Takedao Tunnel Hike (武田尾)
Officially known at Mukogawa Gorge (武庫川渓谷), this is a gentle, family-oriented afternoon stroll along the old, abandoned JR Fukuchiyama Line railway tracks. There are several dark, creepy tunnels to pass through, so a headlamp or flashlight is imperative.
The hike: When you exit the train at Namaze station, go out the ticket gate and head down the main road (with a Co-op Mini supermarket on your left) through the small tunnel that goes under a mountain. After the tunnel the road curves towards the right and meets a busy main road. You’ll see a bridge with a red railing directly in front of you. Do not cross the bridge. Instead, turn left, staying on the left shoulder of the really busy road on the narrow sidewalk. Follow this main road for about 20 minutes (past a Cosmo gas station), until you reach a large freeway overpass. Walk under the huge expressway and take your first right, turning down a paved road that has some curvy switchbacks. There are no signposts so it’s very easy to get lost, but make sure the road you take descends towards the river. At the end of the paved road turn left and follow the dirt road that will eventually turn into a proper hiking trail. Just as the trail starts, you’ll see a huge metal sign in Japanese with the kanji (告) telling you that this is not a hiking trail! Don’t worry, it’s just JR trying to inform you that it won’t take any responsibility if you injure yourself or get attacked by a zombie. In the summer the trail can be quite overgrown because the company that owns the land (JR railway) doesn’t do any trail maintenance. The path follows the left bank of the river most of the way, and if you look down you can still see the wooden railway ties in place, but the rails have been removed. Also, keep your eyes peeled on the left side of the path and you can see old railway signs from time to time. Anyway, you’ll soon come to a metal lookout point on your right. Climb the metal stairs and take in the scenery. From here the trail continues upstream for about 15 minutes until reaching the entrance for the first tunnel. This is a good warm-up of what to expect for most of the way, and if you let your eyes adjust to the dark, then a flashlight is not necessary in this first tunnel. After the first tunnel, the trail becomes a bit wild in the summer, with lots of overgrown foliage and the rhythmic pattern of half-buried wooden railroad ties. The river scenery on your right is nice, but to be honest would be a hundred times nicer if the river weren’t so polluted. There’s a factory upstream that is dumping some questionable waste into the river. Even if you could get down to the river bank, I would not swim there. Anyway, soon you’ll reach the second tunnel, which is one of the longest and scariest on the entire route. Due to the bend in the tunnel, a flashlight is absolutely necessary. If you suffer from claustrophobia then perhaps this is one hike to miss. If you’ve brought your kids then they’ll have a blast running through the tunnels playing hide and seek. Be careful of water dripping from the ceiling of the aging tunnels, as it can get muddy in places. After coming out of the the tunnel, you’ll soon pass through a really short tunnel that is only about 5 meters long. There are some railroad ties here placed as makeshift benches if you want to take your first break. Otherwise, just keep walking on the flat trail admiring the river scenery. The next tunnel will come in about 20 minutes or so, and ends at the base of a stunning railroad bridge that has been fenced off. It looks like the trail ends, but don’t worry, as you can cross the bridge on your left. If you want to re-enact the scene from Stand By Me then be my guest, though one slip will mean tumbling into the river far below. Immediately after crossing the bridge you’ll duck into another tunnel before popping out and following the right bank of the river (with the river on your left). Here the scenery resembles more of a walk in the park than a mountain stroll, and in the spring the cherry blossoms in view are a site to behold. You’ll soon reach your first signpost of the day, pointing towards Takedao (武田尾), which is still 1.6km away. After 5 minutes you’ll pass a lion carving on your right with a stone stairwell that leads to a forest filled with cherry blossoms. Feel free to explore it if you’ve got extra time. Otherwise, continue straight on through a short tunnel that is still completely made of brick. Just past the tunnel you’ll see a trail on your left that leads to a plaza and offers access to the river bank (again, don’t let your kids play in the filthy water). Soon after, you’ll pass through a final tunnel made of brick before reaching an area on the right with some large rocks that make a great place to take a break. Just after you’ll find some toilets on your left that will probably have a really long queue. Don’t worry, as there are more, less crowded toilets just 5 minutes away in the main town. Your next landmark will be a wooden bridge. Cross this and take the stairs on your left, and you’ll see a sign indicating 600 meters to Takedao station (武田尾). From here you’ll walk through the main street through the tiny town and will likely find hikers hanging out in the local shops drinking beer. Keep walking for about 15 minutes, and you’ll see Takedao station on your right. If you’re keen for a hot spring bath, then instead of going to the station, continue walking along the river for another 15 minutes or so, and you’ll find a couple of ryokan that offer baths. They aren’t cheap though. The nicest one costs 1800 yen just for a bath and is available from 11am to 5pm only. All in all is a 2 to 3 hour stroll depending on how many breaks you take.
When to go: This hike can easily be done year round. Make sure you bring a flashlight or headlamp, because two of the tunnels are impossible to traverse without one. If you’re there on a weekend you could rely on other groups, but during the week do not expect must other foot traffic. There is a very cool art event every September which uses some of the tunnels near Takedao station as a canvas for a giant art and music project. It’s highly recommended, and can be combined with a hike of the tunnels if you time it correctly. Search for Takedao Art Tunnel Event on Facebook and check out these photos from this year’s event.
Access: From Osaka station, take train on the JR Fukuchiyama Line bound for Shin-sanda (新三田) and get off at Namaze (生瀬) station. A local train takes about 40 minutes, so if you want to save time, then take a rapid (kaisoku) train to either Kawanishi-Ikeda (川西池田) or Takarazuka (宝塚) stations, and change to the local train there. The return train is just two stops further north from Namaze, so take a local train all the way back to Osaka or again change to a rapid at Takrazuka or Kawanishi-Ikeda if you’re pressed for time.
Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change 〜100m)
Distance: 5km ( 2 to 3 hours)