Monday, 11 November 2013

Out and back on Mt Nyoho (女峰山)

Mountain: Mt Nyoho (女峰山 2483m)

Area: Nikko (日光), Tochigi prefecture

Map sheet: 13 [Yama-to-kougen-chizu (山と高原地図) series]

If you’ve been to Nikko, you’ve no doubt seen Mt Nyoho dominating the skyline to the northwest above the town.  At 2483m it stands just one metre shy of its neighbour Mt Nantai (男体山 2484m), and unlike Mt Nantai it does not feature on Fukada’s famous list of the hyakumeizan (日本百名山 ).  Don’t let that put you off though.  Nyoho is a beautiful peak, with a wide variety of terrain and vegetation on its flanks, several excellent ways to reach its summit, and as you would expect in the Nikko area, incredible views in all directions.

Getting there:
If travelling from Tokyo, you’ll need to catch a very early train to cover this itinerary and make it back home in a single day.  You can either travel by JR line to JR Nikko station, or by the Tobu Line, which runs between Asakusa (浅草) and the Tobu-Nikko station. If cost is not an issue, take an Express on the Tobu Line.  If you choose the cheaper option of local trains, the journey from/to central Tokyo will take you around 3 hours.  Be aware that there are no Express trains back to Tokyo after around 5pm, so factor this into your plan for the trip.

As always, you can find train schedules in English at hyperdia.

The route:

Most hikers will either climb Mt Nyoho in a very long day up and down, or will split it into a 2-day hike, spending the night at the unmanned hut 40 minutes map time below the summit.  For this post though I’m going to describe the route with the biggest height-gain, starting in Nikko town, and one of the more physically challenging ways to ascend and descend the mountain in a single-day (an out-and-back trail run, or piston).

Starting at a mere 620m altitude, this route covers approximately 1930m of elevation gain by the time you hit the summit.

From Tobu-Nikko station you need to head up the hill along Route 119 until you reach a junction at a bridge across the Daiya river (大谷川).  On your left you will see the famous Sacred bridge (shinkyō 神橋), thought to be one of the three most beautiful bridges in Japan.

Turn left onto Route 120 and continue for about a kilometre to the Nishi san-do bus stop (西参道).  On your right you’ll see a narrow street rising steeply up the hill, with shops on either side.  Follow this road up until you reach the Futarasan shrine (二荒山神社) complex.

Finding the trail head can be a bit confusing from here, as there are several roads and paths you could take.  The one you want is on your left, and after a few metres you will come to a set of stone steps on your right.  This is the entry to the trail for Mt Nyoho.

Follow these steps up for a few hundred metres.  There is a stream on your left, so fill your water if necessary, as this is the last reliable water source of the day.  At the top of the stone steps you’ll come to a small shrine.  The trail heads up into the forest behind this.

After some time you will hit a forest road.  Regain the trail at a wooden signpost a few metres up this road.

A little further on you will reach a place where the trail divides.  The right fork is clearer and more travelled, but the left fork is prettier and less muddy.  Take your pick, as they meet further up.

At around 1100m or so the trail leaves the forest and enters a more open zone of sasa grass.  Continue up beautiful and moderately steep single-track trail for a while.

Looking back down the single-track through the sasa:

You’ll come across a sign pointing down a branch trail to the right towards a water source that is marked on the map.  It says the water is about 15 metres down this trail.  Keep it in mind for your return journey if you’re running low on water.

Things begin to steepen at about 1400m, and after some time the ridgeline changes again as you hit volcanic rock.  Follow the yellow paint marks on the rock where necessary to find the right way through.

After crossing an open rocky stretch of hillside, you’ll get to a flat viewpoint (遥拝石), where you’ll start to get dramatic views into the top of the Unryu valley (雲竜渓谷) on your right.

The headwall of the Unryu valley:

Mt Oku-Shirane in the distance:

Keep going up the steep wooded hillside above, sometimes contouring around and upwards, and you’ll eventually come to a hut perched in a little clearing high up on the mountain side.

Note the hut in the bottom right:

Continue past the hut and follow the trail up through the forest until you hit an open scree slope.  Traverse across this and then ascend a trail up its left edge, following paint marks where needed.

From the top of this slope it is just a short hop up to the little shrine and summit marker.

Mt Nantai from the summit of Mt Nyoho:

From the summit you have several options:

* Continue along the ridgeline to the west, over several minor summits, arcing towards Mt Nantai to the southwest.  You could continue up and over Nantai, descending to a bus stop at Lake Chūzenji (中禅寺湖), or you could turn right before the climb up to Nantai, and run down the road to the bus stop at the Sanbonmatsu (三本松) car park. If you choose either of these, be sure that you’ve checked the bus times in advance and have time to make a bus back to Nikko, otherwise you will be stuck.

Looking west from the summit:

* Head north-east for a little while, where the trail then swings east and descends to the bus terminal at Kirifuri-kougen (霧降高原).  You can take a bus back to Nikko from there.

* Turn round and descend the way you came down 1900m of mountain, back to Futarasan temple and Nikko station.  If you want to experience a bit of the summit ridge but are short on time, consider throwing in an out-and-back, as I did, to the next summit along to the west, Mt Taishaku (帝釈山).

The trail back to Nikko is steep and needs some care on the way down until around 遥拝石, but from then onwards it is an absolute joy to run down; fast dirt single-track trail and soft underfoot.  Enjoy!

A strenuous and rewarding one-day trail run in one of the most famous tourist areas near Tokyo, with great views from the summit and an exhilarating run back down.  It can also be combined with a cultural visit to the wonderful Futarasan shrine complex afterwards if you have time.


  1. Nice review of a beautiful yet overlooked hike. Just one (very) small remark: the water source is 15 meters from the trail, not 15 minutes ;)

    1. Hi there. Thanks for the nice comment, I'm glad you enjoyed this ridge... I agree, it's really beautiful. I'm not so sure it's overlooked though, I think it's quite popular among Japanese hikers and trail runners, and also as a winter hike.

      Thanks for pointing out the mistake about the water source... I didn't actually use it when I was there, so I guess I misunderstood the "15m" on the map as minutes rather than metres LOL! I've corrected that in the article now.

      All the best, and stay safe :)


  2. Hi Tony!

    I have sent you a message regarding this mountain. I was planning to do a hike up there this winter (March), but i'll be on my own. Would this be advisable? Are the tracks still visible with snow? Also, are there bears here?


    1. Hi Marinah

      Thanks for the question. It should certainly be possible to do this route up Nyoho-san in March. I can't say whether there will be a trace in the snow or not though, as it all depends on whether people have been going up there in the days/weeks before your trip. I wouldn't imagine you'd have any problems though. Make sure you take your crampons and an ice axe, and maybe some trekking poles. By March I doubt you would need snowshoes, as the snow should be well consolidated by then.

      As for bears, it's unlikely to be a problem, but as always, be vigilant and keep your eyes open just in case. If you're worried about it, make some noise by calling out occasionally.

      Have a great hike! All the best.