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Japan Sacred Northern Lakes & Mountains Hiking Tour

Spiritual Traditions & Hot Springs from Tokyo to Nikko


In Japan, mountains are objects of worship where powerful spirits reside. This itinerary explores Northern Honshu's revered mountain destinations, dripping with legend and tradition, bookended with tours of modern Tokyo and historic Nikko. From Nikko National Park's UNESCO-listed temples to the volcanic Hakkoda Mountains and Dewa Sanzan - home to sacred mountains and Shugendo's holiest shrines - experience the connection with nature that infuses Japanese life and culture. Hike along sparkling lakes and mountain streams, and rejuvenate in a charming onsen. Explore northern Japan's beautiful, sacred spaces on this specially crafted MT Sobek adventure!

13 Days

From: $10,295

In Japan, mountains are objects of worship where powerful spirits reside. This itinerary explores Northern Honshu's revered mountain destinations, dripping with legend and tradition, bookended with tours of modern Tokyo and historic Nikko. From Nikko National Park's UNESCO-listed temples to the volcanic Hakkoda Mountains and Dewa Sanzan - home to sacred mountains and Shugendo's holiest shrines - experience the connection with nature that infuses Japanese life and culture. Hike along sparkling lakes and mountain streams, and rejuvenate in a charming onsen. Explore northern Japan's beautiful, sacred spaces on this specially crafted MT Sobek adventure!

Highlights


  • Escape to northern Japan and hike it's unspoiled lakes, high-altitude wetlands, and lush gorges

  • Discover Japan's "mountain faith" - Shugendo, with deeply rooted spiritual traditions, in sacred Dewa Sanzan

  • See Nikko's UNESCO-listed sites, unwind in natural hot springs, and overnight in traditional ryokans

Download Itinerary

Click here to download the Detailed Itinerary.

Sacred Lakes & Mountains of Northern Japan

Start: Tokyo, Japan  End: Tokyo, Japan

Start/End locations may vary. Do not book flights until your trip details are confirmed.

Itinerary


  • Arrive in Tokyo

    Day 1

    Welcome to Japan! After arrival at the airport, transfer to your hotel, where you'll enjoy a festive welcome dinner and a well-deserved night's sleep.

    Accommodation: Park Hotel-Tokyo

    Meals: Dinner

  • Go Back in Time in Tokyo

    Day 2

    After breakfast, head out for a full-day walking tour of Tokyo, beginning with Yanaka, an old quarter of the city that still retains charm from the Edo period, with its traditional wooden houses, narrow streets, and small temples. Continue on to Asakusa and Senso-ji, a large Buddhist temple with a five-story 7th-century pagoda that was rebuilt after World War II. Leading up to the main temple buildings is Nakamise-dori, a pedestrian street lined with craft and souvenir shops capped off by Kaminari-mon, the temple's famous entrance gate. Please see luggage FAQ for more details on this day.

    Accommodation: Park Hotel-Tokyo

    Activity: 6 hours/5-6 miles hiking

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

  • Journey to Historic Nikko

    Day 3

    Travel to historic Nikko, a town set against a stunning backdrop of wooded hills and national parklands. The extravagantly ornate buildings of Nikko's Toshogu Shrine are now on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. The shrine was created in commemoration of Tokugawa Ieyasu, a shogun venerated for uniting feuding lords to create the nation of Japan, and the intricate temple carvings are full of whimsy - including cats and monkeys. Finish your tour with Rinno-ji, with its lacquered pillars and gohonzon shrines, and Futarasan Shrine, dedicated to the Nikko Mountains' spirits.

    Accommodation: Itaya Ryokan-Nikko

    Transportation: 2-hour train ride

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

  • Explore the Natural Beauty of Oku Nikko

    Day 4

    This morning set out to explore Oku Nikko, the "hinterland of Nikko," an area of outstanding natural beauty in the mountainous north of Nikko and now a protected national park. Enjoy leisurely trekking in the Karikomi Lake area, famous for its natural sulfur hot springs. Monks have harnessed these waters for their healing properties since their discovery in 788 - and at your ryokan, in the Nikko Yumoto Onsen area, you can experience these waters for yourself! You'll also explore the surrounding marshlands and their wide array of bird life.

