If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you do not want to miss climbing the majestic volcano, the Kuju Mountains (九重連山). All of Kuju’s five mountain ranges in Aso-Kuju National Park are about 1,700m above sea level, with Mt. Nakadake being the highest peak in Kyushu, standing up to 1,791m high. Situated on the border of Kokonoe and Taketa villages, the Kuju Mountains offer a magnificent volcanic terrain and a dramatic landscape that will take your breath away.
The hiking trails
Located along the scenic Yamanami Highway, there are two popular trailheads for the Kuju Mountains. You can start either from Chojabaru Visitor Center (長者原ビジターセンター) or Makinoto Pass (牧ノ戸峠). We took the trail from Makinoto Pass, which is a closer path to the summit. The hike will take around six to seven hours back and forth. Most of Kuju’s routes are beginner-friendly, but it is important to make sure you have the proper boots as some parts are rocky and steep. There were quite a lot of hikers that day. I lost count on how many friendly greetings of “konnichiwa” or “ganbatte” I received from other hikers. The track was heading steady upwards, stepping on basalt boulders and loose volcanic soil.
After passing beneath the endless canopy of leafless trees, the trail brought us to Bogatsuru (坊ガツル), a vast marshy grass highlands surrounded by Obune-san and Kuju-san.
Suddenly, the world in front of me changed in colors. Burnt orange ranges, grassland glowing in pale yellow and gold, and volcanoes venting in smokes, I found myself in a hiker’s dreams. As the end of autumn was approaching, I could see the trees and leaves in their winter dormant state, and yet the view was just charming as it was.
The view of frosted grass and decaying tree branches was just mesmerizing. I could still see little shades of maple-tinted honey colors left in the highland forests. I was caught up in the enchanting view, and I found myself falling in love with Mother Nature all over again.
On top of Kyushu
As we climbed up, the trek became steeper and rocky, yet it got easier compared to the initial ascent. We grabbed the rope, climbed through and scrambled our way up, until the final push brought us standing higher than anybody else in Kyushu.
There was also a beautiful clear blue-green pond in the volcanic hollow. The long hike paid off as we were rewarded with a fascinating 360-degree view overlooking the mountain ranges. From afar, we could see the Bogatsuru Marsh, Mt. Hiji and Mt. Taisen stretched out majestically. With the blue sky above our heads, we sat down and absorbed everything, as we watched the clouds play with the mountain and the mist steaming up all around. I basked in the calmness and tranquility. It was indeed a heavenly encounter with Mother Nature.
Kuju Mountains information
The Kuju Mountains are situated on the border of Kokonoe City and Takeda City in Oita Prefecture.
- From Beppu, the Kuju Mountain Range is a 75-minute drive.
- From Kumamoto, it is a two-hour drive.
- Both of the trailheads, Makinoto Pass and Chojabaru Visitor Center are located along the scenic Yamanami Highway.
- You can take the Kyushu Odan Bus operated by Kyushu Sanko Bus that runs between Kumamoto and Beppu, passing through the Kuju Mountains.
- From Beppu, it takes two hours and costs around ¥2,500.
- From Kumamoto, it takes three hours and costs around ¥3,000.
- Get off at either Makinoto Pass or Kuju Tozanguchi. Kuju Tozanguchi is right next to Chojabaru Visitor Center.
- On weekends and public holidays from March to November, Kamenoi Bus (link in Japanese) operates between Beppu and Makinoto Pass, stopping at Kuju Tozanguchi on the way.
- From Beppu, it is a two-hour trip and costs ¥1,950.
- From Yufuin, it is a one-hour trip and costs ¥1,300.