Whether you’re out for a day hike or spending some more time in the wilderness, there’s almost never a bad time for hiking in Japan.
Luckily, if you aren’t keen for a full day on the mountain, even Japan’s highest peaks have gondolas and cablecars to get you closer to the summit. We’ve selected a few of our favorites for different levels of experience and adventure.
Just 50km from the center of Tokyo, Mt. Takao isn’t the tallest mountain to hike up (599 meters), but it’s a perfect day hike from the city for getting some fresh air any time of the year. You have the option of taking a cable car halfway up, or doing the whole trek on your own for about 90 minutes. Plus you’ll find vendors and even find a beer garden at the top to have a cold one before heading back. It can get crowded on weekends during the peak months, so be prepared to walk with a lot of other people.
Although it’s the tallest mountain in Japan, climbing Mt. Fuji isn’t as hard as it looks. In fact, you’ll even see hikers well past retirement age making the trek up the volcano through the night to see an incredible sunrise. Luckily almost no one starts from the bottom of the mountain, but from the 5th Station at 2,300 meters before making the 5~7 hour ascent to the top at 3,776 meters. Along the way you’ll find rest stops, shops, vending machines, and apparently even wi-fi. In our experience, the hardest part of climbing Mt. Fuji is the shade-less, shop-free, sandy descent that does a number on muscles you never knew you had.
While wide-open spaces are more rare on Japan’s main island, Hokkaido still preserves areas of untouched wilderness that you could truly get lost in. The Daisetsuzan National Park has several mountains, including the iconic Mt. Asahi which is the tallest in Hokkaido. This isn’t the easiest climb, so it would be good to have some experience, but it’s only about 2.5 hours to the summit with a 600 meter vertical ascent if you decide to take the gondola up most of the mountain. Doing the full train loop properly from the bottom will take you about 6~8 hours, but with some of the best views in Japan, hands-down.
Mt. Zao and Okama Crater
Since it’s a bit outside of the normal tourist areas, we absolutely love the Mt. Zao area anytime of year, because when you can’t hike in the snow it has some of the best skiing in Japan. At 1,841 meters Zao is still an active volcano (like many mountains in Japan), but what makes it truly spectacular is the crater lake on top called Okama. You won’t be able to get close to the crater itself, but it’s only a 45 minute hike from the Kattadake peak which is accessible by road, or directly from Zao Onsen by cablecar to a different 45 minute hike to the top. If you’re really ambitious you can climb the whole thing from Zao Onsen for a 1,000 meter vertical ascent.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route connects Toyama and Nagano Prefectures through the magnificent scenery of the Northern Japan Alps via a combination of cablecars, buses and a ropeway. In summer and fall, a wide variety of hiking opportunities are available from trailheads along the Alpine Route, especially around its highest point, Murodo.