Mt. Kirishima (霧島山）
Kirishima Nat’l Park is a glorious collection of picturesque volcanic peaks, majestic crater lakes, and soothing hot spring baths. The area around Ebino Kogen (えびの高原) is filled with lots of hiking options, including the ascent of Mt. Karakuni, the highest peak in the park.
Special note: The trail up through Iodake is now closed due to volcanic activity. The only trail open to the summit of Mt. Karakuni is via Onami crater (near Tsutsujigaoka bus stop).
The hike: When you get off the bus stop, you might want to take a little time to familiarize yourself with the layout of the facilities. There’s a useful billboard map just outside of the Eco Museum Center. Across the street from the museum, you’ll see a souvenir shop, as well as a foot bath in the new building next to the museum. There’s a great cafe inside this building that has amazing soft serve ice cream and good coffee. Just to the left of the museum, there is a trail that is marked as the Ikemeguri Nature Trail (Volcanic Lakes). This is a two-hour loop hike that leads past a couple of lakes before meeting up with the main road just opposite the trailhead to Mt. Karakuni (韓国岳). If you’ve got time, then it’s a nice stroll through a beautiful forest. Otherwise, just follow the signs marked for Mt. Karakuni. You could also walk along the road if you like, but the asphalt path that parallels the road is much nicer. After about twenty minutes you’ll finally reach the mountain path, which climbs some steps and juts around Mt. Ioyama (硫黄山), an active steam vent with some large sulfur deposits. There are a couple of trails that go through Mt. Ioyama, but ignore then and turn right, following the crowds if you’ve come on the weekends. You’ll soon come across a rusty metal box that hikers can use to register their climbing intentions, as well as a couple of benches you can relax on and enjoy the scenery. The trail cuts left here and after a short climb, enters a beautiful forest with lots of moss and perhaps a few wildflowers depending on the season. You’ll soon reach a signpost for the 1st station (一合目). The mountain is divided into 10 stages, so you can use these markers to help you establish a pace and decide when to take breaks. From here it’s only 1.7km to the summit, and it’s a relatively easy climb with lots of steps built to aid in the ascent. It’s a popular mountain with school trip and families, so don’t be surprised to see a fair number of kids marching up the volcano. The views start to open up as you climb higher, and the best place for your first break is the 5th station (五合目), which is a wide area with splendid views into the valley below. From here, the angle eases up a bit as you traverse towards the crater rim (at the 8th station), which can be reached in about 15 minutes. If the weather is good then you’ll can take one of the many side trails to the left up to the rim, which is roped off to prevent people from falling inside. Just before reaching the high point, you’ll see a trail shooting off on the right marked for Mt. Oonamiike (大浪池). Ignore this trail for the time being and turn left for the short climb to the summit, which is marked with a signpost and a village of large volcanic rocks. If the weather is good then you’ll have outstanding panoramic views of most of the mountains of southern Kyushu. Sakurajima is due south, and just to the left of that peak you can see Mt. Kaimon if you’re lucky. To the east, you’ll see the active lava dome of Mt. Shinmoe (currently closed to hikers), with Mt. Takachiho rising up behind. Unfortunately, Mt. Karakuni is a magnet for cloud, and clear weather is a rarity indeed. After you’ve had sufficient rest, drop down to the junction and take the trail for Mt. Oonamiike, which in clear weather you can see directly below you. It’s an incredible caldera lake formed during an ancient eruption. The path drops off the peak abruptly, through red scree reminiscent of the slopes of Mt. Fuji. You’ll soon reach an area of wooden steps that have been added to make the climb easier. The rest of the trail down to the lake is on these steps 80% of the time, so be careful in wet weather when these wooden stairs become as slick as ice. It should take about an hour or so to reach the base of the caldera lake, where you’ll reach a junction. There’s a small emergency hut on your left, as well as a trail that goes straight ahead. Take this trail if you want to do a loop around the caldera rim, which should take about an hour or so. Only do this when the weather is clear. Otherwise you won’t be able to see the caldera lake at all. A shorter option is to ignore this trail and turn right, where you’ll soon see a wooden platform that makes a great place to take a break. Continue on the trail and you’ll soon see a junction on your left marked for Lake Onami trailhead (大浪池登山口). This is where the loop trail comes down, so if you didn’t do the loop but still want a glimpse of the caldera lake then turn left here and climb up the steep trail for about 10 minutes until you see a spur trail on your left that leads to a lookout. After viewing the lake, retrace your steps back to the main trail and turn left, following the signs as the trail following the meandering contours of the mountain before finally dropping back down towards Ebino Kogen. The steep path will eventually level out and take you through an amazing forest of moss covered rocks and old trees. The trail ends at a paved road, so turn right and walk about 50 meters and you’ll see Tsutsujigaoka (つつじヶ丘) bus stop, which you can take to get back to Maru-o. You could also try your luck hitching from here as well. If you’ve got time before the last bus then you could have a hot spring bath at Ebino Kogen Sou (えびの高原荘), which is a short walk from the Eco Museum Center. To get there you can cut through the large grass-covered park directly across the street from the bus stop. Turn right on the trail just behind the toilets.
Special Note: If you’re attempting to do the entire Kirishima traverse (from Karakuni to Takachiho) please note that the trail up and over the summit of Mt. Shinmoe is currently closed due to volcanic activity.
When to go: This hike can be done year round, but expect some snow during the winter, when light crampons will come in handy. Click here to see the winter scenery. Avoid the peak in the middle of the summer, when the heat can be unbearable.
Access: There are numerous ways to get to Ebino Kogen, but perhaps the easiest is to take a train from Kagoshima station on the JR Nippo Line (JR日報線) and get off at Kirishima-Jingu (霧島神宮) station. From there, you can take a bus bound for Kirishima Iwawaki Hotel (霧島いわわきホテル) and get off at Maru-o (丸尾) bus stop, where you need to change to a bus bound for Takachigo Kawahara (高千穂河原), which will stop at Ebino Kogen. There are only 3 buses a day from Maru-o, so make sure you plan accordingly. The local train takes about 50 minutes from Kagoshima, and the Limited Express only saves you 3 minutes! Click here to download the bus schedule. Click on the second link that reads 各路線バス時刻表. If you want to hitchhike, the closest station seems to be Kirishima Onsen (霧島温泉), so get off there and walk to the main road.
Map: Click here
Live web cam: Click here
Level of difficulty: 2.5 out of 5 (elevation change 520m).]