Mount Takao has it all: Stunning views, unusual statues, delicious food and exciting festivals. Why not spend a day exploring the wilds of one of Tokyo’s best-loved mountains?
Located in the Tama region of West Tokyo, Takao is an easily hikeable 599m mountain especially popular with couples, families and the older generation. Equipped with its own scenic ropeway, there isn’t even any need to hike, so if you’re arthritic, wearing heels or just hate walking uphill, then this is the perfect mountain for you.
Mount Takao has been a sacred site for over 1,000 years and disciples called yamabushi would practice ascetic training here, including Zen meditation, waterfall asceticism and sutra reading.
There are plenty of sights along the way to the summit, including a monkey park and temple, as well as views of Tokyo to admire, so it will be worth your sweat (or your money, whichever way you decide to go).
Mount Takao hiking trails: To the top—and beyond
There is a good mix of six main and four additional hiking trails offering easy to moderate routes, none of which take more than two hours—unless you’re a keen photographer!
Most people opt for Trail/Route 1—the Omotesando Trail—which is mostly paved and passes all of the major sightseeing spots. It’s the easiest option in terms of effort—both physical and in the planning sense. It can get busy though, so be prepared for a less-than-silent mountain experience. This route is actually the longest, at 3km, and is easy-to-medium in terms of difficulty.
Alternatively, you could opt for one of the regular hiking trails which are unpaved and a tad more challenging, with significantly fewer people. These include the following.
- Trail 2—Kasumidai Loop: This is the easiest and shortest trail, only a 0.9 km stroll through forests.
- Trail 3—Katsura Woods Trail: A medium trail with a focus on nature, 2.4 km of streams, forests and views.
- Trail 4—Suspension Bridge Trail: A 1.5 km medium route through forests and crossing the Miyamabashi Bridge.
- Trail 5—Peak Loop Trail: An easy route of 0.9 km which is relaxing and allows hikers to admire the flowers.
- Trail 6—Biwa Waterfall Trail: The second longest at 3.3 km, and the most challenging. This is known as “the trail of water”. You can pass a waterfall—site of ascetic training—and enjoy the cool forest air.
- Inariyama Trail: A 3.2 km challenging trail via Mount Inari, this is known as the every-season trail as it always has flowers or leaves to admire.
- Iroha no Mori Trail: A medium but at times steep 1.5 km trail, which has trees whose initials form the 48-character ancient Japanese alphabet: the iroha.
- Jyataki Waterfall Trail: A medium 1.5 km trail which follows the water, this one is quiet and peaceful.
- Ura-Takao Trail: The longest at 4.7 km, but an easy stroll, this takes you through plum groves with over 10,000 trees. It does run along a road though, so be wary of fast cars.
All routes converge at the summit observation deck (take note: there is another near the monkey park). It can be a nice compromise to hike up one trail and return on Trail/Route 1 to see the sights.
If you want to continue hiking, from the summit you can take the Takaosan-Jimbasan trail to a further observation deck called Itchodaira. In spring, this area is filled with cherry blossom and is a popular picnic spot, but it is quieter during the rest of the year. The trail continues to Mount Kobotoke and Shiroyama, and you can explore mountains beyond, just remember not to get lost!
Not enough for you? See our comprehensive guide to hiking trails near Tokyo for all skill levels.
Alternatives to hiking Mount Takao
You can also catch either the chairlift or cable car part-way up the mountain. This cuts your time on Trail 1 to about an hour and takes you close to the Kasumidai observation deck and monkey park. From here, it is around 15 minutes to the temple and 30 to the summit. The cable car leaves from Kiyotaki Station and takes you to Takaosan Station, while the chairlift leaves from Sanroku Station, dropping you off at Sanjo Station.
Pro tip: If you’re planning on taking the cable car or chair lift and will be traveling to and from Mount Takao on the Keio Line, ask for this discount combo ticket at the train station.
The cable car runs every 15 minutes between 8am – 5pm or 6pm depending on the season, and until 9:15pm during the beer event in summer. The covered twin-seater chairlift takes 12 minutes and runs from 9am – 4pm or 4:30pm depending on the season. Both cost ¥480 one way for adults and ¥240 for children.
Top spots along the way
While nature is all well and good, Mount Takao has some added bonuses that make hiking it all the more rewarding. These are what make it especially popular for families or as a date-destination, since there is plenty to see and explore for people of all ages.
One example is the view from the summit—on a clear day you can see Mount Fuji, so keep your fingers and toes crossed! If you climb around the winter solstice in December, you might also be able to catch a rare occurrence known as Diamond Fuji—when the sun sets directly atop Fuji-san, creating a perfect diamond.
Yakuoin Temple (Omotesando Route/Trail 1)
This impressive temple is close to the summit of Mount Takao and has been protected for centuries. The brightly colored decorative carvings are a thing of wonder, and exploring the temple grounds is especially beautiful in autumn as the leaves change. Founded in 744 by Gyoki Bosatsu, the temple has a monument inscribed with sessho kindan, meaning that killing is prohibited and reflecting the strict protective laws which have existed since its foundation. You can explore the main hall, the main shrine, additional smaller halls and a teahouse which is still serving tea and sweets.
Most well known, however, are the Tengu statues which guard the temple complex. Mythical beings who act as messengers of deities, tengu live on sacred mountains and chastise evil people while protecting the good. At Yakuoin, there are two types depicted in statues and images throughout the grounds: one with a long pointed nose, and one with a crow’s beak.