    Accommodation: Itaya Ryokan-Nikko

    Activity: 5-6 hours/8 miles hiking with 1,840' elevation gain & 1,870' elevation loss

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

  • See Yamadera's Temple & the Scenic Ginzan Onsen

    Day 5

    Travel to Yamagata and hike to Yamadera, the "mountain temple" known as Risshaku-ji. This Tendai sect of Mahayana Buddhism temple is perched atop the mountainside with 1,000 steps leading to it. The upper temple houses a sacred flame that has been burning since the temple was founded in 860! A viewing platform situated slightly farther up the mountain offers impressive views of the neighboring peaks and the valley below. Descend and board the train to scenic Ginzan Onsen, a small hot springs town known for traditional wooden onsen lining the riverfront. Please see luggage FAQ for more details on this day.

    Accommodation: Takimikan-Ginzan Onsen

    Activity: 1 mile/2 hours hiking with 738' elevation gain & loss

    Transportation: 4-hour transfer by bus & train

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

  • Hike from Haguro-san

    Day 6

    After breakfast and perhaps another quick soak in the hot spring, we take a bus to our nearest railway station and catch the shinkansen (bullet train) north, following the Japan Sea's picturesque coastline to Dewa Sanzan - the three sacred peaks of Haguro-san, Gas-san, and Yudono-san. The lowest of these is Haguro-san (1,358'), the spiritual home of the Shugendo, which blends the native Shinto belief system with Buddhism and other forms of mountain worship. Continue to Gyokusen-ji Temple, allegedly founded in 1251 and its garden completed in the 1650s, and now designated as a National Place of Scenic Beauty. We'll visit the shrine at the summit of Haguro san, and descend the 2,446 steps to our accommodation for the evening.

    Accommodation: Sankoin-Haguro-san

    Activity: 2,446 steps/1,375' downhill & 1-1.5 hours walking with 1,375' elevation loss

    Transportation: 2-hour bullet train ride

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

  • Discover Shrine Secrets in Dewa Sanzan

    Day 7

    Transfer to the start of our hike on Mount Gas-san. The highest of the three sacred mountains, Gas-san (or "Moon Mountain," 6,509') is covered in deep snow - up to nearly 20 feet - for much of the year. The mountain is officially opened each year with a ceremony at the summit's Shinto shrine. Here pilgrims in white coats head for the Dewa Sanzan shrine, with its massive thatched roof. Along our walk there are lovely small ponds formed by the melting snow and an abundance of alpine flowers.

    Accommodation: Sankoin-Haguro-san

    Activity: 4.5 hours/6 miles hiking with 2,000' elevation gain & loss

    Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

  • Travel to Sukayu Onsen

    Day 8

    This morning your bag travels ahead of you to Yakeyama while you and your overnight bag journey to Sukayu Onsen, in the far northeast of Honshu. Sukayu Onsen is one of the snowiest inhabited regions on earth, but thankfully the thermals caused by the dormant volcano, with their warm waters, provide an enjoyable counterbalance to the cold of the snow. The onsen is famous for its milky mineral-rich waters of its sen-in-buro, or 1,000-person bath! The bath is mixed gender, and there are also two smaller gender-specific hot springs. Please see luggage FAQ for more details on this day.

    Accommodation: Sukayu Onsen Ryokan-Sukayu Onsen

    Transportation: 6-hour train and bus transfer

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

  • Hike on Mount Hakkoda

    Day 9

    Mount Hakkoda forms part of a plateau of dormant volcanoes situated between Lake Towada and Aomori, and is known for its high-altitude wetlands. While the volcanoes of Mount Hakkoda are dormant, they do make themselves known in the area's onsen. Following our scenic walk on the mountain, travel by bus to tonight's accommodation, where your bag, sent from Haguro, will be waiting for you.

