A Family Hike From Mt Mitake To Mt Hinode
A Weekend Escape On The Trails Of The Chichibu Tamakai National Park
Beautiful views, lush forests, well-marked trails with options for both beginners and experienced hikers, this is the perfect weekend nature escape from Tokyo for the whole family.
When pioneering Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabei—the first woman to reach the summit of Mt Everest—first visited Tokyo, Mt Mitake was the first mountain she chose to climb. Less crowded than Mt Takao, yet just as accessible, this majestic mountain is a must-hike!
A Family-Friendly Hike
Covid-19 has blown most of our 2020 hikes out the window. So when we had a chance, we masked up and set out on the Holiday Rapid Okutama to JR Mitake Station. We met up with one other family on the way and from JR Mitake Station took a short bus ride to Cable Car Bus Stop, just down the hill from Takimoto station—the base station of the Mitake Tozan Cable Car.
Riding the Mitake Tozan Cable Car saved us the steep, unspectacular ascent of Mt Mitake, whooshing us up to Mitake-daira Observatory in six minutes, where we were delighted to see the surrounding mountains shrouded in mist! On the tables below the wisteria, we unpacked our overnight gear and had the pilgrims’ lodge we had booked for the night come to pick them up—a complimentary service offered to lodgers. Given that we were hiking with three kids under five, it’s one service that we were very grateful for.
With lightened loads, we set off on the first part of our mountain adventure, taking a trail behind the shops through the rengeshouma (false anemone) conservation area to explore a shrine we had missed on previous hikes—産安社 (Ubuyasu Shrine) dedicated to safe childbirth.
After hugging the ancient trees at Ubuyasu Shrine, we hiked to the Tokyo-to Mitake Visitor Center, our destination for an early lunch. The Visitor Center staff gave us the latest trail conditions, and we appreciated its facilities including maps, bathrooms, potable water, displays on local flora and fauna, and a seating area for eating and conferences.
After heavy rain the previous week, the Visitor Center Staff advised us that two steep trails had become treacherous; the stairs down to the Nanayono-no-taki Waterfall on the Rock Garden Trail and the ascent to Mt Otake. So we settled on a gentler trail bypassing that first waterfall of the Rock Garden Trail.
Then we set out towards the Rock Garden trailhead, a left turn partway up the shrine steps of Mitake Musashi Shrine.
The Rock Garden is a loop course in three main sections if you bypass the Nanayono Waterfall; a gentle slope down to a swift mountain stream, the Rock Garden section which crisscrosses the stream on strategically-placed boulders, and the ascent back to the Mitake Musashi Shrine via stairs and a ridgeline.
Our four-year-olds squealed in delight hopping across the rock garden stepping stones and were thrilled to find a huge frog. The visitor center website has this trail as a 2:30 hour hike, with kids in tow it took us just under 3 hours.
As we headed back through Mitake Village we noticed that all the eateries have closed early, so we skipped our hoped-for drink with a view at one of the many eateries in Mitake Village and wandered straight down to our lodgings for the night, Sanraku-so, a Buddhist temple-style shukubō (pilgrim’s inn) that has provided refuge to travelers since the 18th century.
Wild plants for dinner!
This was my first experience staying at a shukubō, and it was quite an experience indeed. Sanraku-so is famed for its meals of locally-sourced edible wild mountain plants and vegetables from its garden, so dinner and breakfast were the highlights of our stay. Using over 30 different ingredients for each meal, our plates were bursting with color. Our little ones were satisfied with their kid’s meals of Hamburg steaks.
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Up to Mt Hinode
In the morning we set off for our second day of hiking. Conveniently, Sanraku Lodge is located on the first section of the trail to 日の出山 (Hinodesan) or Mt Hinode, whose kanji mean ‘sunrise mountain’. We meandered down the dirt trail through the forest to the trailhead to Mt Hinode, reaching the summit in just over an hour. We enjoyed our bento lunches—we paid a little extra to have the inn pack our lunches—overlooking stunning views across western Tokyo on one side, and back towards Mt Mitake with the Musashi Mitake Shrine peeking out at us from its summit. It was a thrill to see how far we had come, and our four-year-olds had hiked it all on their own two feet!
The descent to Tsurutsuru Onsen Hot Spring
The dirt trail down from Mt Hinode to Tsurutsuru Onsen had a few long sections of stairs as we walked down through the forest. At Fudoson Temple we reached a road which we followed for about 20 minutes to Tsurutsuru Onsen. With kids, it was a three-hour hike from the summit of Mt Hinode to the onsen—a four-hour hike in total—but somehow it felt much longer than the previous day’s hike. At the hot springs, we scrubbed off the mud and soaked our aches and pains away.
From Tsurutsuru Onsen we caught a Nishi Tokyo bus to Musashi-Itsukaichi Station for our train journey home.
Invigorated by exercise and healthy food, our minds refreshed by a weekend in nature, we are already planning our next visit back to these mountains. I wonder which season we will visit this mountain next? And whether the conditions will be right to make it down to the Nanayono Falls or up to Mt Odake?
- Wear sturdy footwear. While the hike is suitable for beginners and kids, slippery moss on the stepping stones, steep drop-offs in places, and muddy sections after rain mean the right footwear is essential.
- Take plenty of cash, many establishments won’t accept credit.
- Front-load the hard stuff by doing the hike in reverse: take the train to Musashi-Itsukaichi Station, then the bus to Hinodeyama Toyamaguchi Bus Stop, walk 15 minutes to the trailhead at Fudoson Temple, and ascend Mt Hinode from there. That will leave the Rock Garden loop and the cable car for your second day—your knees will thank you on your easy-peasy cable car descent!
When to go: This hike can be done year-round, including in midsummer—temperatures are much lower in this part of Tokyo, and the altitude and heavy forest canopy will keep you cool!
Hiking from Mt Mitake to Mt Hinode: take an 81-minute ride on the Holiday Rapid Okutama from JR Shinjuku Station to Mitake Station.
Hiking from Mt Hinode to Mt Mitake, take a 69-minute ride on the Holiday Rapid Akigawa express from JR Shinjuku Station to Musashi-Itsukaichi Station.
Both train lines depart Shinjuku coupled together thrice every weekend and holiday morning at 6:46 a.m., 7:44 a.m., and 8:19 a.m. Double-check you are on the correct half of the train from Hajima Station — the train decouples there with the Holiday Rapid Okutama continuing on the Ōme Line to Okutama, and the Holiday Rapid Akigawa continuing on to the Itsukaichi Line to Musashi-Itsukaichi.
More information: Tokyo-to Mitake Visitor Center, Mitakesan, Ome, Tokyo 198-0175