Day Hike from Tokyo: Lake Okutama

I’ll be soon running out of hikes, so it’s back to basics. After numerous failed attempts to reach lake Okutama (I always got distracted and followed a different path), I finally made it!

Lake Okutama rose to prominence in 2020, because it is the largest nature reserve in Tokyo prefecture. At that time, travel across prefectures was discouraged, so Tokyoites had to settle with re-discovering their own prefecture. While Okutama is technically Tokyo, it is extremely close to Yamanashi prefecture, the home of Mt. Fuji and award-winning wines. Additionally, it is the gateway to Mt. Kumotori, a peak that stands on the tripartite border between Tokyo, Saitama and Yamanashi prefectures, itself popular as the setting of the anime Kimetsu no Yaiba.

In order to reach lake Okutama, one has to change trains at Ome station. That’s usually the first location that distracts me. Technically a city, Ome is the last stronghold of civilization where conbini’s are available. It holds yearly flower festivals, like the Azalea festival at Shiobune Kannon-ji temple. There are a few paths to follow around here, like the one that starts from Mt. Raiden (雷電山) or the one that takes you to the haunted Mummy mountain (ミイラ山). If you continue on the Okutama line, the next distraction appears in the form of Mt. Mitake, a fan favorite for hikers of all ages. Then, there’s Kori, Hatonosu and Shiromaru stations, with their respective peeks and gorges, it’s hard to resist stepping out the train. Don’t get me started on the gorgeous waterfalls of Unazawa or the largest waterfall of Tokyo at Kawanori. I know, you got distracted yourself already!

Well, if you managed to stay on the train this long, you are about to reach lake Okutama. The lake itself is man-made, a result of many dams constructed to harness the power of a tributary of the great Tama river. The lake is the main source of water for the mega-city of Tokyo. Until the end of the Edo period, lots of places in the area were off limits for commoners, because it was an official hawk hunting ground. As a result, the forest is untamed and pristine, with especially old beech trees. A few of them remain though, because the flooding caused by the dam construction submerged them, including a picturesque onsen village.

The lake from above looks like an Asian dragon, with twirling legs and spiky claws. Two characteristic pedestrian bridges connect the opposite shores. The most photogenic one is Mugiyama Bridge. It was initially made of floating drums, but it has since be replaced by thick plastic floaters. When walking over it, it feels a bit like you are floating on a raft. Since it is a floating bridge, it may be closed when the winds are high. The opposite side of the bridge used to be a nice village, which was abandoned after the flooding of the lake, because it was separated from the rest of the villages. Needless to say, if you find yourself on the other side of Mugiyama bridge when the bridge is closed off, there’s no place to spend the night, so jumping over the fences to cross it might not be the worst idea (don’t ask me how I know it).

Anyway, if you cross Mugiyama bridge and walk parallel to the lake, you will soon reach Yama no Furusato Mura, the remnants of the old village which has since been turned in a visitor center with traditional craft activities, restaurants and a campsite. Hovering above the center, there is a ridge and a trail that eventually reaches to Mt. Mito, one of the three mountains of Okutama. The trail is quite steep and pretty narrow at times, especially along the ridgeline. For this reason, I was surprised when a lady at the park told me it was part of the road that the processions of the feudal lords of Yamanashi used on their way to Edo-Tokyo. How did they move all those people, animals and gifts across such a narrow path?

If you want to follow the path to Mt. Iyo and Mt. Mito, you have to be careful because there are some trees marked with pink ribbons that lead to nowhere. The markings of the actual path are small and concealed. I didn’t try my luck with Mt Mito, because the path was too steep and the sun was low already. Keep that in mind if you plan to attempt summiting Mito. Additionally, be on alert for bears, because there was a recent sighting. I didn’t see any bears, but to be honest, the discarded TV and radio that I found in the middle of the forest, scared me more, do forest ghosts need entertainment?

If you want to check out the details of this hike, you can follow the route in alltrails. 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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