Mt. Takao: Hikes, Temples, and a Whole Lot of Beer

Mt. Takao Cover Photo

Just an hour train ride from Tokyo lies a not-so-secret escape: Mount Takao, the most visited mountain on Earth, and a welcome hiatus from the hectic pace of city life.

The mountain sits exactly 599 meters above sea level, or nearly 2,000 ft. The summit is accessible from six different trails of varying difficulties, and all start from Takaosanguchi Station.

Trail 1, the most popular and paved route, is more of a walking path than a hike. It leads travelers through several landmarks, eateries, and souvenir shops. There’s also a cable car available to anyone looking for a shortcut to the top. Trail 6 is the most difficult. It’s steep, narrow, and rocky, with pockets of mud and snaking ravines, but overall a “normal” day hike by California standards. It extends over a 3.3 km distance and takes approximately 90 minutes to complete at a breathy pace. This is the trail that Joel and I decided to take up to the top.

Takaosanguchi Station

Takaosanguchi Station

We arrived at Takaosanguchi Station on a Thursday morning around 11 am. Takao can get crowded on weekends, and we strategically chose a weekday to keep our peaceful getaway actually peaceful. The weather was cooler and less humid than back in Tokyo. I wasn’t quite sure if this was due to the mountain’s natural landscape or sheer luck of the day.

Giant Map of Mt. Takao Trails

Jizo at Mt. Takao
Lots of happy little jizo guard the way up to the top.

Hiking Trail 6 of Mt. Takao

After grabbing an English map from the tourist center and an iced coffee from the vending machine, we followed signs to the trail head. I was a little worried at first that the “most difficult” trail would prove to be more of an adventure than we planned for, but my doubts were quickly put to rest as we spotted a handful of elderly Japanese ladies climbing past us.

Beginning of Mt. Takao

Mt. Takao Trail 6 Trail Head

Statue at Mt. Takao

Hidden Building at Mt. Takao

Walking Through Mt. Takao Trail 6

Plants on Mt. Takao
Lots of plants and greenery along the way. We even saw a pair of Japanese women trying to identify some of them with guidebooks.

The path was almost completely covered with rocks and foliage, and towering cedars shaded us from the summer sun. It was a manageable hike for the most part. The hardest section was the set of several hundred stairs at the end—it’s amazing how out of shape you get after a two-week break from the gym. Along the way, we ran into a handful of other hikers that all greeted us with a bright and dignified “Konichiwa!”.

Signs on Mt. Takao
Not really sure what this says, but it’s a cool looking sign at least.
Bridges on Mt. Takao
You’ll also come across bridges and small creeks.
Mt. Takao Trail 6 Hiking Sign
There are plenty of signs in both Japanese and English leading the way, don’t worry about getting lost!

Tiny Plant in the Forest of Mt. Takao

Standing Over a Bridge on Mt. Takao
Trying to look pensive and failing. Ah well.

Walking Along Trail 6 on Mt. Takao

Flying Squirrels on Mt. Takao
We passed several statues and signs depicting flying squirrels. Sadly, we never saw any.
Clearing in Mt. Takao
Many hikers stopped along the way to snack on bentos.

Scenery of Mt. Takao

Creek of Mt. Takao
There’s one tiny section on Trail 6 where you’ll run into a shallow stream. Don’t worry, it’s nothing a pair of regular trainers can’t handle.
Stairs Up to Mt. Takao's Summit
These were awful.

The whole thing felt a lot like Jurassic Park, except instead of dinosaurs, there are spiders. A lot of spiders. If you have severe arachnophobia like I do, I suggest bringing a companion along to use as a human shield (sorry Joel).

After wheezing climbing up aforesaid stairs, we reached the summit. There was a soba restaurant and ice cream shop, as well as vending machines to rehydrate. Because if there’s anywhere you can expect to find a Coke dispenser at the top of a mountain, it’s in Japan.

Summit of Mt. Takao
Made it to the top!

Summit Sign of Mt. Takao

Summit of Mt. Takao
A lot of people use hiking poles up here.
Kiss on Mt. Takao
🙂

Soba Noodle Stand on Mt. Takao

Soba Noodle Stand on Mt. Takao
Hungry hikers lunching on soba.
Calpico Slushie on Mt. Takao
We didn’t want to spoil our appetites for later so we just shared a Calpico slushie.

We approached the lookout as a massive panorama of Japanese scenery opened up in front of us. On one side was the sprawling expanse of Tokyo Metropolis, and on the other, mountain slopes overrun with trees. You can even catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji on a clear day.

Hiking Trail 1 of Mt. Takao

After a lot of “ooh”s and “ahh”s, we took Trail 1 back down the mountain to see the religious sights. It was a while before we reached our first temple, magnificent and red, rising up out of the trees.

Grave Site on Mt.Takao

Mt. Takao Stairs
More stairs…
Yakuo-in Temple on Mt. Takao
I spy a temple.
Tengu at Yakuo-in Temple on Mt. Takao
One of many tengu statues we saw.
Yakuo-in Temple on Mt. Takao
Details.

Yakuo-in Temple on Mt. Takao

Kitsune Statues of Yakuo-in Temple on Mt. Takao

We continued down a set of stairs marked with rows of moss-covered tōrō. Another large building appeared at the bottom. As we approached, a conch sounded from below. A man in a blue robe stopped us to clear the way for what turned out to be a series of monks dressed in a rainbow of colors and blowing from ancient looking instruments. They entered the temple and started some sort of ceremony or ritual. Visitors peeked in from the window.

