Walking in Japan: The 5 Best Hiking Trails for All Skill Levels
Japan offers some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in Asia, from dormant volcanoes to sacred forest paths. Walking in Japan is the perfect way to see these natural treasures, and with the help of our specialists, we’ve gathered the best hiking trails in Japan to get you started.
08 December 2022
Approximately three-quarters of Japan is mountains, so it’s little wonder that hiking is a prevalent part of its culture. While the country might be better known for its cities, hiking in Japan offers something unique, with off-the-beaten-track villages to explore and unrivalled scenery. Visiting the countryside will also offer you a glimpse into authentic Japanese hospitality
Formed from the tradition of hosting weary travellers, ryokans (family-run mountain lodges with just a few rooms) could not be more welcoming after a long day of trekking. Fairly basic, they are characterised by tatami-floored rooms, low, wooden furniture and futons. You can also expect delicious multi-course menus dictated by the seasons, and reviving onsen, or hot spring baths.
There are walks for everyone, from young adventurous couples who are keen to discover lesser-explored parts of Japan, to older, keen walkers who want to enjoy proper hiking in amazing countryside.
So read on to discover more about Japan’s breathtaking nature, with our top 5 locations for hiking.
Our Top Walking Trails
A walking holiday in Japan is a chance to slow down and connect with nature. But more than that, the mountains in the land of the rising sun are deeply rooted in history and culture, offering a spiritual insight into the country too.
Miyajima Island is perhaps best known for the partially submerged Grand Torii Gate, which appears to float offshore, however, trekking on the island is not to be overlooked. Mount Misen is a brilliant option for walking in Japan and on a clear day, views can stretch as far as Hiroshima city. There are three different trails up the mountain, our favourite being the Daisho-in Course, thanks to its spectacular views and manageable gradient.
The journey from the base to the summit takes between an hour and a half and two hours. There is also a cable car, which makes several stops on the way up the mountain, ultimately dropping visitors out at a station 100 metres from the summit. From here, a relatively leisurely one-kilometre walk brings you to the top of the mountain. Many intricate temple structures sit close to the summit, all of which belong to the Daisho-in temple at the foot of the mountain.
Skill Level: Very easy. The cable car can take you up or back down if you only want to hike one way.
Best Time to go: Mount Misen is beautiful all year round.
Who would like this?: This hike is accessible for everyone, from families with young kids to older, fit and active travellers.
In Hakone, Mount Fuji dominates the landscape, and one of the best ways to see its majesty (both from afar and up close) is on foot. Take a scenic hike to the base of the mountain for spectacular views of Lake Kawaguchi and the famous snow-capped peak amid miles of uninterrupted wilderness. Spend a few days hiking around the trails of Lake Ahinoko and Lake Ashi, or, between July and August, climb Mount Fuji itself. Its snowy splendour is matched only by the Shinto shrine upon its summit, and the enormous crater which measures 600 metres in diameter (although technically an active volcano, the last time Mount Fuji erupted was in 1707, so visitors can safely walk around the rim of the crater). Watch the sunrise and send a postcard from the top (home to Japan’s highest post office) for the ultimate Mount Fuji memento.
Skill Level: Very easy.
Best time to go: This Japan walking location is a year-round option for hikers. Spring and autumn are the least extreme temperatures, however, in the summer you get beautiful flowers and in winter crisp blue skies.
Who would like this?: More of a walk than a hike, Hakone’s trails are good for children and families who would like to see a bit of the Japanese countryside.
Nakasendo Walking Trail
As far as Japan hikes go, this has to be one of the prettiest. Walk back in time through ancient Japan on the fabled Nakasendo Trail, an old postal service route between Kyoto and Tokyo. While it is now frequented by keen hikers rather than the samurais that once walked its paths, it is easy to imagine the trail in its heyday. Stopping off at traditional Japanese inns, or ryokans, to rest weary legs en route adds to the authenticity of the experience.
We recommend a three-day self-guided journey along this scenic highway, from the picturesque town of Magome to the bustling town of Narai, characterised by the endless quaint houses that line this stretch of road. We think this is arguably the prettiest section of the trail, passing through many of the route’s most charming postal towns and taking in numerous beautiful Shinto shrines which have existed since the Edo period. Stroll past waterfalls, bamboo forests and cherry blossom trees, all home to a myriad of birds and wildlife.
Skill Level: Easy.
Best Time to go: Spring and autumn are the best seasons for this hike, particularly from the beginning of April to the end of June and then from late September to the end of November.
Who would like this?: The Nakasendo Trail is not too challenging, the paths are gentle and evenly paved, plus public transport runs alongside the route so you can jump on a bus or train to get to the next stop whenever you feel tired. This makes it one of the most popular of our Japan walking tours. It is a crowd-pleaser for honeymooners, young couples or friends travelling together and those who are older, but used to hiking, more adventurous and like off-the-beaten-track travelling.
