Kyushu is a volcanic island in the south of Japan with some pretty epic coastlines but it is in the center of the island where hikes around the volcanoes and waterfalls make Kyushu one of the best regions for hiking in Japan. In this blog post, I will detail 11 of my favorite hikes in Kyushu that I did over a three week period while exploring the volcanoes, waterfalls, and trails in the region.
I’ve written individual hiking guides for each of the specific hikes below except a couple so you can click on the link to head to the detailed guide for each hike, which includes how to get there, all the photos and what to expect. At the bottom of this post, I will add a few sections of things you need to know before hiking in Kyushu. These sections will be:
- How to get around Kyushu
- Where to stay in Kyushu for hiking
- Best time to visit Kyushu
- What hiking gear do you need for the trails in Kyushu
So, let’s get into the list of 11 awesome hikes on the volcanic island of Kyushu in southern Japan.
11 AWESOME HIKES IN KYUSHU, JAPAN
HIKE MOUNT ASO
In the Aso region of the Kumamoto Prefecture in the center of Kyushu Island is the Mount Aso region, which is one of the largest calderas in the entire world. Hiking in Mount Aso Region is one of the most incredible adventures you can have in Japan. Mount Aso is a volcanic depression, which is essentially a huge crater that has a number of peaks within this region that can be trekked. There are numerous craters within the crater such as the very active Nakadake Crater.
The Caldera spans 17 kilometers from east to west and 25 kilometers from south to north with a total area of 350 square kilometers. When we talk about this caldera it is a huge area but at the center of the caldera is where all of the action is when it comes to volcanic activity, hiking, museums, and tourism. In the middle of the caldera is the central crater group which consists of the five Aso peaks which are Mt. Taka (Takadake), Mt. Naka (Nakadake), Mt. Eboshi (Eboshidake), Mt. Kijima (Kijimadake) and Mt. Neko (Nekodake).
I hiked all of the peaks except for Kijima. The Nakadake and Takadake loop (when open) is my favorite hike in Kyushu… by far. It looks down on the active volcano crater and makes you feel like you are in outer space or trekking through a post-apocalyptic world.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: HIKING MOUNT ASO VOLCANO – A COMPLETE GUIDE
MOUNT EBOSHI HIKE
Mount Eboshi is one of the five peaks of the central cone group of the famous Mount Aso. It’s the easiest peak and probably the safest peak to climb taking just over an hour to get up and down from the summit. The view from the top is quite remarkable as it looks out over the Nakadake Crater, which is where the active volcano of Mount Aso is found.
The Mount Eboshi hike is a great little trail not because of the views or the adventure but because it is usually open! Because Nakadake Crater and the active volcano within it are often spewing ash high into the air, the surrounding trails are often closed. This leaves adventurous hikers feeling a bit stuck. Luckily Eboshi is a bit further away but you still have nice views of the erupting volcano.
At the summit, you have a view out to Nakadake Crater, which is where the eruptions, smoke, and all the action takes place. In the other directions, you can witness the entire caldera and the various rock formations and craters that are scattered throughout the region. I visited Mount Eboshi as part of the ‘Around Aso Tour‘, which was the perfect way to explore this region on a full-day trip from Fukuoka.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: MOUNT EBOSHI HIKE (EBOSHIDAKE) IN MOUNT ASO
MOUNT NEKO (NEKODAKE) HIKE
Mount Neko is the second tallest peak in the Mount Aso region at 1,443m high for the Tengu Peak and the opposite Toho Peak is 1,408m high. It’s called Nekodake because from Aso it looks like two cat ears when you see both of the peaks. It was an awesome but steep hike and the jagged peaks were just incredible at the summit during sunset.
As well as the numerous ropes to help you up the summit of Nekodake, you will also encounter several ladders, helping you ascend through the forest. None of the ropes, ladders or bouldering is technical or very difficult but be prepared for a bit of action along the trail.
At the summit, you will look out across to the Tengu Peak, which is the most prominent peak and you really can’t miss it. In the late afternoon, the sun sets behind this peak so it’s a really magical spot to take in the whole ridge.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: MOUNT NEKO HIKE (NEKODAKE) IN KYUSHU
ONBARA FALLS (SHORT) HIKE
The journey to Onbara Falls is a very, very short trek but will remove you from the town of Beppu and immerse you in the jungle making you feel lost beneath the falls. Onbara Falls is a bit of a hidden gem just outside the town of Beppu in Oita Prefecture of Kyushu, Japan. Beppu is one of the most famous Onsen towns in Japan and even the world. However, amidst all of the hot springs and Onsens are some truly epic waterfalls and Onbara Falls is up there with the most beautiful and most accessible.
The trail is short and well-defined with a dirt/rock path leading you up to the falls. With the morning sun shining through it was actually a beautiful little walk, which is only about 2km return.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: ONBARA FALLS IN KYUSHU, JAPAN
HIKING IN THE KUJU MOUNTAINS
The stunning Kuju Mount range is part of the Aso-Kuju National Park and while Mount Kuju might be the most famous it is actually the nearby Nakadake Peak that is the highest peak in the park, which makes it the highest point on Kyushu Island. These mountains are connected by a series of hiking trails so you can kind of make it up as you go, pushing on to ‘one more peak’ time and time again or follow a set route. I did a bit of both.
