If you are heading to Oirase Gorge and Lake Towada, instead of taking a bus to the starting point of the gorge, we recommend you stop by a couple of the attractions in the Hakkōda Mountains (八甲田山). You will find some of the most breathtaking scenery as you trek through the mountain trails that connect you to ponds and lookouts.
So What are Hakkōda Mountains?
Hakkōda is not one single mountain. Considered one of the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains, Hakkōda is a collective name for a total of 16 peaks divided into the North Hakkōda area of 10 mountains and the South Hakkōda area containing the remaining 6.
The highest peak of the Hakkōda Mountains is Mt. Ōtake (大岳). It has an altitude of 1,585 meters and is a popular hiking destination.
While the Northern Hakkōda Mountains have several tourist attractions such as onsen ryokans and scenic ponds, most of the Southern Hakkōda Mountains haven’t been developed for tourism purposes, making the area difficult to enter. This is why whenever you hear people talk about Hakkōda Mountains, they are generally referring to the Northern Hakkōda Mountains.
Similarly to Aomori Prefecture‘s highest peak – Mt. Iwaki (岩木山), the current volcanic activity in Hakkōda Mountains is mild. In the winter months, the area receives heavy snowfall making it popular with skiers and snowboarders.
Also, in January and February, the trees around the Hakkōda Ropeway will be covered by rime (樹氷). The phenomenon is commonly referred to as “snow monsters” in Japan and is one of the main reasons people head to the Hakkōda Mountains in winter.
The Attractions in Hakkōda Mountains Leading to Oirase Gorge
- Hakkōda Ropeway (八甲田ロープウェー)
- Hiking in Hakkōda Mountains
- Tashirotai Marsh (田代平湿原)
- Gudari-numa Pond (グダリ沼)
- Hakkōda Onsen (八甲田温泉)
- Kayano Chaya (萱野茶屋)
The Best Time to Visit Hakkōda Mountains
Depending on where your interests lie, you will want to visit Hakkōda Mountains during the below time of the year.
- Fresh green season: mid-May to June
- Flowering season: mid-June to early August
- Autumn foliage: October
- Early October:
- The summit of the Hakkōda Mountains
- Jogakura Onsen (城ヶ倉温泉)
- Motoyu Sarukura Onsen (元湯 猿倉温泉)
- The middle of Hakkōda Mountains
- Sukayu Onsen (酸ケ湯温泉)
- Yachi Onsen (谷地温泉)
- Tashirotai Marsh (田代平湿原)
- Late October
- The foot of Hakkōda Mountains
- Tsuta Onsen (蔦温泉)
- Early October:
- Ski season: early December to mid-May
- Usually, Hakkōda Mountains receive the first snow in mid-October (at the summit, that is). The snow season can last all the way to mid-May
- Trekking and Hiking: June to early November
- Please note that close to the summit, the mountain trail might still be covered with snow, making it difficult to find your directions
Getting to the Attractions in Mt. Hakkōda by JR Bus
The JR Bus Mizuumi-Gō (みずうみ号) is departing from the JR Aomori Station (青森駅) and JR Shin-Aomori Station (新青森駅) from spring to autumn. From JR Hachinohe Station(八戸駅), take JR Bus Oirase-Gō (おいらせ号).
Between spring and autumn, there are a couple of services available each day. Please find the timetable HERE.
From JR Aomori Station (青森駅)
The JR bus bound for Oirase Gorge has its bus stop at the station’s east exit’s bus stop no. 11.
Please refer to the map on the right-hand side when you get there (‘ω’)ノ.
From JR Shin-Aomori Station (新青森駅)
The JR bus bound for Oirase Gorge has its bus stop at the station’s east exit’s bus stop no. 1.
Please refer to the map on the right-hand side when you get there (‘ω’)ノ.
From JR Hachinohe Station (八戸駅)
The JR bus bound for Oirase Gorge has its bus stop at the station’s west exit’s bus stop no. 1.
Please refer to the map on the right-hand side when you get there (‘ω’)ノ.
JR Bus’s Bus Fare to Mt. Hakkōda
Please refer to the official website HERE and translate it to English by using Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar. The bus fare is listed on the third tab.
Tip: Get the 5 DaysJR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) to save on transportation!