    Accommodation: Yakeyamasou-Yakeyama Onsen

    Activity: 3 hours/5-8 miles hiking with 1,312' elevation loss

    Transportation: 1-hour bus transfer

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

  • Walk in Oirase

    Day 10

    Your bag heads to Tokyo while you enjoy a half-day hike along the Oirase stream. This unspoiled area of Lake Towada is famous for its autumn foliage, but is spectacularly beautiful year-round. The stream follows the floor of the Oirase Gorge and is the only draining river from Lake Towada. During summer, waterfalls and fast-moving rapids punctuate the stream's lush greenery and virgin forests. The cedar, beech, and maple trees along its banks provide a beautiful canopy for your walk. The walk concludes with a scenic lake cruise to your accommodations. Please see luggage FAQ for more details on this day.

    Accommodation: Shinzantei-Lake Towada

    Activity: 4 hours/6 miles hiking & 330' elevation gain

    Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

  • Bullet Train Back to Tokyo

    Day 11

    This morning, we will enjoy a short and easy walk to Towada shrine. You'll then have lunch before you travel by bus and then shinkansen to make your way back to Tokyo. There is time to pick up additional local delicacies to snack on as you relax on the train journey back to Tokyo. You'll arrive at the hotel in the early evening, where your bag sent from Yakeyama awaits. The rest of the day is free and you can explore Tokyo in the evening on your own.

    Accommodation: Park Hotel-Tokyo

    Transportation: 5-hour bus and train transfer

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

  • Explore Trails in Kamakura

    Day 12

    Spend today walking in Kamakura, scenically located between the ocean and the wooded hills just southwest of Tokyo. Famous for its temples, some of which you discover today, it also provides great walking along the Ten'en trail, situated in the northern regions of Kamakura. Follow a ridgeline to Kencho-ji Temple, passing tomb caves and jizo statues as we walk through birch, maple, ginkgo, and bamboo groves. This afternoon, return to the hotel and relax. There is time to explore the neighborhood on your own before a festive farewell dinner with the group.

    Accommodation: Park Hotel-Tokyo

    Activity: 3 hours/4 miles hiking with 708' elevation gain & 730' elevation loss

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

  • Depart from Tokyo

    Day 13

    This morning, bid each other farewell and transfer to the airport for your flight home.

    Meals: Breakfast

Download Itinerary

Click here to download the Detailed Itinerary.

Dates & Prices


  • 2023
  • Go Custom
  • Inclusions

2023

Scheduled Dates


The earlier you book, the more choice of available dates you’ll have and once you book, your price is guaranteed.

  • Jul 18 - 30, 2023
    $10,295 price per person dbl occ
    +$1,350 single supplement
    Available
  • Aug 15 - 27, 2023
    $10,295 price per person dbl occ
    +$1,350 single supplement
    Available
  • Sep 17 - 29, 2023
    $10,595 price per person dbl occ
    +$1,350 single supplement
    WaitlistConfirmed

Go Custom

Create Your Very Own Adventure


Dreaming of an adventure designed exclusively for you? With insider access and decades of experience, our travel experts create custom tailored adventures that are perfect for families, couples, and large groups. MT Sobek's custom adventures are designed to our exacting standards and led by our award-winning adventure guides.

When to start planning? Earlier is always better when designing a custom trip. More time allows for better availability of preferred accommodations, guides and your desired activities. Ideally, start the conversation with us at least 6 months before you want to travel. If you are looking for a custom trip that departs within three months, chances are greatly diminished in securing requested accommodations and the best guides.

*Custom trips require a 25% non-refundable deposit once an itinerary is agreed upon.

