A Day Exploring Hakone, including Owakudani, Lake Ashi, and Mt Fuji – Japan
And how best to see everything Hakone has to offer in one day.
After a wonderful week in Tokyo, it was time to transition to our next destination on our two week Japan adventure. Our next stop is a popular stop on the Golden Route from Tokyo to Kyoto – Hakone. Hakone is known for hot springs, traditional ryokans, and beautiful nature including the chance to see My Fuji. We were very excited to change our city sightseeing pace for a relaxed weekend in the countryside.
Our journey to Hakone was straightforward thanks to a city pass type program – Hakone Freepass. This ticket includes transportation from Tokyo to Hakone as well as all the transportation modalities in Hakone (there are five!) plus access to sightseeing locations. We took the train from where we were staying in Ueno to Shinkuku station to board the Odakyu Line. This train ride was an hour long and once we arrived in Odawara, we took the Hakone Tozan Line to Hakone-Yumoto where we could begin our exploration. We were lucky enough to get our first glances of Mt Fuji so we were very hopeful for more views during our time here.
We arrived around 9AM and our check in time was not until 3PM so we had all day ahead of us. It was now time to break down all those transportation modalities in Hakone. To see everything, there is a train, a cable car, a ropeway, and a ship which was done in succession. It was difficult to understand how these worked when I was planning this portion of the trip. Luckily, I found a graphic on the train that broke it down really nicely.
How to navigate all those transportation modalities in Hakone:
- You take Hakone Tozan Line from Hakone-Yumoto to Gora
- Gora is where you get on the Hakone Tozan Cable Car and you take that until the end
- Then you get onto the Hakone Ropeway – there are two stops of interest here
- Owakudani – visitor center for volcanic activity, including famous black eggs
- Togendai – the last stop on the car car that ends at Lake Ashi
- At Togendai, you then take a pirate ship across Lake Ashi where you can get off at two different stops
- To get back to Hakone, you reverse every step of the process above
The Hakone Tozan Line is a railway that traverses up the mountain through a series of switchbacks to navigate the journey. I had to find the stat on how it ascends the mountain: “The railway is capable of climbing one meter vertically for every 12.5 meters (41 feet) of horizontal distance, with a maximum gradient of 8%.” The journey is slow going as portions around the switchbacks are one way so you need to wait for the other train to pass at times. After an hour, we arrived at Gora around 10:30AM and smarty, they have large lockers here to store your bags – probably as many people do this experience as a day trip with bags. We stored our bags and waited for the ropeway to arrive.
After a short wait, we boarded the Hakone Tozan Cable Car and took it until the end at Sōunzan to an elevation of 214 meters (702 ft). Now after 11AM, it was time for the Hakone Ropeway which is the most scenic portion of the journey climbing to a max altitude of 1044 meters at Owakudani. Since Mt Fuji was hiding behind clouds, we decided to skip Owakudani for now and stay on the ropeway to the final stop at Togendai.
When we entered the port to board the pirate ship at 1145AM, we had a bit of a dilemma. The next boat did not leave until 12:40PM and took an hour to get to the end. We had check in at our ryokan at 3PM – the math was not adding up. I did not expect it to take over two hours from the start of all the various transportation modalities to the end – and that was without any sightseeing. Had I known about the ship schedule, I could have planned a little better but regardless, I was surprised how long it took to get to this point. We decide to cut our loss of exploring Lake Ashi – very disappointing – and head back. We did walk outside to get a glimpse of the pirate ship – which definitely threw us off – why a pirate ship? Apparently it was to give tourists something fun to experience in the event Mt Fuji was not visible – which happens all the time.
Back aboard the ropeway but this time we made the stop at Owakudani, otherwise known as Jigokudani (Hell Valley). This volcanic valley was created due to an eruption over 3000 years ago and still has active sulfur vents and hot springs. There are a few things to do in this area but the most famous is to enjoy one of the egg specialties. The black hard boiled – Kuro Tamago- is said to add seven years to your life after eating, but it is not advised to eat more than one. The black shell is created by boiling the egg in Owakudani’s natural hot springs which contain sulfur and iron. You can only buy the egg in packs of five In addition to the black egg, we got a few more snacks to eat including curry bread (Kevin said he could eat every day) and egg ice cream – everything was delicious and way better than expected at this tourist hub.
Another main attraction is the ability to see Mt Fuji – though it is very elusive and often not very visible at all. While it was a beautiful day, Mt Fuji was nowhere to be found. Though I found myself a nice perch in the event the clouds rolled away… which they kinda did just to see the peak of Mt Fuji.
One part I discovered when we were up here was the ability to book a 600 meter round trip nature trail up to some of the volcanic activity and even the site of the egg boiling. It requires reservations so we were not able to participate but if you have time, this looks like a fun way to explore this area more.
We started our journey back to Gora around 1:45PM back down to rope way, then the cable car. From Gora, we collected our bags and boarded the Hakone Tozan Line where we go off at the Tonosawa Station for check in at our ryokan.
How to Visit Hakone in One Day
Is one day enough to see Hakone? I think if you plan your day properly, one day is enough but two days ensures you see it all. Due to the amount of time it takes to get to many of these attractions, I think you are better off doing it in one long day then splitting it up over two days since that takes four hours to complete the round trip – and that is without the boat across Lake Ashi.
For the best day, make sure you check the time tables for all the transit lines so you can orchestrate the timely connections without waiting too much. Start your day in Hakone early – this both ensures you can get the major sites in as well as the best odds of seeing Mt Fuji unobstructed are early in the morning. Aim to get to Togendai for the first pirate ship departure sometime in the 10AM hour.
Get off at the second stop – Motohakone Port – and explore this side of Lake Ashi. Make note of the departure times back to Togendai before you leave.
- Get food at Hakone Karaage Karatto
- Visit the iconic Hakone Shrine and Heiwa no Torii for a picture perfect shot
- Enjoy a peaceful and scenic walk at Old Tōkaidō Road Ancient Cedar Avenue
Make your way back to Togenda via the pirate ship and then take the rope way to Owakudani. Reserve your spot on the nature walk ahead of your trip so you can see how and where the black eggs are made. After the walk, enjoy one of those black eggs and do not miss getting the egg ice cream and curry bread as well. If you are lucky, you will still have wonderful Mt Fuji views from this elevation.
Then make your way back to Hakone-Yumoto via Gora. Before leaving, make sure to enjoy the Hakone-Yumoto area – visit the hot springs, browse through the stores, or enjoy some food at しん鯉, or one of the izakaya restaurants.
Hakone is such a wonderful stop along the Golden Route that offers something very unique to the Japan itinerary. The landscape is like another planet and if you are lucky, you will get the chance to see Mt Fuji at its finest. I only wish I had planned better to have experienced everything. The ingenuity of the different transportation in this area is truly amazing. But for now, it was time for our overnight experience at a traditional Japanese ryokan.