Mt. Kurikoma is an active volcano on the border of Iwate, Akita and Miyagi Prefectures in the Tohoku region of Japan. This mountain is also a famous spot for autumn foliage and the colours were amazing when we hiked up all the way to the summit.
On the summit, we had a 360-degree panoramic view of Mt. Gassan, Mt. Chokai, Mt. Zao and Mt. Hayachine. Ｔhe spectacular volcanic scenery and the soothing hot springs after a long hike made it a great place for a weekend getaway.
You will experience a lot more than just your average walk on the way to reach the peak of Mt. Kurikoma. The beautiful colours, the soothing sound of rivers, the adventure you experience; everything is breathtaking. The natural scenery is very beautiful and heals the souls of hikers.
We started our journey from Sendai Station in Miyagi. We took the Tohoku Shinkansen to Ichinoseki station and it took about half an hour (30 minutes) for us to get there. The cost of the shinkansen ticket was about 4,020 yen per person; it is not as cheap as other methods of transportation but it is one of the most convenient ways to go there.
From there, we took a bus to Sukawa Onsen that left from right outside the station. We queued up at Bus Stop No.9 to get to our destination. Take note that the bus only comes twice a day so be prepared to wait for a few hours for the next bus at around 2:00pm if you missed the bus at 9:00am (if you do find yourself with time to kill, here’s some info about what you can find in Ichinoseki City!). Fortunately, we arrived on time and still had 15 minutes or so to spare. The bus ride took about 1 hour 30 minutes and costed about 1,450 yen one way. We immediately dozed off the moment we boarded the bus as it was still early in the morning and we wanted to make sure we had enough energy for the upcoming hike!
It was a beautiful sunny day with blue skies when we reached Sukawa Onsen. As we got off the bus and walked a few meters to the hot spring river, we saw that the path actually runs right by this steaming water source.
Since we went at the end of September, the autumn colors on the way up were not quite at their peak and could be more intense in about a week’s time. We took about 3 hours to get to the peak. We started at 1100m elevation and reached about 1600m of elevation. The marshland was extremely beautiful, with its golden grass bordered by all the colors. The view was breathtaking. There were many hikers with us also enjoying the beauty at the peak, having a picnic.
It was warm at the beginning of our hike but slowly started getting colder as we approached the peak. Harsh cold wind was blowing at the top, so do not forget to bring something warm and rain gear to protect yourself! The weather can be quite unpredictable in the mountains, though it was not the same case when we went there. The clouds and fog had covered the scenic view from the top of the mountain as we started to walk down at around 2;00 pm. From my experience hiking here, It would be better to start hiking from early morning.
Note that the road towards the end of the trail can be quite narrow, slippery and swampy at times. Though it was difficult, it was one of the best experience we ever had! Mount Kurikoma is not only famous for its autumn foliage. It is also beautiful to visit in spring, enjoyable to hike through the fresh green leaves and alpine plants in summer, and transforms into a skiers paradise in winter.
It took us nearly two and a half hours to reach back to where we had started but we did chose to take an alternative route coming down. From the peak, we took the path that is just beside the one we came through. We soon realised that this return route was more adventurous and slightly more difficult because of the big rocks, swampy and slippery trails. We were worried at first if we were going in the right direction as the bushes and leaves hinder our way through the mountain. Luckily, there were pink ribbons along the path every 100 to 150 meters signifying to us that we were on the correct path.
We were so glad when we reached the base as our feet were aching from the constant hiking up and down the mountain for a total of almost 6 hours! We checked in to our hotel and according to one of the hikers we met while hiking, the hotel is renown as a healing place for hikers after a long journey. The hotel was equipped with an onsen so we had the luxury to enjoy the hot oozing sulfuric water while staring at the magnificent scenery of the lush green mountain.
If you are not a staying guest at the hotel, casual entry to the outdoor onsen will cost about 600 yen and no towels are provided. However, at the entrance of the onsen, they have a vending machine where you can purchase a small towel, the size of a face towel for about 300 yen. A quick note, the hotel itself does not provide towels for their guests! So you should remember to bring a towel if you ever come to stay here.
We checked into our hotel at about 5:00pm and quickly went for a dip before our dinner session at 6.30pm. Being a newbie at this, I was so embarrassed to undress and clean myself in front of so many people, as my country does not have such practices! But I managed to get over it when I realized that the locals did not care about it at all. Before getting in to the hot pool, we were advised to wash ourselves with hot water using a bucket at least 10 times before getting in or our body will not be able to adapt to the temperature.
We warmed up our body in the pool and it was one of the most amazing experiences we ever had in Japan. The heat of the sulfuric water was intense, but it helped to soothe our aching feet tremendously! We stayed in for about 20 minutes as the heat was getting to us really fast. We rinsed our body with the water from the tap before leaving the bathing area.
After a satisfying bath, we went to eat dinner that was provided by the hotel. We were served with a complete set-meal of Japanese food and we finished up quickly because it was so delicious and also our stomachs were growling from the intensive exercise. We could not get enough of the onsen and decided to go for another dip after dinner. This time, there was nobody else around at all and we had the whole pool to ourselves. The weather was so relaxing even at night. Though it was 13 degrees when I checked my phone, the heat from the pool kept us warm until the next morning.
The next morning, we woke up at 7:00 am and went for breakfast. The hotel provided us with Japanese style buffet breakfast and we loved the food! Before leaving the hotel at 9:00am from the bus stop, we manage to go for one more onsen! We were glad we made it to the bus on time since they only come twice a day, anyway!
The weather, the timing and the companionship was all truly amazing and I would not wish for anything else! I started this journey with no experience in hiking and I must say, the pain and suffering in our feet after the hike is feels great in the end; it is well worth it! I am excited and ready to plan for my next hiking trip be it in Japan, or anywhere else around the world.
Getting to Sukawa Onsen:
We started our journey from Sendai Station in Miyagi. We took the Tohoku Shinkansen line to Ichinoseki station and it took about half an hour (30 minutes) for us to get there. (Please note that not all shinkansen on the Tohoku line will stop at Ichinoseki, so be sure to check before you jump on!) The cost of the shinkansen ticket was about 4,020 yen per person, it is not as cheap as other sources of transportation but it is one of the most convenient way to go there.
From there, we took a bus to Sukawa Onsen that left from right outside the station. We queued up at Bus Stop No.9 to get to our destination. Take note that the bus only comes twice a day so be prepared to wait for a few hours for the next bus at around 2:00pm if you missed the bus at 9:00am (if you do find yourself with time to kill, here’s some info about what you can find in Ichinoseki City!). Fortunately, we arrived on time and still had 15 minutes or so to spare. The bus ride took about 1 hour 30 minutes and costed about 1,450 yen one way.
Hint: A useful site for checking train times in Japan is hyperdia
More info about Sukawa Onsen:
Trail Map: You can pick up a map from the tourist information centre right in front of Ichinoseki Station.