Adventure Travel: Hiking in Japan
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Originally Posted On: https://alljapantours.com/japan/travel/what-to-do/hiking-in-japan/
JAPAN HIKING ADVENTURE TRAVEL GUIDE
Ready to check out the best hikes in Japan? Japan offers a diversity of hiking opportunities like nowhere else on earth. Whether you’re up for a short day hike or want to undertake a longer expedition, here are some of Japan’s most epic spots to take a hike.
Any travelers who enjoy immersing themselves in splendid natural beauty has a lot to look forward to on a tour of Japan. No matter the landscape you prefer to wander thorugh, Japan has your interest covered. Rugged mountain peaks, mysterious forests, refreshing hot spring baths, gorgeous beaches, fields of colorful flowers, time-honored temples and shrines, little mountain villages: The Land of the Rising Sun is rich with delightful scenes that take travelers’ breath away.
Japan has long been a walking and hiking culture. During the Edo period, specific paths were maintained as links between Kyoto and Tokyo, Japan’s two most important cities of that time. Walking routes like the Nakasendo Road really bring you back to a Japan of years past, an atmosphere highlighted by the charming post towns you pass through on the way. Being a deeply religious country that connects the supernatural with the natural world, various pilgrimage routes connect old-fashioned temples to the surrounding natural splendor in a deep and meaningful way. Perhaps the most incredible is the Kumano Kodo, a multi-day walking trail through dense forests and up mountain paths to reach three ancient temples, providing not only the wild appeal of nature but also a chance for spiritual reflection. Japan a mountainous county, with peaks like Mount Fuji and the Japanese Alps that not only give rewarding challenges to mountain climbers, but are celebrated as national symbols in art and poetry. As a country that prides itself on how beautiful it’s land is, Japan is home to a number of national parks. Some of these, like the Shiretoko Peninsula and Yakushima Island, hold such rare beauties that they are protected by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.
So of course, the best hikes are also magnificent cultural experiences, combining an inspiring or idyllic landscape with a location of historic significance. So you can count on beholding the most beautiful of nature scenes as well as connecting to the ancient culture of Japan. Browse our listing of Japan’s most popular hiking trails to find the best one for your hiking group.
BEST TIME FOR HIKING IN JAPAN
When to go on a hiking tour of Japan is going to depend largely on your group’s personal preferences: when your group is available, a particular season you might want to see, types of landscapes you are looking forward to, not to mention any specific hiking trails your group is interested in.
For mountain climbers, midsummer is the best season all around to scale summits, whether you are looking to climb Mount Fuji, trek through the Japanese Alps, explore the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido, and many other breathtaking natural gems. Hokkaido in particular is one of the best places to hike in the summer, since it isn’t as hot and humid as the rest of Japan at that time. Then again, if you are charmed by winter scenes, Hokkaido and northern Honshu (the main island) will your preferred destinations, where you’ll see snow festivals, slopes cloaked in white powder, and even trees frozen into the shapes of “snow monsters”.
Spring is one of the all around most popular times to hike Japan, when the temperature slowly gets warmer, starting off “brisk” in March and reaching “just right” around May. Temple gardens, fields, and forests ripen with springtime colors, and Cherry Blossom pink is king. As one of Japan’s more famous national icons, they are definitely worth looking at for any hiker or nature-loving traveler. The other top season to go for hiking is autumn, when the summer rains that most of Japan endures have passed, many of the days are sunny and clear, and the leaves of the Japaense maple, zelkova, and ginkgo trees put on their brightest fall colors. The cherry blossom and autumn leaves seasons can elevate otherwise pretty hiking trails to new magnificence as they create a kind of seasonal enchantment that captivates travelers, turning hikers and walkers into wonderland wanderers. These seasonal charms aside, spring and fall are good overall times to hike the country, or to go island hopping in Okinawa or other areas.
Anytime in Japan can be a great time to go hiking, so please consider carefully which time of the year is the right time for your hiking group.
BEST HIKES IN JAPAN
When choosing which Japan hikes to include on your list of must-do’s, certain trails rise to be the cream of the crop. These best hikes in Japan stand out for their perfect mix of untouched natural charm sprinkled with a local cultural appeal that offers travelers a chance for heart-pounding adventure, tranquil relaxation, and personal enrichment. That being said, there are so many wondrous hiking trails to enjoy in Japan that we had to categorize the best hiking trails by region. Stunning summit hikes, breathtaking national parks, UNESCO-protected nature preserves, meditative pilgrimage trails around ancient Buddhist temples, heritage roads once walked during the Edo Period, well as maginificent views of all kinds – you can find all this and more while hiking in Japan. Please browse below for our list of best hikes in Japan by region.
Hokkaido Hiking Trails
Hokkaido is rich with natural splendor, and has some of Japan’s most beautiful hiking trails and walking paths. From majestic mountains to floral lowlands, Hokkaido is filled to bursting with unique beauties that beckon to adventureous travelers. The island is nearly covered in breathtaking national parks that offer hikers their choice of bewitching nature sights. Rishiri Rebun Sarobetsu National Park beckons hikers to its famed mountain, known as Rishiri-Fuji. Shiretoko National Park charms travelers with lovely scenes of drift ice and sea eagles. Mighty Daisetsuzan National Park takes adventurers over the roof of Hokkaido: the home of Hokkaido’s brown bears. Akan-Mashu and Shikotsu-Toya National Parks feature some of the world’s clearest lakes, and Onuma Quasi-National Park has a truly majestic volcano. There are hiking trails in Hokkaido to fit every skill level, so every traveler with sturdy hiking boots can enjoy the island’s beauties.
