Mt. Yufu (由布岳)
Mt. Yufu is a massive volcano towering over the idyllic hot spring town of Yufuin. The views from the summit are impressive on the rare day when the cloud isn’t in.
The hike: After exiting the bus, turn left and walk along the road a few meters, and you’ll see the entrance to the trail on your right. The first part is a vast meadow with views of Mt. Yufu towering above. There are several trails in this area. Take whichever you like, but make sure you head towards the forest under Mt. Yufu and not up the bald conical peak to your left. You should reach the edge of the forest in about 10 minutes or so. There’s a trail branching off to the right, but ignore this trail and head straight ahead. The woods are quite beautiful and surprisingly quiet, and the path meanders a bit before shooting off towards the left and up to the ridge line. At the junction, you’ll find a couple of places to sit down. This junction is marked on the maps as 合野越, but I don’t recall any signposts indicating this name. Take a breather because the real climb is about to begin. Take the trail to the right, where you’ll soon start the first of many switchbacks. How many, you ask? Well, I basically stopped counting after 40! The route is well-trodden and impossible to get lost as long as you follow the switchbacks. The views will gradually start to open up as you climb higher above the valley. In no time you’ll have a view directly down into the grassy crater of Mt. Iimorigajou, with the town of Yufuin beyond that. As you reach the saddle below the peak, the switchbacks become shorter and steeper, with the last few meters up a series of large steps built to keep erosion at bay. Once at the junction, you have two options. You can either turn right and climb to the summit of Higashi-mine (東峰) or turn left for the treacherous ascent of Nishi-mine (西峰), the higher of the two. If you have any fear or heights or no confidence using metal chains, then I recommend opting for the safety of Higashi-mine. Otherwise, turn left at the junction. Immediately after climbing, you’ll reach your first set of chains. If the cloud is in, then it could easily be mistaken for one of the trickier sections of the Japan Alps. There’s a fair amount of up-and-down between here and the summit, so follow the paint marks, chains, and crowds if there are any. After around 15 minutes you’ll reach the summit of Nishi-mine, where the views are supposedly spectacular. I spent the entire climb in the clouds, so hopefully you’ll be luckier that I was. If you’ve got time, then you can actually do an entire loop of the crater, taking in Higashi-mine before descending back down to the saddle. Just continue on the path you haven’t taken from the summit. The maps recommend one hour for the loop, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it if visibility is poor. If you’re short on time, then simply retrace your steps back through the danger zone of the chains and back down to the saddle. Descend down the same switchbacks you used to climb the mountain, and amuse yourself by trying to determine the precise number of switchbacks. Once you’re back at the junction of 合野越, instead of turning left to head back to the parking lot where you started, take the faint, overgrown straight ahead that leads towards Iimorigajou (飯盛ヶ城). Follow the path for about 50 meters before reaching a rather large clearing. This is actually an old forest road, and you’ll see an unmarked and incredibly steep trail directly in front of you that leads to the summit of Iimorigajou. It only takes about 5 minutes to reach the summit, and the views are totally worth it. With all of the lush greenery, it’s a splendid place to take a break and admire both the view of Yufuin and of the towering volcano you just finished climbing. After admiring the views, retrace your steps back to the forest road and turn left. After a few minutes of descending, you’ll see a white sign that says 湯布院町に至る、西登山道、岳本. The trail branches off towards the left and, honestly speaking, is a bit difficult to follow. Scattered throughout the grasslands are red signs reading 西登山道 and the grass is greatly overgrown. If you’re not up for the adventure, then never fear, because if you stay on the forest road then it’ll lead you to the junction. Whichever route you decide to take, once the trail intersects the forest road again, you’ll see a path heading into a cedar forest with a signpost marked for Takemoto (岳本). Follow the path through the forest and watch out for spider webs. Eventually, the path will end behind a series of greenhouses. Turn right when you hit the paved road and then a left at the first junction and you’ll descend to a larger road with a Lawson convenience store. Walk over to the Lawson and take the road next to it that descends towards the town of Yufuin. Take your first left and you’ll arrive at a small lake and the wonderful thatched-roof bath of 下ん湯. Drop 200 yen in the honesty box and enjoy the angelic hot-spring waters. After a soak, you can walk through the touristy town back to the station in about 25 minutes.
When to go: This hike can be done year round if you bring crampons and an ice axe in the winter. The final climb to Nishi-dake should not be attempted in icy conditions. November is the best time to see the autumn colors.
Access: From Yufuin bus center, there are regular buses to Beppu that stop at Yufuin Tozanguchi (由布岳登山口). The bus takes about 15 minutes and costs 360 yen. Yufuin bus center is about 20 meters east of JR Yufuin (由布院) station. Go out the main exit and walk down the main street running perpendicular to the station. The bus center is on your left. Click here for the bus schedule.
Map: Click here
Live web cam: Click here and select ライブカメラ
Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 813m).