Kyushu is a volcanic island in the south of Japan with some pretty epic coastlines, incredible waterfalls and several towns that are renowned for their volcanic hot spring activity. Kyushu is a great region for those who enjoy adventure, like to delve into the culture and get a little bit off the beaten path. I spent three weeks exploring the island of Kyushu by car and in this blog post, I will share with you my favorite 30 things to do in Kyushu based on my experience.
I’ve written individual guides for many of the specific locations in this article, which means you can click on the link and view the detailed guide for each individual location, 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 exploring Kyushu such as how to get around, where to stay and other logistical and travel tips to help you out before your visit.
30 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN KYUSHU
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: ONBARA FALLS IN KYUSHU, JAPAN
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
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
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)
Inukai Falls was probably my favorite waterfall that I visited while based in Kirishima. It was a booming waterfall but I really loved the gorge that led up to the falls, which was lined by woodland and forest giving it a Pacific Northwest vibe. I actually had to wait a while here for the fog to clear enough to see the falls but when it cleared a little, I was able to record a little video on the drone to show you just how epic this gorge is.
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, the 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
Found on the border between Oita and Kumamoto, Nabegataki Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls on the island of Kyushu in Japan. With hundreds of waterfalls on Kyushu, what makes this one so special? You can actually walk behind the wide cascade, underneath the rock face that the waterfalls pour down over. It’s a pretty magical spot.
I did my best to shoot the waterfall without any tourists but it is quite difficult as most people do a little lap underneath the waterfall viewing it from in front, each side and behind. It’s a bit of experience and going behind the waterfall was super cool. The waterfall itself is only 10m high but spans 20m across in width and pours down over the ledge, which is what makes it so unique.
Read the full blog post here: NABEGATAKI FALLS IN KYUSHU
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
HIGASHI SHIIYA FALLS
Higashi Shiiya Falls is a pretty epic waterfall just out of Beppu Town. When you arrive you will park in the parking lot of the information center and pay your entrance/parking fee and then make the 800m along the river and through the gorge to reach the waterfall. It’s a really pretty walk and I can’t imagine how scenic it would be with the fall colors. At the end of the gorge is a massive waterfall flowing into a giant circular pool.
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
GOROGA TAKI FALLS
The Gorogotaki Waterfall is the largest falls in Yamato, Kumamoto with a 50m drop into the basin below. The beauty of this waterfall on Kyushu Island is that often it is crowned by a rainbow as the water crashed down onto the rocks, spraying up and catching the light perfectly in a stream of color. My favorite part about this waterfall is that you view it from the suspension bridge. There is also a really nice walk around the region through the rice fields and through the gorge to the base of the falls.
Read the full blog post here: GOROGOTAKI WATERFALL NEAR KUMAMOTO
Daikanbo Viewpoint is probably the most impressive viewpoints in the Mount Aso Region with epic views across the valley within the caldera to the active volcano within Nakadake Crater. There are lots of little trails and a number of viewing platforms to explore at the viewpoint. It can be a great spot for sunrise on a day with low-lying fog so if you are good at weather predictions to try and make that happen. I visited when the grass was dead in the winter but the colors change all throughout the year.
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
Hidden in the foothills on the way to Mount Aso region on the way from Kumamoto is Shiraitono Falls. It isn’t a hike or a big adventure and you can actually just drive and park only fifty meters away from the waterfall. The golden light was hitting the waterfall in the late afternoon, which created an epic little scene where everything was in shade except for the golden stream of water flowing down.
VISIT THE BEPPU HELLS
The ‘Hells’ of Beppu, as they are known, are seven incredible hot springs all in one area. Unlike many of the onsens or hot springs in the area, these specific hot springs are for viewing only as they are far too hot for bathing. They are quite a tourist attraction and it almost looks like zoo enclosures but instead of almost there is a bubbling, steaming pool of volcanically heated water. The reason these ‘Hells’ are so unique is that they each have a different feature such as the orange Hell or the deep blue Hell. I thought the experience of visiting the Hells of Beppu was quite cool but very touristy.
