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I was 14 years old when my family and I took a trip to Japan—my first time out of the country. The highlight of those two weeks wasn’t my daily ice-cold bottle of fizzy C.C. Lemon. It was our hike up the highest and most prominent peak in the country: Mt. Fuji. It’s one of Japan’s three holy mountains and one of the most photographed mountains in the world. The year after my hike, UNESCO added Mt. Fuji to the World Heritage List as a Cultural Site because it “has long been the object of pilgrimages and inspired artists and poets.”
Hiking season on Fuji isn’t very long—early July to early September—because that’s the only time hikers don’t have to fight snow and ice on the sometimes-scrambly trail. On one humid August morning, my family and I took a highway bus to the Fuji Subaru Line Fifth Station (the start of the Yoshida Trail) with hundreds of other tourists and began our ascent around 10 a.m. We hiked all day until about 5 p.m. when we stopped for the night at a hut partway to the 12,388-foot summit, and we woke up around 2 a.m. just in time to be at the top of Fuji for goraiko, the Japanese word for a mountaintop sunrise.
It’s been over a decade, but I still have my boots from this hike. I’ve hiked thousands of miles since then, so I don’t wear them anymore, but they’re a memento to me. The toes are all gnarled up: Because Mt. Fuji is a volcano, after the treeline, most of the hike is uneven lava rock and gravel. My shoes weren’t the only thing that changed that trip. Hiking Mt. Fuji solidified my passion for steeps and peaks, something I carry with me to this day.
Wilderness this is not: Mt. Fuji is the most climbed mountain in the world, collecting hundreds of thousands of hikers each season. There are four major trails to the summit: Each has its own trailhead and different color signage.
Like many mountains in Japan, Mt. Fuji is divided into stations. The first is the base of the mountain, and the 10th is the summit. Although you could start from the bottom, most hikers start at the fifth station of whichever trail they pick
Yoshida Trail: 9 miles, 4,881 feet elevation gain
This is the most popular (and most crowded) trail on Mt. Fuji. More than half of Mt. Fuji’s hikers each year use this trail—that means 149,969 hikers scaled it in 2019. Follow yellow signs on this trail.
Trailhead: The Fuji Subaru Line Fifth Station is extremely lush. At 7,550 feet elevation, a little less than two-thirds up the volcano, there are restaurants and gift and gear shops to purchase essentials before or after your trek. These shops, which also exist at other trailheads, are the last place to get just-in-case gear at a reasonable price before they skyrocket higher up the mountain.
Terrain: The ascent and descent travel on different trails. Going up, you’ll take switchbacks on a relatively flat surface until the seventh station, where you’ll encounter more sizable lava rocks on and off the trail. Once you reach the eighth station on the ascent, the Yoshida Trail merges with the Subashiri Trail until the summit. Watch your footing on the downhill; it can be steep and unstable with loose rocks, especially if it’s raining. If it’s not raining, dust can easily get in your shoes, so some hikers recommend packing gaiters.
Sleep: There are plenty of mountain huts with bathrooms, snacks on sale, and places to sleep on the mountain. On the descent, there aren’t any available until you reach the trailhead.
Subashiri Trail: 7.8 miles, 5,744 feet elevation gain
With just over 20,000 hikers in 2019, this trail isn’t as nearly as popular as the famous Yoshida, but it absorbs the crowds of it when the two merge after the eighth station. Before then, follow the red signs to stay on-trail.
Trailhead: At 6,560 feet in elevation, this trail’s fifth station starting point is just a little over halfway up the mountain. This station is not as developed as some others on the mountain: There’s only a parking lot, bathroom, and two small shops and restaurants. There aren’t any coin lockers available, either.
Terrain: At the start, you’re still under the treeline, so you’ll hiking through a forest until you reach the seventh station, eventually join trails with the Yoshida Trail, and start scaling large lava rocks. The descent is similar to the Yoshida Trail’s: steep and slidey.
Sleep: There aren’t any mountain huts available on the descent below the eighth station, but on your way down, you can still access those that were on the ascending trail.
Gotemba Trail: 13.1 miles, 7,769 feet elevation gain
In 2019, only 12,230 hikers followed the green signs up the Gotemba Trail, the longest and least popular on the mountain.
Trailhead: Take the bus from Gotemba Station to the trailhead, which, at 4,750 feet, is about 40 percent the way up the mountain. This is the least-developed trailhead on Fuji: There’s only a small shop, a bus stop, toilets and a couple parking spots.
Terrain: Because the fifth station trailhead is the lowest in elevation on the mountain, the hike to the summit is the longest. Here, you’ll move through long, exposed slopes of volcanic gravel and fields of lava rock until the eighth station. Enjoy the pockets of foliage and ambient insect sounds as you hike. Known as the osunabashiri (“great sand run”), the descent trail is a quick route to the trailhead because you could literally run (or slide down) some of it if you’d like. The wide, straight path is covered in lava gravel, so you can extend your stride without worrying about tripping on a rogue root. Some call it monotonous; some call it efficient. You decide.
Sleep: There aren’t many places where you can get shut-eye on this trail. There are only a few mountain huts on this trail, and none between Oishi-Chaya (near the fifth station) and the seventh station.