Discounted 2-Days Ticket
From spring to autumn, the Aomori, Hachinohe, Lake Towada Free ticket (青森･八戸･十和田湖フリーきっぷ) is on sale. The ticket is valid for two days that gives you unlimited rides on Mizuumi-Gō (みずうみ号) and Oirase-Gō (おいらせ号).
You can purchase the ticket for 5,000 yen from JR Aomori Station’s Bus Tickets Office, the shop – NewDays outside of JR Hachinohe Station’s ticket gate, and Lake Towada Station at Yasumiya.
Hakkōda Ropeway (八甲田ロープウェー)
Ropeways are not cheap to build. So if a ropeway is built at a location, the scenery from the ropeway is bound to be amazing. Not only is the Hakkōda Ropeway known for its great view, but they are also known for its skiing and snowboarding courses from the Summit Station (山麓・山頂駅).
For Ropeway’s business hours, timetable and fares, please refer to their official website HERE.
After you reach the top of the mountain, before going back down to continue your trip to Oirase Gorge, there are a few trekking courses that you can always stroll around to explore the area more closely (*’▽’).
Please refer to THIS LINK for the official trek/hike courses map!
If you want to know more about the Hakkōda area and what to expect when you visit Hakkōda Ropeway each season, please refer to their brochure HERE!
The snow season at Hakkōda usually commences from the end of November through to mid-May. There are several courses with various levels of difficulty that you can take.
Apart from the rime on trees in Hakkōda, you will also be enjoying the scenery of Tsugaru (津軽), Shimokita Peninsulas (下北両半島), and even Hokkaidō (北海道) as you ski or snowboard (but still pay close attention to what is in front of you. We really don’t want your Japan trip to end up with you in the hospital).
Tip: if you are interested in the snow monsters (trees that are glazed with snow and ice, morphing them into strange monster-looking figures – like those that are shown in the photo) in Mt. Hakkōda, visit the Hakkōda Ropeway in January or February (^_-)-☆.
Please click HERE for more information about the ski/snowboard courses at Hakkōda.
Ski/Snowboard Equipment Rental
Important: If you are heading to Hakkoda for activities other than boarding the ropeway, please read through the rules HERE for your own sake!
The Fall Foliage and Snow Season at Hakkōda Ropeway
The autumn foliage season around Hakkōda usually occurs around mid-October, but if you want to see the autumn foliage at the top of the mountains, you will want to aim for early-Oct instead.
From late October, the snow season begins (albeit as the earth gets warmer, we might not get the first snow until somewhere in November…).
How to Get to Hakkōda Ropeway
- From Aomori (approx. 60 mins travel time): Take JR Bus Mizuumi-Gō (みずうみ号) from either JR Aomori Station’s bus stop #11 or the bus stop #1 located at JR Shin-Aomori’s east exit.
- From Sukayu Onsen (酸ケ湯温泉) (approx. 15 mins travel time): Take JR Bus Mizuumi-Gō (みずうみ号)
- From Lake Towada (only available between mid-Apr to mid-Nov) (approx. 125 mins travel time): Take JR Bus Mizuumi-Gō (みずうみ号) from JR Tohoku Bus Nenokuchi Station (ジェイアールバス東北 子ノ口駅)
Once you get on the bus, please keep track of your destination stop as you will need to get off at Hakkōoda Ropeway (ロープウェー駅前) (‘ω’)ノ.
☛ If you have luggage or bags that you don’t want to take with you as you trek around the Summit Station (山麓・山頂駅窓口), you can check in your belongings at the Summit Station for 200 yen per bag.
☛ If you are holding a JR pass covering the Aomori prefecture, it is free for you to board any JR bus in the region!
☛ In wintertime, the JR Bus Mizuumi-Gō terminates at Sukayu Onsen. If you are planning a day trip from Aomori to Hakkōda Ropeway, Jokagura Onsen (城ヶ倉温泉) or Sukayu Onsen, you can utilize the Hakkōda 1-Day Free Ticket (八甲田1Dayフリーきっぷ). The 2,500 yen ticket (1,260 yen for children) can be purchased from Aomori’s main JR stations’s Midori no Madoguchi (みどりの窓口), reserved ticket vending machines, or travel agents such as Eki Tabi Concierge (駅たびコンシェルジュ). The tickets will also get you discounts at the ropeway as well as Sukayu Onsen and Jokagura Onsen!
