Hiking Trip in Beppu: Kyushu’s Tallest Mountain

[Visited in August 2022]

Everyone seems to adore Kyushu, especially the vibrant Fukuoka and the stricken-by-fate Nagasaki. This large island is a favorite for natural disasters, like volcanoes, earthquakes and typhoons. You’ve probably marveled at the sight of the hot springs in Beppu, but have you ever considered how do their volcanic sources look like?

View of Mt. Yufu from the national road

Beppu prefecture is incontestably the onsen capital of Japan (probably also of the world). Sulfuric gases and smoke vapors are coming out of every nook and cranny in the earth. This smelly blessing comes mainly from Mt. Yufu (由布岳), a stratovolcano with a prominent shape visible from the highway. However, if you head a bit to the south-west, you are going to meet the tallest mountain in Kyushu. Guest star for this hike: my brother.

Views on top of Mt. Kuju

The Kuju mountain (九重山) range is a group of volcanic peaks, out of which Mt. Nakadake (中岳) is the tallest at 1,791 m. The homonymous Mt. Kuju is just 2 meters lower and fell short of this great title. Together with Mt. Aso, the most famous volcano in Kyushu, they form the Aso-Kuju national park. Of course, they belong both in the list of the 100 best mountains of Japan. Apart from a couple difficult points, it is generally an easy hike which offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the autumn foliage. Its other attraction is a small crater lake close to the mountain top. Assume that your hike will take five to six hours and don’t let this chance pass by if you happen to be around.

An observatory deck above Makinoto pass

We are going to start this hike from Makinoto pass (牧ノ戸峠), which has a large parking lot and a small shop for last minute provisions. The start of the path is a relatively steep slope covered with cement. On the day that I visited the area everything was covered with thick clouds. On such a gloomy morning, I could not enjoy the view from the observatory.

Hiking along the ridgeline
A first set of peaks are visible in a distance
View of the mountains from a vantage point near Kutsukadake (沓掛山)

Soon, the terrain becomes rocky. You have to use your hands to assist climbing up and down the ridge. The Kuju peaks are hardly visible in the distance, partly obscured by clouds. Mud from the morning rain is making balance trickier. A few inexperienced people with full hiking gear seemed already tired by now. But fear not, the path does not stay constantly like this.

The path flattens after a while at Nishichirigahama

After a while, rock gives its place to reddish volcanic dust. On the left of the flat plateau, there is an intersection towards Mt. Hosshozan (星生山) with marshlands scattered around. I opted to skip this peak and continued in the direction of Mt. Kuju. A few meters forward there is an unusual “beach”, the Nishichirigahama (西千里ヶ浜). In spring, this area is fully covered with beautiful purple flowers. Then, comes Hosshozaki (星生崎), the “cape” of Mt. Hosshozan. It consists of a group of tall rocks, which look like a castle of sorts. If you are experienced in rock climbing, you can try it out.

The cape of Hosshozaki
An area to rest and find shelter at Kuju split
Kuju split with Hosshozaki hovering above

The next checkpoint is Kuju split (久住分れ), another flat section with a toilet and a shelter, in case of an eruption. A few people have stopped to catch a breath here. After this point, the path becomes steep again. There are two options to continue from here on: you can either take a right and climb right on top of volcanic rocks, using some ropes for assistance, or you can take a left and walk on a longer but smoother path. I opted for the first and got ready to get myself covered with yellowish dust.

The shortest way to the top is the steep rocky slope on the right
A view to the valley bellow
Remnants of a caldera on the left side of the path

The path becomes green again and the silhouette of Mt. Kuju is finally visible behind the clouds. There is again an intersection, but I take a left to go towards Mt. Nakadake, instead of Mt. Kuju on the right. You will pass by Karaike (空池), a volcanic lake that used to be full of water, but not anymore, hence the name. The path looks amazing, the ridge is flowing like spikes on a dragon’s back. (For the original dragon’s back hike, you have to check out Hong Kong).

The silhouette of Mt. Kuju
Karaike, an empty volcanic lake

Again, the path splits to many options. We planned to do a loop, from Mt. Tengu-no-jo, then Mt. Nakadake and finally lake Miike. So, we start climbing the rocks to Mt. Tengu-no-jo (天狗ヶ城), a 1,790-meter peak. It is steep and the rocks are sharp, so it is better to climb it up than down. Bright yellow marks on the rocks are showing the way. This peak got its name for a reason: a Tengu’s castle. The rocks make the peak look like the perfect nest for a bird. And Tengus are originally the greatest of birds, the winged messengers of the gods. Lake Miike (御池) looks magnificent from above. It is not round, looking more like a diamond.

View to the lake from just below Tengu-no-jo
Part of the caldera
The top of Tengu-no-jo
Lake Miike

There are no benches or anything at the peak, so we continue to the next, Mt. Nakadake (中岳) at 1,791 meters. It is the inner-most peak and offers a great view of the lake with Mt. Kuju behind. This is the tallest point in the whole island. The peak is again full of rocks and there is no place to sit. The ridge probably looks magnificent from here during autumn. The area on the left appears to be off-limits because of the intense amount of volcanic gas coming out of the ground. Mt. Kuju is rich in geothermal energy.

The ridge to Mt. Nakadake
The top of Mt. Nakadake
The backside of Tengu-no-jo
View to the lake and Mt. Kuju when climbing down Mt. Nakadake

The loop continues by going down from Nakadake, passing a section that looks like it could be a marsh and moving between tall grass to the right, in order to reach another evacuation shelter (池ノ小屋避難小屋) made of stone. From here it is easier to access the lake. We stopped to have lunch and enjoy the view. We also dipped our toes in the water to rest a bit. The water was lukewarm at this time of the year.

The volcanic shelter next to lake Miike
Marshlands next to the shelter
Closeup of lake Miike

On the way back, the loop took us back to the point where we started climbing Mt. Tengu-no-jo. We considered climbing one more peak, Mt. Kuju itself, but decided to call it a day. We took the same way back, with the exception that we took a right on the greener path to skip the rocky slope to Kuju split. Going down was easy and fast, apart from the occasional climbing. The total length of the route was about 10km with a 600m elevation gain. It took us a bit more than four hours to finish, including resting and taking a TON of photos.

Mt. Tengu-no-jo and the ridge to Mt. Kuju meet at the lake

A couple of wonderful onsens are located in the vicinity to wash up and relax, so we opted for Akagawa onsen (赤川温泉 赤川荘). I especially liked the outdoor pools that look directly to a small waterfall. The smell of Sulphur is intense, so be prepared.

The pools of Akagawa onsen
A tunnel to Takachiho gorge
View to Beppu onsen from the road

If you want to check out the details of this hike, you can follow the route here. After the hike, we got back to Beppu and continued our road trip. Be sure to visit the blog from time to time, I’m going to post more about Kyushu. If you liked this article, share it with your friends. Do you have any hiking tips for the area? Add them in the comments. You can also follow this blog, follow me on Instagram or Facebook, to never miss a post. Until next time!

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