Rishiri Rebun Sarobetsu National Park
Rishiri Rebun Sarobetsu National Park is comprised of two islands and a long stretch of wetland in northwest Hokkaido. Rustic, remote, stunning: the Rishiri and Rebun islands feature fishing towns, forest paths with secret little shrines, and over all, Mount Rishiri – a shapely Fuji-esque volcanic cone rising nearly 2,000 meters out of the sea. Most local hikers come in mid-summer to climb the photogenic peak; the scant number of international visitors truly give the trails up the mountain that treasured off-the-beaten-track feel. The park has numerous other trails around the island and through the Sarobetsu Wetlands, where birdwatchers enjoy watching the bean goose and other cute waterfowl. The Rebun island is well-known in the area for the alpine flowers growing near its stunning coastline.
Shiretoko National Park
Shiretoko National Park, located on the northeast tip of Hokkaido, offers almost endless opportunities for adventuresome hikers. Unforgettable landscapes including mountains, lakes, pristine forests populated by numerous animals, and a breathtaking scenes of drift ice captivate the travelers trekking to the region. Exciting ice-breaker cruise tours and excursions walking out over the ice are available through late winter, and especially birdwatchers scour the area hoping for the precious sight of a Steller’s Sea Eagle. The Shiretoko Five Lakes are some of the region’s best unspoiled areas, with well-maintained nature trails and even an elevated boardwalk by the first lake. From May to July is a popular time to join a hiking tour to visit Shiretoko National Park to sightsee the local wildlife, especially searching for groups of delightful black bears.
Daisetsuzan National Park
Daisetsuzan National Park is Japan’s largest national park. Known by the native Ainu people as Kamuimintara – “the gods’ playground” – this national park is one of the first places hikers go to see autumn foliage. A number of different biomes can be explored at Daisetsuzan: the mountain range includes Hokkaido’s highest peak, Mount Asahidake, which provide the best views atop the roof of Hokkaido. Some trekkers prefer traversing gorgeous Sounkyo Gorge, which features the breathtaking waterfalls, Ryusei no Taki and Ginga no Taki, cascading over 100 meters down the side of a cliff. Browsing around this national park’s untamed wilderness, hikers can see the park’s celebrated animal attraction: brown bears, along with Yezo Sika Deer, northern pika, and various other native creatures.
Akan-Mashu National Park
Akan Mashu National Park is an especially lovely park located in eastern Hokkaido, known for its splendid lakes and volcanic regions. The park is subdivided into two regions, each with distinct charms for travelers. The first is the area around the Akan volcanic caldera, which includes Lake Akan – gorgeous in any season but especially in winter, when it freezes solid enough to walk across. Also in the area is Mount Meakan – the tallest peak in the park and a hiker’s delight for those in search of fantastic views. On the other side of the park is Lake Mashu – one of the clearest lakes in the world, boasting a visibility depth of almost 40 meters, and surrounded by delightful greenery. Lake Kussharo is nearby and is Japan’s largest caldera lake. The lake offers local hot springs: a perfect place to rest after a long hike. The lake is the habitat of the beautiful white whooper swan, which attracts birdwatchers to its shores. Traveling nature-lovers also hope to sight the local legend: a lake monster playfully named “Kusshii”.
Shikotsu-Toya National Park
Shikotsu-Toya National Park is on the western side of Hokkaido, within easy travel distance from Sapporo. Come to the region to enjoy two delightfully clear lakes, the volcanic region of Noboribetsu, and breathtaking Hohei Gorge near Jozankei Onsen. Hike beside captivating lakeside scenery at Lake Shikotsu – delightfully clear even in winter, and aside from a few spare houses, boasts plenty of unspoiled splendor. The park is renowned for excellent hot springs, each providing local charms: Jozankei Onsen has gorgeous Hohei Gorge which is especially pretty covered in fall leaves, and Noboribetsu Onsen has close by the primordial valley of Jigokudani, constantly wreathed in volcanic steam. Lake Toya is a nearly perfect circle, and is Japan’s second most transparent lake, sparkling prettily surrounded by mountainous landscape. The tallest mountain on the border, Mount Usu, offers breathtaking views to climbers, including nearby Showa-shinzan, a relatively young volcano and a fascinating sight to admire.
Onuma Quasi-National Park
Onuma Quasi-National Park is in southern Hokkaido at the foot of Mount Komagatake, easily accessible from the city of Hakodate. By far the best season to visit Onuma is in the fall: the park is widely acknowledged as one of the top fall foliage spots in Hokkaido. The two lakes, Onuma and Konuma, are the most attractive areas for hiking, with plenty of well-managed trails to explore including a total of 18 charming bridges that let travelers hop from island to island across the lake. Cyclists are sure to enjoy lakeside area as well, the cycling route around Lake Onuma. Kamogatake is impressive at any time of the year, a picturesque sight from across the lake. Myriad other outdoor activities apart from hiking are available in season, whether you enjoy canoeing or camping in summer or snowshoeing and ice fishing in winter. The national park is a must-stop for birdwatchers, who visit there in late winter in search of the waterfowl that roost on the lake – especially dainty white swans.
Oirase Stream | Aomori
Oirase Stream, also known as Oirase Gorge, is a top travel destination for nature lovers in Aomori prefecture. This location is most bewitching in autumn, when the normally lush forest burns red, orange and gold with bright fall foliage. The stream flows out of Lake Towada, which sits on the border between Aomori and Akita, and whether you choose to enjoy hiking or cycling beside the stream, prepare for a scene of natural splendor that makes one feel like a poet or artist. The dense woodland has a closed-off feel that makes it perfect for a walking meditation. Nature-loving couples may find the setting like a scene out of a romance novel, with local features including waterfalls named “Lifelong Partnership” and “White Silk”, as well as a “Meet-Up Bridge”. The gorge is home to eighteen waterfalls, each with its own unique picturesque charm. The setting changes to a snowy white fantasyland in winter, and it isn’t uncommon for the waterfalls of Oirase Gorge to freeze solid. Many like to end their idyllic jaunt at Lake Towada, where visiting travelers can admire the pristine scenery from a sightseeing cruise boat.