I visited the Beppu Hells as part of this full-day tour from Fukuoka including the Beppu Hells and Yufuin Spa Town.
TAKACHIHO GORGE WATERFALL (Minainotaki Waterfall)
Takachiho Gorge is one of the most incredible natural attractions on Kyushu Island, Japan. In the forest of Miyazaki, the Gokase River runs through a gorge comprised of volcanic basalt columns where the 17-meter high Minainotaki Waterfall pours down on the awe-struck tourists below who are paddling the iconic rowboats through the narrow chasm.
Kyushu Island is beautiful in the summer and the fall, which are the most popular times for tourists. In the fall you get the beautiful tinged orange and different colors on the trees and in the summer you are blessed with the best weather. I visited in the winter, which was not the prettiest time as lots of the leaves were dead so there were plenty of sparse trees. However, Takachiho Gorge was at a lower elevation and in a spot that was still beautiful and green in the winter. The conclusion is pretty much that it is a year-round attraction, which will only differ slightly at various times throughout the year.
The first way to enjoy Takachiho gorge and the Minaionotaki Waterfall is to paddle underneath the stone bridge and then alongside the Minainotaki Waterfall. It sprayed us a little but mostly we just enjoyed the stunning gorge, which is made of volcanic basalt columns. The columns are said to resemble the scales of a dragon where the stones were twisted when the river flowed in the formation of the gorge.
The second way to enjoy the Takachiho Gorge is from one of the many viewing points. My two favorites were the bridge and the lower (most popular) viewpoint. The bridge gives you a very elevated view of the boats and the waterfall below, framed nicely by the overhanging trees and the walls of the gorge.
TAKACHIHO GORGE DAY TOUR
As I said above, Takachiho Gorge is a bit hard to get to with public transport so unless you have rented a car, the best way to get there is on the Takachiho Gorge Day Tour. The tour includes drop-off and pickup from your hotel, an English-speaking guide for while you are at the gorge. Helen the guide is an absolute legend and we loved this tour and this epic location.
CLICK HERE to check rates and availability for the Takachiho Gorge Day Tour
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
KAMISHIKIMI KUMANOIMASU SHRINE
The Kamoshikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine is hidden in the forests near Takamori, which is a little town in the Aso region of Kumamoto. It’s a very spiritual spot with lots of different spots to make prayers, receive good luck and perform a ritual. For example, you can touch the Hogeto Iwa Stone and you are said to be granted good luck, and the shrines sacred Nagi Tree is said to protect relationships. The Kamoshikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine is the inspiration of the manga ”Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light” which was written by Yuki Midorikawa.
It’s an incredibly beautiful place with a forest stairway leading up to the shrine and then a huge underpass/cave where you can throw a coin onto the ledge for good luck.
Yaesono Falls is a sweet little roadside waterfall, which you will find on the way to the Mount Karakuni hike in Kirishima. It’s probably not worth an adventure all on its own because you just park next to the road and check it out without needing to hike. However, if you are heading up to the Kirishima mountains for a hike it is only a small detour and is quite a nice waterfall surrounded by trees.
ENJOY AN ONSEN EXPERIENCE
Kyushu is famous for its hot springs and it is one of the most volcanic places in the world. It is Beppu that is at the center of this volcanic activity when it comes to onsens and hot springs with hundreds of different onsens, spa-resorts and hot springs to test out. It’s definitely an experience you want to try at least once. The general premise of an onsen experience is that you will arrive fully clothed, strip down to naked and then bathe in the hot spring water with the other locals and visitors. The minerals, temperature and meditative experience are said to be very beneficial for your health. I visited Hoyoland Onsen as they allowed people with tattoos to bathe whereas many do not due to traditional laws. There are lots of very scenic onsens to choose from but make sure you try it at least once as this is the most cultural experience you can have and one of the best things to do in Kyushu.
I didn’t take a photo at the onsen as it isn’t allowed and would be very weird as everyone is naked so I’ve added in a stock photo below to show you what it looks like.