Fujinomiya Trail: 4.7 miles, 4,324 feet elevation gain
Because it’s a quick burn and easy to access, this is the second most popular route to the summit.
Trailhead: The Fujinomiya fifth station is the second most developed of the four major trailheads going to the top of Fuji. It offers lots of parking, a shop to get last-minute gear or souvenirs, a restaurant, and bathrooms. Hikers start the trail at 7,870 feet elevation; it’s the highest trailhead up the mountain, which means the hike is the shortest.
Terrain: Generally, the Fujinomiya Trail is very rocky and steep. It’s the only out-and-back route, meaning the ascent trail is the same as the descent, sometimes making trails congested during hiking season. There were 53,232 hikers on this trail in 2019. Note that the west-facing trail does not offer views of the sunrise before reaching the summit.
Sleep: There are about half a dozen mountain huts along the way, one at every station leading to the summit (and back toward the trailhead, because it’s an out-and-back trail).
There are lots of ways to get to the trailhead. Be sure to check for seasonality before booking—some routes and methods are only open during hiking season.
Located in the foothills of Mt. Fuji, the Kawaguchiko Station is a fast, cheap way to get to the Yoshida Trail’s Fuji-Subaru Line Fifth Station. A one-way trip takes 50 minutes and costs 1,780 yen ($12.75) or 2,800 yen round-trip ($20). During hiking season, there are hourly bus trips each way on the mountain, and in the off-season, there are four buses per day. There are no seat reservations.
Start at Shinjuku Station’s bus and taxi terminal (Busta Shinjuku) and take the bus directly to Fuji Subaru Line Fifth Station. There are two trips to and from the fifth station daily during the off-season and hourly buses in-season. A one-way trip takes about 2.5 hours and costs 3,800 yen ($27.20). Seat reservations are required.
Subashiri and Gotemba
These trail’s fifth stations are the easiest to access from Tokyo’s public transportation.
You’ll get to take the Japan Rail the entire 2-hour journey from Tokyo to Gotemba. The JR Tokaido Line goes from Tokyo to Kozu is a 75-minute journey and there are plenty of departures each day to accommodate all schedules. From there, change to the JR Gotemba Line to Gotemba Station, which is another 50-minute journey that usually has one or two departures each day. The whole journey from Tokyo to Gotemba Station will only cost 1,980 yen ($14.20).
The Gotemba bus station offers rides to the Gotemba fifth station and Subashiri fifth station trailheads.
Before the pandemic, there were buses daily during hiking season between Gotemba Station and the Subashiri fifth station and on weekends and holidays during the off-season. In 2023’s off-season during the first six months of the year, there were no buses running, and the in-season 2023 bus schedule has not been announced yet.
When they do run, the bus ride to the Subashiri Trail lasts an hour and costs 1,570 yen ($11.25) one-way and 2,100 round-trip ($15.05). The one-way bus ride to the Gotemba Trail is 40 minutes and costs 1,130 yen ($8.10) and 1,570 yen ($11.25) round-trip. Both fares are likely to rise this year, though.
This trail’s fifth station is the most accessible via public transportation from western Japan. Direct buses can take you there after riding the Japan Rail Tokaido Shinkansen to the Shin-Fuji or Mishima stations.
To Shin-Fuji Station
The direct one-way trip to the Fujinomiya fifth station is 2.5 hours long and costs 2,740 yen ($19.60) and 3,700 ($26.50) round-trip.
By bus from Mishima Station
The direct one-way trip takes two hours and costs 2,500 yen ($17.90) and 3,400 ($24.35) round-trip. This bus only runs during hiking season.
Want a chance to watch the sunrise from the top of Japan’s most famous peak? You’ll need a place to spend the night. Each route offers huts up the mountain, which can hold between 70 and 350 other hikers. You’ll also be well-fed in these huts. You’ll get bento box meals: for dinner, usually a small amount of curry rice, and for breakfast, rice, meat, and pickled vegetables meant to eat on the go.
The average price to stay in these huts is between 5,500 yen and 8,000 yen ($40 to $57) per hiker each night. Some mountain huts don’t accept hikers who arrive late at night. Plan accordingly when booking your accommodations and creating your trip itinerary.
Bring cash with you: The huts only accept cash for snack and drink purchases. Also, there are both public toilets and hut toilets available up the mountain. These are all ecological toilets that use oyster shells, sawdust, and more to collect human waste. There’s a small fee to use the facilities on the trails, so be sure to bring some coins for that too.
Tips For Hikers
- The weather can change quickly: One hour, you’ll be hiking in sunshine, the next, rain. Gear that will keep you warm and dry in wind and rain is essential. June, July, and August are rainy months for Japan, so pack accordingly. Don’t be fooled by the humid, hot temperatures you feel at sea level—at the summit, temperatures dip to a little above the freezing point.
- The summit is at 12,388 feet, putting some hikers at risk for altitude sickness. If you start feeling symptoms, you can purchase cans of oxygen at the mountain huts at different stations.
- As a large composite volcano made of basalt, Mt. Fuji is a rare wonder in the world. It’s a composite (cone-shaped) volcano because of its layers and layers of hardened lava, lapilli, and ash from repeated eruptions. Basalt is an unusual volcanic byproduct in Japan, where many large volcanoes produce andesite.