If you’re an avid hiker visiting Tokyo, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Takao-san. The delightful little peak is an easy day trip from the main city and breaks up the relentless urban trappings of the humming metropolis for something more open-air and natural, as well as having some cracking views of Mt. Fuji if you’re lucky.
But, at only 600 meters and with 2.5 million visitors per year, Takao-san can be quite crowded and not really that challenging. What if you want to really sink your teeth into something more, while still making it a day trip from Tokyo?
Enter Mount Kawanoriyama. A little deeper into the mountain range west of Tokyo, this little-known mountain has everything Mount Takao has to offer and more, except for crowds – it has significantly less of those! But a word of warning: Mount Kawanoriyama is a proper peak. There’s nothing in the way of shops on the trail, and there’s some mildly challenging sections where the trail has you scrambling over rocks. If Takao-san is your limit, do not try Kawanoriyama!
From the Train to the Trailhead (1h 15m)
It takes a little longer to get out to Mount Kawanoriyama, and unlike Takao-san the start of the route isn’t right outside the station. So you’ll need to be up and on the move quite early.
The nearest station is Okutama (奥多摩), a 110-minute train journey from Shinjuku. Upon arrival, you’ll need to follow Route 204 out of the town and deeper into the mountains. It’s a smooth road with little in the way of traffic and pleasant views of the surrounding nature and hamlets. Make sure to stick to Route 204 – there are a couple of times the road splits. Shortly after you pass under a goods railbridge, you’ll come to the trailhead. As long as you arrive at this point before 9am, you should have plenty of time for the climb and descent.
Route to Hyakuhiro Falls (百尋の滝) (1h 35m)
The beginning of the trail is a winding ascent through increasingly dense woodland, though you’ll still be on a road at first. Eventually, you’ll cross a small bridge and the true path up to Mount Kawanoriyama begins. You’ll skirt the edges of a gulch, cross wooden footbridges and be treated to the views of sounds of increasingly large waterfalls. But none of them compare to the sight of Hyakuhiro Falls.
You’ll hear it before you see it: a roaring and hissing somewhere up ahead, and after some light scrambling over rocks you’ll spot the sheer wall of water crashing down before you. It is breathtaking in its size. Photos really do not do it justice. And as long as you’re sure-footed, you can get right up close and personal with the waterfall too. You probably don’t want to get too close though: the spray alone can soak you through, and you will feel the sheer force of nature pushing you back. Does Mount Takao have something like this? I think not!
Onward to Kawanoriyama (川苔山) (2h)
After Hyakuhiro Falls, the path peels away from following the river and climbs its way into wooded ridge paths. Take care of your footing on the uneven ground here: some of the slopes can be quite steep. There’s also a whole network of paths up here, most of which will take you to Kawanoriyama, but nevertheless it pays to know your chosen route and stick to it, or you’ll end up going in circles. And while some signposts will have English, some won’t, so be sure to know what the Japanese text for Mount Kawanoriyama is. It doesn’t help that there’s two ways to write it: 川苔山 and 川乗山. Commit both of them to memory just to be sure.
And while the path is generally clear, be careful of one particular spot where the ground opens up into a miniature valley of sorts, lined with small concrete dams. It is easy to lose the path here: keep to the left and don’t walk up the concrete dams (as I did!). You’ll climb up the left hand side of the valley, and from here it’s a short but steep spurt before you’re out in the open and standing on the shoulder of Mount Kawanoriyama. A short and gentle walk takes you to the peak.
Mount Kawanoriyama Peak
At 1363 meters, Mount Kawanoriyama is over twice the height of Takao-san, and while your aching legs will certainly feel that difference as you stand atop the peak, your eyes definitely will as well! The view is stunning, with nothing but nature and mountains surrounding you, and if you’re lucky there is a fantastic view of Mount Fuji as well. If you’ve come in the fall, you’ll be treated to an extra special view of the red, orange and yellow hues of the autumn leaves. The peak is also quite open and flat, making it a pleasant spot to rest and recharge.
The Way Down (2h 20m)
Head back down the shoulder of the mountain, where you emerged from the trees. Now you’re going to head the other way, towards Hatonosu Station (鳩ノ巣駅). The descent is different from the way you came, but truth be told this route down to Hatonosu Station is pretty long and featureless. You could go back the way you came and it would take roughly the same amount of time back to Okutama Station, plus you’d get another chance to see Hyakuhiro Falls again. But if you’re not too bothered about that, then the route to Hatonosu Station takes you down through a dark pine forest, until you emerge back in civilization at Kumano Shrine. Keep following the road and you’ll reach Hatonosu Station. Trains are pretty infrequent, so be sure to plan ahead and know the train timetable.
And that’s Kawanoriyama! For those looking for something more challenging than Takao while still being able to return to Tokyo in a day, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It also serves as a strong reminder of just how much nature lies right on the doorstep of the metropolis.