Mt. Mikuma (三熊山）
Mt. Mikuma is a small hill overlooking the coastal resort town of Sumoto on Awaji Island. The small elevation change and outstanding panoramic views make it the perfect afternoon stroll after a morning on the beach.
The hike: There’s a tourist information center at the bus terminal if you’d like to get a basic map or inquire about accomodation options. Walk out the main entrance of the terminal and turn right, heading for the large supermarket just in front of you. This is an excellent place to pick up supplies. You can also marvel at the grass parking spaces! Anyway, continue walking past the supermarket on the main road into town. If you want a little more scenic and quieter approach to the beach, then walk a few blocks towards the sea, where you’ll find a wonderful wooden boardwalk. Cross over the bridge and decent to the beach. This is actually one of nicest beaches in the Kansai area (sans Shirahama), but beware that there are no coin lockers here. (There are a few at the bus station if you’d like to save some money). Otherwise, you can pay 1000 yen at any of the shops on the beach and they’ll keep your stuff and let you have a warm shower. If you want to do the hike first, then walk all the way along the beach until reaching a rather large, modern hotel called the Hotel New Awaji. The hiking path starts just beyond the hotel, on a steep paved driveway. Follow the road to the top of the hill, where you’ll see signs pointing towards Mt. Mikuma. Turn left and follow the paved path as it winds its way through a spectacular forest. Despite the fact that it’s a completely concrete path, the beauty of the flora really makes you forget about this unfortunate truth. If you’re walking in sandals, then you might actually appreciate the grip the path has to offer. Continue climbing and turn left at the first major junction you see. Again, there’s a signpost here, so it’s difficult to get lost. After another couple of switchbacks you’ll arrive at the top of the ridge. Turn left again and the castle will come into view directly in front of you. There’s a hidden parking lot for people who are lazy and want to drive up, but I guarantee that you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself during the summer, as the hot and humid weather will keep most in their fancy hotels below. There’s a shop just below the summit that sells shaved ice and soft drinks. Make your way towards the castle, where you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the beach below. The castle itself is a concrete reproduction built in 1928, but the castle walls date from the 6th century. The castle is free to enter and has outstanding vistas all the way over towards Wakayama city. If you’re keen to do a little more walking, then you can retrace your steps back towards the paved path, where you’ll find a loop trail over to nishi-no-maru (西の丸). There aren’t any views on that side of the mountain, but it looks like a good place to escape if there are any big crowds near the castle (which there could be in autumn.) Anyway, retreat back to the beach and reward yourself with a refreshing swim. In addition, Hotel New Awaji has two amazing hot spring baths that can be yours for a measly 1800 yen (surely the steepest day-use fee for any hot spring in Japan). There’s plenty of free camping on the beach, or you can shell out the big bucks for the hotel. There’s also a hostel-eque place right on the beach that gets very crowded with groups in the summer.
When to go: This hike can easily be done year round, but the best time is probably the summer, where you can combine the hike with a lovely swim on the beach. In addition, it can be easily done in sandals, eliminating the need to carry an extra pair of walking shoes.
Access: From the Hankyu bus terminal in Umeda, take a bus bound for Sumoto bus center (洲本バスセンター). The bus takes 2 hours and costs 2300 yen (one-way). Click here for the schedule. There are also JR buses leaving from the JR highway bus center (also in Umeda) which cost the same price and take about the same amount of time. Alternatively, you can also take a bus from Sannomiya station in Kobe. Click here for the schedule (click on the PDF file on that page).
Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change 133m)