It’s straight up from the get-go so don’t put too many jackets on you will be working that incline straight away. Once you reach the ridge it’s time for the adventure to start. The trail turns into a rocky ridgeline with a number of ladders and some very low-key bouldering required.
The total day of climbing was 1,026m so it’s always an effort when you grab a vertical kilometer. The trail was rocky but quite well defined and we never had too many difficulties finding our way. At the top of Mount Kuju we could watch over the erupting Mount Aso in the distance and admire the valley below.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: HIKING THE KUJU MOUNTAIN RANGE
The Mount Taharayama hike leads you on a steep ascent up to an epic, rocky ridgeline before you descend down into the forest to discover a 10th century stone buddha carving into the cliff wall. It’s an adventure with a tomb-raider vibe and is definitely sure to have you off-the-beaten-path and out there amongst the adventure in the Oita Prefecture of Kyushu Island, Japan.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: MT. TAHARAYAMA HIKE TO KUMANO MAGAIBUTSU (BUDDHA STATUE)
HIKING TO MOUNT KARAKUNI IN KIRISHIMA
Mount Karakuni is the highest peak in the Kirishima Mountain Range of Kyushu Island in Japan with a height of 1,700 meters. Mount Karakuni has a volcanic crater, which is 900 meters and 300 meters deep. The hike up from the visitor center is relatively short with just a few kilometers in distance but quite steep. From the summit, you can look over to the ‘Ring of Fire’, which is the off-limits. This is just one of the many hikes in Kyushu that needs to be added to your Japan bucket list.
The total hike distance for me was 9.6km for my entire lap of the Kirishima area but there are many ways to make it shorter. If you just go up and down Mount Karakuni from the visitor center it will be about 5-6km in total. I added on the lap of Lake Rokkannonmiike and Lake Byakashiike.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: MOUNT KARAKUNI HIKE (KARAKUNIDAKE) IN KIRISHIMA
MOUNT KAIMON (KAIMONDAKE) HIKE
Mount Kaimon (Kaimondak) is an inactive volcano along the coast in the south of Kyushu known for its conical shape. The Mount Kaimon hike leads you through the forest on a steep, rocky trail up ladders and boulders to the summit where you are rewarded with coastal views from the top of the volcano.
The trail begins with incline from the very first moment as you wind your way through the woodlands at the base of the volcano. It was a very beautiful part of the trail as the sunlight shone through the trees and into the mini canyons created by erosion on the path. At some points, the walls on either side of the trail were above head height, which added a unique atmosphere to the trail.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: MOUNT KAIMON HIKE (KAIMONDAKE) IN KAGOSHIMA
KEYA NO OTO HIKE IN ITOSHIMA
Keya no Oto is a beautiful coastal viewpoint of Itoshima, which has incredible views of the beach from the ominous ridgeline and a 64m cave below! You can hike all the way up onto the top of the ridge as there is a bit of a trail, which includes some basic bouldering/rock climbing. It isn’t a trail I would recommend unless you are athletic and adept at bouldering and climbing.
Atop the ridge, it was a very narrow path. A 50m+ drop on either side meant we had to focus on our steps until we reached a safer, wider spot on top of the ridge. We took a moment to relax up here, taking in the view of the beach and down to the volcanic cone at the other end of the coastline.
Read the full blog post for details and all photos: KEYA NO OTO HIKE IN ITOSHIMA
MOUNT YUFU HIKE
While I was based in Beppu I headed up for sunrise one morning to hike Mount Yufu. It’s known as being quite a tough hike due to the consistent incline and relentless switchbacks that lead you up to the two peaks at the summit. However, on the day I visited, it was covered in the cloud at the top. We saw deer along the way and really enjoyed the hike. I know the view from the summit is pretty epic so I’ve added it onto this list with a photo from a day with better weather. It was a 7km round trip with more than 700m of an incline up the switchbacks. I’ve included a photo below of the view from the top and the view from below on a day in better conditions than when I hiked. Keep in mind, it is known for being a peak that is hard to catch on a clear day so do pick the best day of the week regarding weather.
MOUNT TSURUMI HIKE
When you stay in the town of Beppu, you will always notice the mountains looming at the back of the valley. The highest point is called Mount Tsurumi and it’s actually possible to reach by cable car. However, there is a trail to the top if you are up for the very steep challenge. Of course, if you are just in it for the view, take the cable car but for those who love the adventure and want to spot some deer along the way the trail starts just around the backside of the cable car parking. Drive an extra half mile up the road past the cable car parking and you will find the trail entrance on the right side of the road. It’s on maps.me if you can’t find it.
At the summit, you have a beautiful view down over the town of Beppu and the entire beach. Just like Mount Yufu, on the day I visited, the weather was quite poor visibility with heavy fog so I have included a photo from a clearer day so you can decide if this is a hike you are keen to add to your Kyushu bucket list.
