The Best Hiking in Japan — Hiking Near Tokyo, Kyoto & Beyond

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Hiking in Japan offers loads of options, but hiking near Tokyo is easier than you may think. No matter the season, there are loads of options for hiking near Tokyo, and in my column for the Japan Times this month, I mention a few of my favorites. All of these Tokyo hiking opportunities are possible with kids, as well.

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Hiking Near Tokyo – Some of the Best Hiking in Japan

One of our favorite things to do in Japan is enjoying the beautiful outdoors. Sure, we LOVE exploring Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and other urban centers. However, Japan has loads of great places for hiking, camping, rafting and more. The capital is one of the most densely populated places in the world, but it’s quite easy to go hiking near Tokyo. Sure, it takes 90 minutes or more to reach, but each Tokyo hiking spot is clean, green and ideal for a day away from the city.

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From the Japan Times Piece: Best Hiking Near Tokyo

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I’ve been writing for the Japan Times newspaper since 2002. At first, it was culture criticism (music, contemporary art, etc.). Fast-forward a decade and it became all about parenting and fun things to do in Japan with kids. Now I co-write a column for the paper with a friend called Child’s Play, which appears in the paper once a month.

In this column, I wrote about the best hiking near Tokyo that’s fun with kids. Below you can read an excerpt, with links to the full piece on the Japan Times website. Afterward, I suggest more places for hiking near Tokyo and then a few places that I consider the best hiking in Japan in general. Finally, I give some final tips for hiking in Japan in general.

Read below:

Intro: Hiking Near Tokyo & Best Hiking in Japan

One foot in front of the other. Deep breaths and deeper conversations. There’s nothing like hiking to open the mind and loosen the tongue.

Whether it’s the jungles of Sumatra, the forests of Spain’s Basque Country or the high desert plains of central Mexico, our family truly connects when hiking together. The conversations we have on the trail just don’t happen on sidewalks or train platforms. Our kids learned to hike outside of Tokyo, and hiking together among the autumn leaves in Japan will always be some of our fondest memories.

Believe it or not, Tokyo offers the hiking enthusiast a wealth of opportunities. It may be one of the most populous cities in the world, but it is also just a few hours by train from plenty of relaxing trails. Many Tokyo families already take advantage of the bucolic prefectures that surround the city. But I hope that even more will learn to escape the concrete jungle.

Autumn in Japan

Soon the weather will turn and the mountainsides with transform into a patchwork of red, yellow and orange. This is the best time of year to head for a walk in the woods. Whether it’s a mountain incline or a simple stroll under the forest canopy, autumn hikes with kids are special.

Most of the destinations I recommend here are at least two hours away, so plan accordingly. If possible, leave early and schedule snacks and nap times during the journey. We prefer to leave at dawn, even if that means the kids are groggy. That way if one train is packed with people, then we can wait on the platform for another in hopes of the kids getting a seat so they can get a little extra sleep. But be warned, sometimes the next train may be even more crowded — especially if it’s a weekend…

Top Places for Hiking near Tokyo

In the piece I recommend five of my favorite places for hiking near Tokyo:

  • Mount Takao (Tokyo Prefecture)
  • Okutama (Tokyo Prefecture)
  • Mount Mitake (Tokyo, Yamanashi, Saitama & Nagano Prefectures)
  • The Kamakura Daibutsu Trail (Kanagawa Prefectures)
  • Yoro Keikoku (Chiba Prefectures)

READ MORE: You can see the entire piece on the Japan Times Website

These are just a few of the great places for hiking near Tokyo. In fact, there are many more places for hiking in Japan, but there are the places that I often recommend for those hiking with kids. These are also some of the main places for those visiting Tokyo and don’t have time to go deeper into the mountains of Japan.

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Best Hiking in Japan — More Hiking Near Tokyo

My column in the Japan Times is only so long (usually around 800 words), so there wasn’t enough room to put all of the best hiking near Tokyo. Here are three more places with some of the best hiking near Tokyo.

Hakone (Kanagawa)

Hakone is one of Tokyo’s best hiking areas and a great place to relax. This area is very popular with Tokyoites escaping the city for the weekend, and there are lots of things to do in Hakone in addition to hiking. There are is a lake, countless great onsens (Japanese hot springs), a beautiful outdoor museum, and more.

Minakami (Gunma)

The Minakami area is best known for its ski resorts in the winter. Yet let me assure you that it is equally (if not more) beautiful in the summer and fall. In addition to some of the best hiking near Tokyo, Minakami has loads of other great outdoor options. Some of the best canyoning and whitewater rafting in the country is here. And one of our favorite onsens is in the area, as well.

  • READ MORE: I’ve written about canyoning and rafting in Minakami for the Japan Times.

The Izu Peninsula

I haven’t seen Izu on many lists for the best hiking in Japan, but it’s certainly on ours. The Jogasaki Coast is a stunning walk. Here you’ll see some amazing coastline and a beautiful suspension bridge. You have almost 10 kilometers of walking path here, and all of it is well-maintained — often paved.

Best Hiking in Japan (That’s Not Near Tokyo)

Kyoto with Kids: Kurama Onsen

Not all of the best hiking in Japan is near Tokyo. In fact, every major island on the Japanese archipelago as great hiking and camping opportunities. Below I point out only a few places for hiking in Japan.