Mount Hakkoda | Aomori
Mount Hakkoda is actually a series of volcanic mountains located in Aomori prefecture, and is a hotspot for local hikers, climbers, skiiers, and nature-loving travelers. One of Japan’s 100 most famous mountains, Hakkoda has an untamed beauty unique to each season, but is especially stunning in autumn, when the fall foliage covers the mountaintops with their red and gold glamour. Hikers can trek its various trails through its incredible autumn scenery, and trails hiking up Mount Odake or through the Kenashitai marshlands make for some of the region’s most charming nature walks. Winter is developing an emerging popularity as the mountains become more accessible during its especially deep snowfall, where trees can form what has been playfully referred to as “snow monsters” – natural snowmen formed from frozen trees. Skiiers enjoy the untamed appeal of the local ski resort.
Shirakami Sanchi | Aomori & Akita
The Shirakami Sanchi is a mountain range bordering Aomori and Akita prefectures that was inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1993. An absolute dream for mountain hikers, Shirakami Sanchi boasts several hiking trails winding through idyllic beech forests, around lakes, waterfalls, and breathtaking mountain peaks. The trail to Anmon Falls is the most hiked of the region: especially in spring, when hikers of all skill levels trek through a landscape of lush, primordial beauty for a glimpse of the stunning white three-tiered waterfall. Other paths across Shirakami Sanchi appeal to different hiking levels, taking travelers to unforgettable sights including Juniko Twelve Lakes, Dairakyo Gorge and Nihon Canyon. Hikers can also spot rare birds and animals native to the region, such as the black woodpecker, golden eagle, and Japanese serow. There is something at this wonderful hiking destination to be admired by every lover of nature.
Hachimantai | Akita & Iwate
Hachimantai is the highest mountain in a group of volcanoes on the border of Akita and Iwate prefectures. One of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains, Hachimantai attracts hikers at different hiking periods throughout the year to enjoy its seasonal charms. Its well-maintained trails are especially inviting in mid-late autumn when the fall foliage is full and splendid and its forests are bursting with red and gold leaves in nature’s fireworks display. Take the beginners’ walking route between a pair of pleasant streams in front of a stunning backdrop of autumn colors, or seek out a more challenging route off the beaten path. Nature lovers come sightseeing for the rare and curious creatures that live in the mountain woodland – the red fox, black bear, golden eagle, and many others may be seen while browsing the trails of Hachimantai.
Mount Zao | Yamagata & Miyagi
Mount Zao is made up of a complex of mountains bordering Yamagata and Miyagi prefectures. Come to these mountains in winter to enjoy skiing and snowboarding around the Juhyo, or “snow monsters”. In winter, the trees atop the mountain freeze into freaky snow shapes, making for a unique fantasy winter scene. Zao Ski Resort offers the best chance to see these snow monsters, which they light up at night, and air gondolas for skiiers and sightseers. Or take a hike in the spring to autumn months up Mount Zao to the gorgeous crater lake hidden its summit called Okama Crater. The trail from Gaga Onsen to Togatta Peak wraps around the crater and is a historical treasure – it was once used as a training path for the mountain monks of Shugendo. Nearby Zao Onsen is also worth a visit after a day of hiking and the acidic balance of the pools is known to be delightfully theraputic.
Dewa Sanzan Pilgrimage | Yamagata
The Dewa Sanzan Trail is a pilgrimage route over the three sacred mountains of Dewa, in Yamagata prefecture. The three peaks of Haguro, Gassan, and Yudono are sacred to the Shugendo folk religion. The Yamabushi “mountain monks” walk a path of spiritual reawakening on the mountain trail; the shrine at each peak represents the various stages of birth, death, and rebirth. Walk the remote spiritual paths that inspired the monk Kobo Daishi and the poet Matsuo Basho, and discover your own personal awakening while walking through inspiring forest and mountain scenes. Travelers may join a Yamabushi hiking group, stay at a temple’s Shukubo lodging, and enjoy shojin ryori – traditional vegetarian monk’s fare. While the shrine at Mount Haguro can be visited year round, plan a visit between July and September, when all three shrines are open, for the full pilgrimage experience.
Mount Bandai | Fukushima
Mount Bandai is a mountain often called by locals the Fuji of Fukushima, which towers over 1,800 meters (nearly 6,000 feet) above lake Inawashiro. The collapse of Bandai’s cone after its 1888 eruption left a picturesque triple-peak that has become one of Japan’s top 100 mountains. The hiking paths around the mountain are open from May to October, and climbers each have their own preference whether they find the verdant greens of summer or the bright flashes of autumn color to be more lovely a landscape. Hikers have their pick from several hiking paths – the Happodai route is the easiest up to the summit, with little change in elevation allowing even beginners to enjoy the pleasing forest landscape. Skiiers of every ability can enjoy the different slopes and resorts of the Bandai area, and travelers love to relax in the local hot springs.
Tokyo Hiking Trails | Tokyo
Tokyo Hiking Trails combine the best of the big city with the love of nature that the Japanese are known for. Although Tokyo proper isn’t often identified with hiking, there are plenty of walking and routes that provide some of the best ways to explore Tokyo on foot. Vast nature spots like Shinjuku Gyoen, Ueno Park, and the Imperial Palace Garden offer moments of calm tranquility in place of the typical Tokyo hustle. Mount Takao is one of the best hiking destinations outside the Tokyo metropolis, with 8 hiking courses up the mountain for beginner to average hikers. While many choose to hike from the base, a ropeway and funicular train up to the halfway point is available to travelers looking for a more leisurely experience. Mt. Takao is connected to the tengu – legendary creatures from Japanese Shinto-Buddhist folklore, and there is a charming Buddhist temple on the mountain. Just outside the Tokyo Area, other hiking hotspots include Mount Mitake, Nokogiriyama, and Mount Oyama.