Okay, so those are my top ten recommendations for hikes on Kyushu Island. Now let’s talk about a few of the logistical factors to consider if you are planning your trip to Kyushu with hiking and adventure in mind.
HOW TO GET AROUND KYUSHU FOR ADVENTURERS
While the train may suit those in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and even in Fukuoka, it won’t cut it out here on Kyushu. The trains will get you from major towns and even into some regional areas with bus connections but almost all of the adventure sports I visited had no bus connection. When I searched on Google Maps and clicked the public transport option it would just say ‘not available’. It was very clear, very quickly that Kyushu island is best to explore by car, especially if you are doing hikes and activities outside of the city (literally everything on this list).
*** It is extremely important to know that you MUST HAVE an international driver’s license to rent a car in Japan. In fact, they won’t even look at your actual driver’s license and only want to see the international driver’s license. Take that seriously as they genuinely will not give you the car and likely no refund if you don’t have that. To get one you need to be in your country of residence and you can get one on the spot or order online and receive in a week or so. Make sure you organize that in advance as I almost got caught out not knowing that.
BEST TIME TO VISIT KYUSHU
I visited in February, which was winter and freezing. I don’t advise it but it was still epic. The best time to visit Kyushu is most definitely not winter. It’s not really a ski destination so likely you will be freezing and all of the leaves will be dead so the landscapes will not be as beautiful as other times of the year. There are a few drawcards to each season so I will go through them below.
- Fall/Autumn: The temperature is mild and comfortable making it great for hikes and adventuring. If you time things right, you will get the beautiful fall colors out on the trails!
- Spring: This is definitely the most popular season to travel to Kyushu with sunny days and comfortable temperatures. It is very popular at this time due to the cherry blossoms and flowers that are in full swing at this time of year.
- Summer: While not known for its beaches, Kyushu does offer a number of great swimming spots and beaches to explore. For hiking, it may get a little hot but (up to 30 degrees celsius) never reaching temperatures that would limit your adventures.
WHICH REGION IS BEST FOR YOU?
Here’s a checklist for you to start:
- Fukuoka: If you want to be in a vibrant city scene and a central base, you may want to stay in Fukuoka.
- Kumamoto (my pick): If you’re looking to get away from the bustling city life and be centrally positioned for all hotspot tourist locations then visit and stay in Kumamoto.
- Beppu: If you want to check out a lot of hot springs, mud baths, and sand baths, Beppu in Oita prefecture is the best place for you.
- Kagoshima: If you are eager to go hiking in Kirishima and see Mt. Sakurajima, head to Kagoshima prefecture.
- Yakushima (Separate Island): If you want to hike through the stunning Shiratani Unsuikyo Valley, see ancient cedar trees, and waterfalls, Yakushima is the best place for you.
For a full article about how to split up your time between the popular regions in Kyushu, check out my guide about how to plan your Kyushu Itinerary: THE ULTIMATE KYUSHU ITINERARY: 5-DAY, 7-DAY & 10-DAY
WHERE TO STAY IN KYUSHU
Best Luxury Place to Stay in Fukuoka: Hotel WBF Grande Hakata (Value): This is by far the most popular hotel and one of the most luxurious in Fukuoka.
Best Value Place to Stay in Kumamoto: Hotel The Gate Kumamoto (Value): Hotel The Gate is a well-situated accommodation in the heart of Kumamoto, just across the train station and walking distance to shops and restaurants.
Best Luxury Place to Stay in Kumamoto: Kumamoto Hotel Castle (Luxury): Set near the infamous Kumamoto Castle, this luxury hotel features a wide range of carpeted rooms from standard rooms to suites fitted with plush amenities.
For a full list of the top-rated places to stay in Kyushu, you can check out my comprehensive guide: WHERE TO STAY IN KYUSHU: BEST REGIONS & HOTELS
ARE YOU FOLLOWING MY KYUSHU BLOG SERIES?
I spent over three weeks exploring Kyushu and visited some incredible waterfalls, hiked some amazing trails, and visited a number of epic volcanoes. I created a number of guides to help travelers find the best spots in Kyushu. You can explore the articles by clicking on the links below.
- The Ultimate Kyushu Bucketlist: 30 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN KYUSHU
- The best places to stay in Kyushu in each region: WHERE TO STAY IN KYUSHU: BEST REGIONS & HOTELS
- How to plan your Kyushu vacation: THE ULTIMATE KYUSHU ITINERARY: 5-DAY, 7-DAY & 10-DAY
- Interested in chasing waterfalls?: 12 AWESOME WATERFALLS IN KYUSHU
- Keen for some epic hiking?: 11 AWESOME HIKES IN KYUSHU
- Everything you need to know about Oita: 11 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN OITA
- Your Ultimate Guide to Kumamoto: 13 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN KUMAMOTO
- My favorite waterfall in Kyushu: TAKACHIHO GORGE – MOST BEAUTIFUL WATERFALL IN JAPAN