A bit to the west and just outside the hustle and bustle of the city of Tokyo is Mt. Takao (Takao-San). Located in the city of Hachiōji, at 599m high this sacred mountain not only provides a healthy dose of exercise in addition to some outstanding views to the west of Mt. Fuji (that is if you hike on a clear day). I mean over 2.5million people visit this spot every year, so there’s gotta be something to this outdoor retreat, right?
Although hiking is always a good bit of fun in Japan we would highly encourage you to pencil this in during the fall as the foliage is absolutely breathtaking! So. Much. Color. Mid to the end of November is prime! If you can’t time your visit with the fall season try and shoot for the spring as the area is also known as a fantastic spot for sakura (cherry blossoms). We have a post about the our favorite sakura spots around Tokyo coming soon!
Getting to Mt. Takao
We headed to Mt. Takao fairly early in the morning by car as it is about 80min away from our little corner of Japan, Zushi. Tolls cost us roughly 2,400yen/each way. However, if you don’t have a car available or just simply don’t feel like driving, there are also public transport options as well. From Tokyo you’re looking at ~50minutes if you leave from Shinjuku Station on an express train via the Keio Line to Takaosanguchi Station. This option will cost you 390yen/each way. Takaosanguchi Station is situated at the base of Mount Takao, so landing here sets you up well to either take the cable car, chair lift up or lace those shoes up and hike (sneakers/running shoes are just fine to tackle the climb, no need for hiking boots). All three are great options!
If you’re looking to use the JR Pass, you can for part of the journey by taking the JR Chuo Special Rapid Service for Takao and then follow that leg up with a transfer to Keio Takao Line for Takaosanguchi. Although the latter will save you a small amount of money it will also take a bit longer, so you’ll want to weigh the savings with the extra time spent. If you are driving, plan on tolls + 500yen for parking.
If you are taking the train to Mt. Takao via the Keio Line and planning on riding the cable car and/or chair lift make sure to ask for the discount ticket at the station to save a few bucks! Click here for the scoop on how to purchase the ticket set and cash in on the discount!
Cashing in on the Views
In order to get an early start on our family hike, Dom and I had mutually agreed to skip our regular workouts and hike up/down the mountain instead. However, if you’re not up for the long-ish hike you can still totally get those killer views.
Both the cable car and chair lift leave from the bottom of the mountain at Kiyotaki Station. You can easily purchase tickets directly at the bottom of the mountain and then ride either the cable car or the chair lift up to halfway point (or if you arrived via the Keio Line you may already have this covered). Warning: The lines for the cable car and the chair lift can be long. Really long. So factor in some extra time for this and prepare yourself to wait a bit, especially if adventuring on a weekend. Like most things in Japan, mid-week is your best bet.
If you prefer a guided experience, the TENGU (Takao-san English Volunteer Guide Club) organization offers free English tours of the mountain on the third Sunday of every month. Click here for all the deets and to reserve your spot!
Cable Car Vs. Chair Lift
The cable car ride takes about 6 min and is super steep, so hold on tight! After all, this ride owns the bragging rights to being the steepest incline in Japan! It’s perhaps the better of the two options if you have a squirmy little one as it’s a confined space and there ain’t any way of falling out.
On the other hand, the chairlift is a bit longer of a ride and perhaps the views are a smidge better (especially if your cable car is crowded!). Prepare for a 15min ride if you choose this option and note that there aren’t any safety railings! Sooo…yeah, if your kiddo is squirmy this may not be the greatest option without giving you a heart attack along the way.
No matter which option you choose, both will land you halfway up the mountain and you’ll have to hike up the rest of the way. Additionally, tickets for both cost the same amount.
Options from the Halfway Point to the Summit
Shortly after disembarking the cable car or chair lift you’ll see a monkey park. If you feel like popping in for a visit, you can for 420yen or just go ahead and dive right into finishing off the rest of the journey to the summit. We passed by the monkey park as we chose to ascend Trail 1, but didn’t stop. Several months before our hike we watched the 1992 documentary, Baraka. One of the most memorable scenes shows the magic of the Jigokundai Monkey Park in Nagano. Thus we opted to save our time hanging out with Japanese macaque for our visit in January.
From here, if you plan on reaching the summit, you have a few options for finishing up your journey!
- Trail 1 (Omotesando Trail): I’m not sure how long this trail is from the halfway point, but it is paved and relatively easy as the steepest inclines are found at the very beginning and you’ve skipped over those with the cable car/chair lift. This is the most popular trail option and the one we chose.
