Mt. Kusatsushirane (草津白根山）
Mt. Kusatsushirane is a splendid active volcano located just up the road from Kusatsu Hot Spring, one of the most famous onsen in all of Japan. The mountain also boasts a lime colored volcanic lake and numerous hiking trails.
The hike: From the parking lot, you’ve got a number of different options. Directly behind the rest house, a short trail leads to the crown jewel of Kusatsu, Lake Yugama (湯釜). You’ve got to see this lake to believe it, as the picture I’ve posted doesn’t do it justice. Unfortunately, there’s a fence preventing entry to the lake, which is all the better because it would probably be completely eroded away from the huge crowds that decent on this highly accessible mountain. The lake really is the highlight of the enture hike, but if you cross the other side of the road, there’s a small loop trail around a small, scenic lake. Follow the flat road next to the lake and it’ll lead to the ski resort. You can take a chair lift up to the main ridge, or hike up in about 20 minutes. From there, the trail splits several times, with the trail straight ahead leading to the highest point of the mountain. If the weather is good there’s little chance of getting lost, but if the fog is in it’s better to have a map (which you can get for free at the visitor’s center in the parking lot). The mountain is worth a good half a day of exploring the various network of trails, neither of which are very difficult. Eventually work your way back to the parking lot, where you can catch a bus back down the mountain or try your luck hitching. This road connects Kusatsu with Shiga Kogen, the largest ski resort in Japan. The road is closed in the winter, but if you do this hike during Golden Week, then bring your snowboard and enjoy the last runs of Shiga Kogen, a short distance away.
When to go: This hike can be done from late April to early November, when the road to the mountain is open. A winter stroll is also possible if you take the gondola from Kusatsu International Ski Resort (草津国際スキー場).
Access: From Yudanaka (湯田中) station, take a bus bound for Shirane Kazan (白根火山) and get off at the last stop. Alternatively, there’s one bus a day from the east exit of Nagano station that leaves at 10:10am. The bus runs from April 20th to November 3rd and costs 1500 yen. Click here for the bus schedule. There are also 6 buses a day from Kusatsu Hot Spring (草津温泉) to Shirane Kazan. Click here for the bus schedule.
Live web cam: Click here
Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change: 155m).