Few countries in Asia boast such dramatic natural diversity and such a range of hiking opportunities as Japan. Mountains make up two-thirds of the country, with beaches fringing the coast and the balmy southern islands. Japan is well set up for hikers, with the ultra-efficient rail network making getting around the country a breeze. Here are ten of our favourite places to go hiking in Japan.
1. Shikoku Henro
This is an essential pilgrimage for those with an interest in the roles that tradition and religion play within Japanese culture. This place for hiking in Japan is both a fascinating physical and spiritual journey, which is undertaken by many religiously-minded Japanese, as well as overseas hikers.
You will need plenty of time on the smallest of Japan’s main islands, Shikoku. If you want to conquer the whole route – taking in a whopping 88 temples in the process – you are going to have to hike for over 1000km. You can do it in just over a month, but most devotees allow closer to two. Savvy hikers and pilgrims alike can use public transport to cut out some of the sections and skip a few temples too.
Explore accommodation options to stay on Shikoku Island.
2. Kumano Kodo
Another pilgrimage route, the Kumano Kodō is so highly rated that its temples have been placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Battling across the thickly wooded slopes in the Kii Peninsula on Japan’s main island of Honshū was a task emperor themselves used to often undertake.
There are three main routes, all are challenging but rewarding. A large part of the fun is staying in traditional ryokans (inns) en route where your nightly feast will be preceded by an onsen (communal hot spring bath).
From Tokyo to Osaka, this tailor-made Japan trip features fantastic experiences. View a sumo session, visit ancient temples, and climb the Tokyo Skytree Tower. Explore the resort town of Hakone in Mt Fuji’s shadow, savour a tea ceremony in Kyoto, and see cherry blossoms, in season, to complete a wonderful trip.
3. Mount Fuji
One of the most famous places for hiking in Japan does not disappoint. It is Japan’s most iconic peak, unmissable on any bullet train trip south of Tokyo. It is a 3776m-high volcanic monster, famous for often being capped with a dusting of snow, which isn't ideal for hikers – note that it's only open for trekking between July and mid-September.
Fuji can be tackled in a day trip, though altitude sickness can be an issue even when you do an overnight in the area, so going easy on your body is advised.
- For price and quality: Hotel Asafuji
- For luxury: Fujikawaguchiko Onsen Konanso
Where to stay near Mount Fuji
Find more accommodation options to stay near Mount Fuji.
4. Japan Alps
Honshu’s most impressive mountain scenery comes in the form of the deeply dramatic Japanese Alps. There are myriad options for getting your boots on here.
Relatively gentle hikes can be found in the Kamikochi Valley, though you can also use the valley as a staging point for tackling more serious ascents, such as Yarigatake (3180m) and Hotakadake (3190m). The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route uses a mixture of walking and public transport to cover a swathe of the finest scenery in the Alps.
5. Nakasendo Trail
A route with serious heritage, which has been walked since the eighth century, this ancient highway from Kyoto through what is now Shiga, Gifu and Nagano Prefectures culminates in Tokyo’s predecessor, Edo.
Venture on it today and you are following in the footsteps of the Tokugawa Shoguns (Japanese military chiefs), who used it to travel through the mountains on their military campaigns. It would take them around three weeks to cover the 533km distance, which was split into 67 stages.
Today you can take on the various stretches of it that survive, using public transport to link sections. En route, you, stop at charmingly-preserved old towns, where weary travellers could rest up and enjoy a bed for the night before moving on, such as Tsumago and Narai.
6. Daibutsu Hiking Course
This popular three-kilometre hiking trail opens up a short, but scenic landscape of temples and mountains and can be tackled in between one and two hours. To really get the most out of the area, extend this walk with a detour to the cave shrine dedicated to the goddess Zeniarai Benten, known as the ‘Money-Washing Benten’. This goddess was said to be associated with good fortune, music and water.
The biggest challenge is taking on the towering 1935m high mountain of Miyanoura-dake, which is southern Japan's highest peak. The island actually boasts six mountain peaks over 1800m. Make sure to fill in a form with your route on it before heading out; this safety system has saved many lives on the island over the years.
On this tailor-made self-guided Adventure Tour in Japan, you will immerse yourself in the breathtaking natural beauty, history, enchanting culture and warmhearted people of Japan. Walk through a bamboo forest, see how sake is made, join Samurai lesson, go bar-hopping in Tokyo and Osaka and extend your journey to Hiroshima.
8. Mount Takao
An hour west of Shinjuku, Mount Takao, also referred to as Takao-san is a particularly pleasant place for a quick escape from Tokyo and is a starting point for one of the best places for hiking in Japan into the mountains in the Chichibu-Tama National Park. The Keiō line from Shinjuku provides the simplest and cheapest way of reaching the terminus of Takao-san-guchi.
After a hike up or a ride on the cable car or chairlifts, you’ll get to Yakuo-in, a temple founded in the eighth century and notable for the ornate polychromatic carvings that decorate its main hall. It hosts the spectacular Hiwatarisai fire ritual on the second Sunday in March back in Takao-san-guchi, where you can watch priests and pilgrims march across hot coals. From the temple, it’s a relatively short walk to Takao’s summit.
Find accommodation options to stay near Mount Takao.
9. Mount Koya
Ever since the Buddhist monk Kōbō Daishi founded a temple here in the early ninth century, Kōya-san has been one of Japan’s holiest mountains. Whatever your religious persuasion, this is one of the best places for hiking in Japan with a highly charged, slightly surreal atmosphere about this group of temples suspended among the clouds.
One of its great delights is to stay in a shukubō, or temple lodging, and attend a dawn prayer service. Afterwards, head for the Garan, the mountain’s spiritual centre, or wander among the thousands of ancient tombs and memorials that populate the Okunoin cemetery. Here Kōbō Daishi’s mausoleum is honoured with a blaze of ten thousand oil-fuelled brass lanterns.
10. Daisetsuzan National Park
The 2268-square-kilometre Daisetsuzan National Park, Hokkaidō’s largest, offers a spectacular range of gorges, hot springs and mountains – including Asahi-Dake, the island’s tallest peak – crisscrossed by hiking trails which could keep you happily occupied for days. Tourism in the park is generally low-key, especially at the wooded and remote Asahi-dake Onsen.
Sōunkyō Onsen, on the northeast edge of the park, hosts the bulk of tourists, though a tasteful redevelopment has made it much more attractive than most hot-spring resorts. The highlight here is the gorge, a 20km corridor of jagged cliffs, 150m high in places. In July, the mountain slopes are covered with alpine flowers. In September and October see the landscape painted in vivid autumnal colours. These are the best months for hiking.
When is the best time for hiking in Japan
As for the best time to go hiking in Japan, heavy snowfall in winter rules out outdoor activities, such as hiking and cycling. Summer is the best time for hiking. Temperatures rise from the mid-20s °C to high 30s °C and high humidity can make it feel hotter than it really is, especially in densely built urban areas.
But since Japan consists of several islands, you’ll never be too far from a beach where you can take a dip and cool off. Having said that, if you head to the mountains, it’ll be significantly cooler – making for ideal hiking conditions. July and August are the best months to climb Mount Fuji. This is also a great time to explore the hiking trails in the Japan Alps or the volcanic wilderness of Daisetsuzan National Park.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Japan without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
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