Start Planning

Inclusions

Price Includes


  • Expertise and services of our experienced adventure guides
  • All accommodations as noted in the itinerary
  • All breakfasts, almost all lunches and dinners as noted in the itinerary
  • Snacks and water between meals
  • Additional regional guides and experts on many trips
  • Comprehensive Trip Planner with detailed pre-trip information
  • Private guided tours at historic sites, museums, wineries and other select attractions as noted in the itinerary
  • Special events and other select attractions as mentioned in the itinerary
  • All gratuities at hotels and restaurants
  • Equipment and experienced guides for activities as described in the itinerary
  • Park and other entry fees (unless otherwise noted)
  • Fares for trains, ferries and other modes of travel as listed in the itinerary
  • Select transfers as mentioned in the itinerary
  • Baggage transfers and porterage

Price Does Not Include


  • International airfare, airport taxes, and excess baggage fees
  • Alcoholic beverages (MT Sobek provides wine at select events)
  • Gratuities for MT Sobek guides and guide-drivers
  • Travel Protection Program
  • Personal expenses

Contact An Expert


800-974-0300

Need help picking your next adventure? Call us to answer your questions.

Download Itinerary

Click here to download the Detailed Itinerary.

Your Guides


The best people to immerse you in a destination are the ones who live there, which is why we feature local Adventure Guides on our trips. Here are a few that you might meet on this adventure.

Naomi Honda

Naomi Honda

Naomi earned her master's degree in sports tourism and marketing to complement her travel agency background and expand her knowledge of the tourism industry. During her study, she organized and managed events for international students for the purpose of cross-cultural exchange. In 2014, she passed the national tour guide exam and since then, she has been working as a guide. She is interested in Japanese history, food, culture and sports. Currently, she is studying to be qualified as a Kikisake-shi (Master of Sake).

Tomomi Shimazu

Tomomi Shimazu

Tomomi was born and raised in Tokyo. After completing her degree in international relations, she studied in the UK and the US. Later she lived in Hawaii and Israel for years and traveled extensively in Europe, the US and Middle East. She now lives in Tokyo, close to its center and loves gardening, walking, cycling and yoga. Tomomi enjoys guiding and sharing her knowledge of both traditional and urban cultures of Japan. Meet Tomomi on MT Sobek's adventures in Japan.

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Travel to historic Nikko, a town set against a stunning backdrop of wooded hills and national parklands. The extravagantly ornate buildings of Nikko\'s Toshogu Shrine are now on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. The shrine was created in commemoration of Tokugawa Ieyasu, a shogun venerated for uniting feuding lords to create the nation of Japan, and the intricate temple carvings are full of whimsy - including cats and monkeys. Finish your tour with Rinno-ji, with its lacquered pillars and gohonzon shrines, and Futarasan Shrine, dedicated to the Nikko Mountains\' spirits.

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Travel to Yamagata and hike to Yamadera, the "mountain temple" known as Risshaku-ji. This Tendai sect of Mahayana Buddhism temple is perched atop the mountainside with 1,000 steps leading to it. The upper temple houses a sacred flame that has been burning since the temple was founded in 860! A viewing platform situated slightly farther up the mountain offers impressive views of the neighboring peaks and the valley below. Descend and board the train to scenic Ginzan Onsen, a small hot springs town known for traditional wooden onsen lining the riverfront. Please see luggage FAQ for more details on this day.

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After breakfast and perhaps another quick soak in the hot spring, we take a bus to our nearest railway station and catch the shinkansen (bullet train) north, following the Japan Sea\'s picturesque coastline to Dewa Sanzan - the three sacred peaks of Haguro-san, Gas-san, and Yudono-san. The lowest of these is Haguro-san (1,358\'), the spiritual home of the Shugendo, which blends the native Shinto belief system with Buddhism and other forms of mountain worship. Continue to Gyokusen-ji Temple, allegedly founded in 1251 and its garden completed in the 1650s, and now designated as a National Place of Scenic Beauty. We\'ll visit the shrine at the summit of Haguro san, and descend the 2,446 steps to our accommodation for the evening.