Nikko National Park | Tochigi
Nikko National Park is in Tochigi, and one of Japan’s most famous national parks for its natural splendor and proximity to Toshogu Shrine. Amble down the shrine path lined with pine and cedar trees, hike a mountain road up to gorgeous Lake Chuzenji, and challenge the summit of Mount Nantai for a stunning view of the national park below. The lake spills out over a spectacular promontory down into a vast gorge forming beauteous Kegon Falls, which can be viewed near Chuzenji Onsen. While spending time at Nikko National Park, enjoy the company of any curious monkeys you may happen across, but beware their childish pranks. Another good regional hike is found at the highland marshes of Senjogahara, which is best hiked during summer and autumn. In July and August the local flowers are in bloom and the grassy region is green and growing, but in autumn the grass burns a bright reddish-yellow color, and the leaves of the sparse larch trees turn a splendid gold. The Senjogahara hiking course can be taken down to Ryuzu Waterfall and Lake Chuzenji.
Oze National Park | Gunma
Oze National Park is a fantastic hiking destination that is lies mostly in the central Gunma prefecture, but stretches over parts of Fukushima, Tochigi and Niigata. Among the most popular places to hike are the marshlands of Ozegahara, lush and green in the spring, which is famed for native plant life that include alpine lilies and white skunk cabbage (which sprout flowers with no offensive odor, despite having “skunk” in the name). The autumn colors of this region are also spectacular. Ozegahara one of Oze National Park’s prettiest regions, and is largely unspoiled apart from a well-maintained elevated boardwalk allowing hikers easy passage through the marsh. To the east of the marshland is Ozenuma Pond, which sits at the foot of Mount Hiuchigadake. The pond is a favorite for casual hikers, with a nice, leisurely trail that circles the pond.
Mount Shirane | Gunma
Hike Mount Shirane in Gunma Prefecture, also known as Kusatsu-Shirane (to differentiate it from other mountains called Shirane). It is one of Gunma’s best hiking spots from spring to fall, becoming especially must-see in autumn when the trees along the mountain slopes are covered in brilliant fall colors. The hiking trails are closed in winter, local resorts attract traveling skiiers to the gorgeous winter scene. The Yugama Crater is Mount Shirane’s most breathtaking sight. The largest of the crater lakes on the mountain, Yugama is filled with a pale turquoise water tinged with volcanic acid, and sulfurous steam often rises from it’s surface. Near the mountain is Kusatsu Onsen, one of Japan’s most well-known hot springs, where travelers observe a traditional yumomi, or “water-stirring” performance, which is used to cool the water to just the right temperature without using cold water.
Chichibu Tama Kai National Park | Saitama, Tokyo, Yamanashi & Nagano
Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park is a mountainous national park outside the Tokyo metropolitan area. It’s so large that it covers four prefectures: Tokyo, Saitama, Yamanashi, and Nagano. The rich natural beauty of this national park, with eight mountains, numerous rivers, a couple lakes, and even some mountain shrines along the numrous hiking trails. The various trails nearest to the Tokyo-side of the park take nature-loving hikers around Mount Mitake, Mount Odake, and Mount Mito, as far as Lake Okutama. The lake is surrounded with natural hot spring onsen – a perfect opportunity for weary hikers to rest after a day of exploring the beauties of Chichibu-Tama-Kai. Take the time to explore the other prominent peaks and their splendid surroundings in the neighboring prefectures.
Kamakura | Kanagawa
Hike through Kamakura, a seaside town south of Tokyo, known for dozens of Buddhist temples. First among them is one of Japan’s most recognizeable landmarks: the Great Buddha of Kamakura, which sits on the grounds of Kotoku-in Temple. There are three primary trails around the city that offer distinct natural and historic charms. The Daibutsu (“Great Buddha”) Hiking Trail is the best trail of the region in terms of historical and cultural beauty, connecting the Kotoku-in Temple in western Kamakura to Jochiji Temple in Kita-Kamakura, a trail even beginners will love, passing by some of the city’s most important zen temples. There is also a trail to the north, called the Tenen Hiking Trail, which is more moderate in diffuculty, and is a popular trail for Kamakura’s autumn colors. Gionyama Hiking Trail is in the eastern hills; an easy route offering delightful views of Kamakura and the sea.
Hakone Hiking Trails | Kanagawa
The Hakone Hiking Trails wind through some of the most gorgeous nature locations of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Close to both Tokyo and Mount Fuji and lush with natural splendor that includes forests, lakes, rivers, and hot springs, Hakone is one of the top hiking spots in all Japan. One of the most historic walking routes in the country – the old Tokaido Road – runs right through Hakone. Walk the road of noble samurai and religious pilgrims from the Edo period, now rich with traditional and natural treasures along the partially stone-paved path including a view of majestic Mount Fuji, Lake Ashi, the Old Cedar Passage, Amazake teahouse, and the Hakone Detached Palace. Another popular route is Mount Kintoki, named for the legendary Japanese hero Kintaro. Hikes to the summit provide grand views of Mount Fuji. Hakone Hiking Trails are beautiful from mid-spring to autumn, and is known for both pretty cherry blossom landscapes and enchanting scenes of autumn leaves.
Izu Peninsula | Shizuoka
The Izu Peninsula is the portion of Fuji-Izu-Hakone National Park located in Shizuoka Prefecture, and is famed for its variety of gorgeous landscapes including coastlines, waterfalls, rugged mountains, cliffs, and rocky islets. The Jogasaki Coast offers scenic views of the rugged natural coastline and rocky shore, with hiking trails leading over 10 kilometers, with its most popular section featuring the Kadowakizaki Suspension Bridge. The Seven Waterfalls of Kawazu are one of the Izu Peninsula’s biggest charm points. Hikers are beckoned through a verdant trail lined with lush jungle scenery to seven equally spectacular waterfalls. Be sure not to miss the two statues commemorating the famed Izu Dancer, a short story by Nobel-winner Yasunari Kawabata. Further down the peninsula, the hiking trails reach towards the charming town of Shimoda – famed in history as one of the ports first opened to western trade at the end of the Edo period.
