There is only one hiking path in Kanto that I have visited more than 3 times until now; Koburi pass (顔ぶり峠). It is a well hidden path in Saitama prefecture, starting from Agano station of JR Seibu Chichibu line and is part of the Ogose hiking routes. Compared to other hiking routes, this one is remarkably underappreciated, which is actually good because it is never crowded with hikers.
The main route starts from Agano station and continues following path signs for 顔ぶり峠 (Koburitoge)→諏訪神社(Suwajinja)→ユガテ(Yugate)→東吾野駅(Higashi Agano station). The opposite way up has a slower upward slope, so it is up to you to decide depending on whether you prefer faster altitude gains or not. A detailed path connection map with the proposed route is presented below.
When you first exit Agano station, the most crucial thing you need to do is to check if you have a bear bell. If not, buy one at the shop in front of the station. Bears and wild boars are infesting Saitama prefecture at the moment, so it is always good to keep them away with the bell ringing from your backpack while your walking. On the right side of the station there is a staircase leading down to the main road, where you are greeted by a statue of happy musician spirit.
After walking a few km on the road, you enter the route at something that looks more like a spring than a path. A curvy path takes you higher in order to reach as small village. Once I saw tanuki (racood dog) miniatures, carefully placed in the hollow trunk of a tree, probably to bring good luck to hikers. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen something similar again since.
After the curves, you reach the first house and a road with a small jizo memorial next to it. The view of the mountain ranges at this spot is amazing on a clear day and technically even Mt. Fuji is visible.
Soon afterwards, you reach to a small temple called 摩利支天尊, with a couple of benches to rest next to it. However, since one level above there are 2-3 restaurants with great balconies, it is better to be patient and stop there for lunch instead.
In addition, the best part of the small village is not the restaurants but rather the café; 忘路庵カフェ is a bit further from the rest of the buildings, on the way to the next checkpoint. The lady owner is one of the kindest people I’ve met, not to mention how talented she is in woodwork. The café has a ton of wooden details, with the 2-meter tall giant speakers being the highlight. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed speakers that big, let alone handmade out of wood.
The last time I visited the cafe it was closed, but even the ‘closed’ sign was so elegant that I couldn’t help but like that place even more.
Continuing along the road, eventually you turn left towards Suwa Jinja (諏訪神社), a small temple with two cute lion gate keepers. After that, you follow the signs to Yugate (ユガテ), another small settlement in the area.
On a clear day, the Oshiage Tokyo Skytree in Tokyo can be seen from this point.
The path continues with ups and downs. At some point, the path is on top of the ridge. Noticing the difference between each side of the ridge, how the trees on the right side are vivid and healthy, whereas the ones on the left side are gloomy and sickly, never ceases to amaze me. Especially if it is windy, the left side has a contrasting spooky atmosphere.
The landscape changes a lot from point to point, thus making it difficult to get bored.
There is also the option between Onna-zaka（女坂） and Otoko-zaka （男坂）, the female and male pathway respectively. Supposedly, the female path has a smoother slope albeit takes longer.
Next checkpoint is the forestry association. Recently, they (maybe??) have set up a couple of foreigner-friendly signs and maps in English.
Yugate consists mainly of crop fields, with different vegetation depending on the season. In late summer, the sunflower field is at its full glory. Here you can find again benches for resting or eating.
Depending on the path you take to go to Higashi-Agano station, you can end up to either To-shrine or Kotokuji. To-shrine (東神社, east shrine) is rather simple and has a steep staircase leading to the ground level.
On the other hand, Kotokuji is more complex, with a different flower decor for the different seasons. There are both a Sakura tree of the fluffy 100-petal variety as well as a hydrangea bush next to the main temple.
Finally, when you reach Higashi-Agano station, the route is complete. Instead of returning from there, an alternative is to not go all the way to Yugate, but turn towards lake Kamakita and return from Saitama Medical University in Hidaka.
Another alternative is, after hopping on the train in Higashi-Agano station, to head towards the nearby Hanno station where the Moomin Village theme park is located. The theme park is built around lake Miyazawa and offers a semi-Nordic experience.
Immediately next to the Moomin Village, there is one of the most wonderful onsen baths I have ever visited, Kirakuri Villa (宮沢湖温泉 喜楽里別邸). It has amazing pools, amenities and a large balcony with a full view of lake Miyazawa and the night sky clear from light pollution.
Koburi pass is easily accessible, without being overcrowded. It is perfect for a quick day trip to relieve the stress of the weekly routine. Give it a chance!