This heat has me running for the hills this week. We’re not breaking any records here, but I’m not ashamed to admit that my air conditioner is getting a workout. Hard as it may be to contemplate breaking a sweat in this weather, here are some worthwhile hikes around the archipelago to plan for when those days cool down.
1. Mt Kaimon (Kagoshima) – This Mt Fuji lookalike is located near the tip of Kyushu, about as far south as you can get on the main islands and miles from the urban centers of Tokyo and Osaka. Mt Kaimon (or Kaimondake) looks imposing but the climb is actually quite manageable. Allow two hours to reach the top of this extinct volcano – the trail winds through lush, rainforest-like scenery for most of the way before emerging above the treeline to some rock scrambling action. There isn’t a lot of open space on the peak (so expect competition for a place to sit on weekends and holidays) but the views back down to Kagoshima’s Satsuma Peninsula are stunning. There is a small train station that serves the area but a car is best.
2. Daimonjiyama (Kyoto) – Most people visit the Silver Pavilion in Kyoto never realizing that they are mere meters away from the trailhead of one of Kyoto’s famed peaks in the Higashiyama (Eastern Mountains) range. An easy to moderate climb through woods (and two long brutal staircases) in just over an hour leads hikers to the hill on which the large “dai” kanji sits. This symbol is lit every August during Obon week and the blaze can be seen from all over the city. On a clear day, the views over Kyoto are stellar and you can even see as far away as Osaka to the south. If you’re still feeling energetic, the trail continues over the hills and you can choose to end at Nanzen-ji Temple or even further afield. This is an easy hike to reach via bus or even on foot from your city lodging.
3. Hiji Falls (Okinawa) – Okinawa is not known for its mountains but this short hike is a good one for families and ends at one of northern Okinawa’s most scenic waterfalls. The hike takes under an hour, though long flights of steps may slow some hikers down. Except in wintertime, humidity and insects are a constant factor and after significant rainfall, it may not be safe to hike. Still, when the weather cooperates, this is an easy hike on an island with few options. A large parking lot is at the trail head and when I was there last, it cost ¥300 to hike.
4. Mt Karakuni (Miyazaki) – Kirishima Yaku National Park straddles Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures and is just across the border from Kumamoto. Despite having Kyushu’s convenient highway system circling the park, the interior of this old volcanic range remains blissfully empty of crowds. Beyond a campsite, a small cafe and an onsen hotel, there’s not much here except for the hiking but there are enough trails here to keep you occupied for at least two days, if not more. Mt Karakuni (or Karakunidake) was once the starting point for a peak to peak traverse of the entire park, until an eruption in 2011 closed off the middle section of the trail. You can still summit Mt Karakuni itself, however, in a short but steep climb of just over an hour. From the top, you can see smoking craters, extinct volcanoes and crater lakes of deep deep blue. Despite the remoteness, there is a bus stop literally at the base of the trail and parking is available nearby.
5. Mt Mitake (Tokyo) – Most people who do day hikes from Tokyo flock to Takao-san, a lovely mountain in its own right. But if you go further afield to the Chichibu-Tama-Kai Park, it’s slightly less crowded and your options for trails increase. A favorite of city dwellers in the know is Mt Mitake. Easily reached via cable car (though you do have to hike another 30-40 minutes to the actual summit), an adventure here involves waterfalls, valleys and a shrine that is allegedly 2000 years old. Trails here branch off to other peaks (like Mt Otake) so you can plan an entire weekend in the area if you’re up for it. (I can’t find my Mitake pictures – sorry about that!)