Hakone, located in the midst of the National park that bears its name, is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Japan and is situated about 90 minutes South West of Tokyo by train. In this vast area you will discover beautiful scenery, volcanic activity, remains of the old Edo route, a gigantic crater lake, and some famous hot springs and museums should you have adverse weather.
The wider Hakone area is part of the vast Hakone – Fuji – Izu national park and is easily accessible from Tokyo by train. Once arrived you will discover that the area has various convenient methods of transportation. A combination of local bus, mountain railway, cable car, ropeway and even cruising boats bring you to the most scenic places.
Most first time visitors have only one day to see the region and at first sight all these possibilities can be overwhelming. Below I will navigate you along my favourite tour of the area that can be easily contained in one day departing from Tokyo.
The private Odakyu line takes you directly from Shinjuku station to Hakone-Yumoto, the main access point to the area. The comprehensive website of the Odakyu train lines gives you all the information you need, including sightseeing maps and information about discount train passes. If you have a Japan Rail Pass you can take the Shinkansen (high speed train) to Odawara and change trains there for Hakone -Yumoto. In Hakone-Yumoto station there is a tourist information centre with English speaking staff. They will provide all information about the special sightseeing passes.
From Hakone-Yumoto starts the famous Hakone “loop”. This is a recommended touristic course which will take you past the most scenic places. Here below I will guide you to the most scenic spots of the Hakone loop clockwise. This has the advantage that it is less crowded as the majority of (international) tourists are following guidebooks that describe the tour counter clock wise .
Also for the amateur photographer it is more interesting to follow the tour clockwise. When taking photos of Mt Fuji you will enjoy the morning sunlight on your back ensuring crystal clear panoramas.
Take the bus from Hakone-Yumoto to Moto-Hakone
Just left outside the station of Hakone-Yumoto take the Hakone Tozan bus to Moto-Hakone (35 minutes) where you get off. There is a bus every 15 to 20 minutes.
Walk from Moto-Hakone to Hakone-Machi
Enjoy a 30 minute walk using the old Tokaido road along the shore of the magnificent Lake Ashi. The Tokaido road connected Tokyo with Kyoto during the feudal time. This part of the road is surrounded with century old cedar trees that provide a welcome shadow during the summer heat. Just before reaching Hakone-Machi make a short stop at a meticulously reconstructed checkpoint that was used in the Edo period.
Take the boat from Hakone – Machi to Togendai
From Hakone-Machi you will board one of the pirate ship replica’s for a 30 minute cruise to the other shore of lake Ashi. The ships in the beautiful nature are not everyones taste but the views of the lake, the surrounding mountains and Mount Fuji are dramatic.
Ride the ropeway from Togendai to Sounzan via Owakudani
From Togendai, in the building adjacent to where the boat arrives, take the ropeway (15 minutes) to Owakudani where also the ropeway transfer station is. You will be rewarded with nice views from the top of the mountain where you can see the splendor of the Fuji National park at it’s best. Before descending with the ropeway to Sounzan (10 minutes) it is worth seeing the volcanic activities In Owakudani. The setting is unreal with boiling water, steam leaving the mountain and at times the smell of sulphur and volcanic gas.
Take the cable car from Sounzan to Gora
A 10 minute ride on a steep cable car brings you from the ropeway base station Sounzan to Gora. If the weather is good and you visit the area in autumn (October) it is interesting to visit Sengokuhara (仙石原). Take the bus (line S) from Gora station. Only a short period in autumn, at the foot of Mt. Daigatake on a vast plateau, you can enjoy the stunning view of this valley covered with golden-colored Japanese pampas grass.
Return from Gora to Hakone – Yumoto
In Gora you will board the train from where the descend goes further to the starting point of the trip Hakone – Yumoto in about 40 minutes. The train is meandering through densely forested hills and this makes it a pleasant journey. Interesting to see is the switchback system the trains are using to cope with the steep slopes. A final tip. This day trip brings you along some of the most beautiful sceneries of Japan. However it is only worthwhile to consider this trip if the weather is good. Should you be unlucky have a plan B ready as the Hakone area is home of some of the best hot spring baths near Tokyo as well as a wide range of interesting museums.