Where to hike in the winter? Part III: Gunma & Tochigi + Part IV: Ibaraki & Chiba

Winter is around the corner – I saw snowflakes fall on my hike last week – so it’s time to introduce more low-altitude destinations for the colder months, this time on the Northern edges of the Kanto plain. Admittedly there are fewer all-year round snow-free options but the adventurous hiker will be rewarded with beautiful vistas of the snow-capped peaks of the Joushin-Etsu that ranges from Mt Asama to Tanigawa, and the peaks of Oku-Nikko. The hikes presented below are in clockwise order from West to East.

Mt Kuwagara 鍬柄岳 and Mt Oogeta 大桁山, Gunma prefecture

These 2 peaks, 598m and 836m respectively, are located North of Sendaira 千平 Station the stop before Shimonita on the Joushin Dentetsu line running from Takasaki station. Mt Kuwagawara is the highlight and can be done by itself for a shorter hike. The last part requires some scrambling up a rocky face – nothing technical since there are set chains in place to assist but a good sense of balance and agility are required, and you’ll also need to come back the same way in order to continue the hike. However the view from the top is quite rewarding.

PROS: Roundtrip with station access, an exciting bit with chains, good views

CONS: Some road walking, not recommended for beginners

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View towards Nishi Joushuu with the flat-topped Mt Arafune on the right

Mt Okono 小野小山 and Mt Juuni 十二ヶ岳, Gunma prefecture

Mt Okono 1208m and Mt Juuni 1201m are part of the same mountain – just 2 peaks on the same ridge that sits between Mt Haruna in the West and Mt Akagi in the East. Despite their relatively high altitude, I did them without snow in January but this may not always be the case so check beforehand. Access is from Onogami 小野上 station on the Agatsuma line, North of Takasaki, and return is one station further down, Onogamionsen 小野上温泉 station. There are some ups and downs along the ridge but your efforts will be rewarded with a breathtaking 360° panorama at the top of Mt Juuni.

PROS: Station access, great views, onsen at the end

CONS: Some road-walking, risk of snow, longish hike

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The Tanigawa Ridgeline from the top of Mt Juuni

Mt Daishou 大小山 and Mt Daibou 大坊山, Tochigi Prefecture

Mt Daishou 314m and Mt Daibou 286m are lowish peaks sitting on a semi-circular ridge East of Ashikaga city, accessible from Tomita station on the Ryoma line which connects Ooyama and Maebashi stations. From the top of Mt Daishou, and other viewpoints along the way, there are sweeping views to the South of the Kanto plain. Looking Northwards, there are mountains as far as the eye can see, with the Mt Fuji look-alike, Nikko’s Mt Nantai at the very back. This is a popular trail especially in the winter so expect to meet many hikers along the way.

PROS: Roundtrip with station access, very good views, relatively easy hiking

CONS: Some parts pass through the town, lots of people

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Mt Daibou as seen from near Mt Daishou

Mt Kogashi 古賀志山, Tochigi Prefecture

This low-lying but rocky mountain cuts quite an impressive figure when seen from below.  At any only 583m it will surprise you with its rocky but roped steep bits and plunging views to the plain below – agility and surefootedness are necessary. Placed somewhat East off the JR Nikko line connecting Utsunomiya and JR Nikko stations, you’ll need to take a bus or a taxi from Kanuma 鹿沼 station to get closer to the start of the hiking trail. There are plenty of trails up and down but the best, and most exciting route is to follow the ridge all the way to Mt Akaiwa 赤岩山 553m.

PROS: Roundtrip, great views, onsen at the end

CONS: Bus there and back, some tricky parts

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Mt Kogashi with Akagawa Lake in the foreground

 

March 2019…Somehow I never completed the final part of the where to hike in winter series from 2017, and just rediscovered the draft. Although winter is officially over, these hikes below are also good in Spring and Autumn. However, these two Ibaraki and Chiba are the ideal places to go when it gets really cold since they combine relatively easy access and low altitude mountains that get little if any snow. These four hikes only scratch the surface of what can be done in these areas. I’ve added then to this blog post since they wouldn’t fit in with my latest series of blogs. 

 

Mt Tsukuba (877m), Ibaraki Prefecture

Like Mt Takao, Mt Tsukuba 筑波山 is an extremely popular hiking spot close to the Tokyo metropolis. You cannot rule out snow in the winter but is is rare and melts quickly. A bus is required to get to the start of the trail, but they run frequently from Tsukuba or Tsuchiura stations. A multitude of trails go up and down the mountain through beautiful cedar forests at the base, and interesting rock formations higher up. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with great views of the Kanto plain and perhaps Mt Fuji if you’re lucky. There is a ropeway and a cable car so you can just climb up or climb down if you prefer. 

PROS:  Easy to follow trails, Airplane-like views, Hot springs

CONS: Crowded on weekends & holidays, Summit area is overdeveloped, Access by bus

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Enjoying the view from the summit

Hokyo (461m), Ibaraki Prefecture

I only recently discovered Mt Hokyo 宝篋山 but it is the perfect place for a winter escapade. There are many well-marked trails that you can follow to the top and back down, a couple of which follow beautiful mountain streams. There are great views of Mt Tsukuba from the top which you can enjoy while sitting in some longchairs. There are frequent buses from and to Tsuchiura station. Apparently there are some mountain sakura so it’s also a good place for hiking in April when they are in bloom.

PROS: Lots of trails, Seats and tables at the top, Great views

CONS: Short hike, Access is by bus, No hot springs

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Lots of place to sit on the top of Mt Hokyo

 

Mt Nokogiri (330m), Chiba Prefecture

Mt Nokogiri 鋸山 is a fun place to visit and hike. It can be accessed by train but I find it worthwhile to do at least one leg of the trip by ferry across Tokyo Bay from Kurihama. There is a ropeway that goes to the top and if you choose that option, you should at least walk down a little explore the base of the cliffs on the front and then descend the path on the other side. There are giant Buddha statues on both sides. On the ragged top ridge (Nokogiri means saw in Japanese), there is a great lookout point over the cliffs called “jigoku nozoki” or “a peek into hell”. There are great views of the Boso and Miura peninsulas, and Tokyo Bay.  If you’re hungry, there is an excellent kaiten sushi right next to Kanaya port. 

PROS: Combines hiking and cultural sightseeing, Ferry ride, Sea views

CONS: A little far, Short hiking, Summit ridge area can be crowded

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Mt Nokogiri from Kanaya Port

The Yoro River Valley, Chiba Prefecture

This is the classic Chiba hike and highly recommended if you haven’t been to the Yoro river Keikoku 養老渓谷 yet. The train from Goi station is charming and will deposit you smack in the middle of the countryside. The walk is mainly along a picturesque river valley so there is little climbing or descending. You can start two stations earlier from Tsukisaki for a longer hike. The highlight is the Awamata waterfall . The railway deviates from the river after Yoro Keikoku station so you’ll need to take a bus back. 

PROS: Easy Hiking, River Walking, Hot springs 

CONS: A little far, Bus for the return, Proximity to a road

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 The path is paved so even light shoes are fine

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