Exploring the Outdoors in Hakone
Hakone is a region in Kanagawa Prefecture that makes up part of the Fuji-Hakone National Park, it lies less than one hundred kilometers to the south-west of Tokyo. It is easily accessible via public transport and is home to a number of “onsen” hot-spring resorts, making it a popular getaway for Japanese and international travelers alike.
As well as comfortable accommodation and steaming hot onsen bathes though, the area in and around Hakone offers a variety of activities for those who like to spend time exploring the outdoors. From Japanese gardens to outdoor museums, continuous volcanic activity to stunning views of Mt Fuji – in this article we will introduce a selection of Hakone’s finest outdoor locations.
― Parks in the Gora area of Hakone
The town of Gora is the closest Hakone has to a center. It is brimming with hot-spring resorts, hotels and ample places to sample local food and drink. It is a town that was made for the soul purpose of hosting holiday resorts and attractions for travelers at the start of the 20th century, and has remained a popular destination ever since.
There are three parks in the town of Gora that are well worth a visit if you are passing through, offering a range of landscapes to enjoy, from traditional Japanese to contemporary European inspired. These three parks are:
Hakone Gora Park
Winding paths lead up the steep slope of Gora Park
A symmetrical, French-style garden located on a steep slope with a large fountain as its center piece. Several paths wind around the park, flanked on both sides by a variety of deciduous trees, maple trees and an assortment of seasonal flowers. The upper parts of the park offer good views across the Hakone area on a clear day.
The European influenced fountain in the center of Gora Park
Gora Park is a great place, to sit back, relax and take in the scenery
The park also has two greenhouses, a small restaurant and a traditional Japanese teahouse. There is also a crafthouse, where visitors can take part in several activities such as pottery, glass blowing and flower arranging. These various attractions make Gora Park a great place for families with children.
The entrance to the Japanese teahouse
Glass Blowing at the Crafthouse
Hakone Museum of Art (and garden)
The garden at the Hakone Museum of Art reflects the changing in seasons with beautiful colours
Just a few meters from the exit located at the top of Gora Park is the Hakone Museum of Art, founded in the 1950s. The museum displays a permanent collection of Japanese ceramics from prehistoric times right through to the Edo period. The museum also features a beautiful garden comprised of maple trees and a well-maintained moss garden. Stone paths lead you through the moss garden which reflects the changing of seasons beautifully with autumn colours in November and vibrant greens during the spring.
The stone paths lead you through the moss garden past bamboo and momiji trees
The garden also has a nice teahouse situated inside a traditional Japanese building with a thatched roof. Although the building was reconstructed here it manages to retain a feeling of Japan from a bygone era nicely.
The atmosphere inside the garden is that of Japan in the past
Hakone Open Air Museum
The Open Air Museum is set against a beautiful backdrop of mountains and trees
The Hakone Open Air Museum is about a harmonic balance between nature and art. Various exhibits are scattered throughout the grounds, which also offer stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
It contains a variety of works from contemporary artists
Hakone Open Air Museum
The majority of the works on display are outdoors but some pieces are also undercover including the popular Picasso Exhibition Hall which showcases two stories of original works by the artist and a photographic display that documents different stages of his working life.
There are also a variety of places for children to play, making this a great place for all the family.
The Picasso Exhibition Hall
There are also lots of activities to keep the children entertained!
The Hakone Ropeway allows visitors to see several popular views of Hakone in one journey
The Hakone Ropeway which is located on the mountainside of Mt. Kanmurigatake is a great way to see several popular scenic spots around the Hakone area on a bright, clear day. The ropeway’s gondola cars depart every fifteen minutes, and traveling the full length of the ropeway takes approximately thirty minutes. Along the way you will enjoy views of the very active volcanic hotspots in the Owakudani Valley, Lake Ashi and Mt Fuji in the distance (weather permitting).
On a clear day the ropeway will also allow views of Mt Fuji across the valley
As the ropeway approaches Owakudani the landscape changes dramatically from green and leafy to brown and baron-like. Much of the area is an active volcanic zone where sulfurous fumes, hot springs and hot rivers can be observed. Due to its unique landscape Owakudani was dubbed the Valley of Hell in the Edo period
At the peak of Owakudani there is a rest house which sells food, drink and souvenirs
Owakudani can also be accessed by car for those who don’t want to use the ropeway
Sengokuhara Pampas Grass Fields
The grass goes through various transformations throughout the year, from bright green in the summer months, to yellow to gold as the year goes on
On the weast side of Mt Hakone lies the Sengokuhara area, home to rolling fields of pampas grass. The grass which grows as tall as a full- grown adult covers the hillside for hundreds of meters, attracting ramblers and dog walkers all year round. A single path leads visitors through the fields, up a slope, that offers nice views of the surrounding scenery. Although it can be tempting, visitors are requested to not stray from the walking path.
There is a single path that leads you slowly up the trail top towards a forested area
The views across the valley are pleasant
Lake Ashi and Hakone Shrine
The classic Hakone scene taken from the south-eastern side of Lake Ashi
Perhaps the most iconic image of Hakone is the one at the very top of this article – the vermilion red gate that marks the entrance to Hakone Shrine sitting upon the shore of Lake Ashi, with Mt. Fuji looming overgead in the background.
The red gate that marks the entrance to Hakone Shrine looks great at any time of the day
Lake Ashi was created from a volcanic eruption hundreds of years ago. It is a pleasant lake to slowly meander around on foot, or to enjoy from rental boat, which can be found in several places along the shore.
The iconic red gate that belongs to Hakone Shrine is situated on the east side of the lake and is a popular spot for photographers and first-time visitors to the area alike.
Hakone Shrine itself is hidden in the thick forest just beyond the lake, it can be accessed via a path that leads from the red gate. The shrine which dates back to the mid 700s is beautiful all year round, but particularly nice on a misty morning.
Detail from Hakone Shrine
Hakone Shrine was first constructed in the eighth century
The Hakone Checkpoint was reconstructed in 2007 but is true to its original form
Several hundred meters along from Lake Ashi sits the Hakone Checkpoint, an important checkpoint that was used to control traffic along the old Tokkaido highway that linked Kyoto and Edo (modern day Tokyo) during the feudal Edo period.
This reconstruction of the original checkpoint was completed in 2007, and also houses a small museum which details the history of the Tokkaido Highway and life during feudal times.
A section of the original Tokkaido Highway still stands today, not far from the Hakone Checkpoint, and is now used as a popular hiking route that stops off at a traditional teahouse, well-known for its delicious Amazake (sweet non-alcoholic rice wine served hot).
A section of the original Tokkaido Highway which is now popular with hikers in Hakone
The Amazakechaya teahouse situated along the Tokkaido hiking path serves a variety of hot and cold drinks and snacks in an old Edo period building with a thatched roof