Mt. Yōrō (養老山)
While best known for its iconic waterfall at the base of the mountain, Mt. Yōrō is a pleasant day hike affording wonderful panoramic views and offering a quick escape from the chaos of nearby Nagoya.
The hike: If you want to save some time, consider taking a taxi to the start of the hike. Otherwise, go out the ticket gate of the train station and out to the street running in front of the station. Turn left and then immediately right, following the road as it heads towards the mountains. You’ll soon pass by a post office on your right. Keep going straight and cross the main street, where you’ll see a sign that says 養老ランド. Continue on straight and you’ll enter Yōrō park. Go through the park (past Yōrō land) and you’ll soon see a parking lot on your left. Cross the bridge over the river and immediately turn left, following the path that parallels the river. You’ll follow this river all the way up to Yōrō waterfall, which should take about an hour to reach. The path will pass through a row of souvenir stalls before crossing the river and following a rather boring concrete path all the way to the waterfall. The falls themselves are very impressive and this is considered a ‘power spot’ (hence the insane crowds during the weekends). Just beyond the waterfall the broad path turns to the right and climbs up to a small shrine. Climb the steps to your left at the shrine and at the top you’ll reach a parking lot and the top of the chairlift. (There’s a chairlift you can take from the parking lot to here, but not worth it considering it’s barely a hundred meter vertical elevation change). Anyway, walk to the end of the parking lot and you’ll see a parking attendant there. He’s in charge of registering hikers, so tell him you are climbing Mt. Yōrō and he’ll write down your climbing details. Continue walking on the road as it leaves the parking lot and soon you’ll meet another forest road on your left with a sign that says 登山道入口. Turn left here and walk up the road a short distance where you’ll come to a signposted junction. Turn left and follow the hand-painted sign pointing towards 三方山. The forest road is closed off a bit further on, but there’s a sign that says you should turn left again. Drop down to the small creek and cross over to the other side. The trail immediately starts climbing through a wonderful deciduous forest with a fair number of switchbacks to make things easier. It’s a relentless, sweat-inducing climb for the better part of a hour, where you’ll finally reach the ridge line. There’s a junction here, with a trail pointing off to the left to the summit of Mikata (三方山). Turn left here for the short climb to the top, where you’ll have outstanding views out towards Ontake and the Chuo Alps if the weather is nice. You can also see Nagoya city and the flatlands of Mie spreading out before you. After soaking up the views, retrace your steps to the junction and continue along the ridge towards Sasahara-tōge (笹原峠). It’ll take about 10 minutes to reach the pass, where you’ll find another junction. Turn left here at the sign pointing towards Mt. Kogura (小倉山頂). The views will open up as you navigate a series of wooden steps built into the hills. The scenery is reminiscent of the Suzuka mountains a bit further to the west. You’ll reach the crest of a hill, where a small sign points to the left for Mt. Yōrō (養老山). If you turn right here and walk a short distance, you’ll reach a large open area with a gazebo and several picnic benches. This makes an excellent place for a lunch break. After admiring the views, you can retrace your steps to that junction and head to the high point of Mt. Yōrō if you like but be warned: there is absolutely no view to speak of. It’ll take about 10 minutes to reach the summit: you have to cross a forest road between here and the summit where you can see some susuki grass in the autumn. From here, you can simply retrace your steps all the way to the waterfall. If you’ve got extra time or want more of a challenge, then you can make this hike much longer by climbing Mt. Shō (笙ヶ岳). To do this, retrace your steps to Sasahara-tōge (笹原峠) and instead of turning right to head back to the waterfall, continue straight on towards the old dairy pasture (旧牧場). You’ll climb a bit through the forest before reaching Asebi-tōge (アセビ峠). Turn left here for the steep climb to the summit of Shō-ga-take. Supposedly the views are supposed to be really good but I must confess that I didn’t go to the top myself. Retrace your steps back to Asebi-tōge and from there you can simply follow the long forest road back to the start of the hike. If you’ve got extra time, then consider visiting The Site of Reversible Destiny, a park blending modern art and nature.
When to go: This hike can be done year round, but you need to watch out for snow and ice during the winter months. Bring a pair of 4-point crampons just to play it safe. Winter does bring clear air which means your chances of seeing the Japan Alps are much greater than in other seasons. Fall brings wonderful foliage but also immense crowds who flock to the waterfall.
Access: From Nagoya station, take a train on the JR Tokai line towards Maibara and Ogaki, and get off at Ogaki (大垣) station. From there, change to the Yoro tetsudo (railway) bound for Kuwana and get off at Yoro (養老) station. It should take a little over an hour if you research the train timetable and time your connections properly.
Live web cam: Click here
Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~800 meters)
Total round-trip distance: 12km (4 to 6 hours)