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Transfer to the start of our hike on Mount Gas-san. The highest of the three sacred mountains, Gas-san (or "Moon Mountain," 6,509\') is covered in deep snow - up to nearly 20 feet - for much of the year. The mountain is officially opened each year with a ceremony at the summit\'s Shinto shrine. Here pilgrims in white coats head for the Dewa Sanzan shrine, with its massive thatched roof. Along our walk there are lovely small ponds formed by the melting snow and an abundance of alpine flowers.

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This morning your bag travels ahead of you to Yakeyama while you and your overnight bag journey to Sukayu Onsen, in the far northeast of Honshu. Sukayu Onsen is one of the snowiest inhabited regions on earth, but thankfully the thermals caused by the dormant volcano, with their warm waters, provide an enjoyable counterbalance to the cold of the snow. The onsen is famous for its milky mineral-rich waters of its sen-in-buro, or 1,000-person bath! The bath is mixed gender, and there are also two smaller gender-specific hot springs. Please see luggage FAQ for more details on this day.

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Your bag heads to Tokyo while you enjoy a half-day hike along the Oirase stream. This unspoiled area of Lake Towada is famous for its autumn foliage, but is spectacularly beautiful year-round. The stream follows the floor of the Oirase Gorge and is the only draining river from Lake Towada. During summer, waterfalls and fast-moving rapids punctuate the stream\'s lush greenery and virgin forests. The cedar, beech, and maple trees along its banks provide a beautiful canopy for your walk. The walk concludes with a scenic lake cruise to your accommodations. Please see luggage FAQ for more details on this day.

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Spend today walking in Kamakura, scenically located between the ocean and the wooded hills just southwest of Tokyo. Famous for its temples, some of which you discover today, it also provides great walking along the Ten\'en trail, situated in the northern regions of Kamakura. Follow a ridgeline to Kencho-ji Temple, passing tomb caves and jizo statues as we walk through birch, maple, ginkgo, and bamboo groves. This afternoon, return to the hotel and relax. There is time to explore the neighborhood on your own before a festive farewell dinner with the group.

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This morning, bid each other farewell and transfer to the airport for your flight home.

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Activity Level


This trip is rated activity level 3. You will be walking 2-5 hours and 1-8 miles a day on flat paths and mountain trails through the Japanese countryside, visiting idyllic villages, ancient temples, and traditional inns. Elevations are between 500 and 3,500 feet. There are some steady climbs that require stamina. You need to be in good health and physical condition for this trip.
Learn more about activity levels here.

Activity Snapshot

Day 2

6 hours/5-6 miles hiking

Day 4

5-6 hours/8 miles hiking with 1,840' elevation gain & 1,870' elevation loss

Day 5

1 mile/2 hours hiking with 738' elevation gain & loss

Day 6

2,446 steps/1,375' downhill & 1-1.5 hours walking with 1,375' elevation loss

Day 7

4.5 hours/6 miles hiking with 2,000' elevation gain & loss

Day 9

3 hours/5-8 miles hiking with 1,312' elevation loss

Day 10

4 hours/6 miles hiking & 330' elevation gain

Day 12

3 hours/4 miles hiking with 708' elevation gain & 730' elevation loss

Accommodations


Rejuvenate at traditional ryokans (inns) - many with onsen (hot springs) - set in scenic mountain locations.

Itaya Ryokan-Nikko
Itaya Ryokan-Nikko

Itaya Ryokan is an onsen with both a 250-year-old traditional side and a modern side. The property is surrounded by beautiful mountains, and the natural, milky-white spring water in the communal baths contains sulfur, which is purported to have skin-smoothing and healing properties. Japanese-style guest rooms have futons on tatami-mat floors and en suite bathroom facilities.

Sankoin-Haguro-san
Sankoin-Haguro-san

Staying in the beautiful Sankoin Shinto shrine lodging, originally part of a Buddhist temple, is a wonderful experience, and may include the opportunity to join the early morning religious service. Communal baths are segregated by gender, and toilets are not in-room. Rooms are Japanese style with futons on tatami-mat floors and divided by paper screens. The food is excellent vegetarian shojin-ryori cuisine.

