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hiking trails

Top Five Hiking Trails: Japan’s Ultimate Outdoor Escapes

Anna Ayvazyan

Anna Ayvazyan

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Two people on one of many mountainous hiking trails.

Hiking is a great way to explore Japan outside of visiting the hustling and bustling city centers of major cities. Sometimes you only need to travel one hour from the center to reach the countryside or mountainous regions. In these regions, there are typically several hiking trails you can take. Let’s look at some of the best hiking trails nationwide.

Mount Mitake 

Mount Mitake is a holy mountain about two hours from central Tokyo. It offers beautiful scenery and is a perfect destination to recharge and connect with nature. Initially, the mountain was part of a pilgrimage route for pilgrims visiting Musashi Mitake Shrine. 

A hiking trail during in autumn near Mount Mitake.
Mount Mitake is enchanting in the fall. Image via Shutterstock

You can take three main hiking trails to take in Mount Mitake fully. The Musashi Mitake Shrine Course is easy and takes one hour (round trip). Generally, this is the easiest route to take if you have yet to gain experience in hiking. On this course, you can enjoy a gorgeous panoramic view from Mitake-area before you head to the summit.

The second course is the Rock Garden Course. This course is rated moderate and takes 2.5 hours to complete the round trip. The third course is the Mt. Nokogiri – Mt. Odake – Mt. Mitake Course. This course is an advanced course that takes about six to seven-and-a-half hours to complete.

Minoo Park

Minoo Park is a forested valley located about thirty minutes from Osaka Station. The park is famous for its waterfall, onsen, and local shops along the main path. The park is mainly known for its spectacular fall foliage and being a refreshing destination during humid months. In 1986, Minoo Park was recognized by the Forestry Agency of Japan as one of the “100 Spots For Forest Bathing”.

Minoo Falls in Minoo Park, one of many hiking trails in Japan.
Minoo Park is a getaway from Osaka City. Image via Shutterstock

There are many trails you can take to explore Minoo Park, but most people typically take the main trail, the waterfall trail. To emphasize, the waterfall trail starts from Minoo Station and takes about forty minutes to an hour to complete. Along the path are several souvenir and food shops where you can purchase Momiji tempura – a popular snack and souvenir from Minoo Park.

Another popular trail is the Minoh Station-Minoh Waterfalls-Katsuo-ji Temple track. This trail is moderately challenging and takes about three hours to complete. On this trail, you can visit Katsuo-ji Temple, famous for Daruma dolls and autumn scenery. 

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Yamanobe no Michi

The Yamanobe no michi is an ancient hiking trail located in Nara Prefecture. The trail is 16.16 miles (26km) long and is typically split into two parts, north and south. The north path has dramatically changed in the past thousand years, so most people hike the south path, which is 10 miles (16km) long and takes three to four hours to complete.

One of many hiking trails in Yamanobe no Michi.
Yamanobe no Michi is one of the oldest hiking trails. Image via Shutterstock

The south part of the hike is easily accessible from Nara Station, where you transfer to Tenri Station. The trail lets you taste the Japanese countryside, observing farms and bamboo forests. Fall is the best time to hike as you can see the rice harvest, persimmon trees, and cosmos flowers. Along the trail, you will encounter several shrines and temples, most notably Omiwa Shrine and Chogakuji Temple. 

Rishiri and Rebun Islands

The Rishiri and Rebun Islands are small islands on Hokkaido’s northern tip. These islands are a  great place to visit during summer since it doesn’t get as hot or humid in Hokkaido. Rishiri and Rebun Islands have separate hiking trails. On Rebun Island, you can take two main courses:  the eight-hour course and the two-hour course. The eight-hour course is for advanced hikers, while the two-hour course is for beginners.  

One of many hiking trails on Rishi and Rebun Islands in Hokkaido.
The Rishiri and Rebun Islands are peaceful locations in Hokkaido. Image via Shutterstock

The 8-hour hike allows you to go through picturesque woods and flower-filled meadows.
The 2-hour hike course, the Rebun-dake Course, is about three miles (4.5km) long. The trail lets you get a beautiful 360-degree panoramic view of the top of the mountain.

Rishiri Island has limited hiking trails, and it is recommended only advanced hikers attempt it. The two main hiking trails are the Oshidomari Hiking Trail and the Kutsugata Hiking Trail. The Oshidomari Hiking Trail is an eight-mile (12.9 km) steep hike. It takes about six hours to ascend and four-and-a-half hours to descend. The Kutsugata Hiking Trail is an 11.1-mile (17.9 km) steep hike. It takes about six hours to ascend and five hours to descend.

Noboribetsu Hell Valley

Noboribetsu Hell Valley is located in Noboribetsu Onsen in Hokkaido. The area is famous for hot steam vents, sulfurous streams, and volcanic activity. The most popular hiking trails are the Noboribetsu Jigokudani Loop and the Noboribetsu Onsen Loop. Both of these trails are rated as easy to do. 

The steamy, Noboribetsu Hell Valley.
Noboribetsu Hell Valley has a lot of steam vents. Image via Shutterstock

The Noboribetsu Jigokudani Loop is a two-mile (3 km) hike that takes approximately an hour to complete. The trailhead is marked and easily accessible. However, if you visit during winter, some parts of the trailhead may be closed off due to the snow. One of the highlights of this loop is the Oyunuma River Natural Footbath, where you can rest your feet after hiking.

This trail is a three-mile (five km) hike that takes approximately one hour and a half to complete. This hike takes you all around Noboribetsu Valley, where you can get some views of the surrounding ponds and rivers. 

Yakushima

Yakushima is an island in Kagoshima. It’s famous for its wildlife, cedar forests, and some of Earth’s oldest trees. The island also inspired Miyazaki Hayao’s 1997 Ghibli animated film, Princess Mononoke. There are three main hiking trails in Yakushima: the Yakusugi Course, the Shiratani Unsui Course, and the Jomon Sugi Course.

The Yakushima Forest, which is one of many hiking trails in Japan.
Yakushima is an enchanting forest. Image via Shutterstock

The Yakusugi land course is the most straightforward. It’s just under 3/4 miles (1.2km) long and can take 30 to 50 minutes, depending on the path you want to take. The two main spots to visit on this course are the Sennen Sugi and Kuguri Sugi cedar trees. The Shiratani Unsui Gorge course is moderate.

It is three miles (6 km) and can take three to six hours. In this course, you will see how and why Miyazaki Hayao was inspired to recreate the nature scenes in his film. The Jomon Sugi Round Trip is a challenging course. It is 14 miles (22 km) and can take nine hours to complete. The trail is very steep, so it’s best to use hiking gear. Moreover, the cedar trees and the Wilson Stump are the main highlights of this course. It’s estimated to be between 2000-7000 years old! Because the Wilson Stump has a heart shape, many couples visit it for good luck.

Why are hiking trails popular in Japan?

Japan boasts many hiking trails tailored to various skill levels, ensuring a suitable route for everyone to explore. As autumn paints the landscape with vibrant hues, this season emerges as the prime time for hiking, offering picturesque vistas and pleasant weather. 

Whether you’re an avid hiker or a novice explorer, Japan’s diverse trails beckon you to embark on an adventure. If the allure of hiking has captured your imagination, which specific trail has piqued your interest the most? We’re eager to learn about your preferences, so don’t hesitate to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!

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