Kisen Alps (紀泉アルプス）
The Kisen Alps are a series of rolling peaks located on the Osaka-Wakayama prefectural border. Despite their close proximity to the big city, the mountains are relatively unspoiled and completely natural, without a single cedar tree in sight.
The hike: Go through the unmanned ticket gates, and turn right on the small paved road in front of the station. Turn right at the next street, where you’ll cross a small river and the railroad tracks. Follow the signs to Kisen Alps (記泉アルプス), turning left at the sign, and then right up a small dirt road. This road eventually becomes the trailhead, as you pass through a very funky entrance gate. The path climbs rather steeply at first, paralleling a large expressway. The traffic noise is pretty loud, but you’ll soon leave that all behind and enter a magical wonderland of beautiful flora. I have no idea why this area was spared of the post-war deforestation, but I’m so happy it was. As you hike, imagine how beautiful this country must’ve been hundreds of years ago, when every single forest looked just like this! Keep your eyes out for snakes and wild boar, as there are quite a few in this area. After about 30 minutes of climbing, you’ll reach the ridgeline and a trail junction. Head to the right for about 20 meters to reach a wonderful clearing with excellent views of Kansai airport and Osaka bay. Take some photos and head back to the junction. The trail follows the entire mountain ridge, and your target is the high point called Unzenbou (雲仙峰). There’s a considerable amount of up and down between here and the top, but it’s not too difficult. There are lots of places to take breaks and enjoy the outstanding scenery. You should reach the peak in about 2 hours or so. Just below the top, you’ll come across a 3-way junction with beautiful bilingual signposts. Yep, you’ve officially entered Wakayama prefecture, where they seem to have more money in their budget for trail maintenance. Continue on to the top of Unzenbou. There’s not much of a view from here, so after taking a break continue down the other side. In about 10 minutes, you’ll come across yet another trail junction, with magnificent views of Wakayama city and the Pacific Ocean. Turn left at the junction and you’ll reach a well-maintained public park with lots of benches and a gazebo. This is a great place for a picnic or a nap on a pleasant day. From here, trails split off in all directions, and you’ve got lots of options. I’d recommend following the signs to Kii station (紀伊駅). It should take about 90 minutes or so from the park to the station, and there are lots of different trails you have to take, so follow the signs carefully. Just before the trail dumps you out on a road, you’ll pass through a bamboo forest that is downright spooky at dusk. From Kii station, you can catch a JR train back to Tennoji.
When to go: This hike can be done year round, but I’ve been told that autumn is the best time to see the virgin forests in all their glory. The mountains do get some snow in the winter, but it usually melts relatively quickly.
Access: From Tennoji station (天王時駅) take a train on the JR Wakayama line and get off at Yamanakadani (山中渓駅). An express train should take about 45 minutes or so. Please note that this is an unmanned station (hint, hint).
Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~200m)