In the heart of Hokkaido lies Daisetsuzan National Park. Featuring rugged mountains and true wilderness, Japan’s largest national park is home to active volcanoes, natural hot springs and a significant population of brown bears. It is a hiker’s paradise, with beautiful tours ranging from a few hours to multiple days.
One of the most popular one-day hikes links the hot springs towns of Asahidake Onsen and Sounkyo Onsen, passing Mount Asahidake on the way. At 2291 meters, the volcano is Hokkaido’s highest peak.
From Asahidake Onsen, hikers can choose to climb up the mountain or take Asahidake Ropeway (¥1800 one way, as of summer 2016) to save some time and strength for the continuing hike to Sounkyo Onsen. Arriving at the ropeway’s upper Sugatami Station at 1600m, the main hike starts with a pleasant walk to Sugatami Pond, from where hikers can enjoy the spectacle of Mount Asahidake’s volcanic vents. Leaving behind the pond and impressive panorama, the following 2.5 hours are a challenging hike straight up the volcano over loose gravel, posing a real danger for anyone without proper hiking boots. Even in summer, wind and rain can cause temperatures to drop significantly on and around Asahidake. Bringing a rain jacket and warm clothing is highly advised.
After enjoying the views from Asahidake’s summit, the descent on the other side is steep and slippery. Even in mid August, there was still a huge snow bank left to cross. Here, hiking sticks come in handy. Passing a small campsite, the trail heads up Mount Mamiyadake on the rim of vast Ohachidaira Caldera. Circling around the caldera on the rim, the magnificent peaks of Daisetsuzan National Park rise around us while we continue with pleasantly little change in elevation. This area is known as “Kamui Mintara”, or the “Playground of the Gods”, and it is easy to see why. Make sure to ring your bear bell every so often, as you might not meet other hikers for longer periods of time.
Leaving behind Nakadake, another peak on the caldera’s rim, our destination is Mount Kurodake (1984 m). Descending from Kurodake’s peak via switchbacks, we reach the chair lift at the 7th station (¥400 one way, summer 2016). Changing to Kurodake Ropeway (¥1100 one way, as of summer 2016) at the mountain’s 5th station, we reach Sounkyo Onsen after about 7 hours of hiking. Times will depend on your experience (using both ropeways, not counting any breaks or ropeway time, etc).
Asahidake Onsen is accessible by public transportation from Asahikawa, with buses running three times a day directly to and from Asahikawa Station (¥1430 one way, as of summer 2016). From Sounkyo Onsen, seven buses a day take hikers back to Asahikawa (¥2100 yen one way, summer 2016).
To avoid carrying more than a day pack, sending your luggage ahead via Takkyubin is a very convenient practice for all one-way hikes.