The temple is free to enter and can be reached on the Omotesando Trail. It is about 10-15 minutes from the summit if you are hiking down, and the same distance from the ropeway stop.
Takao Natural Zoo and Botanical Garden (Omotesando Route/Trail 1)
Nature lovers are spoiled for choice on Mount Takao, as not only can you appreciate the stunning natural landscapes and the forests of the mountain itself, but it also has areas dedicated to wildflowers and monkeys. In the Natural Zoo, there are 60 monkeys living in a natural habitat, with guides famed for great storytelling skills. Some monkeys answer to their names and can be seen up close. The botanical garden has over 300 species of native grasses which once prospered on the mountain, but were almost lost following development.
The park and garden can be accessed on a single ticket for ¥400 and are open from 9.30am – 4pm (Dec-Feb, May- Nov) and 10am – 4.30pm (March- April).
Takao 599 Museum (Base)
You can learn about Mount Takao before you even step foot on it, as the Takao 599 Museum offers insights into what makes the mountain so special. Visitors can learn about the natural resources and living inhabitants of the mountain, as well as see examples of the plants and animals themselves. There is a cafe, rest area and also plenty of information about the hiking trails and seasonal attractions along the routes.
The museum is located close to Takaosanguchi station, is free to enter and is open throughout the year with irregular closing days. Hours are between 8am and 5pm (April-November) and 8am – 4pm (December – March).
Takaosan Onsen (Base)
Also located right next to the train station, this natural hot spring is the perfect place to soak after a day of hiking (difficult or not). They offer outdoor baths where you can enjoy the atmosphere of the mountain, and indoor options too. These include a cypress bath with micro-bubbles, a seasonal bath which changes throughout the year, as well as a sauna and an outdoor carbonated option.
The onsen is open from 8am to 11pm, with last entry at 10pm. Adult entrance is ¥1,000, while children get in for ¥500. During peak season (Golden Week, autumn leaf changing and New Year), an additional ¥200 for adults and ¥100 for children is required.
Fortifying food: Soba and shojin ryouri
Not many mountains have their own food specialty, nor can you easily find one that serves traditional Buddhist fare, but we weren’t joking when we said Mount Takao has it all. The dish the mountain is known for is light, delicious and perfect for a restorative lunch after a pleasant hike. Known as Tororo Soba, it is a simple dish of soba noodles in broth, topped with tororo: grated yam. Believed to be strength-building in ancient times, tororo was exactly what a pre-paving hiker would need and was served to pilgrims as they ascended the mountain.
There are plenty of restaurants serving soba at the foot of the mountain, as well as along the paths, so you won’t struggle to find a lunch spot. One famous restaurant is Takahashiya, which has been serving the dish for 170 years and has a 150-year old persimmon tree inside the building.
Alternatively, if you’re keen to sample the Buddhist life, you can reserve a space at the Daihonbo of Yakuoin temple and try shojin ryouri: traditional vegetarian Buddhist cuisine. Reservations are required and unfortunately can only be made in Japanese, but this is well worth the effort if you can manage it.
Festivals for all seasons
Since the mountain has been a sacred site for over 1000 years, it is no surprise that there are plenty of festivals held here throughout the year. While the mountain is great on a regular day, these events can add a whole new dimension (but also a whole lot of people, so keep that in mind if you prefer peace and quiet).
Geikosai New Years Festival | January 1st
This ceremony takes place at sunrise, with the priests chanting sutras and blowing conch shells from the mountaintop. A pretty special experience, whether you’re religious or not.
Setsubun | February 3rd
A traditional festival held across Japan to banish demons and welcome spring, this event features the added bonus of local sumo wrestlers!
The Takao Hiwatari Festival | Second Sunday in March
This impressive display of fire-walking is a must-see if you’re here in March—and you can even try the feat yourself!
Takao Wakaba Festival | April 7th – May 27th (2018)
Roughly a month long, this young leaves festival is a spring contender to the autumn leaves festival. There are music and dance performances (both traditional and modern) and a chance to enjoy tea ceremony outdoors too.
Beer Mount | June – October
Beer at (slightly) high altitudes is the best kind of beer, and after a lovely hike, you can enjoy the beer garden and food buffet at the top. Tickets for two hours cost roughly ¥3,500 for men and ¥3,300 for women.
Autumn Leaves Festival | 1st – 30th November
Enjoy food stalls, dancing, sake and drumming among other festivities during this month-long event.
Getting from Tokyo to Mount Takao
The nearest station is Takaosanguchi on the Keio Line, easily accessed from Shinjuku in just under an hour. If you catch the Keio Line Semi-Special Express for Takaosanguchi from Shinjuku, you can continue straight through without changing at Kitano. This route costs just ¥390 each way, as does the route where you change at Kitano—so don’t worry too much if you don’t get the direct one.
Takao Station is one up from Takaosanguchi, and is good if you need to connect from the JR Chuo Line or the Narita Express to the Keio-Takao Line. Plus you get that scary guy to greet you when you change trains!
If you’d prefer to experience the mountain with a professional guide, Mount Takao day tours can be booked online. You can also arrange a tour through the Takao-san English Volunteer Guide Club–they offer a free monthly tour, as well as private reservations.
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