The beautiful mountain of Mitake is only 2 hours from Tokyo and offers autumn colors, waterfalls, hiking, Shinto rituals and, to top it all off, night views of the capital glittering in the distance.
Why Mt. Mitake is one of the best hikes close to Tokyo
If you are looking to escape Tokyo for some nature with an added spiritual touch, make Mt. Mitake your go-to hike. Located in the Okutama region, the westernmost part of Tokyo, it is part of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, covering more than 1250 square kilometers of forests, mountains, and gorges. While a little farther out than the uber-popular (and equally crowded) Mt. Takao, Mt. Mitake offers more scenic hiking courses of unspoiled nature that make you forget that you are, in fact, still in Tokyo. The view of Mt. Fuji from the peak is an added bonus after taking in the beautiful forest and waterfalls.
What makes Mt. Mitake so special
Mt. Mitake is home to Musashi Mitake Shrine. The surrounding village is made up of over a dozen Shinto priest families that have been caring for the shrine for centuries. Similar to the more famous Mt. Koya close to Kyoto, which is a popular destination for tourists wishing to spend a night in Buddhist temple lodging, Mitake-san offers the Shinto version of this experience: You can stay in a shukubo, Shinto priest lodging, overnight.
Shukubo priest lodgings are usually quite simple, but the home-cooked food, amazing night views of central Tokyo in the distance and the restful sleep in the cool mountain air make it a really worthwhile experience. Rooms are traditional tatami rooms, and the bathing facilities are usually shared. Unlike Buddhist cuisine, Shinto cuisine has fewer restrictions and both meat and fish are served. Also, some of the lodgings offer takigyo, the Shinto practice of standing under a waterfall in meditation.
Getting from Tokyo to Mt. Mitake from Tokyo
It takes around two hours to get to Mt. Mitake from central Tokyo. It is accessible from Shinjuku Station via the Chuo Line.
Take the Chuo Line Express for Ome all the way to Ome Station (around 80 minutes), then change to the local Ome Line for Okutama and finally get off at Mitake (another 15 minutes).
The ride costs ¥920. From here, follow the signs to the bus stop right across the station that will take you to the cable car.
The bus schedule is timed with the train schedule, which means wait times are usually short. The bus ride is only around 10 minutes and costs ¥280. At the cable car station, you can either get your ticket from one of the machines or simply swipe your Pasmo or Suica card before you get on. The 10-minute cable car ride offers great views and has some automated guidance in English, making it quite the scenic ride. Return tickets are ¥1,110.
Alternatively, you can also start your hike up Mt. Mitake from the bottom of the cable car, but this portion isn’t very scenic and would take quite a while, so we recommend taking the cable car and starting your hike from the observatory where it will spit you out.
What to do and see on Mt. Mitake
The observatory offers great views of Tokyo in the distance. From here, follow the signs into Mitake town. Besides the priest lodgings, the main street of the town has souvenir shops and restaurants. If you didn’t bring any lunch, have some soba or tempura now before embarking on your hike. Or, if you are staying overnight, drop your luggage at the lodging before you get going.
The shrine itself towers over the village. Climb up the broad staircase to get even better views of Tokyo and the surrounding mountains. From the bottom of the shrine, several hiking trails start. All are signposted very well, so no need to worry about getting lost. Grab one of the detailed maps (in English) from the cable car station, the visitor center or your lodging before you head out.
The most beautiful hike is the Rock Garden trail. The hike is easy and leads you through a narrow, forested valley with a stream, moss-covered stones and a sacred waterfall at the end which is used for takigyo by the priests of the town. It is a leisurely 2-hour, round-trip trek.
Trail to the peak of Mt. Otake
The Mt. Otake trail will lead you through the mountains for several hours to the peak of Mt. Otake (1267 meters) from which you can view Mt. Fuji on a clear day. This trail is about 4–5 hours round-trip, depending on conditions and how fast you walk. The first part of it is shared with the Rock Garden trail. Some sections of the Mt. Otake trail are quite steep and require a bit of rock climbing. Definitely bring sturdy shoes if you choose this route.
No matter if you are returning home on the same day or staying overnight, do not stay on the trails beyond sunset. Rangers might actually come by and ask you to turn around as it is easy to get lost on the trails after dark.
If you are returning on the same day, make sure you do not miss the last cable car back down; check the schedule before you take off for your hike as it might change by season.
If you are staying overnight, your shukubo will expect you back by nightfall as dinner is usually served between 6 pm and 7 pm. Also, you might want to hop into the sento (bath) before dinner to warm up after the hike as Mt. Mitake is always several degrees Celcius cooler than central Tokyo due to its elevation.
Mitake after dark
After dinner, venture back to the observatory as the night view of Tokyo glimmering in the distance is breathtaking. It will take you a while to make out all the shapes, but as your eyes get used to the contrast of bright lights in the distance and surrounding darkness, you can even make out the lit-up Skytree on the horizon! Shooting stars above the Tokyo skyline are an added bonus as the surrounding darkness of Mitake makes for great stargazing.
Where to stay on Mt. Mitake
Shukubo Komadori-Sanso (駒鳥山荘) offers affordable lodging and great views of the surrounding mountains. They welcome foreigners. It is a family-run priest lodging since 1776, and the father and son, who are both Shinto priests, speak a bit of English. They also offer takigyo early in the morning for those who want the full Shinto experience. Also, ask them about their wildlife night walks to go spot musasabi (flying squirrels). Rooms are around ¥7,500 per person, including home-cooked dinner and breakfast.
When is the best time to visit Mt. Mitake?
Due to its elevation of around 1000 meters above sea level, Mt. Mitake gets a lot colder than Tokyo—particularly at night! Dress accordingly and check the forecast. When we went last time in April, there was still snow on the peak and gloves and hats were definitely good to have.
It is especially beautiful in autumn for the koyo (autumn leaves), or in spring for the cherry blossoms, which bloom a few weeks later than in Tokyo due to the cooler climate. In summer, it is a great escape from the Tokyo heat. Lastly, in winter, some of the hiking trails might be closed due to snow and ice.
For more trails, check out our Tokyo hiking guide.