People often dread the humid Japanese summer. But the tropical weather also brings about lush green forests, giving the mountains a vibrant character that is perfect for hiking.
The elevation of the Japanese Alps makes them the ideal temperature for escaping the summer heat, averaging 10 degrees lower than the major cities. Located between Tokyo and Osaka, the Alps are fairly accessible to city dwellers and the hiking trails are world-class, often featuring via ferrata such as chains, ropes and ladders to guide you over the steep terrain. There are also many options for both beginners and experts. Here we’ll list some of the best locations to escape the summer heat and spend a weekend in the mountains.
Kamikochi (The Northern Alps)
A place that needs no introduction, Kamikochi is considered the heart of the Alps and is often referred to as the most beautiful hiking destination in Japan. There are many peaks here offering multi-day hikes, such as Mount Hotaka, the third highest mountain in Japan at 3,190 meters, and Yarigatake, the fifth highest mountain in Japan. Nearly all the peaks here require a minimum of two days of hiking, but there is also a popular day-hike called Yakedake, which is an active volcano with a smoldering crater. If you prefer to spend your weekend relaxing with nature in the cool alpine environment, then there are numerous leisurely walks available with views of the emerald blue river and surrounding mountains.
Accommodation options vary from hotels to mountain huts, as well as many beautiful campgrounds. There are direct buses to Kamikochi from Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo, as well as a shinkansen to Matsumoto. If you plan to drive, note that you will still need to catch a bus into the national park as cars are not allowed to enter.
For complete information on the hikes in Kamikochi, check out this guide for more details.
Mount Kisokoma and Mount Utsugi (The Central Alps)
These are two incredible mountains in the Central Alps in the town of Komagane, only a four-hour bus ride from Tokyo. Mount Kisokoma is the highest mountain in the Central Alps and is easily accessible due to a massive ropeway that takes you up to the Senjojiki Cirque. From the ropeway, a three-and-a-half-hour round-trip hike will take you over the main peaks with a variety of terrain and stunning views. For accommodation, there’s a small hotel at the top of the ropeway, as well as some mountain huts closer to the peak with campsites available.
If you prefer something less developed, Mount Utsugi is an eight-hour hike from the town of Komagane and is known for its interesting granite boulders which are super fun to climb. It’s connected to Mount Kisokoma with another eight-hour hike across the ridgeline. After two days of intense hiking, it’s a big relief to take the ropeway down the mountain.
For complete information on the hike from Mount Utsugi to Komagatake, you can check out this guide ˇ for more details.
Tateyama and Mount Tsurugi (The Northern Alps)
Tateyama is an active volcanic mountain famous for its massive snow walls that become a popular attraction during spring. It’s a well-developed area with a range of hiking options suitable for all skill levels — you can spend a few hours checking out the beautiful lakes and volcanic gas vents or spend the whole day hiking around the three main peaks.
If you prefer something a bit more challenging, the neighboring Mount Tsurugi is an exciting overnight hike well known for its intimidating series of chains and ladders used for reaching the rocky peak.
Accommodation options include hotels, mountain huts and campsites. Access is via a direct bus from Nagano Station, or via connecting trains from Toyama and Tateyama stations.
For complete information on hiking Tateyama and Mount Tsurugi, you can check out this guide for more details.
Yatsugatake is a magnificent group of mountains just across the road from the Southern Alps. It is only two hours from Tokyo and offers a cool escape from the city heat. The terrain has a lot of variety. On a clear day, you can also see Mount Fuji. The mountain huts and campsites here are quite nice and the Oren Lodge even includes a small onsen made from cypress. It’s most commonly done as an overnight hike to the highest peak, Akadake, but you can extend your stay if you want to take your time and explore the other peaks.
You can reach the trailhead by taking a 40-minute direct bus from Chino Station, or you can drive and park at Yatsugatake Sanso.
If you want more information, check out this guide for further details on hiking Yatsugatake.
Kitadake (The Southern Alps)
Kitadake is the second-highest mountain in Japan, standing at 3,193 meters high and boasts one of the best sunrise views of Mount Fuji. Although Mount Fuji gets all the attention, the hike up Kitadake will offer a more diverse experience and a wider variety of views. It’s an overnight hike with a couple of mountain huts located only 35 minutes from the peak.
To access the trailhead, you’ll need to catch a bumpy two-hour bus ride on windy mountain roads from Kofu Station. If you’re planning to drive, you’ll still need to catch this bus as private cars are not allowed on the road. Kofu Station itself is only 90 minutes from Tokyo via a limited express train.
For complete information on hiking Kitadake, you can check out this guide for more details.
Feature and top image: Mount Utsugi. Image © Ollie Ronin