Mount Fuji Hiking Trails | Yamanashi
Explore the Mount Fuji Hiking Trails, especially from July to early September when the routes up the mountain are fully opened. Mount Fuji is the crown jewel of Japan’s beauteous landscape, and hiking up the iconic mount is almost a rite of passage for adventurous travelers coming to Japan. There are four main routes up the to the summit, each with varying levels of difficulty. The Yoshida route is perhaps the easiest, attracting the majority of climbers, and is well supplied by a few charming huts scattered here and there up the path. The next is the Fujinomiya Trail, which is less traveled than Yoshida and equal in difficulty. The Subashiri Trail is more difficult – a more challenging option for travelers looking for a route with fewer climbers. Finally, the Gotemba trail is the longest and most difficult route up the mountain, featuring more open, unspoiled nature, but with less opportunities to resupply, and with portions that recommend climbing gear. Along the way be prepared to be wowed by incredible views of the world through the sea of clouds, which roll over the rocks like waves the higher you climb. Hikers often commemorate the visit with the purchase of a special climbing stick before the climb, which can be branded with special stamps at the huts up the Yoshida trail.
Fuji Five Lakes | Yamanashi
The Fuji Five Lakes region, or “Fujigoko” is at the base of Mount Fuji, and refers specifically to the Saiko, Yamanakako, Shojiko, Motosuko, and Kawaguchiko Lakes at the base of the majestic peak. The lakes offer wondrous trails for hikers to enjoy, even on overcast summer days that don’t permit a good view of Fuji. Lake Kawaguchiko offers the best opportunities for a good view on clearer days, and the surrounding trails, caves, nature parks, and shrines means that the trip is enchanting even when it’s shrouded in fog. Lake Motosuko offers more raw, unspoiled nature than Kawaguchiko. There is an 11.4-mile loop around the lake that features a viewpoint for Fuji captured as the reverse image for the 1000-yen bill, making it one of the most famous nature sights in Japan. The hike goes up “Dragon’s Peak” – a smaller mountain west of Fuji. The largest lake in Fuji Five Lakes, Lake Yamanakako, provides an easy walking / cycling path around the shore. The other lakes have their own trails as well, and can be enjoyed year round, but are especially lovely in spring and autumn.
Kamikochi | Nagano
Kamikochi is a high river valley in the northern Japanese Alps in Nagano prefecture. This stunning location within Chubu-Sangaku National Park is considered one of Japan’s most beautiful and breathtaking mountain resort locations, and is sometimes called “the Yosemite Valley of Japan” by visiting travelers. In the early summer Kamikochi is lush and green, and nature-loving visitors enjoy hiking the various nature trails running along the clear blue Azusa River, which range from beginner to expert level in difficulty. Enjoy the delightful mountain and forest scenery full of local wildlife, including the curious Japanese macaque, or “snow monkey”. Kamikochi is open to hike year round, and features a peaceful blanket of snow in winter and bright red leaves in autumn.
Mount Norikura | Nagano
Another magnificent mountain in the northern Japanese Alps, Mount Norikura is a volcanic mountain bordering Nagano and Gifu prefectures. Mount Norikura is one of the first places in Japan to see the change in the fall foliage, with its abundant leaves reddening around mid-September. It is one of Japan’s 100 famous mountains, and has some well-maintained, easy hiking trails around the peak, even to Kengamine – the highest point of Mount Norikura. The winter trail is also popular for its snowy mountain trails through the woods, with natural slopes that attract skiiers to enjoy Mount Norikura’s natural splendor.
Nakasendo Trail | Nagano
The Nakasendo is an old walking route from the Edo period, and was one of the main roads for nobles, samurai, and merchants traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto. The weathered stone along the road maintains the Nakasendo’s old world feel, and the quaint post towns one passes along the way makes the walk truly enchanting, as though having stepped back in time 300 years. The original Nakasendo Road connected several prefectures, and one of the prettiest and most well-maintained portions of the road stretches between Magome and Tsumago in the Kiso Valley, in Nagano and Gifu prefectures. The relaxing hike can be taken at a leisurely pace on a mixed stone and pavement path perfect for beginning hikers. On every side travelers will see old-fashioned Japanese houses built of wood and stone, and surrounded by lush forest scenery. Both Magome and Tsumago work to maintain their Edo-era aesthetic, and while walking through the towns and visiting the charming shops, travelers feel surrounded in an atmosphere of traditional Japanese hospitality.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route | Toyama
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is an incredibly gorgeous mountain pass through the Northern Japan Alps. Spring is the best season to enjoy this spectacular route, when traversing the path between Bijodaira and Murodo (the highest point on the route) includes an enchanting trek through the Tateyama Snow Corridor. Twenty-foot high walls of snow and ice create the still atmosphere of winter – almost as though you are walking between two glaciers during an Ice Age. This walk is enjoyable for beginner-level hikers or children, and the most scenic parts of the route are accessible by cable car, train, ropeway, and bus. Autumn is also a favorite season for hiking the Alpine Route, where splendid vistas of mountains framed in fiery autumn colors create a landscape that captivates artists and nature-loving travelers.
The Japanese Alps | Niigata, Toyama, Yamanashi, Nagano, Gifu & Shizuoka
The Japanese Alps is the name of a series of magnificent mountain ranges, an idyllic dream for hikers and trekkers, stretching between Niigata and Shizuoka Prefectures. These spectacular mountains took on this name since it was first climbed by foreign hikers during the Meiji Era, and are divided into three ranges: the Northern, Central, and Southern Alps. They include everything one could want from the perfect Japan mountain hiking trip: dazzling alpine scenery, relaxing natural hot springs, hidden mountain villages, cultural treasures, both rustic hotels and well-maintained campgrounds, and gorgeous routes that appeal to hikers of every level. Top Spots to include on your hiking trip include the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, Jigokudani, Kamikochi, the Kiso Valley Nakasendo Road, Mount Kita-dake, Mount Hotaka-dake, and Shirakawa-go Historic Village. June to late October is the top season to enjoy hiking the Japanese Alps – when the rest of the country feels the heat and humidity of mid-summer, though there are portions of the Alps that are picturesque at other times of the year.