- Trail 3 (Katsura Forest Trail): 2.4km to the summit, rough estimate of time required is ~60min to ascend
- Trail 4 (Suspension Bridge Trail): 1.5km to the summit, rough estimate of time required is ~50min to ascend
Note: All of these options have been noted as being similar as far as difficulty level.
Hiking (Bottom to Summit)
For the hiking options, there are several! Well, in reality more like 6 trails to choose from to hike up. Which trail you choose depends on really what you’re looking for as some are paved with concrete and lined with lots of shops while others are wooded and more natural. From the bottom you may choose between the following 3:
- Trail 1 (Omotesando Trail): This trail is 3.8km from the bottom to the summit. The rough estimate of time that is required is ~100min to ascend. This trail has the most paved sections and is also the most popular.
- Trail 6 (Biwa Waterfall): This trail is 3.3km and noted to be slightly more difficult than Trail 1. However, like Trail 1 the rough estimate of time that is required is ~100min to ascend as it is a bit shorter.
- Inariyama Trail (Ridgeline Trail): This trail is 3.1km and noted to be slightly more difficult than Trail 6. However, like Trail 1 and 6, the rough estimate of time that is required is ~100min to ascend.
To ascend we chose to hike Trail 1 and took it all the way to the summit. This trail is by far the most popular, so it can get a wee bit crowded. In our experience though it never got insanely crowded and thus didn’t impact our experience. Additionally, Trail 1 has lots of stops along the way! See the paragraphs below for details.
Stops Along the Way
We loved this hike no only for the spectacular views, but also because along Trail 1 there were lots of places to stop. The best part is that no matter if you chose to tackle the first part of the hike via cable care, chair lift or hike you still have the opportunity to enjoy food, sake, and Yakuo-in, a Buddhist Temple (the “–in” suffix denotes that the space is a temple).
Built in 744 during the Nara period, Yakuo-in continues to be a site to worship the tengu mountain gods (Tengu comes from the Chinese word “Tiangou”). These gods are often depicted with a red-face with either a long nose or a crow nose. Originally Tengu were thought to be somewhat evil, however, their image has changed over time and they are now popularly believed to be messengers to the gods. Moreover, the Tengu continue to serve as the mountain’s protectors, championing good.
Fun Fact: The priest who founded Yakuo-in also had a big hand in the building of the Great Buddha at Todai-ji (a Buddhist Temple) in Nara. If you are interested in Western Japan or hold a JR Pass, we most certainly would encourage you to make a day trip to Nara during your visit!
From Yakuo-in there’s ~10 – 15 more minutes of hiking before you reach the summit. Once at the top, take in the epic views (heck, if it’s clear you may even be able to catch a view of Tokyo Skytree to the east!). After your heart rate comes down it’s time to start making more choices!
From the summit you can either go ahead and start your descent or you can take a bit more time up at the top and complete Trail 5 (a loop). We opted to tackle Trail 5, The Summit Loop Trail before descending. This little addition tacked on 0.9km and was super easy taking much less than the 30min that the hiking map had suggested.
After taking in the sweeping views we were ready to hike down. The sun sets fairly early during late-fall and as much as we enjoyed hiking the mountain none of us felt like hiking down in the dark. As a family that doesn’t repeat much in life we opted to descend using a different trail. We deliberated between Trail 4 and 6 and eventually chose Trail 4 (see details above) as it crossed Miyama-bashi Bridge, a suspension bridge, before meeting up with Trail 1 taking us to the base of the mountain.
Total time spent hiking (including stops for photos, to eat, and simply just take it all in) was 3hrs 45min. We walked 7.3miles in all and goodness what a glute workout this was! Overall, this was a great day trip and easier than we had originally predicted. We loved this hike and feel like Mount Takao is a fantastic way to enjoy fall, get some exercise, breath in fresh air and take in fall foliage without getting too terribly far away from Tokyo. So much natural beauty! Although our son, a newly-minted 4-year-old, at the time could have done most of it, it was nice to have the hiking carrier for him. Now at age 5 we feel he could do the entire thing on his own with no problem.
- Admission: No admission unless using the cable car or chair lift
- Parking: 500yen
Cable Car/Chair Lift:
- Hours: Daily, 0800 – 1800
- Cable Car: Daily, runs every 15 minutes from 0800 – 1700/1800 depending on the season. However, the cable car continues service until 2115 during the summer beer event.
- Chair Lift: Daily, runs from 0900 – 1600/1630 depending on the season.
- Admission: 480yen/Adult (one way), 240yen/Child (one way). 930yen/round trip
Tip: It is possible to ride up on one of the options (ex: cable car) and down the other (ex: chair lift) or vice versa. However, these two modes only cover the lower half of the mountain, so you will have to walk part of the way up and down if you desire to reach the summit.