Mt. Ryuu-ga-take (竜ヶ岳)
Ryuu-ga-take, otherwise known in English as dragon’s peak, is a serpent-shaped mountain towering over Lake Motosu at the western end of Mt. Fuji. It is best known as a vantage point for seeing the ‘Diamond Fuji’ phenomenon on New Year’s Day. Oh, and the unobstructed views of Fuji aren’t half bad either.
The hike: From the bus stop, cross the main road and head down the street that runs perpendicular to the main road (there’s a traffic light here). The road descends towards the lake and after 5 minutes, you’ll see a restaurant and gift shop called Motosu-kan (本栖館) on your left. Cut through the parking lot of the restaurant and head down the concrete stairs towards the lake. You’ll see a restroom and another parking lot. Head to the shore of the lake and take a left towards the “yellow submarine” called Moguran. Once you reach the submarine-shaped tourist boat, turn left and head up to the paved forest road. Turn right on the road and walk about 200 meters until you reach the entrance for the campground (本栖湖キャンプ場). Turn left and enter the campground. During the winter this place is deserted, but it must be a hub of activity in the summer. Follow the white signs that say Ryuu-ga-take Tozandou Iriguchi (竜ヶ岳登山道入口) The path makes multiple turns through the campground, so make sure you follow the signs. Once you reach a forest road the path will appear on your left. Make a sharp 180º turn and start climbing through the forest. There are numerous switchbacks and if you imagine this peak as a dragon, it truly feels like you’re climbing on the tail of a dragon. The views down to Lake Motosu will quickly open up, and after about 20 minutes of steady climbing you should get your first views of Mt. Fuji. Once you reach the top of the ridge line you’ll find a wooden bench with a stellar view of Japan’s highest peak. Take a break here, as the bulk of the climbing is yet to come. The trail veers towards the right and flattens out somewhat before climbing through bamboo grass towards a large clearing with a wooden, covered viewing platform. If climbing in the rain, you’ll appreciate the small break from the elements. Just in front of the platform, there’s a small wooden building housing several ancient stone Buddha statues. Say a quick prayer before starting the final push towards the summit. Again, imagine you’re climbing a dragon. You’ve already climbed up the tail and now you’re heading straight up the spine of the beast towards the head. There are numerous switchbacks that make the climbing easier and the unobstructed views of Mt. Fuji directly behind you will quickly make you forget about the sweat wicking off your body. If it’s been raining or snowing recently, then the track will more than likely be one slippery, sloppy mess, so be prepared for muddy feet. It should take about 40 minutes or so to reach the summit plateau, where you’ll have a view of not only all of Lake Motosu, but also the Aokigahara-Jukai forest, the western tip of Lake Kawaguchi, and Mitsutoge, with the mountains of Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park rising behind. You’ll soon reach a junction on your right which is an alternative way back to the campground. You can take this path on the way down if running short on time. Continue climbing on the ridge for 5 more minutes until reaching the high point of the peak. They’ll be a weathered signpost as well as a couple of picnic tables. Take a break here and admire the million dollar views. If you’re lucky then you can see the Minami Alps and Yatsu-ga-take rising up beyond Lake Motosu. From the summit, head past the signpost towards the west and not back the way you came. The trail follows the bamboo grass a short distance before descending rather steeply through a beautiful forest. After a few minutes you’ll reach a clearing and the trail will veer off towards the right. You can see the mountain pass directly below you and if you look off in the brush to your left, you’ll see the remnants of the old trail with a lot of wooden steps. If the path is muddy then I recommend opting for the steps (but watch out for the bushes with thorns). Both paths meet at the bottom, so if you can’t find the steps then take the switchbacks. Once you reach the saddle, the path continues climbing directly in front of you, with Mt. Fuji on your left. After 10 minutes or so, you’ll see a small white signpost with the letters Hashita-touge (端足峠). Turn right here away from the ridge on what appears to be an old forest road. This trail will traverse along the edge an adjacent peak before descending down to Lake Motosu. The trail is easy to follow and is stunningly beautiful during autumn. It should take about an hour or so to reach the shore of the lake. You’ll reach a junction, but ignore the trail to the left and follow the sign that says Motosuko-kohan (本栖湖湖畔). After a few ups and downs, you’ll reach another junction, where you’ll have 2 options. You can either turn left here and descend to the paved forest road or stay on the more scenic (but more strenuous) trail in front of you. If you’ve got the energy, I recommend staying on the trail. It should take another hour or so to reach the campground where you started. At one point, you’ll reach a junction which has a sign for Ryuu-ga-take pointing directly in front of you and a set of stairs leading down to your left to the forest road. This is the place where you’ll want to drop down and take the road back to the bus stop where you started. All in all, it should take about 6 hours to complete this strenuous but incredibly scenic loop.
When to go: This hike can easily be done year round, but you might want to bring a pair of light crampons if hiking in the winter. If you want to watch the sunrise over the summit of Mt. Fuji, then go during the last week of December or the first week of January. You’ll need your own transport for the sunrise hike, however, as the first bus doesn’t arrive until 10:07am. Be warned that this is an extremely popular hike on New Year’s Day for the first sunrise.
Access: From Kawaguchiko (河口湖) station, take a bus bound for Shin-fuji (新富士) station and get off at Motosu-ko Iriguchi (本栖湖入り口). If coming from Osaka, it is faster to take the shinkansen to Shin-fuji station and catch the bus from there. The tourist information center at Kawaguchiko station has bilingual copies of all the bus timetables in the area. Click here for the bus schedule.
Live web cam: Click here
Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 550m）