Mount Hakusan | Ishikawa
Mount Hakusan is Japanese for “White Mountain”, and is a dormant volcano bordering Gifu and Ishikawa prefectures. As one of Japan’s Three Sacred Peaks (with Mount Fuji and Mount Tateyama), the mountain is one of Japan’s National Parks and a favored hiking spot of the region. Early summer to Autumn (from June to October) is the climbing season for the stunning peak, which becomes snowed in during winter. Most travelers enjoy hiking the Bettodeai Trail, connecting to one of two trails up to the summit, which is possible to reach in the course of a day with an early start. The hike is also a popular pilgrimage route for those interested in Japanese folk spirituality: a satellite of Shirayamahime Shrine stands at the summit. Because Hakusan is a dormant volcano, there are many natural hot spring baths open in the region. Birding hikers will also enjoy the region for the opportunity to sight the local golden eagle (Ishikawa’s prefectural bird) and the rock ptarmigan.
Kyoto Hiking Trails | Kyoto
The Kyoto Hiking Trails offer the perfect mix of Japanese cultural treasures and breathtaking natural splendor. There are hikes within the city itself that showcase the city’s magnificent temples and shrines, as well as hiking trails that take you up into the nearby hills in scenery that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a traditional Japanese fairy tale. Whether you stroll the walking paths of Arashiyama between the Sagano Bamboo Grove and Togetsukyo Bridge, take the path under the Thousand Red Torii Gates of Fushimi Inari, or hike the trails up Mount Daimonji for a panoramic view of the whole city, hikers will certainly spend their time enchanted by Kyoto. Venturing to the outskirts of the city is the best opportunity to catch a glimpse of the local wildlife: wild deer, foxes, bears, boars, monkeys, and tanuki may be seen in the in the forests and mountains surrounding the city, especially when walking the Kyoto Isshu Trail – a 70 km path that winds around the old capital and is one of Kyoto’s top hiking trails.
Kurama is a charming village in the Kitayama Mountains, the starting point for the Kurama-Kibune Hiking Trail. The Kurama Trail is a perfect blend of Japanese history and nature: including traditional shrines and temples, a twisted cedar forest full of mystery, a hidden bell tower, and other little cultural gems. The route is mostly paved, with some stone and dirt trails; perfect for beginning or casual hikers. Halfway through the hike sits the picturesque wayside shrine of Kurama-dera, in the forest wilderness at the base of Mount Kurama. This temple and the surrrounding woodland is important to the local Japanese culture, as it is believed that the tengu – enigmatic spirit beings from Shinto folklore, live in the area, and images of the tengu can be seen on the trail. The Kurama trail is open in every season, and is particularly lovely in spring and fall for cherry blossoms and autumn colors.
Mount Hiei | Kyoto
Mount Hiei is one of Kyoto’s chief peaks and the Mount Hiei Trails present hikers with the perfect opportunity to see the beautiful landscape outside Kyoto, spot the curious wildlife living in the area, and visit one of the most historically siginificant locations in Japan. Mount Hiei is home to Enryakuji Temple: the chief temple of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism, once home to the powerful warrior monks who were defeated by samurai leader Oda Nobunaga. Now Mount Hiei is known for its marathon monks, who embark on grueling hikes from the summit. The trail up to the temple is a moderate challenge for a hiker, with some narrow, steep parts of the trail in addition to paved sections. While exploring the trails around Mount Hiei, one may come across the sight of various woodland creatures such as deer, foxes, tanuki, or monkeys. Once hikers arrive at the end of the trail, they are rewarded with magnificent views down into Kyoto as well as a chance to sightsee around magnificent Enryakuji Temple.
Minoo Park | Osaka
Minoo Park is just outside metropolitan Osaka, and one of the top nature spots if you desire a pleasant hiking retreat from the big city. The park is an appealing woodland valley especially noted for its glorious autumn colors, although it is open for hikers in any season. Vivid shades of orange and red border the primary trail, which follows a river along an easy route leading to Minoo Waterfall: the region’s chief feature. A few other hiking trails extend up behind the waterfall to different spectacular viewing areas in the surrounding hills. The main path is enhanced by the assorted old-fashioned shops, restaurants, and temples travelers pass along the way, including Ryuanji Benzaiten – a quaint Shugendo temple preceded by a picturesque vermillion bridge. Some of the local shops sell momiji tempura (maple leaf deep fried in oil), a local delicacy visitors can enjoy while hiking during the autumn season.
Nara | Nara
Nara Prefecture is known as a top spot for hikers exploring the Kansai region, being the home of gorgeous Mount Yoshino as well as some of the most picturesque sections of the famed Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route. But the city of Nara itself is not without gorgeous hiking spots. The wild Sika deer wandering freely around Nara Park (and beyond) give visitors the feeling that Nara is a city in harmony with nature. Nara Deer Park is the best spot in town to take a pleasant stroll; the local deer are largely friendly and tame, and the path around the park is light and easy. Hikers looking for a more moderate challenge can take the trail up into the mountainous area directly east of the park. The Mount Kasuga Primeval Forest presents more moderate trails winding up through the hills, and though it is still within city limits it gives off an untouched sort of atmosphere.
Mount Yoshino | Nara
Mount Yoshino is a mountain in Nara and a prime hiking spot as one of Japan’s loveliest World Heritage Sites, home to some unforgettable classic temples. The mountain is good to hike in any season, but by far the best season for a hike up the mountain paths has to be mid-to-late spring. During this narrow window the sides of Mount Yoshino are covered large pockets of pastel-pink clouds: easily one of the top cherry blossom viewing spots in Japan. The mountain is divided into four sections increasing from easy to moderate hiking difficulty. Casual nature-lovers and beginning hikers stroll the lower levels at a leisurely pace, where the cherry trees accent old-fashioned shops and restaurants. But as hikers ascend the levels of springtime heaven, eagerly searching out the panoramic view that captivated the Edo-era artist Hokusai, they find more enchanting landscape and the feeling of stepping into an old-fashioned fairy tale. Blossoms at the top of the mountain bloom later than those at the bottom, so determined hikers who are past the full-bloom period may see some cherry blossoms at the end of the trail. Though it isn’t as famous, the mountain also has exquisite autumn colors.
