I’ve gotta admit, when it comes to Japan, most people’s thoughts (ours included) tends to go to cities and so the best hikes in Japan are understandably some of the most over-looked parts of most people’s visit to the land of the rising sun.
The bright neon lights of Japanese cities have long appealed to visitors the world over and so, except for perhaps Mount Fuji, most people (especially for us Brits and our European cousins) show up in Japan with pretty much no plans to do any hiking of any sort.
Thing is though, most people also show up with a love (or at the very least, a sense of appreciation) for Japanese culture and one of the best ways to actually get a better, more-unfiltered insight into Japanese culture is by heading outside of the cities, getting lost in nature and essentially ‘slow travelling’ your ways on hikes through Japan.
It doesn’t have to be stressful or strenuous, there are loads of options available and with that, we’ve put together 12 of the best hikes in Japan you have to do. In no particular order, here they are.
1.) Mount Fuji
Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan, soaring to well over 12,000 ft and, arguably, its most popular too! It is also an active volcano and considered to be one part of Japan’s trilogy of Holy Mountains.
It is also considered a sacred spot, and those who brave the strenuous climb to the summit are sure to come across many make-shift shrines that have been erected along the way.
Be sure to visit Hakone, a town located at the mountain’s base that offers road-weary hikers the opportunity to take a luxurious dip in their hot springs. (It’s also got great views of Mount Fuji).
2.) Mount Takao
Located just outside of Tokyo, this is an extremely popular hike and easily one of the best hikes in Japan! In fact, it is claimed that Mount Takao attracts the largest number of travellers each year! Like no kidding, with millions of visitors each year – this is the most visited mountain in all of the world.
It is easy to see why though, especially with those absolutely gorgeous views available at the mountain’s summit. The summit is a great place to take in the epic sunsets which frame the peak of Mount Fuji.
If you are short on time or are with small children, it is possible to reach the summit of Mount Takao via cable car rather than on foot.
3.) Mount Kita
This strenuous hike is one of the best hikes in Japan for its amazing panoramic views of Mount Fuji. This mountain itself is no small feat in itself as it is the second tallest peak in all of Japan at over 10,500 feet tall!
Up at the summit, there are two separate mountain huts which are capable of accommodating up to 150 people. These huts are a wonderful spot to stop and soak in the beauty of Japan’s dramatic landscape before beginning your descent to the bottom.
4.) Mount Kaimondake
This dormant volcano is nicknamed the Fuji of Kyushu (one of the 4 main islands in Japan – see more from our trip through Kyushu here) for the impressive panoramic views that await those who brave the moderately strenuous climb to the summit.
The well-marked trail is completely devoid of any switchbacks (switchbacks, for the uninitiated, are zigzags up a mountain trail which typically help protect the trail from eroding), making it a one of a kind climb. The views from the top of the crater’s rim are absolutely spectacular and well worth the hike.
5.) Kumano Kodo
Located in the misty mountains of the Kii Peninsula, this hike allows you to walk in the shoes of the ancient Japanese emperors.
Along the way, you will find a plethora of traditional Japanese ryokans, making for the perfect excuse to rest up, relax and indulge in some traditional Japanese meals (seriously, you might think you know Japanese food prior to arriving but what we get outside of Japan is like a tiny fraction of what’s actually available and eaten across the country).
6.) Mount Hiei
This is a beautifully scenic trail that can also be travelled by cable car. The moderately strenuous hike has a beautiful look-out that is one of the best views of the city of Osaka, as well as the chance to catch a glimpse of the white snow monkeys that roam this area.
7.) The Philosopher’s Path
This is an approximately 2-km long (ridiculously) easy stone path that runs aside a canal, lined with cherry trees.
In springtime, when the pink and white flowers are in full bloom (Sakura in Japanese), this is one of the most beautiful walks you’ll experience in Japan (heads up though – you won’t be the only one keen on cherry blossom season in Japan so it might get fairly busy here).
There are many spots along the way to enjoy a picnic to take in the view so arrive snacks/picnic in hand.
8.) The Shikoku Henro Pilgrimage
Shikoku Island is known for its many temples and this long and very challenging hike, spanning over 1,000-km, that takes you on a path around the island, stopping at all eighty-eight temples. It truly is one of the best hikes in Japan for temple buffs.
If you do not have six weeks set aside to complete this journey (understandably so), you can always shorten route considerably by hopping on a bus or taxi or only doing specific sections of it, however, be aware that custom dictates that you end your hike at the same temple you began with.
9.) The Japanese Alps
Located on the main island of Honshu, one of the best hikes in Japan’s Alps is the Kamikochi Valley. Here, you will find a number of moderate hikes available to spend the better part of a day on, as well as more technical, difficult climbs for those who are looking for a challenge.
If you find yourself here in autumn and winter, be sure to stop by the Kamikochi Onsen Hotel for a relaxing open-air bath set against a spectacular mountain backdrop (you can do it in spring and summer but I imagine having a hot bath on a hot summer’s day doesn’t hold quite the same appeal).
10.) Lake Chuzenji
This is a pristinely beautiful lake that was formed by the volcanic explosion of Mount Nantai, which sits stoically in the background. The trail is approximately 25-km long, and fairly moderate, though there are some steep areas.
Known for its vivid beauty, this is a particularly breathtaking walk in Autumn, when the leaves have turned gold, red and orange. There are a number of hot springs available for soaking your tired muscles along the way, including the healing waters at Chuzenji Onsen.
11.) Daisetsuzan National Park
Daisetsuzan literally translates to “Great Snowy Mountain“, a rather well-deserved name, as this majestic mountain is blanketed in white for the better part of the year.
During the short window of time when the snowpack melts, the climb is absolutely extraordinary, leading you past lush vegetation, active volcanoes and crystal-clear lakes. This is an excellent place to visit if you are looking to just step away from the busy cities and lose yourself in nature.
End a long day of hiking with a long dip in one of the many hot springs, of which there are loads in the villages surrounding the park.
This small island located south of Kyushu is home to magnificent forests that provide you with many options for hiking, all of which offer quite gorgeous hiking scenes.
The deep green of the trees in the forests is further enhanced by the heavy coating of moss, making you feel as though you are a million miles away from the civilized world.
While the landscape looks like something out of some fairy tale, the highlight of visiting Yakushima is having the opportunity to see and touch the Yakusugi – the ancient cedar trees (typically at least 1,000 years old) that can be found in the mountains.
Once you’re done hiking (or perhaps even before), here are 16 brilliant things to do in Japan worth checking out.