt. Miyanoura. Once you are at the peak – if you find a room – you are allowed to enjoy your lunch there (unlike some other view spots in Yakushima such as Taiko Iwa rock due to the congestion).
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 generous when assessing the time required between the main stops on the way down. As opposed to my ascent, 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 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 nights 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 have 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 beautiful Shiratani valley if you have not hiked there before.
For more info on 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 days journeys walking not through but around the island. Finally for more photos from Yakushima, my Yakushima Gallery. 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 definitely not an expert but willing to share my own experience.