Mt. Asahi (旭岳）
Mt. Asahi is an active volcano and unofficial symbol of Daisetsuzan National Park. The stunning scenery and easy access make it popular with tourists throughout the year.
The hike: From the parking lot look for the trailhead on the right side of the road, easily recognizable with its huge yellow “Beware of Bears” sign. Most people use the gondola, which will probably make you the only one on the trail. Despite its lack of use, the trail is pretty well marked, with lots of wooden planks to keep hikers from trampling the vegetation. Be on the lookout for bears, and sing your favorite childhood songs if you’ve forgotten your bear bell. The path follows a stream most of the way before cutting toward the left for a somewhat strenuous climb to the top of the gondola. It should take about 90 minutes to reach the gondola trail junction, where you’ll meet the huge crowds of people who took the lazy way up. Turn right once you hit the junction, and you’ll find a stone emergency hut in about 20 minutes. This is here in case the volcano decides to burp while you’re climbing, and from the looks of the steam vents, the hut’s probably been used before. Continue climbing on the spine of the volcano. The maps say to allow 2-1/2 hours to reach the peak, but you can do it in half that time, as it’s only a 600m vertical ascent. The views from the summit on a clear day are fantastic, and you’ll see most of Daisetsuzan National Park rising up all around you. You can either head back down the way you came , or continue for an interesting loop hike. Descend down the other side of the mountain until you reach a small campsite. The descent is really steep, with a huge snow bank remaining most of the year. Continue up and over Mamiya-dake (間宮岳), turning left at the next junction to reach Naka-dake hot spring (中岳温泉), one of Japan’s hidden hot springs. It’s actually quite difficult to find hidden among all the boulders. Continue climbing past the hot spring to Susoai-daira (裾合平), where you’ll find a trail junction. Turn left to head back to the gondola, via the beautiful Fuufu lake (夫婦池). The entire loop should take between 6 and 8 hours, so plan accordingly.
When to go: The gondola runs all year round, so this hike can be done in the winter with an ice axe and crampons. If you don’t want to fork over the money for the gondola, then you should aim to go between Golden Week and mid September, when most of the snow is gone. The Youth Hostel near the trailhead is easily the best hostel in all of Japan, with a 24-hour outdoor bath and Canadian style log cabin. Click here for the website.
Access: From Sapporo station (札幌駅), take a JR Limited Express train bound for Asahikawa (旭川) and get off there. From the station, take a bus bound for Asahi-dake Onsen (旭岳温泉) and get off at the last stop. The bus runs throughout the year, but frequency varies based on the season. Click here to access the schedule.
Live web cam: Click here
Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 1110m).