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
This is a bit of a strange one because the access was limited due to construction going on. There is usually a viewing point but I’m not sure if it will still be closed or not. We managed to fly the drone to still check out the waterfall but normally you can view it from the platform. Nevertheless, it was one of the most powerful waterfalls I came across on Kyushu Island.
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.
If you are staying near Kirishima then Ryumon Falls is definitely a spot I would recommend. It isn’t too far from Kirishima town and is a pretty epic waterfall. There is a small parking lot and then you walk about 500 meters to the viewing platform. You can go down closer to the base of the falls as well but it was a stormy, misty day when I visited and I was the only one there. I decided to just enjoy the view from the platform and snapped a photo from right there.
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.
Sekinoo is a pretty popular waterfall that has a suspension bridge viewing point. I visited it on the same day as Ryumon, Inukai, and the Kinzan Bridge so they are all within reaching distance of each other. This waterfall has a short walk down a forest path, which leads you to the suspension bridge where you can get up close enough to feel a bit of spray on a day with a heavy flow!
KINZAN BRIDGE WATERFALL
While the Kinzan Bridge waterfall is the biggest falls on Kyushu Island, it is a pretty unique little spot. The bridge is actually a serviceable road I used several times while exploring Kirishima and you can get down to river level for photos. I did take this shot from the drone as I floated it under the bridge while a meter or so above the water. There’s a small trail along the side of the river but parking is right next to the bridge so it is a good little pit stop but not the highlight of the day with Ryumon, Sekinoo and Inukai the bigger waterfalls in the area.
LA PUTA ROAD
La Puta Road was a bit of a local secret until a few years ago when the location gained some serious popularity. All around the edge of the Mount Aso caldera are some epic viewpoints but the La Puta Road is really a sight to behold. There is a winding road that just needs to be seen to be believed as it snakes its way along the precarious cliff-edge. It’s important to note that technically this site is now closed due to a landslide and it is simply not possible for cars to drive this route anymore. You can just walk up the hill for a bit of a look from a safe spot though although there were some temporary blockages to the walkway. Enter at your own risk on this one as it is technically closed although walking to the hill viewpoint is not of high danger compared to going down near the road where the landslides where. I’ve seen some epic, epic photos here when the grass is green and low-lying fog makes it look like the road is simply floating on clouds.
Kumamoto Castle is one of the most beautiful castles in all of Japan with it’s large, scenic grounds and a variety of buildings it offers visitors a complete castle experience. It is one of a few structures that have survived the centuries since it’s construction in 1607. There have been a number of maintenance and reconstructions but it is one of the most well-preserved castles in Japan. It’s best to visit the castle from March to April when the 800+ cherry blossoms are in full bloom making the entire area a fairytale location.
There are lots of great places to view Sakurajima Volcano but I really enjoyed the little Susuhara viewpoint all to myself as I watched the plumes come out of the very active volcano near Kagoshima. I actually stopped off here on the way to the Mount Kaimon hike but there were lots of different viewpoints with great views of Sakurajima Volcano so if not Susuhara, make sure you stop somewhere along the way to observe this epic volcano.
KOKONOE YUME OTSURIHASHI SUSPENSION BRIDGE
The Kokonoe Yume Otsurihashi Suspension Bridge is in the west of Oita and is the longest and highest pedestrian bridge in all of Japan! From the bridge, you look down 173-meters below to the Naruko River which sits in the steep gorge. From the bridge, you can see the Kuju Mountains and the Handa highlands as well as several waterfalls nearby.
KUNIMIGAOKA VIEWPOINT OF BEPPU TOWN
Just before you get into Beppu make sure you stop at the Kunimigaoko Viewpoint where you will have the best views over this famous hot spring region. I was there in the middle of the day so the lighting was a bit tough but if you came up here for sunrise or sunset you would be in for an absolute treat as you will see the beautiful colors of the ocean as the light peaks over the mountains.
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 the car booking through Klook, 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 check out Klook Car Rentals 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 Japanese 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 with the best budget option for booking a car on Klook.
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.