While Japan is well known as a popular tourist spot, very few are aware that it is one of the most magical hiking spots in the world.
From casually exploring the rolling foothills to trekking through the Japan Alps and hiking Mount Fuji (Japan’s highest peak), the country offers a rich hiking experience with many breathtaking views.
Here are some of the best spots to explore when you go hiking in Japan, as well as the best time of year to go and some tips to help you along your way!
Daisetsuzan is the biggest national park in Japan and translates to ‘Big Snow Mountain’. This park is full of natural wonders to see, including multiple mountains, volcanoes, onsen (hot springs), tranquil lakes and lush forests.
This special portion of wilderness has been left untouched by humans so that nature-lovers and hikers can enjoy the absolute peace and beauty of the land. Daisetsuzan National Park is the perfect spot for travelers who want to relax and enjoy various day excursions before retiring to the comfort of their onsen in the evenings.
Kamikōchi is regarded as having some of Japan’s most amazing scenery and is an absolute must if you’re an avid hiker. There are numerous trails that run alongside the flowing Azusa River.
Kamikōchi is a highland region nestled in the foothills of the Japan Alps. Therefore, there are many peaks to hike and breathtaking sights to see. The trails in this area are fairly easy and short so it is the perfect spot for families and more casual hikers.
If you’re looking for a more serious hiking adventure, consider hiking up Japan’s highest peak - Mount Fuji. This active volcano has a height of 3776 meters and is an incredibly popular trek among climbers and experienced hikers.
Mount Fuji is an iconic Japanese landmark and is well worth a visit. The hike up this volcano can be done over a weekend or you could choose to simply hike during the day and then return.
If you’re not up for hiking Mount Fuji, you can still enjoy the most spectacular views of the mystical volcano from various spots around the Fuji Five Lakes.
Yakushima is an island full of beautiful hiking trails to explore. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that offers visitors some of the most magical scenery they’ll ever see! The mountainous land provides numerous hikes - all with rewarding views and majestic natural beauty.
This island is also home to the iconic yaku-sugi, or Cryptomeria japonica, which are ancient cedar trees that are a truly special sight to behold. You’ll also find the Jōmon Sugi tree here - the oldest and biggest of the cedar trees which has been estimated to be up to 7000 years old!
Not only does Yakushima offer incredible hiking trails, but you can also enjoy spending time on the pristine beaches and relaxing at the onsen.
The weather on Yakushima varies greatly between the coastal areas and the mountains more inland. The mountains will often be wet, rainy and cold, while the beaches remain quite warm and pleasant. Make sure you pack some warm layers and a rain jacket if you decide to hike here and be prepared for all weather!
If you’re looking for a multi-day hike, then the Tateyama to Kamikochi traverse is definitely the one for you! This 6 day trek takes you on a journey through the North Alps where you will find many campsites and huts to stay at.
There are also several extra routes that lead down to bus stops along the trek to allow for a flexible itinerary. These escape routes are very helpful if you experience very bad weather on your trek or feel as though the trek is a bit too tough.
The Kumano Kodo consists of several pilgrim routes that span across the Kii Hantō region of Japan. These ancient trails lead to the Three Grand Shrines, or Kumano Sanzan, and have been used for religious pilgrimages for hundreds of years.
The trek is generally about 5 days long but you can opt to explore one of the shorter trails or go on a day excursion if you have limited time. These trails are incredibly popular and are open all year round. So if you want to avoid most of the crowds, make sure you trek during the week instead of the weekend.
If you’re keen for a more serious trek, the Shikoku Pilgrimage is comparable to the Camino de Santiago and can take more than 60 days to complete. This trek covers the Shikoku region and passes 88 temples.
The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a beautiful and spiritual journey, but it is also very tough and long. However, you can choose to hike for as long as you want or use public transportation at some points instead of walking the whole circuit.
Japan is a beautiful hiking destination all year round so the best time to go really depends on what sort of experience you’re looking for and which region you want to explore. Each season is very distinct and the best time to hike varies between the regions.
Mountain trails at higher elevations are best explored in the summer, while lower trails and areas closer to the cities are better in the spring and autumn months.
Hokkaidō is a popular skiing destination in the winter as it receives a lot of snowfall, but it’s definitely worth visiting in the summer time if you want to hike. July and August are the most popular months for trekking here as the weather is warm and the rainy summer season is coming to an end.
April to June and September to October are the best seasons for hiking in other areas as the temperatures are more moderate and the skies more clear. Spring (March to May) is especially beautiful as you’ll see the cherry blossoms in full bloom. However, the mountains will be very cold so if you’re trekking during spring, keep to the foothills and lower trails.
Note that the mountainous areas of Japan can experience rain and snow throughout the year so be prepared for any weather!
Adie is a nature and wildlife lover living in Cape Town, South Africa. Growing up, she had many opportunities to explore the outdoors by hiking, going on safaris and venturing into the karoo with her family. This led to her love of animals, the environment and discovering new places to explore.