MOUNT KARAKUNI HIKE (KARAKUNIDAKE) IN KIRISHIMA, KYUSHU
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
MOUNT KARAKUNI AND KIRISHIMA HIKE DETAILS
Hike Distance: 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.
Hike Duration: The total moving time for me was 2 hours and 20 minutes but I really tried to hit this one pretty fast. I also chilled at the top for an additional 45-minutes. I’d imagine it would take most people 3 hours minimum of moving time and 1.5 hours of time at the viewpoints so bargain for 5 hours for your adventure.
Hike Difficulty: This hike is not difficult nor dangerous in my opinion but there are some rocky sections navigate so it isn’t necessarily a well-defined path. There were no real dangerous drop-offs if you stay on the path but expect to do some strenuous uphill sections on the way up Mount Karakuni.
Hike Incline: The total hike incline was 764m for me including the lap of the aforementioned lakes.
HOW TO GET TO KIRISHIMA AND MOUNT KARAKUNI
Mount Karakuni is one of the many peaks in the Kirishima region. There’s a huge visitor center and complex at the base of the routes in the region so you can park yourself up and check out the maps to figure out what spots you want to check out, which is exactly what I did.
The visitor center is located at Ebino Plateau and there were actually quite a few buildings in the area with restaurants, souvenir shops and galleries surrounding a large parking lot. I didn’t explore inside but it was definitely more built-up than I thought and similar in size to the Mount Aso Visitor Center.
The road up to the visitor center is incredibly winding and often quite narrow but paved all the way and quite a beautiful drive. I’ll add the Google Map pin location for the parking lot. The parking fee was 500 Yen but the parking lot stayed open all night so you don’t have to worry about getting locked in.
MY MOUNT KARAKUNI HIKING MAP
Below is the route I hiked including up and down Mount Karakuni where you get a view of the ‘Ring of Fire’. The route also includes the lap of Lake Rokkannonmiike and Lake Byakashiike, which was super pretty. If you want to download this map as a GPX file for your smartwatch or Garmin by clicking here.
MY EXPERIENCE HIKING UP MOUNT KARAKUNI IN THE KIRISHIMA MOUNTAINS
The drive up to Kirishima is a winding route through the forest. Along the way, you will pass a number of hot springs and Onsen complexes. However, I wasn’t here for a bath, I was on the mission to explore some volcanoes and do some hiking in the Kirishima Mountains.
I arrived at the Ebino-Eco Museu Parking Lot, which cost 500 Yen and studied the map. It was a little confusing as to what was where and which peaks were off-limits due to eruptions so I decided to head up Mount Karakuni and get my bearings once I was up the top. It was less than 3km to the summit of Mount Karakuni and from there I would have a view of the. ‘Ring of Fire’, which is more formally known as Shinemoedake.
I set off up the trail, which was largely roped off from the normal route as it diverted hikers a safe distance from the erupting volcanoes. The trail started off with a constant incline and would remain the same the entire way to Mount Karakuni. It was a consistent ascent along the rocky path.
After about 15 minutes, you get a nice view of one of the lower volcanoes on the way. Because it was spurting sulfur gas non-stop, it is roped off from quite a distance away.
After about 45-minutes, I made it up to the summit of Mount Karakuni. The final few hundred meters are along the rim of the huge crater. It was actually quite popular among tourists because it provides great panoramic views of many different spots in the region and also because it is a relatively short and achievable hike for most tourists.
The great part about reaching the top of Mount Karakuni is that you have an epic view of the ‘Ring of Fire’ (Shinmoedake). This volcano is still smoking today and has had some insane eruptions over the year with full lava flow, lightning and a massive outburst making for a spectacular show. Because of this, there is a 2km no-go zone from the center of the volcano so you are advised to go no closer than Mount Karakuni. I flew the drone over Shinmoedake to see what the region looked like and also took a shot of the nearby Ohnami Lake. This is a lake a lot of people also hike to but I thought it was okay to just see it from a distance as it didn’t look too exciting compared to the other options in the region.
While sitting atop Mount Karakuni, I took half an hour to just enjoy the unobstructed views and even had a while where I was the only person up there. Crows came and went hoping I was their next snack or at least leaving them such. It was a truly phenomenal spot to have all to myself to take in the epic landscapes.
Now that I could see the entire region, I decided to head all the way back to the parking lot and then continue directly to the other side of the parking lot (refer to my hiking map above) to visit several volcanic lakes. Lake Rokkannonmiike and Lake Byakashiike have great viewpoints and look back towards Mount Karakuni from the other direction so it would be a completely new perspective. With the sun dropping, I rushed down Mount Karakuni and powered up the short walk to the lake viewpoints.
It’s only a 1.5km trek up to the viewpoint from the parking lot so it is another popular viewpoint in peak season. From the top, you can see the lakes, surrounding volcanoes and all the way out to Mount Karakuni. It was a perfect spot for sunset and, once again, I had the entire spot all to myself. These shots below are all taken on my drone from the viewpoint.
As the sun faded, I scurried back down to the parking lot. Mine was the last car there and I now had a long, dark, winding drive home out of the Kirishima Mountains. I really recommend my route or you could combine Mount Karakuni with Lake Ohnami instead. Either way, the Kirishima Mountains are an epic region to explore.
KYUSHU TRAVEL TIPS
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. There are a large public bath and an open-air bath on the top level of the hotel where guests can relax and enjoy the views.
Best Value/Budget Place to Stay in Fukuoka: WeBase Hakata Hostel (Budget): This stylish hostel offers a wide range of dorm-type rooms with shared bathrooms, sockets, and safes for your belongings. They also have a kitchen, a terrace, and is within walking distance to convenience stores, a subway station, ramen shops, and sightseeing spots.
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 Budget 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
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 connection 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).
Renting a car wasn’t too expensive and I did it through RentalCars.com, finding them to be the best-reviewed and had the cheapest options. I flew in from Tokyo so picked the car up from Fukuoka Airport and dropped it back when I was done. If you click on RentalCars.com and then search to pick up at Fukuoka Airport you should find a range of options. I got a very small car as it was cheap but it turned out very handy as the narrow roads of Japanse suburbs where my Airbnb was made it impossible for big SUVs. There was also no time that I needed to be off-road or anything like that so a small, fuel-efficient car made it cheap and convenient.
*** 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.
Here is my little blue whip that I rented on RentalCars.com
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
A guide to 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