Hiking in Hakkōda Mountains
Once you reach the Summit Park Station of Hakkōda Ropeway, there are a couple of trekking/hiking courses you can choose from.
- Hakkōda Gourd Line (八甲田ゴードライン)
- Kenashi Paradise Line (毛無パラダイスライン)
- Ōtake Hiking Course (大岳登山コース)
Tip: Head back to Hakkōda Ropeway just before sunset for the Sunset Ropeway Event (夕焼けロープウェイ). The operating hours of the ropeway extended for two hours for nine days in mid-August so customers could enjoy the stunning sunset view from Hakkōda Mountains!
Hakkōda Gourd Line (八甲田ゴードライン)
This is the easiest and shortest trekking course around the ropeway. Because the shape of the entire course looks like a gourd, the course is named Hakkōda Gourd Line. The course is basically going around the Tamoyachi Marsh at the top of Mt. Tamoyachi (田茂萢岳).
From June to early September, you will be accompanied by various precious alpine plants blooming along the trail. As the temperature starts to drop from late September, the plants will turn golden and then brown making another amazing scene.
Don’t have time? You can choose to only trek through the upper part of the gourd, which will only take 30 minutes.
For the course’s map, please refer HERE.
Remember we talked about the rime on trees before? If you are taking this course in the mid-winter, this is where you find Hakkōda’s rime on trees. The Abies mariesii trees (a type of fir) that grows beside the trekking course will be covered by snow, forming a protective layer from the cold weather.
Kenashi Paradise Line (毛無パラダイスライン)
For those who love hiking, you can take the Kenashi Paradise Line, traveling beyond Hakkōda Gourd Line. The course will take you through Kenashitai (毛無岱), which is divided into the Kami-kenashi Marsh (上毛無) and Shimo-kenashi Marsh (下毛無). The course can end at either Jogakura Onsen (城ヶ倉温泉) or Sukayu Onsen (酸ケ湯温泉). These are two of the most popular destinations in Hakkōda. Either way, the course will take around 2.5 hours.
The course is particularly popular during the autumn foliage season from late September to early October because the color around the borderline between Kami-kenashi Marsh and Shimo-kenashi Marsh is scintillating!
As this is a typical mountain trail, please come with at least sneakers (hiking shoes will be even better).
For the course’s map, please click HERE and follow the white dotted lines from Sancho Koen Station. At the intersection after Hakkōda Gourd Line, please take the route shown on the left side of the map (note when you actually get there, you will be turning right).
If it is confusing, please refer to the second map with the trail highlighted in yellow on their Japanese website HERE.
Tip: As there are quite a few muddy areas, especially after the rain, if you have boots, wear them.
Ōtake Hiking Course (大岳登山コース)
If you have a bit more experience in hiking and want to hike your way up to the highest peak of the Hakkōda Mountains, then take the Ōtake Hiking Course from the ropeway station.
The trail is the hiking trail that best represents the Hakkōda Mountain Range. It will take 4 hours, ending at Sukayu Onsen (酸ケ湯温泉).
At the top of Mt. Ōtake, you get to enjoy the panorama view of the Hakkōda Mountain Range, which can’t be seen elsewhere!
Important: Due to temperature differences, if you are planning to head up from mid-October, the summit might be covered by snow already. Please come prepared for your safety.
For the course’s map, please refer HERE. Please follow the white dotted lines from Sancho Koen Station. At the intersection after Hakkōda Gourd Line, please take the route on the right as shown on the map (note when you actually get there, you will be turning left).
If it is confusing, please refer to the third map with the trail highlighted in yellow on their Japanese website HERE.
Instead of starting from Hakkōda Ropeway, you can hike from Sukayu Onsen (酸ケ湯温泉). The loop course will take around 4.5 – 5 hours. For the English map above, it is mapped by the white dotted line that goes through Sennintai Cabin then Mt. Odake, then to the Kenashitai area, and ends at Sukayu Onsen.
Important: One thing to note if you are starting from Sukayu Onsen, the trail consisting of stairs near the ryokan is often muddy because there are poorly drained roads in the forest.