Shinzantei-Lake Towada
Shinzantei-Lake Towada

This ryokan is located on the shore of Lake Towada, a caldera lake created by an ancient volcanic eruption. All rooms are Japanese style with futon bedding on tatami-mat floors. Rooms also have en suite bathrooms. Guests may enjoy the onsen's communal hot spring bath, which is available 24 hours a day.

Sukayu Onsen Ryokan-Sukayu Onsen
Sukayu Onsen Ryokan-Sukayu Onsen

Sukayu Onsen is famous for its large, 1,000-person hot spring bath made of hinoki (cypress). Originally built by local people in the Edo period, over the next three centuries the onsen became larger and popular as a healing and restorative onsen. There is mixed-gender and gender-specific bathing here. Toilet facilities are shared, and rooms are Japanese style with futon bedding.

Takimikan-Ginzan Onsen
Takimikan-Ginzan Onsen

This hidden onsen's peaceful, open-air bath has stunning views of Ginzan Onsen area, and all rooms face the spectacular mountains. Indoor and outdoor communal hot spring baths are segregated by gender. Japanese-style rooms have futon bedding and en suite facilities, and the ryokan's renowned restaurant serves fresh buckwheat noodles, seasonal local vegetables, and fish at night.

Yakeyamasou-Yakeyama Onsen
Yakeyamasou-Yakeyama Onsen

The entirety of this hot springs ryokan building is made of natural hinoki and tatami mats. Its onsen baths use natural water coming directly from the hot spring source, and indoor and outdoor baths are available. Soaking here, with views of the mountains, is incredible! Rooms are Japanese style with en suite bathrooms, and there's Wi-Fi in the lobby.

Park Hotel-Tokyo
Park Hotel-Tokyo

Park Hotel is a luxury hotel ideally located in Shiodome, a bustling center of Tokyo's business and culture. The hotel's art theme is reflected in the 17 artist-designed guest rooms, the various art installations and exhibitions the hotel displays, and the creative cuisine served in its many restaurants. The Park Hotel Tokyo offers traditional Japanese hospitality in a modern setting.

Weather


Late July to September is very hot (75°F to 95°F) and humid. The weather can be cooler in the mountains.

 
Jul
Aug
Sep
Nikko 
High
Low
High
Low
High
Low
Nikko
71
58
73
60
65
54
Tokyo 
High
Low
High
Low
High
Low
Tokyo
85
73
88
75
81
69

FAQs


Who will meet me on arrival?

You will take a limousine bus to the hotel, where your MT Sobek guide will meet you in the evening for a trip briefing and dinner.

What days will I be without my luggage during this trip?

You will be without your luggage, carrying your essentials in your daypack, on days 2, 5, 8 and 10. Your luggage will be transported by courier to your accommodation on the following day.

Can I still travel to Japan if I'm gluten-free?

Yes, you can, but please let us know as soon as possible so we can manage your request.

Can I travel to Japan if I'm allergic to fish or shellfish?

Fish is a more challenging allergy to manage due to the ubiquitous nature of dashi (fish broth), but we will relay your request to the cooks along the way.

What is staying in a ryokan or minshuku like?

The ryokans vary significantly, but usually have tatami mats for flooring and futon beds that are laid out each night. Baths may be communal and divided by gender.

Download Itinerary

Click here to download the Detailed Itinerary.

Guest Reviews


"Great trip to a less explored part of Japan with a very knowledgeable guide. Couldn't do this trip without this kind of support."

Jerry G.
MT Sobek Guest, Sacred Lakes & Mountains of Northern Japan

"There is no way we could have navigated our way around northern Japan on our own. Our guide was indefatigable in explaining everything we were seeing, doing, and eating, along with relevant cultural and religious customs."

Shannon G.
MT Sobek Guest, Sacred Lakes & Mountains of Northern Japan