Mount Rokko | Kobe
Mount Rokko is a mountain located near the city of Kobe, and one of the Kansai region’s most enjoyable hiking experiences, with a hiking trail of moderate difficulty. The trail becomes rocky at certain points, with nearby ropes and chains to assist climbers in reaching the summit. The path from end to end can take 4 to 5 hours, and hikers should prepare for some incredible views of Kobe by the bay, perhaps even a glimpse of Osaka in the distance. The path cuts through wooded areas that house a variety of reclusive wildlife including the Japanese wild pigs, known locally as “inoshishi”. Tired and footsore hikers delight to reach the end of their trail at Arima Onsen, one of Kansai’s most famous hot spring resorts. The hot springs at this resort specialize in footbaths for hikers who just completed the Mount Rokko Hiking Trail, and is perfect for those looking for a bit of local Japanese culture to wrap up a day of hiking.
Koyasan | Wakayama
Koyasan (or “Mount Koya”) is a mountain in Wakayama prefecture known for a series of secluded temples that form the heart of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. The hiking trails around Koyasan range from easy to difficult, and pass through some of the most austere, spiritual, and beautiful features of the temple complex including Kongobuji – the head monastery, and Okunoin – the largest cemetery in Japan. Discover the original trail favored by pilgrims to the temple since the time of its founder – Koyasan Choishi Michi Trail. Choishi refers to one of the trail’s most distinguishing features: large stone pillars each in the shape of a pagoda. Many of these impressive constructions line the path to the great Daimon Gate of Koyasan, and in between is around seven hours worth of lush natural beauty dotted with old-fashioned homes, shops, teahouses, little shrines, and other cultural treasures. The more adventurous hikers may take the Kohechi Trail – a part of the magnificent Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route, or pick from one of the other splendid trails that wind around the temple complex.
Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage | Wakayama
The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route is one of the top hiking trails in Japan for serious hikers. The pilgrimage routes criss-cross the Kii Mountain Range and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Though pieces of the route may be traversed by beginners, the whole of the Kumano Kodo passes over mountains with greater gains and losses in elevation than some of the more popular hiking routes (such as the Nakasendo). The result is a more off-the-beaten track hiking experience that takes you through some of Japan’s most breathtaking rural landscapes. The most famous pathways connect the three most important shrines of the region, known collectively as the Kumano Sanzan. These routes, some of which are no more than lonely pathways surrounded by tall groves of trees, include grand mountain vistas with charming little villages, picturesque shrines with great wooden torii gates, teahouses, hot springs, and farmland: authentic rural Japan.
Mount Daisen | Tottori
Mount Daisen, also called Hoki-daisen, is one of Japan’s most famous mountains, and spiritually connected both to the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism as well as the Shugendo folk religion. The trail up the mountain’s side is of an average level, taking roughly 6 hours from top to bottom for most hikers. While on the path, take time to discover the Buddhist temple Daisenji, about halfway up to the summit. The trail can be accessed in any season, and visitors will be treated to the sight of Daisen’s snow-capped peak in winter and fields of wildflowers in summer. Hikers may ascend as high as Mount Misen, about two-thirds of the way to the trail, but the rest of the path is off-limits due to erosion. On a clear day, impressive views of the expansive valley below await those who take the route up Mount Daisen.
Mount Misen | Hiroshima
Mount Misen is located outside Hiroshima City on Miyajima Island, and is the island’s highest point. Hikers explore the island primarly to view sights of stunning Itsukushima Shrine and its captivating torii gate, standing so far out at sea that at times it seems to float over the water. But when climbing Mount Misen itself, visiting hikers search for the remains of the legendary Seven Wonders of Misen. Though some are lost to ancient folklore, remaining ones include an “eternal flame” lit by the Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi, which is now sheltered by a small shrine. Three possible hiking trails lead up Misen, ranging from moderate to difficult, with the more difficult routes winding through the mountain’s primeval forest.
Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage | Shikoku
The Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage, also known as the Shikoku Henro, is one of Japan’s penultimate hiking and walking routes. This pristine journey of spiritual contemplation includes 88 picturesque temples associated with the founder of the Shingon school of Buddhism, Kobo Daishi. Recreational hikers can enjoy trekking particular segments, each full of their own special beauty. But those who endure the entire journey receive, in addition to a certification stamp from each temple, the singular experience that only a select few travelers have ever discovered. Some of the temples are especially must-see. The highlight is undoubtedly the temple complex of Koya-san, which contains, in the middle of Japan’s most impressive graveyard, Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum. In recent years, travelers have rediscovered the Shikoku Temple Pilgrimage Route as a journey of personal regeneration. Seemingly endless vistas of forests, mountains, hot springs, rivers, and coastline present moments perfect for meditation, broken only by the small towns, temples, and fellow hikers you meet along the way.
Iya Valley | Tokushima
Hikers exploring the Iya Valley are treated to the sight of spectacular ravines running zig-zag between sloping mountains whose sides are covered in lush forests. The Iya Valley Hiking Trails run far off the beaten path from civilization, through unspoiled nature vistas of mountain gorges cut by the Iya River. A few bridges twisted of jungle vines are a must-visit feature of the valley, beckon travelers looking to feel like rugged explorers by daring to cross the heights. Two of the vine bridges, called the Oku-Iya Kazurabashi, or “couples’ bridges” are of noteable interest, stretching over a part of the river rushing down a delightful little waterfall. At one entrance to the Iya Valley, the Yoshino River runs noisily through Oboke Gorge, where adventurous visitors may enjoy white-water rafting and canyoning while hiking the area. While the trails through the Iya Valley are open year round, views of magnificent foliage during the autumn season are particularly prized, when red and orange colors run up the mountains like firecrackers.