Tashirotai Marsh (田代平湿原)
Reading this article, you might have noticed already that Hakkōda Mountains are a trove of plants grown in marshes. Although it is harder to access by public transport, one of the most recommended marshes to visit is Tashirotai Marsh, east of the mountain range.
The marsh is the biggest in Hakkōda Mountains where many alpine plants bloom during the warmer seasons. The area has a superb outlook where you can see the dynamic scenery with one simple glance.
Tashirotai is really the hidden gem of the Hakkōda Mountains. When other attractions such as Jōgakura Bridge and Tsuta-numa Pond are filled with tourists, head to Tashirotai for a potentially private breathtaking scenery session!
The marsh was originally a caldera lake on the Tashirotai plateau, created by volcanic activity around 2 million years ago. As the water of the lake flew/dried out, the lake became the marsh we see today.
The period of the year suitable for trekking at Tashirotai Marsh is from late May to late October. But please be aware that parts of the promenade might be covered by snow at the beginning and the end of the hiking season.
Tip: If you hate bugs, come between spring to early summer (late May to June). The number of insects you will encounter is relatively low.
The Flower Calendar at Tashirotai Marsh
In June and July, what catches people’s hearts is the white fluffy cotton grass. During the same season, other flowers such as the Japanese azalea and bog-rosemary will also make the entire scenery more colorful.
From July to August, you will also find the lotus flowers popping up in the pond here and there.
In summer when the flowers of Narthecium asiaticum are blossoming, the marsh will look like a golden sea!
The signs of autumn arrive early in Tashirotai Marsh. The gorgeous white flowers of Marsh grass of Parnassus can be spotted somewhere in August. And the area will be dyed in the vibrant autumn color from late September.
Taking the loop course to stroll around the marsh will only take around 60 minutes. As most of the promenade is covered by wooden boards, the trail is suitable for all age groups.
Just note that parts of the promenade can be muddy (for the parts that are just earthen roads). So it is better to head there with a pair of shoes you won’t mind getting wet and dirty.
Ryūjin-numa Pond (龍神沼)
From the car park or Hakkōda Onsen, before you reach the trailhead of the promenade, you will walk past the mysterious Ryūjin-numa Pond, located just beyond a red torii gate half-buried in the soil covered by light green grass.
The pond is probably one of the most beautiful ponds in the mountain range. The emerald green-colored pond will be extra stunning when contrasting the bright autumn color of the surrounding nature.
If you go to the other side of the pond, you will see a small shrine in the distance. But please just stay on the wooden trail for your safety instead of following your adventurous spirit and wandering into the wild.
How to Get to Tashirotai Marsh
Unfortunately, the closest bus stop – Kayano Chaya (萱野茶屋), is around 9 km away from the marsh. So to get to Tashirotai Marsh, you will need a car.
Alternatively, you can choose to stay overnight at Hakkōda Onsen, which provides free pick-up and drop-off services from Kayano Chaya (萱野茶屋) or Hakkōda Ropeway Station (ロープウェイ駅前).
Gudari-numa Pond (グダリ沼)
If you are driving, another spot you can visit in Tashirotai is the Gudari-numa Pond.
Following the Prefectural Route 40 towards Towada, you can park at the first parking space on your left after you drive past the restaurant Matabee no Chaya (又兵衛の茶屋). From the gate next to the parking space, you will get to the gorgeous marsh after walking for around 200 meters.
Note that towards the marsh, there isn’t exactly a promenade built for it. So what you can do is follow the traces where previous visitors have stepped on (or even drove on). As an indication, you should be trekking slightly to the left.
Eventually, the road goes down to the left and at the end of it is the super-hidden gem of Tashirotai, where the fresh stream of “Gudari-numa” is flowing.
Gudari-numa Pond is Actually not a Pond?
That is right. Although it is called a marsh, it is actually a clear stream gently flowing continuously. The amount of water flowing out is about 200,000 tons per day, and the water temperature is about 7 degrees.
Trekking along the marsh, you can get to the far bank of the marsh. But just be aware of where you are going to step on as it can be unstable due to the water flow. Wear a pair of boots to prevent your feet from getting wet.
The marsh is also known as one of the only few places in Japan where you can find five different kinds of planarians living in the marsh. Other areas that planarians inhabit are only in Hokkaidō and Aomori Prefectures.