Yakuo-in Temple on Mt. Takao

Monks of Yakuo-in Temple on Mt. Takao
Cheerful monk procession.

Candle at Yakuo-in Temple on Mt. Takao

It turned out to be Yukuo-in Temple, built over a thousand years ago and considered to be home to the Shugen practice. Takaosan is a sacred site for ascetic training (i.e., sitting cross-legged under a waterfall), and the mountain is said to be guarded by tengu, a Shinto god distinguished by its long nose.

After another set of stairs and hills, the path leveled out. From here we followed a series of red lanterns further down the mountain.

Squid Snacks on Mt. Takao
Souvenir shops sold different goodies along the way. I’m a packaging design nerd so I have a tendency to take photos of all the cute Japanese snacks I see.

Tengu at Mt. Takao

Mt. Takao Trail 1

Food Stand at Mt. Takao
Ice cream stand we ran into while following Trail 1 down the mountain.
Trail 1 of Mt. Takao
…and still more stairs.

Red Lanterns of Mt. Takao

Octopus Tree on Mt. Takao
We passed by the “Octopus Tree”, which has roots shaped like octopus tentacles.

Tengu Statue of Mt. Takao

Mt. Takao Beer Mount
Took all morning but we finally made it to the good part!
Cable Car at Mt. Takao
Cable car if your legs can’t carry you anymore.
Mt. Takao Beer Mount
Price chart. Helpful if you read Japanese, I guess.

Mt. Takao Beer Mount

Finally, we made it back to the cable car station, where Takao’s Beer Mount lies: a magical place that serves unlimited food and drinks at ¥3300 for ladies and ¥3500 for dudes. We arrived half an hour early and lined up, exhausted but hungry.

Once it opened we made a beeline for a coveted balcony seat on the top floor. Staff members punched our tickets and handed us empty mugs and plates to fill.

Mt. Takao Beer Mount

Mt. Takao Beer Mount

Mt. Takao Beer Mount View

The food selection was Japanese and Chinese, with a few Western dishes thrown in. I’ll be real with you guys: it’s no gourmet restaurant. I’d say it sits somewhere between an average American buffet and a fast-casual Japanese chain. I’ll give them points for creativity, as they offered everything from dim sum to yakitori to grilled sardines to made-to-order ramen. For dessert, they served up warm crepes and waffles, water drop and matcha mochi, and a chocolate fountain for dipping cream puffs. There’s also real fruit and veggies, something I’ve missed dearly since entering the country. Japan is a small and densely populated island, so there’s little room for farming, which means many fresh goods are imported and sold at a premium. Filling up on cucumber and grapefruit was worth the cost of entry alone. And of course, there’s the alcohol.

Mt. Takao Beer Mount
Sushi and teriyaki meatballs.
Mt. Takao Beer Mount
Dim sum options.
Mt. Takao Beer Mount
All-you-can-drink beer service.
Mt. Takao Beer Mount
Snow cone and cotton candy machines!
Mt. Takao Beer Mount
More drink choices.
Mt. Takao Beer Mount
Yakatori on demand.
Mt. Takao Beer Mount
Vegetarian section.
Mt. Takao Beer Mount
Chocolate fountain, need I say more?

Mt. Takao Beer Mount

The first drink I ordered was a frozen beer made by Kirin, light and summery with a signature foam swirl on top. It was my first time having anything like it, and it was a perfect reward after a long morning of hiking. There were also other beers, soju, sake, sangria, and a variety of sours (Calpico included). Or, for those going sober, there’s a free vending machine with green tea, coffee, and soda available.

Mt. Takao Beer Mount
This view was insane.

Mt. Takao Beer Mount

Mt. Takao Beer Mount
This place is perfect for summer.

As we ate, the patio came alive with rambunctious laughter, clinking glasses, and Japanese conversations. You would think that anything labeled “all you can” would be a blaring green light for American tourists, but the restaurant was surprisingly empty of foreigners. As the afternoon wore on and transitioned into a warm summer evening, our two hours of eating and drinking our fill came to a close. We ended the meal with a go at the cotton candy machine. Lapping up the warm, freshly spun threads, we took in the vibrant scenery of Takaosan one last time.

We descended down the mountain, hopped back on the train under a rare Tokyo sunset, and headed back to the city.

Mt. Takao Beer Mount

Mt. Takao Beer Mount

Mt. Takao
Walking back down the mountain with full bellies.
Mt. Takao
Made it down to the station. Time to head back to Tokyo!

Mt. Takao Tips & Advice:

1.) Go during the weekday if you can swing it. Takao is a popular weekend getaway for locals, and visiting at a time when most people are at work will give you the space and quiet that a trip like this deserves.

2.) Bring an army of bug spray cans. There are mysterious critters running amok at every corner. Did I mention the spiders?

3.) Read the train schedule carefully. There are different Kielo trains that you’ll likely take (Limited, Rapid Exp, etc.) and you might have to transfer several times even though you’re staying on the same line.

4.) If you’re interested in both hiking and sightseeing like us, consider taking Trail 1 in one direction and a different trail in the other.

5.) The Beer Mount gets busy during evenings and weekends. You can make a reservation if your party is large enough, but otherwise plan on going when it opens to snag a prime viewing spot (and avoid long queue times).

6.) If the AYCE/D option is out of budget, don’t be afraid to bring along a bento and can of Asahi for lunch instead. There are plenty of benches and tables along the way and you’ll find many other hikers doing the same. Or, try out some refreshing soba and ice cream at the top!