A Late Spring Hike on Hakone’s Ashinoko West Bank Course

In late April, I headed south to Hakone for a repeat hike of the Ashinoko (Lake Ashi) West Bank Hiking Course. I hiked this trail last spring, too–and although this year I was too late for the sakura (cherry blossoms), any day you can see Mt. Fuji from the trail is an excellent day to hike.

Let’s go…

Hakone Sightseeing (“Pirate”) ships, in port

The trail (map shown below) begins at the dock in Hakonemachi, on the south end of Ashinoko. The name of the lake means “Leg Lake” – and it does look a little like a chubby leg, with a swollen foot on the lower end, as the picture shows.

Trail map for the Ashinoko West Bank Hiking Course

The weather was warmer than I expected, but definitely still spring–and plenty cool when the wind was blowing.

The vermillion torii across the lake is the Peace Gate at Hakone Jinja (Shrine)

The first five minutes of the trail follows a residential street, but the route quickly enters the forest, though the asphalt road continues around the first point, past Mitsuishi–which, as the name suggests, overlooks a cluster of three large rocks at the edge of the lake.

Where the asphalt ends

Shortly thereafter, the asphalt road gives way to an earthen track. Breaks in the trees offer pretty views of Fujisan on clear days like this–these photos don’t do it justice.

Hello, Fujisan!

The trail follows the shoreline, and the lake is visible for about 80% of the hike; periodically, the trail moves deeper into the trees, but most of the views are like the one below.

Fishing boat on Ashinoko

About an hour into the hike, I passed a monument that’s mystified me for quite some time, because the wooden sign nearby is so weathered as to be almost illegible. On this trip, I made a point of taking the clearest photos possible, and with the help of image enhancement when I got home, was able to solve the mystery at last.

The monument memorializes the people who perished in the 1930 North Izu Earthquake (北伊豆地震), a magnitude 7.3 temblor that reportedly killed 272 people, destroyed over 2,100 homes, and triggered multiple landslides.

A memorial to the 1930 North Izu Quake (北伊豆地震)

It’s an interesting location for a monument, because the only people who see it are hikers intrepid enough to hike the entire West bank of Ashinoko. There are no roads or other trails nearby. I couldn’t decipher enough of the sign to understand exactly why the shrine is located here, though I don’t believe for a moment that the choice was random. Next time I hike the trail, I’ll try to get better images so I can read more of the sign.

Into the woods – the lake is about 30m to the right

A little way past the monument, a branch trail leads down to one of Ashinoko’s many quiet beaches. The beaches are popular spots for fishing, as well as picnics – though once again, the only access is on foot, via the trail, which makes them perfect spots for a secluded lunch or a relaxing escape from the crowds that sometimes gather in Hakone.

Hakoneyama from the beach

On this sunny Saturday, I had the beach to myself, except for a falcon fishing just offshore.

Falcon fishing in Lake Ashi

Japanese trails are well-maintained – as you can see from this newly-constructed bridge across a small ravine (which turns into a river in certain seasons, or after major storms).

A bridge across a dry stream bed.

The sightseeing ships cross Ashinoko a couple of times each hour – which makes for some neat photo-ops from the trail.

Sightseeing ship en route to Moto-hakone and Hakone-machi

The trail is 10.9 km long, and takes a couple of hours to hike – it’s not technically difficult, but since there really aren’t any bug-out roads or trails where people can abandon the route if they get tired, or if they only want to go part of the way (the only option really is “walk part way, turn around and go back the way you came”) it’s important to keep that in mind before you go. There also aren’t any facilities–no vending machines, no shops, and no toilets–other than the ones at the start and end of the route, so anything you want to eat or drink, you have to bring with you (and it’s smart to use the bathroom before you go!).

One of several secluded beaches on the trail

The first time I hiked the trail, I walked straight through, but this time I stopped to enjoy a few of the beaches on the way. Although I didn’t try to time this final stop to coincide with the sightseeing ship, it was fun to watch it pass from the water’s edge.

Sightseeing ship on Lake Ashi

The picture below is the view from the official “end” of the trail – though in reality you have to walk through the Ashinoko campground–which has both spaces to put up tents and modern-looking “cabins” for rent, as well as a bunch of barbecue pits with grills (for campers only). The true end of the hike is the dock at Togendai. It’s easy to spot in the picture below because the ship is in port, discharging passengers and taking on new ones for the return trip across the lake.

The ‘end’ of the trail

As usual, I bought a ticket and hopped aboard — which got me back to Hakonemachi in a fraction of the time.

Sightseeing ships – one of my favorite parts of Hakone

From Hakonemachi, I hopped a bus to Odawara and then a shinkansen (bullet train) back to Tokyo. This isn’t the shortest day hike on record–I left home around 6 a.m. and returned about 7 p.m. (though I also stopped for dinner in Shinagawa on the way)–but it’s definitely worth doing, and I’ll go again, when the weather and inspiration strike.

Do you like going back to familiar trails (or familiar sightseeing spots, if you’re not a hiker) or do you prefer to go somewhere new every time?