Sadogashima Island Traverse Hike: Forests, Ridges and Strange Things

Sagodashima Island traverse hike was full of surprises, some purely pleasant and some pleasantly strange surprises. After weeks of humid August weather in Tokyo that kept me indoors, I was looking forward to having a full day out in the forest under less humid weather conditions. That alone would be enough. I was not expecting or even hoping for remarkable scenery.

Sadogashima traverse was also my first hike in Japan after a month-long trip to New Zealand where I got to hike three of the Great Walks. I was a little worried that my New Zealand trip, one of the most beautiful nature destinations in the world, might have ruined the hiking experience in Japan for me. I could not be more wrong. Sadogashima Island traverse, with its diverse landscape scenery, turned out to be a rewarding and memorably strange hike.

Sadogashima traverse trail access

The 13-kilometer trail starts at Donden Highland Lodge and leads the hikers to the highest point on Sadogashima – Mount Kinpoku. The end point is the picturesque Hakuundai, a wooden cottage, with a large viewing deck in front. The hike may take you anywhere from 5 to 7 hours.

While you can start your hike from either end (and I ran into two hikers who started from Hakuundai), the section between Hakkundai and Mount Kinpoku involves a one-hour hike on a paved road – probably not a very exciting way to start your hike. As a result, most people start their hike at Donden Highland Lodge. While I stayed at the wonderful Hostel Perch, many people prefer to stay at Donden Lodge to have an early start to their hike.

As for the transportation to the trailhead, except for the flowering season in June, there is, unfortunately, no public bus to the trailheads. Unless you have a car, booking a private taxi is the only option to get to the trailhead. I booked my ride to the trailhead with Minato Taxi a day before the hike for a 7 am pick-up from Sadogashima Port and 2 pm meet-up time at Hakkundai (白雲台) for the return ride (11,000 Yen in total). If you finish the hike early, as I did, you can just give them a call and they will send the first taxi available.

Rocky mountain scenery in Sadogashima

You can pick up a free hiking map from the tourism office located in the Sadogashima ferry port. This is also where you register for the hike, a mandatory process, as part of the trail goes through a zone controlled by the Japan Self Defense Forces. There is only the Japanese version of the hiking map. So it may be helpful to get yourself familiar with the Kanji version of the milestones along the trail. The trail, especially in the beginning section, involves multiple detours that can get confusing if you cannot read the trail signs all written in Japanese.

Donden Highlands, starting the hike with great scenery

I started the hike a little before 8 a.m. For the first 20-30 minutes, the trail follows a corridor of trees that leads up to, in my view, the most beautiful scenery along the Sadogashima traverse trail. On one side, you get uninterrupted views of the Sea of Japan. On the other side, a picturesque and red-roofed emergency hut sits against the backdrop of lush mountain scenery.

Emergency hut in mountanous area in Sadagoashima

This is also where you have the option to make the 5 minutes detour to the picturesque Donden Pond (ドンデン池). You can also hike up to the emergency hut (ドンデン避難小屋) in a few short minutes. You will eventually have to hike back to the original trail to continue the traverse route.

After this point, the trail gets a little narrower (but there are no sketchy sections) and, within 20 minutes, joins a paved road for around 300 meters. You leave the paved road and enter the forest again once you see the sign for Mount Kinpoku (金北). The trail soon becomes steeper and requires a 40 to 50 minutes climb until you reach Matone (アトネ).

Matone to Mount Kinpoku

The section between Matone and Mount Kinpoku, within a short 2 hours, makes you experience a mind-blowing diversity of the landscape scenery. There are narrow sections where you walk among thick bushes (luckily there are no bears on the island) that suddenly open to picturesque ridges featuring interesting rock formations. I did the hike on a sunny day. But the ridge section, which is relatively exposed, can get a little challenging in case of rain or windy weather. This is also the section where you may want to reach for your hiking poles.

The final section before Mount Kinpoku (1172-meters), the highest peak on Sadogashima, requires one final climbing push.

Mount Kinpoku, what a strange peak

After all the beautiful and diverse scenery that I hiked through, Mount Kinpoku could, as the main goal of the hike (according to the official Sadogashima Island tourism site), feel easily very underwhelming – if it did not turn out to be one of the strangest mountain peaks that I have been to in Japan (or in the world honestly).

The peak is home to the modest Kinpokusan shrine (not unusual) sandwiched between two large and abandoned industrial buildings (again not unusual for Japan only if it was not a mountain peak).

The scenery that greeted me at the peak was so unexpected (not featured in the photos on the official tourism website for obvious reasons) that I for a moment thought that I had lost my way. But no, I was on the peak of Mount Kinpoku, the highest point of Sadogashima Island. Japan, in a good or bad way, you never cease to amaze me.

Hiking through “strange things”

Once I left Kinpoku Shrine and its industrial companions behind, things started getting even stranger. The final section of the Sadogashima island traverse trail follows a paved road operated by the Japan Self Defense Forces. The road is home to several radar stations that made the trail feel like a scene from a science fiction movie. There was also this retro vibe reminding me of the TV Show Stranger Things.

This final “strange” section that leads to the end point of the hike, the Hakkundai viewpoint, takes around 40 to 60 minutes. Hakkundai also serves as a rest stop where you can get ice cream and beverages.

Sadahoshima Island traverse hike, with all the landscape beauty and the strange terrain, reminded me of the unexpected joys of hiking in Japan – a country where the scenery may not be as perfect as in New Zealand, but is never short of surprises.