Although their length is only around 1 cm, they are flatworms with strong regenerative power. Please don’t try to do it, but they can still live even if their bodies are cut in half Σ(ﾟДﾟ).
Also, you can adore the white flowers of Ranunculus nipponicus var. Submersus (バイカモと) that will bloom from early summer to early autumn.
Finding the Spring Source of Gudari-numa Pond
Before you head back to the car park, there is a small road somewhere along the slope on the right. Follow the road, and you should get to the pond again. You should be able to see streams coming out from two spots in front of you. Seeing the two gentle swirls formed by the water source, the scene is somewhat calming to stare at.
Trekking Through the Beautiful Beech Forest
Near the Gudari-numa Pond, there are two gentle short trekking trails you can take an easy stroll on. Both Beech Forest Promenade (Buna-rin Sansakumichi, ブナ林散策道) and the Small Trail of Azalea (Tsutsuji no Komichi, つつじの小径)) are around 1.5 km.
How to Get to Gudari-numa Pond
It is less than a 10-minute drive or around a 100-minute walk from Hakkōda Onsen.
Hakkōda Onsen (八甲田温泉)
Hakkōda Onsen is an old ryokan that opened in 1964 after the hot spring source was discovered. Located just a few-minute walk away from Tashirotai Marsh, it is the perfect accommodation you can stay in if you are planning to explore the marsh.
The ryokan is proud of its 4 different onsen pools, each with a hot spring of different qualities for you to enjoy. And the good news for the ladies is the indoor onsen pool is bigger than the one for gentlemen (probably because they receive a lot more female guests)!
As Tashirotai Marsh isn’t a major attraction in Hakkōda Mountains, you might be able to have the entire public hot spring pool to yourself when you arrive. But, if you worry about your privacy, you can rent out their private bath (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
Hakkōda Onsen is currently operated by Sukayu Onsen.
☛ There is no air conditioner installed in the guestrooms.
☛ The ryokan is closed from mid-November to April.
Tip: Let the ryokan know your vegetarian dietary requirement, and they will try their best to accommodate!
How to Get to Hakkōda Onsen
From JR Aomori Station or JR Shin-Aomori Station, take the JR bus Mizuumi-gō (みずうみ号) and get off at either Kayano Chaya (萱野茶屋) or Hakkōda Ropeway Station (ロープウェイ駅前). The ryokan can pick you up from either of the bus stops.
Important: Please let the ryokan know in advance when to pick you up.
Kayano Chaya (萱野茶屋)
Taking the JR bus Mizuumi-gō (みずうみ号) towards Oirase Gorge/Lake Towada, the bus will make a 10 – 20 minutes stop at this teahouse called Kayano Chaya.
Apart from utilizing it as a toilet break, what you at least want to do is to drink 3 cups of tea from the tea stall in front of the tea house (refer to the photo).
What is so special about the tea is its legendary benefit. Drinking 1 cup can make you live 3 years longer, 2 cups for 6 years, and if you drink 3 cups, you can live until you are really old (which we assume some spirits will protect you from dying from accidents or illness).
Although it really just sounds like a catchphrase, as the tea is free to drink, why not just re-hydrated with it (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ?
No one really knows what will happen if you drink more than 3 cups, but we are sure you won’t be transformed into immortal creatures…(´▽｀*)
Tip: If hot tea is provided on a hot summer day, you can purchase some tea leaves and make this magical tea at home. This way, you can share the benefit of the tea with your families and friends (^_-)-☆.
One of the teahouse’s popular menus is bamboo shoots with Ginger-flavor miso paste. As it is likely to come with other non-vegetarian oden ingredients as a set, please utilize the phrases in our Essential Japanese Travel Phrases for Vegetarians and Vegans article to ensure you are served with what you can eat.
The chaya is only operating from mid-April to mid-November. The road to the teahouse is closed during other times of the year.
Kayano Plateau/Kōgen (萱野高原)
Near the teahouse is Kayano Plateau, where you can take a relaxing stroll or even have a picnic if the weather isn’t too hot.
Important: It probably won’t be a good idea to stay here longer during the peak season as the next JR bus might be full.
Traveling South to Oirase Gorge
And before you reach there, there are a couple more breathtaking attractions that you might want to stop by.
For more information, please refer to our Hakkōda Ropeway to Yakeyama, the Prelude to Oirase Gorge article!