Mt. Yotei (羊蹄山）
Mt. Yotei, otherwise known as Mt. Shiribeshi (後方羊蹄山), is a shy, Fuji-esque volcano dominating the Niseko skyline, attracting hikers from all over Japan.
The hike: If you’ve taken the bus, then you’ve got an annoying 30 minute hike on a paved road. Definitely try to hitch to the trailhead to save some energy. At the trailhead, there’s a toilet, small campground, and water source. Fill up your bottles, as this is the only place for water on the hike. The trail starts behind the toilets, not down the forest road in the parking lot. I attempted a night hike and got lost for hours by taking this deceptive looking path. In the daytime it’s a no-brainer, but at night take care. The trail starts off rather gentle and then starts climbing, with plenty of switchbacks and amazing views across the valley to Niseko ski resort. The mountain, like most volcanoes in Japan, is divided into 10 ‘stages’. You should reach the 6th stage (rokugoume-六合目) in around 2 hours after starting. From there, the trail continues to climb until eventually reaching the 9th stage (kyuugoume-九合目). You’ll reach a 3-way junction just before the crater rim. If you go right you’ll reach an emergency hut, but instead stay on the same trail you’ve been on and continue to the rim. The high point of Mt. Yotei is about halfway around the rim, marked by a small sign. It’s easy to find in sunny weather, but you might miss it if the cloud is in. Anyway, circumnavigate the crater, enjoying the abundance of wild flowers and spectacular views. Consider descending via the Makkari trail (真狩), a never-ending, knee-knocking decent that eventually ends in a huge campground. Or go back the same way you came.
When to go: This hike can be done from late April to early November, but the earlier you go, the more snow you’ll encounter. Some hardcore skiers & boarders climb in it in the winter, searching for fresh powder and clean runs. Yotei is notorious for nasty weather, so use caution on the decent if mother nature isn’t cooperating.
Access: There are 4 trails up the mountain, but I describe the one closest to Niseko. From Sapporo station, take a local train for about 90 minutes to Kucchan (倶知安) station. From there, take a bus to Yoteizan-tozanguchi (羊蹄山登山口). Click here for the bus schedule. Alternatively, you can take a taxi for about 3000 yen that’ll get you a little closer to the trailhead.
Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change: ~1600m)