Magome and the Kiso Valley Photo: iStock: Blanscape

5 trails in Japan I can’t wait to hike again when it’s safe to travel

By Burcu Basar

As foreigners, we are often asked what brought us to Japan. Most of the time, it’s pretty straightforward—workschool or family. However, I like to give a not-always-welcome long-winded answer about Japan’s hiking trails.

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing pandemic, travel has been interrupted and the magnificent hiking trails of Japan have become temporarily out of reach. However, there is one unavoidable silver lining in this unprecedented health crisis: our increased appetite for travel and heightened appreciation of the outdoors.

I try to get out every chance I get to discover the countless trails that rural Japan offers. Moreover, as an avid photographer, I’m repeatedly drawn to the less demanding courses of Japan, where I can focus on capturing the scenery rather than tackling the next challenging climb. It’s the best of both worlds. Mountains cover roughly 73% of Japan, and there are some epic climbs and multi-day pilgrimages you can traverse. It’s where you can see the perfect fusion between Japan’s culture and nature.

I’m yearning to get back to Japan’s mountains, and I know I’m not the only one. So to inspire your next hiking trip (or even your first) once the pandemic is over, here is a list of my favorite trails in Japan suitable for all levels of experience.

5. Susoaidaira Valley

Meteo Pond Photo: Burcu Basa

Susoaidaira Valley is in the largest national park of Japan—Daizetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido. Although the famous weeklong grand traverse of Daisetsuzan and its numerous peaks will challenge even seasoned hikers, the Susoaidaira Valley trail allows you to experience some of the most beautiful scenery in the park without demanding much in return. The picture-perfect view of the valley so took me that I changed my travel plans during my last visit to Daisetsuzan to walk the trail a second time.

The scenery along the trail, which takes five to six hours as a round trip, is particularly mesmerizing in September when Hokkaido welcomes the autumn colors earlier than any other region in Japan. Given the size of the park and the relatively limited number of visitors compared to other hot spots in Japan, Susoaidaira Valley offers an excellent opportunity to enjoy koyo (autumn leaves viewing) in relative solitude.

July and early August are another great time to visit the valley when the alpine flowers bloom in scenery rivaling the Swiss Alps. You will often spot botanic enthusiasts on the trail with notebooks in hand.

On this trail, you’ll rarely feel lonely. Instead, there’s an unspoken understanding that all the hikers will be looking out for each other. The quickly formed trail friendships are one of the wonderful traits of hiking culture in Japan and my experience in the trails of Daisetsuzan is no exception.

4. Oirase Stream

The Oirase Stream trail starts at Nenoguchi, a small town near Lake Towada. Photo: iStock: Nattya3714

Oirase Stream in Aomori is another trail that ranks high in scenic beauty while being very easy on legs. The course, particularly popular during koyo, goes through Oirase Gorge and connects Nenokuchi to Ishigedo. It’s very easy to follow and can be walked either way in about three hours.

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It IS safe to hike. It’s ridiculous to suggest otherwise.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

It IS safe to hike. 

Good job getting angry at that thing no one said.

-8 ( +3 / -11 )

It IS safe to hike.

Haven't been hiking in a while, but beaches being closed off allowed me to skinny-dip a couple of weeks ago. Bliss!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Such a positive story. It’s a great time to hike.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I should add that the photos are a delight as well!

2 ( +4 / -2 )

1 and 5 are just like in every other countries. I take no. 3 but i would rather go for all Pilgrimage trails in Japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Haven't been hiking in a while, but beaches being closed off allowed me to skinny-dip a couple of weeks ago. Bliss!

Beaches near my place have been open all the time. I regularly visit, have a bbq!

Skinny dipping is done in a river in a quiet place out of town. I do that regardless of the coronavirus situation.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This has been the safest last year and a half of traveling ever in Japan, and super picture opportunities.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Yakushima is a little tricky to get to, but absolutely gorgeous hiking. I was lucky enough to spend 5 days getting there, hiking, and coming home. It was totally worth it! Not only do you see ancient trees and amazing vistas, there are also lots of deer, frogs, monkeys, and other wildlife that are so not used to people that they don't dash off at all! They just go about their business while you take amazing photos or smile at the way deer chew.

This was pre-pandemic of course, I doubt they're really open for tourists right now and besides their hiking season should be wrapping up soon anyways. Summer is a great time to go down there, when you get to the top of the peaks it will be cold but not so bad that you need heavy duty gear, which keeps your pack light for hiking. After 3 days in the mountains, we spent a night by the beach and saw sea turtles hatching and going to the ocean. It was a nature lovers' paradise. I really can't recommend it enough.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Bit of a pet peeve of mine but the Susoaidaira Valley photo isn't level. Nice shot, but watch those horizons.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Thank you for this article. I hope you can also make a list of trails in Japan that one can hike with a toddler.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wouldn't it make more sense to have someone write about places they've been, not just places they've heard about?

About half the mountaintop huts in Nagano have been open this summer, with distancing measures in place. Our daughter worked in one for a couple of weeks. Many will close in the next two or three weeks, so get out there soon if you are interested. Autumn colour will be down to around 1800m already.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Hiking has never really been my past-time of choice, but having been nowhere outside my office and flat for the last two years, I would be willing to try just about anything.

I am generally much more keen on city-activities, but with that being unlikely for a very long time yet I may have to try some more countryside activities away from people.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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