Hiking the Ashinoko (Lake Ashi) West Bank Walking Course (Hakone)

I’ve hiked a lot in the Hakone area. It’s one of my favorite places in Japan–despite the fact that it gets a lot of tourists (fewer now, with the borders closed, but as a rule it can get quite crowded on weekends and holidays, especially in good weather). This year, I’m trying to hike the last few trails I haven’t hiked before–and I’ll be posting “virtual hikes” here on the blog, for anyone that wants to see the sights (or learn more about the trail).

Access, time, and other info are at the bottom of the post.

In late April, I headed south by shinkansen for a hike I hadn’t done before: the Ashinoko West Bank Walking Course, which (unsurprisingly) follows the western bank of Lake Ashi from Hakonemachi to Togendai.

The sign above sits near the trailhead, which makes the start of the course easy to find. (If you use the Yamap hiking app, like I do, it’s even easier.)

The view from the lake near the trailhead.

It’s always nice when the weather cooperates–and even better when Mt. Fuji decides to say hello.

The road less traveled…

The first part of the trail follows a paved road that curves away from the lake and then splits: one route continues along the road around a small peninsula, while the other follows an earthen trail up a small mountain to a park. If you’re reading this blog, you probably know which route I chose.

The gazebo above sits on the summit of Hatabikiyama (Mt. Hatabiki – 776m) a tiny “mountain” at the center of the park. It gets most of its elevation from the fact that Hakone sits at altitude, so although technically Yamap counted it as a “summit reached” (and I’ll add it to the 1000 summits total) there really wasn’t any significant effort involved in reaching it. However, I did stop here for a delightful breakfast underneath the blooming sakura (cherry) trees. I hadn’t expected them to be in bloom, because the blossoms had already fallen off the trees in Tokyo, but they do bloom later at altitude, and they were a delightful surprise.

Looking upward through the trees while descending Hatabikiyama

After descending from Hatabikiyama, the trail rejoined the road for about 50 meters, and then became an earthen trail once more. From this point, the path paralleled the shore of the lake–and the views were even better than I’d hoped. (The little white “cloud” behind the hills in the center of the picture below is actually the top of Fuji.)

My last view of Fuji on this particular hike. (After this, she was behind the hills.)

Although Hakone is a popular destination, and even now there are usually hikers on the trails, I saw only two other hikers on the trail (and about a dozen people fishing at various places along the shore, but they weren’t near the path). I suspect this trail is probably not too busy even when the area is more crowded, which surprises me a little because the trail is flat, well-marked, and an easy walk.

That said, it isn’t short (about 10 kilometers, start to finish) and there are no “escape routes” service by public transportation along the way, so that probably does limit things a little.

Fisherman at Shirahama “beach”

While the trail doesn’t run along the shore itself, there are multiple short (about 25 meter) sub-trails that connect the walking trail to the beaches. It was so quiet that I could hear the ripples lapping at the rocks on the shore.

One of the forested sections of the trail. The beach is about 20 meters off the right side of the frame.

The trail weaves back and forth between sections with spectacular coastal views and sections that meander through forests of pine, maple, and cherry trees.

One of the most interesting discoveries of the hike.

A little less than halfway along the trail, I came across this monument in the woods, which dates to the Meiji period. Unfortunately, the signboard at the site had weathered to the point that only the era name was legible (and the site wasn’t on any maps I could find), so what it memorializes remains a mystery. That said, I like a good mystery.

Speedboat Bay

A little cove opens off the bay to the left side of the image above. If you look carefully, you can see the slash of white spray kicked up by a little RC speedboat (cigarette boat-style) that was doing donuts in the cove. (It’s partially behind the trees, near the shoreline, on the left side of the frame.) A father and his daughter and son were standing on the shore, controlling the boat and having a fantastic time.

Forest, Lake, Trail. Some of the best things in life.

The picture above does a good job of showing off the dual “lake and forest” nature of the hike. It’s pretty much one beautiful view after another from start to finish.

A new trail bridge

One of several bridges installed over flood channels or other gaps in the trail. While the natural obstacle would not have been difficult to bypass in dry weather (as you can see, the gorge is shallow), it could be dangerous in the rain.

One of the famous Hakone Pirate Ships

I started hiking before Hakone’s famous pirate ships started sailing for the day, but once they started up, they were a nice way to gauge my progress, since they sail on a regular schedule. Also, I just love the pirate ships.

Bridge #2…

A somewhat older (and initially less confidence-inspiring) bridge. Despite its somewhat dubious appearance, it’s quite solid and appeared in good condition when I crossed (in April 2021). As always, make your own judgments when you reach any obstacle on a trail.

Sakura in bloom near Tateiwa

The cove above was a breathtaking surprise. A forested section of the trail rounded a promontory and opened up to reveal this quiet cove surrounded with blooming sakura. I wish the picture did it better justice. At this point, I stopped to enjoy the silence and the view–but a few seconds later, the silence was broken by the sound of hooves and the high-pitched squeal of a fawn calling for its mother.

Hello, Deer!

Mom stopped short when she saw me (see the picture above) and watched me for a couple of minutes, to make sure I wasn’t planning to attack (spoiler alert: I wasn’t) before continuing through the trees. The fawn followed a couple of minutes later–she clearly was trying to wean him, and he clearly wasn’t having it.

First Sight of Togendai

After the deer disappeared into the woods, I continued along the trail–which now had a view of Togendai–the northern port for the pirate ships and the end of the trail for me.

Ashinoko, from the shore near Togendai

The trail passed by a small power station and followed one final curve of the lake before emerging along the shore about a five minute walk from Togendai.

The home stretch – through the campground.

The final five minutes or so follows a path through a campground (with lodges). The path leads directly to Togendai, where it’s possible to catch a ship back across the lake, a bus to a variety of places (including Hakone-Yumoto Station and Odawara), or–as I did–the Hakone ropeway up to Owakudani, where I rewarded myself with lunch on the volcano.

For anyone who wants to take the hike itself, the details are below:

Hike Info:

Access/Trailhead: Bus from Hakone-Yumoto Station to Hakonemachi-ko; trailhead is to the left of the bus stop, facing the lake. Return: Pirate ship from Togendai to Motohakone-ko; bus to Hakone-Yumoto Station

Total distance: 11km

Elevation Gain/Loss: 484m ascent / 201m descent (i.e., “mostly flat”)

Time Spent: 4 hours, 11 minutes (This was my time…YMMV)