Shodoshima Island | Kagawa
While discovering Shodoshima, walking the hiking trails that extend across the island, travelers may feel as though they have stepped onto an island half in the Seto Inland Sea, half in the Mediterranean. While sections of these beginner-level hiking trails may explore nearby soybean fields and soy sauce factories, other portions meander past a white windmill spinning lazily over groves of olive trees. Both soy sauce and olives are famous local products, which should not be missed while exploring the island. Other must-see locations include Kankakei Gorge, which is celebrated for its splendid autumn colors. There is also Angel Road – a thin stretch of island that is occasionally washed under high tide, upon which it is claimed that angels descend and an especial favorite of traveling couples. Finally, the best hiking trails on Shodoshima Island run through the Twenty-Four Eyes Village, which is a preserved set-piece from the acclaimed Japanese film “Twenty-Four Eyes” – a movie about the years leading up to World War 2 in Japan.
Aso-Kuju National Park | Kumamoto & Oita
The Kyushu region offers the quality hiking trails through Aso-Kuju National Park, for hikers seeking the thrill of trekking near an active volcano. The park is named for Mount Aso – the largest active volcano in Japan. The hiking trails run around the active crater and through the adjacent Kuju Mountains. Hikers to Aso-Kuji National Park enjoy dramatic scenes of rolling mountains covered in green grass and forest, grasslands blanketed with pretty flowers of myriad colors, and volcanic landscapes wreathed in smoke, while enjoying easy to moderate hiking trails. Adventurous trails lead over the tallest mountains of Kuji and around the main Aso Crater, leading to some delightful vistas. Those looking for more relaxed walking experiences can be found at places like the Kuju Flower Park. Aso-Kuju National Park is open year round, and each time of the year holds unique charms in store.
Mount Unzen | Nagasaki
Hike the mysterious, primordial landscape surrounding Mount Unzen, where adventurous hiking trails run around an active volcanic area. Mount Unzen still sends up streams of sulphurous smoke in the air from its caldera, covering the landscape for a more dramatic hiking atmosphere. While there are moderate-level hiking trails leading up the mountain from the bottom, there is also a ropeway leading partway up the hill for those who just want to enjoy the scenery. One of the top hiking trails begins as the ropeway ends, leading along an excellent path up to the highest climbing point of the mountain, where travelers can view Heisei Shinzan – a newer peak that rose from Unzen’s most recent eruption. While Mount Unzen is known for volcanic activity, the slopes up the mountain include seasonal beauties, including springtime azaleas and bright autumn colors.
Kirishima | Kagoshima
Kirishima is a region in Kagoshima prefecture that includes Mount Kirishima, Onami-ike, Mount Takachiho, and Ebino-Kogen – some of the prettiest portions of the Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park. Bond fans will recognize an iconic setting from the Japan portions of “You Only Live Twice”, and it’s beauty and dramatic volcanic landscape make it a favorite destination of hikers to the Kyushu region. One of the most popular hiking trails are the Onami-ike Crater Lake Trail, which loops around breathtakingly blue Onami-ike Lake. The trail connecting Ebino-Kogen Plateau to Takachiho will interest not only nature lovers, but lovers of Japanese folklore, since it was in Kirishima that the grandchild of the sun goddess set foot on land to establish Japan’s line of emperors. This Kirishima Ridge Trail is a about a 6-hour hike that covers much of the Kirishima Mountain Range, offering hikers unforgettable visions of sloping volcanic scenery.
Yakushima Island | Kagoshima
Yakushima Island is a fantastic island destination in Kagoshima prefecture that is home to a forest of rare Sugi cedar trees. Moss-covered rocks coupled with twisted ancient trees, some over a thousand years old, make one feel as though they have stepped into a prehistoric rainforest. One particular tree, the Jomonsugi Cedar, is estimated to be between 2000 to 7000 years old. Well-marked trails in Japanese and English keep hikers from getting lost in this exotic fantasy scene, which was used as inspiration for the setting of the acclaimed Studio Ghibli film, “Princess Mononoke”. While one may not see any of the forest spirits from the film, hikers may encounter tanuki raccoon dogs, Sika deer, and Japanese macaques. Many hikers challenge the climb to the top of Miyanoura – the highest point of Yakushima Island, for some dazzling views of the forest canopy. The climate is often rainy, keeping the forest of Yakushima Island green and growing for all who come to enjoy the ancient cedars.
Iriomote Island is one of the largest in the Okinawa archipelago (second only to the main island), and one of the chief islands in the Yaeyama island group. Desipite being a large island, it is largely wild and untouristed, covered by dense mangrove forests protected as a national park. Offers a good number of hiking trails to explore its lush landscape, with the longest and most difficult path reaching around 20 kilometers in length. Hiking through the dense jungles of Iriomote can feel like a real off-the-beaten-path wild adventure, the dense mangrove jungle hiding remote waterfalls, rare wildlife, even the crumbling ruins of an old coal refinery. While hiking, keep an eye out for the Iriomote Cat, an endangered wild feline about the size of a large housecat only to be seen while hiking here. It is truly a gift to see one while out hiking the Iriomote jungle, since they reportedly number just over a hundred remaining cats. For adventurous travelers looking for a varied travel expeirence on the island, pristine beaches, scuba diving / snorkeling, and river kayaking offer even more ways to get a richer experience from your trip to Iriomote Island.
Yambaru National Park
Yambaru National Park is located on the main island of Okinawa, and is one of Okinawa prefecture’s most impressive nature preserves. The chief attraction of Yambaru (or Yanbaru) is the spectacular mangrove forest, which beckons travelers to explore on foot or in a canoe. Hikers can access the area via wooden boardwalks, presenting a trail of only modest difficulty. Also within the park area are gorgeous waterfalls within a dense forest of evergreens, as well as unspoiled beaches near rocky cliffs. The park is an incredibly beautiful sight to see, no matter which season you choose to travel. In addition, a superb array of wildlife diversity inhabits this section of the island, including the Okinawa woodpecker, Okinawa rail, and the locally famed Yambaru Long-armed Scarab Beetle. Some of these animals are endemic to this region and even endangered, so they are protected speceis within this park.