Discover the best hikes in the Tohoku region while touring Japan, where untamed landscape, rugged mountains, and idyllic national parks come together to create the dreams of nature-loving travelers. The must-hikes among Tohoku's many trails will leave you spellbound with enchanting scenes that include some of Japan's top sights. At the top of the definitive Tohoku hiking list is the Shirakami-Sanchi - a UNESCO World Heritage Site that preserves the last primeval forest of Japanese beech trees. It's rugged landscape serves a natural habitat for rare local wildlife such as the Mount hawk-eagle, Black woodpecker, and Asiatic black bear, and includes Mt. Shirakami - a favorite of hikers in the mysterious forest. Then there is the bewitching Oirase Stream, which gives off the distinct feel of a romance novel. This locale is where couples enjoy hiking together throuugh the idyllic landscape. Tohoku also includes the fabled Dewa Sanzan - a pilgrimage route prized by ascetic mountain monks that takes hikers over three mountains, and symbolizes a quest for enlightenment taking the traveler through a cycle of rebirth. Tohoku is home to a number of incredible mountains: Mount Hakkoda, famed for its bright autumn leaves; or Hachimantai, where the red fox, black bear, and golden eagle roam. But perhaps the peak that stands out the most is Mount Bandai - called the Fuji of Fukushima prefecture, whose shapely cone bears a striking resemblance to the iconic mount. These top places aside, there are countless other hiking trails in Tohoku waiting to be discovered. Come to explore the hiking trails of Tohoku, along with the charming wildlife, pleasant hot springs, and local history that sets this region apart from the rest of Japan.
Oirase Stream, also known as Oirase Gorge, is a top travel destination for nature lovers in Aomori prefecture. This location is most bewitching in autumn, when the normally lush forest burns red, orange and gold with bright fall foliage. The stream flows out of Lake Towada, which sits on the border between Aomori and Akita, and whether you choose to enjoy hiking or cycling beside the stream, prepare for a scene of natural splendor that makes one feel like a poet or artist. The dense woodland has a closed-off feel that makes it perfect for a walking meditation. Nature-loving couples may find the setting like a scene out of a romance novel, with local features including waterfalls named "Lifelong Partnership" and "White Silk", as well as a "Meet-Up Bridge". The gorge is home to eighteen waterfalls, each with its own unique picturesque charm. The setting changes to a snowy white fantasyland in winter, and it isn't uncommon for the waterfalls of Oirase Gorge to freeze solid. Many like to end their idyllic jaunt at Lake Towada, where visiting travelers can admire the pristine scenery from a sightseeing cruise boat.
Mount Hakkoda is actually a series of volcanic mountains located in Aomori prefecture, and is a hotspot for local hikers, climbers, skiiers, and nature-loving travelers. One of Japan's 100 most famous mountains, Hakkoda has an untamed beauty unique to each season, but is especially stunning in autumn, when the fall foliage covers the mountaintops with their red and gold glamour. Hikers can trek its various trails through its incredible autumn scenery, and trails hiking up Mount Odake or through the Kenashitai marshlands make for some of the region's most charming nature walks. Winter is developing an emerging popularity as the mountains become more accessible during its especially deep snowfall, where trees can form what has been playfully referred to as "snow monsters" - natural snowmen formed from frozen trees. Skiiers enjoy the untamed appeal of the local ski resort.
The Shirakami Sanchi is a mountain range bordering Aomori and Akita prefectures that was inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1993. An absolute dream for mountain hikers, Shirakami Sanchi boasts several hiking trails winding through idyllic beech forests, around lakes, waterfalls, and breathtaking mountain peaks. The trail to Anmon Falls is the most hiked of the region: especially in spring, when hikers of all skill levels trek through a landscape of lush, primordial beauty for a glimpse of the stunning white three-tiered waterfall. Other paths across Shirakami Sanchi appeal to different hiking levels, taking travelers to unforgettable sights including Juniko Twelve Lakes, Dairakyo Gorge and Nihon Canyon. Hikers can also spot rare birds and animals native to the region, such as the black woodpecker, golden eagle, and Japanese serow. There is something at this wonderful hiking destination to be admired by every lover of nature.
Hachimantai is the highest mountain in a group of volcanoes on the border of Akita and Iwate prefectures. One of Japan's 100 Famous Mountains, Hachimantai attracts hikers at different hiking periods throughout the year to enjoy its seasonal charms. Its well-maintained trails are especially inviting in mid-late autumn when the fall foliage is full and splendid and its forests are bursting with red and gold leaves in nature's fireworks display. Take the beginners' walking route between a pair of pleasant streams in front of a stunning backdrop of autumn colors, or seek out a more challenging route off the beaten path. Nature lovers come sightseeing for the rare and curious creatures that live in the mountain woodland - the red fox, black bear, golden eagle, and many others may be seen while browsing the trails of Hachimantai.
Mount Zao is made up of a complex of mountains bordering Yamagata and Miyagi prefectures. Come to these mountains in winter to enjoy skiing and snowboarding around the Juhyo, or "snow monsters". In winter, the trees atop the mountain freeze into freaky snow shapes, making for a unique fantasy winter scene. Zao Ski Resort offers the best chance to see these snow monsters, which they light up at night, and air gondolas for skiiers and sightseers. Or take a hike in the spring to autumn months up Mount Zao to the gorgeous crater lake hidden its summit called Okama Crater. The trail from Gaga Onsen to Togatta Peak wraps around the crater and is a historical treasure - it was once used as a training path for the mountain monks of Shugendo. Nearby Zao Onsen is also worth a visit after a day of hiking and the acidic balance of the pools is known to be delightfully theraputic.
The Dewa Sanzan Trail is a pilgrimage route over the three sacred mountains of Dewa, in Yamagata prefecture. The three peaks of Haguro, Gassan, and Yudono are sacred to the Shugendo folk religion. The Yamabushi "mountain monks" walk a path of spiritual reawakening on the mountain trail; the shrine at each peak represents the various stages of birth, death, and rebirth. Walk the remote spiritual paths that inspired the monk Kobo Daishi and the poet Matsuo Basho, and discover your own personal awakening while walking through inspiring forest and mountain scenes. Travelers may join a Yamabushi hiking group, stay at a temple's Shukubo lodging, and enjoy shojin ryori - traditional vegetarian monk's fare. While the shrine at Mount Haguro can be visited year round, plan a visit between July and September, when all three shrines are open, for the full pilgrimage experience.
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Mount Bandai is a mountain often called by locals the Fuji of Fukushima, which towers over 1,800 meters (nearly 6,000 feet) above lake Inawashiro. The collapse of Bandai's cone after its 1888 eruption left a picturesque triple-peak that has become one of Japan's top 100 mountains. The hiking paths around the mountain are open from May to October, and climbers each have their own preference whether they find the verdant greens of summer or the bright flashes of autumn color to be more lovely a landscape. Hikers have their pick from several hiking paths - the Happodai route is the easiest up to the summit, with little change in elevation allowing even beginners to enjoy the pleasing forest landscape. Skiiers of every ability can enjoy the different slopes and resorts of the Bandai area, and travelers love to relax in the local hot springs.