Kibune to Kurama (Kyoto)

This may not be the best hiking in Japan for enthusiasts, but it’s one of my favorite trails with kids. It’s fairly easy, has some unique dining opportunities on the Kibune side and can be done as a day trip from Kyoto.

Mount Fuji (Shizuoka)

No post on hiking in Japan is complete without mentioning Mount Fuji. Yet few would consider it the best hiking in Japan. Mount Fuji makes Japan hiking lists because it is a symbol of the country and many people feel like it’s an obligation to do. Having said that, I lived in Japan for 13 years and I never hiked Mount Fuji. I’m kind of embarrassed, actually. Japan’s season for hiking Mount Fuji is limited (July, August, and part of September) and we always did something else. After all, there is so much good hiking near Tokyo that I never made a special trip. You should though, but expect crowds. There is a Japanese expression about hiking Mount Fuji that I’ll paraphrase as follows: “You’re a fool if you don’t climb Mt Fuji once — You’re also a fool to climb it twice.” Read into that what you will.

Nikko (Utsunomiya)

Nikko is best known for its UNESCO-recognized temples and shrines, but the region also offers some of the best hiking in Japan. There are many easy-to-moderate trails in the area. One we recommend is the easiest: the trail around Lake Yunoko. It’s relatively flat, only around 3km long and has lots of places to stop and try an onsen (Japanese hot spring) if you like.

Nakasendo (Kansai to Kanto)

Japan hiking aficionados often claim that the Nakasendo is some of the best hiking in Japan for a number of reasons. For example, it’s an ancient road used by 17th-century travelers between Kyoto and Tokyo. It passes through pristine forests and villages that look much like they did 100 years ago. Many recommend the Magome-Tsumago trail, but most of the Nakasendo is doable with kids, especially teens.

The Kamikochi Valley (Nagano)

This part of the Japanese Alps offers some of the best hiking in Japan and some of the most beautiful autumn colors in the country. That’s saying a lot. It can get very busy in the summer months and during kouyou (紅葉, “autumn leaf”) season, which usually falls in October.

Mt Yoshino (Nara)

We’ve included Mount Yoshino in our best hiking in Japan list because of how spectacular it is during hanami season. There are over 30,000 Sakura (cherry blossom) trees on this mountain, and one of the best things to do is to hike down and enjoy the view.

Just the Beginning

There are so many more great places to hike in Japan. I haven’t even mentioned Mount Aso, Yakushima, the Shikoku pilgrimage trail or the amazing Shiretoko national park in Hokkaido. Once you start digging for the best hiking in Japan, you’ll never run out of options. In fact, many Japan hiking enthusiasts may argue with my list. There are so many hiking trails in Japan that everyone can have their favorite.

Tips for Hiking in Japan

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Bears & Bells

Do you hear a little jingle on the trail? Perhaps a jingle all the way? No, Santa isn’t on his way. Lots of Japanese hikers wear a bell on their pack or their belt loop as a bear deterrent. Yes, there are bears in Japan, but bear incidents are rare. That said, you can never be too cautious. That’s why you’ll hear the jingle of a bear bell on all the best hiking trails in Japan.

Take a Dip

What’s the best thing about hiking near Tokyo or any of the best hiking in Japan? Well, the hiking itself. So what’s the second best thing? The onsens. Make sure to stay one night at a Ryokan, or traditional Japanese Inn. Most ryokan have onsens (natural hot springs) or some kind of relaxing public bath.

Don’t have the time or the budget to stay overnight? Most areas with hiking in Japan have onsens that are open to the public.

READ MORE: How to Take a Japanese Bath – The Unwritten Rules of Japanese Culture

Sneakers Work (Until they Don’t)

Most of the best hiking near Tokyo listed here can be done without specialized gear. I’ve even done some of these trails in sandals or flip-flops. The best hiking trails in Japan are usually well-maintained. Some are even partially paved. However, check your specific trail in Japan for more information. The longer Japanese hikes will require boots or shoes with a more serious grip.

Write the Trail Names Down

Most of the best trails in Japan are well marked, but many of them don’t have English signage. Are you unfamiliar with the Japanese writing system? If so, then write down (or print out) the names of the trails you plan to take. Another solution is simply to have a map with you. Most of the hiking near Tokyo has signage in Japanese and English (and sometimes Chinese and Korean, too).

Maps Don’t Always Face North

Many of the best hiking trails in Japan have good signage, and you’ll find a map posted along the trail. Not always, but often. However, be aware that Japanese maps don’t always follow the same North-South-East-West alignment. North isn’t always at the top of the map. Many public maps in Japan are aligned with the direction you are facing when looking at the map. For example, if you are facing west while looking at the map, then west will be at the top. Look for an “N” for north of the Japanese kanji for north () somewhere along the side of the map if you need it.

Further Reading

Have You Been Hiking in Japan?

We’d love to hear your Japan hiking tips and stories — especially for any trails that are good for families. Have you been on any of the best hiking trails in Japan? Have you been hiking near Tokyo? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. This means, at no extra cost to you, we might receive a small commission if you make a purchase or book a hotel in Japan using those links. My opinions are my own and I only recommend places/services that I believe will genuinely help you find the best hiking near Tokyo and the best hiking in Japan in general. This Tokyo travel blog post is all about helping you get the most out of family travel in Japan.

Image credits: #3, #5

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