Mt. Saihō (西方ヶ岳)
Mt. Saiho is a majestic mountain located on the western shores of Tsuruga Bay in western Fukui Prefecture. The natural forests and panoramic views make for an outstanding day hike for those based in Hokuriku. Just make sure you go before the nuclear power plants are restarted.
The hike: From the bus stop, turn left and walk back along the main road (with the sea on your left). You’ll see a large shrine in the forest on your right. Just before this shrine, you’ll see a road on your right that heads into the village and up into the hills. Turn right on this road and you will immediately see a signpost that reads 西方ヶ岳登山口 (Saihō-ga-take tozanguchi). If you’ve driven to the trailhead then you can park at the shrine (just in front of the toilet), and continue past the shrine and take your first left. Anyway, continue walking on that road through the quaint village towards the hills. After passing a cemetery and a couple of rice fields, the road dead ends and you’ll see a concrete path towards the right that heads into the forest. Take this trail and follow it all the way to the top. It’s a pretty easy trail to follow and pretty much impossible to get lost. Your first landmark will be a rock formation with a signpost that reads Oku-no-in tenbōsho (奥の院展望所), which can be reached in about 20 minutes. The views down into the village from here are lovely, so take in the vistas and rest up, because you’ve still got a lot of climbing before reaching the summit. After a break, continue on the trail and you’ll soon see a spur trail on your right marked from Oku-no-in (奥の院). You can ignore this and just continue the climb. The shrine itself is situated on the underside of a steep cliff, but it isn’t much to look at honestly. The grotto is fenced off so you can’t enter it, and it’s a treacherous descent to get there. If you’re curious, you can always explore it on the descent. The trail continues to meander through the forest, gaining steady elevation as it makes its way towards the ridge line. Your next landmark is a water source marked Ginmeisui (銀命水). The water trickles out of an underground spring inside of a small cave. The water is dubious to say the least, so I’d bring a filter if you plan on drinking from it. Just under the signpost you’ll notice a sign that says 西方ヶ岳1.8km. You’re pretty much at the halfway point in the climb, so hang in there because the best is about to come. The angle steepens abruptly past the water source, with steps built in place to aid in the ascent. A bit further up (400 horizontal meters from the water source to be exact), you’ll reach a rock formation called オーム岩 (also オウム岩) which makes a great place for a lunch break. Again, the views from here are stellar, and if the weather is clear then you can see north towards Mt. Nosaka. The angle will start to ease a bit as you enter the beech forests near the ridge. The woods here are home to a surprising variety of wildlife, surprising indeed when you consider you’re only 10km from a nuclear power plant. Keep your eyes out for woodpeckers, hares, wild boar, and perhaps a black bear if you’re lucky. The forest continues to impress the higher you climb, and eventually you’ll pop out directly on the summit of the mountain, which is marked by a wooden signpost and small emergency hut. It will take about 2 to 3 hours from the bus stop to the top, depending on your speed and the number of breaks. Regrettably, there is no view from the top but don’t fear: just to the right of the summit signpost you’ll find a trail that continues to the north. Follow it for about 30 seconds and you’ll see a rock formation on your right which affords mind-boggling panoramic views. On a clear day you can see the Kita Alps and Hakusan floating on the horizon. In May the entire horizon will glow white with the brilliant line of snow-capped peaks as far as the eye can see. If you follow the coast line to your left, you’ll see a stunning aquamarine cove jutting out from the forest – that is where the nuclear power plant is located. If you’ve got time, then you can continue along this ridge towards the plant. The trail drops to a saddle followed by a long gentle climb to the summit of Mt. Sazae (蠑螺ヶ岳), which you can see on the far side on the mountain range. It’ll take about an hour to reach the summit, where you can descend to the main road (just inches from the nuclear power plant) and Urasoko (浦底) bus stop. If you’re short on time (like I was), then just retrace your steps back to the shrine and Jōgū bus stop.
When to go: This hike can be done from April to late November when the peak is free from snow. A winter hike is also possible, but you’ll need snowshoes and a GPS to help you navigate through the thick forest. The mountain is also uncomfortably close to Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant, so you should definitely do this hike before the nuclear reactors are restarted.
Access: From Tsuruga (敦賀) station, take a bus bound for Tateishi (立石) and get off at Jōgū (常宮) bus stop. The journey takes about 25 minutes and there are only 3 buses a day. Click here for the bus schedule.
Map: Click here
Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change 764 meters)
Total round-trip distance: 7km (4 to 5 hours)