Located less than an hour by train from Tokyo, the sacred mountain of Mount Takao is one of Japan’s most accessible hiking areas. This is the perfect option for those wanting to squeeze some spectacular scenery into a city break in Tokyo, as it can easily be done as a self-guided, day trip. Offering a network of seven beautiful walking trails, there are various ways to explore the mountain. The hike from the base to the summit takes about 90 minutes, but there’s also the option to take a cable car to the halfway point, before completing the ascent on foot. The pièce de résistance is the breathtaking vista of Tokyo from the very top, the mind-boggling size of this sprawling city is a true sight to behold, and on a clear day, views even stretch as far as Mount Fuji.
Skill Level: Easy to moderate. There are several trails for a mix of abilities.
Best Time to go: Mount Takao is a great place to go hiking in Japan all year round, although spring and autumn are when it is most beautiful. This is when the flowers are out or the trees are turning orange and red. You’ll also get the best climate in spring and autumn, the summer can be very hot and humid, while the winter gets cold.
Who would like this?: Because of the varying difficulty of the trails, Mount Takao is suitable for all types of travellers – from families to older, active travellers.
Located in Japan’s Wakayama prefecture around an hour south of Osaka by train, the Kumano Kodo is one of only two UNESCO-listed pilgrimage routes in the world, along with the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Much lesser known than its Spanish counterpart, the Kumano Kodo provides utterly breathtaking views of rural Japan and very few visitors. The paths are dotted with small shrines that have developed over time, from ancient trees to large rocks, which have been worshipped by pilgrims and ancient emperors since time immemorial.
Whether you come here to soak up the area’s deep spirituality or simply to explore the stunning scenery, the trails of Kumano Kodo provide some of the best walking in Japan. There are seven different routes in total, as well as a bus service which connects the main points, so it’s possible to tailor the hiking depending on your fitness or time constraints.
Skill Level: Moderate. The routes are not challenging but they are long, they take roughly 6-10 hours each, however, if you stay at the Amanemu you can arrange to be collected by a driver at any point. The hotel offers three different guided walking tours, designed to show you the best of the pilgrimage.
Best Time to go: Avoid typhoon season in August and September, otherwise you can walk the Kumano Kodo all year round.
Who would like this?: You will be hiking in a fairly remote part of the country, seeing quaint villages and coastal towns, so we recommend this walking holiday in Japan to adults and keen hikers.
Extra Tips For Hiking In Japan
What to know if you’re planning to go hiking in Japan:
- You can’t take big luggage with you on trains in Japan. So if you’re planning to walk Japan’s Nakasendo Trail and then travel on, we will arrange for your luggage to be delivered from your previous destination to your next destination. Other locations are easily completed in a day or less, so it makes sense to leave your luggage at the hotel.
- Accommodation in the ryokans is very traditional. It is worth knowing that the food served can be unique but wonderful to western travellers. Vegans and vegetarians are unlikely to be catered for.
- Carry cash with you wherever you go in Japan, as a lot of the ATMs don’t accept international cards.
- In Japan, it is seen as offensive to tip. The working culture in Japan is that your job is a passion, everyone is paid a fair wage and it could be confusing to someone if you leave them a tip.
- It is customary, however, to bring a gift to your ryokan host from the place you have just visited. For example, if you have travelled in from Tokyo bring a cake or some sweets from the city. Your guide can help you with suggestions for this.
- Be sure to pack waterproofs to avoid getting caught by any unpredictable rain spouts.
What To Expect On a Walking Tour with Scott Dunn
Holidays walking in Japan are generally self-guided. The routes are very clearly marked and often well-manicured, making them easy to follow. When you book a holiday to Japan with Scott Dunn, which includes hiking in the itinerary, we will provide you with an information pack detailing everything you need to know, from routes, to what to pack and how to get there, as well as places to stop for lunch.
We offer pre-booked transfers to and from the hikes, as well as organising train tickets in advance if that’s how you’d prefer to travel. Japan’s transport links are extremely efficient and easy to use, so it is often quicker than travelling by car.
The only exception to the rule regarding guides is for Kumano Kodo. Guests staying at Amanemu can book guided tours via the hotel, which we can also pre-arrange for you.
Japan is most often praised for its incredibly rich culture and history with its natural beauty often being overlooked. This itinerary shows you a different side to Japan, taking in the best of country's most inspiring cities and combining them with the Nakasendo Walking Trail, an ancient postal route through wild forests, and the beautiful surrounds of Miyajima and Lake Kawaguchi.