In May, the Hakone Sulfur Pits (Owakudani) experienced some serious volcanic seismic activity and as a result that part was closed indefinitely. Buses are currently taking visitors around this area to Lake Ashi.
The consensus was to avoid Hakone, and for awhile it hurt the local economy. It is a big area and Owakudani is just a small part with enough to do and see to cover several days. The aggressive advertising has the tourist level almost back to normal.
Lucky for me I was able to visit Owakundai at the end of March, eat some black eggs freshly pulled from the pits, walk the nearby trails, and take the cable car to Lake Ashi. Enjoyed the boat ride across lake and hiked the trails at Motohakone.
There is so much more to Hakone than just Owakudani. It is a four season spot with several very nice temples and shrines, hot springs, wetlands, botanical garden, quality museums, very good hiking courses, and much more. The fall colors have started so we decided to hike Kintoki. I have visited the area on several occasions and each time the cloud cover prevented us from getting a clear view of Mt. Fuji.
Today there was an hour or so window of opportunity as the weather forecast called for a mostly cloudy day. We arrived early in the morning and began our hike at Sengoku.
From Yokohama it takes less than an hour to Odawara station; there you have the option of riding the Hakone train or a bus. We chose the bus and it was only 40 minutes to Sengoku for 1000 yen.
The Mt. Kintoki hike has two very good Mt. Fuji viewing areas, one at the top and the other at Otome Pass. The hike to the top takes about an hour and half and goes from moderate to hard, but is good exercise for the legs and heart. There were many excellent views for snapping photos along the trail. Mt. Kintoki is 1212 meters or around 3080 feet high.
At the summit we had our picture taken holding an axe. There is a fable about a boy "Kintaro" who was attacked by a wild bear and defended himself with an axe. I later looked it up online and there are many, many versions to this story. Still, we enjoyed the atmosphere with our fellow hikers.
From Mt. Kintoki to Otome Pass is an additional 30 minutes, mostly downhill. While walking along the ridge there are some views of Mt Fuji, and at Otome Pass you will find two stands you can climb up on to take that perfect photo.
As for the fall colors, there were a few areas that were bright with the Japanese maple leaves; however the full colors are still a couple weeks away.
There is a two-day transportation ticket (Hakone Free Pass) that if purchased at Odawara station is only 4000 yen and it includes the trains, buses, cable cars, boats, and ropeway. We have used it several times and it is worth every yen. Children's tickets are deeply discounted.
At the station is a tourist information center with many brochures in English. The beautiful castle not far from Odawara station is currently under restoration and will be reopened in the spring. Hakone town also has a full service information center with some representatives who speak excellent English.
Yes, Hakone is a popular tourist area and can sometimes feel like you are back in Tokyo during the rush hour. If you visit during the weekdays there will be less congestion and Hakone is one of the spots during your Japan trip that you do not want to miss.