Possibly the most iconic view of Japan, Mount Fuji is the highest volcano in the country and a regular bucket list destination for any adventure seeker visiting the country of the rising sun. Hiking Mount Fuji should be a must on your list too!
Hiking Mount Fuji with no guide was my favourite adventure of all my time in Japan and you should definitely go for it!
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Volcanic activity created Mount Fuji around 100 thousand years ago and its current aspect dates to 3500 years back.
The last time Fuji erupted was in 1707 and up until the 1950s there were visible fumes around the craters so it’s still considered an active volcano.
At 3776m of altitude, this is a fantastic mountain to climb. Depending on your pace and trail you take, it could take anything between 5 and 9 hours to summit.
MY HIKING ESSENTIALS
Hiking Mount Fuji with a guide
There are many tour operators around Tokyo and other major cities advertising guided hikes, if you’re considering this, I can tell you already: it’s not necessary!
Climbing Mount Fuji is perfectly doable on your own, it’s pretty much impossible to get lost and you just need a minimum amount of fitness for this day-hike, but that’s also a requirement with a guided tour!
If you’re barely confident when on the mountains, do yourself a favour and save the money you’d pay to a guide as Japan is already quite an expensive country so no need to spend more than you should.
If like me, you’re traveling on a budget, have a look at my post about Hitchhiking in Japan for some more money-saving tips when backpacking in Japan.
How to climb Mount Fuji: The Trails
There are 4 different trails to hike up to the summit of Mount Fuji: Yoshida Trail, Fujinomiya Trail, Subashiri Trail and Gotemba Trail (that’s the order from the most popular to the least transited trail)
We took the Fujinomiya Trail to go up and the Gotemba Trail to go down.
For the Fujinomiya Trail most people choose to start at the 5th station at 2400m of altitude as there’s a bus arriving there.
We decided to start from the old tollgate situated at 1460m of altitude. You can reach this point by bus. The image above shows the exact point we started.
We decided to take the Fujinomiya trail after our couchsurfing host suggested it. We didn’t want the most popular and crowded Yoshida Trail and the Fujinomiya being steep and rocky seemed like a fun option.
The Gotemba Trail was also suggested by our host to go down as it features a thrilling section known as the Osunabashiri (“great sand run”). Keep reading for more on this!
How to get there
I was lucky enough to have a wonderful couchsurf host in the city of Fuji that took me and two other friends to the old tollgate by car, but if you’re not so lucky you can still reach each trail by bus.
These are the access options for each trailhead:
Yoshida Trail: Mountain bus from Kawaguchiko and Fujisan Stations.
Fujinomiya Trail: Mountain bus from Mishima, Fuji, Shin-Fuji and Fujinomiya Stations.
Subashiri Trail: Mountain bus from Gotemba and Shinmatsuda Station.
Gotemba Trail: Mountain bus from Gotemba Station.
Make sure to check the times for the buses, they tend to be every 1 or 2 hours. They only work during the official season which tends to be between early July and early September.
You can also go straight from Tokyo to Kawaguchiko by train from Shinjuku station. There are also buses from Shinjuku during the climbing season. Both options are pretty expensive so if you have the time, I’d recommend to hitchhike to Fuji or Gotemba and get a bus towards your starting point from there.
The trailheads are situated at the 5th station of each trail, I’d highly recommend to start the Fujinomiya Trail from the old tollgate as you get almost an extra 750m of vertical climbing plus the hike starts on a lush green forest which is really beautiful.
There are also some stunning views a few hundred meters before arriving to the 5th station. Even with lots of clouds as we had, these views were only increasing our excitement of what was going to lie ahead of us!
Preparing to climb Mount Fuji with no guide
Considering that from the old tollgate at the Fujinomiya Trail to the summit of Mount Fuji there are more than 2100m of vertical climb, you need to prepare yourself well with plenty of water and snacks.
There are shops at each station where you can buy food and drinks, but the higher you climb the higher the prices will be, even for the use of the toilets the price increase the higher you are.
I filled my 3L Camelback with water, and at a supermarket in Fuji bought 3 oniguiris, banana chips, peanuts, chocolate cookies and some sort of Japanese cookies which I have no idea what flavour they were.
Make sure to have plenty of snacks as you will be burning lots of calories! we also took a small bottle of sake to celebrate at sunrise!
On top of food, a really important thing is to bring warm clothes as if you climb overnight it will get pretty cold! think of it as if going skiing. I took (and wore!):
Base layers (top and bottom), hiking trousers, warm socks, mid layer top, down liner jacket, waterproof jacket, beanie, gloves, hiking boots. I also took a pair of waterproof shell trousers but luckily didn’t have to use them as it didn’t rain that night.
Trust me, at the beginning it seems like a lot of clothes, but you will need them all! I’d even recommend to grab some hand warmer patches if you suffer with cold hands and/or feet.
Be prepared for changing weather conditions and have waterproof layers, also a rain cover for your backpack, even that we didn’t have rain, the humidity and the clouds that you walk through will make your backpack get pretty wet.
When to start hiking Mount Fuji
One of the most magical aspects of climbing Mount Fuji is to enjoy the sunrise at the summit. For me this idea is quite romantic, to see the sunrise in the country of the rising sun from its highest point. WOW!
You could start with the last bus of the day. During the climbing season you still have buses departing at around 19:00 from Fujisan Station.
Some people I met on the way up started earlier around noon and spend part of the night sleeping in one of the many stations’ huts.
If you’re travelling on a budget you can discard this option as it cost about USD $60 to just spend a night there!!! definitely not on my backpacker budget.
We started hiking at the old tollgate at 16:30 which was more than enough time to hike overnight and arrive by sunrise at 3:50am. More than enough may be an understatement, it was simply way too early!
However! by starting at this time we still managed to have some wonderful views before sunset and we were actually quite happy about this as the landscape was stunning. This was just before we arrived to the 6th station (we didn’t pass by the 5th as we left it on a side trail) so we were still pretty much on our own with no more people around.
Starting the Fujinomiya Trail Hike from the Old Tollgate
Right at the entrance of the trail by the Old Tollgate there’s a map of the area showing all the trails. I actually find it curious when these sort of maps show the distance in time instead of Kilometres as the times to climb are always relative depending on your pace.
We found the times on the map to be quite generous as we were doing in one hour what it is “supposed” to take an hour an a half approximately.
Every half an hour or so you will find signs showing where you are exactly, that always helps to pace yourself a little.
If like us, you start hiking pretty early, you can then slow down and take it easy as the night will be long and cold! so after our initial start at what I’d call a regular pace that ended up being much faster than what the signs were mentioning we decided to take it slowly and do more stops, either to rest or simply to admire the beauty of the mountain as we had many hours ahead.
The hike first start with a green lush forest which had some fog and made it look a bit mystic, I really enjoyed this section as there was no one at all and we even saw in the distance a bunch of wild deers.
This forest section lasted for about 2 hours (we already decided to slow down a bit) and ended at around the same altitude of the 5th station.
From here it was the first time we were able to see up the mountain but because of the clouds we couldn’t see the summit. The terrain also changed to volcanic gravel at this point.
Fun (and sad) fact: in all of the time I was backpacking in Japan (including climbing Fuji) I was never able to see the iconic volcano in the distance. The clouds were permanently blocking the view and I was told that this is very common and that the best time of the year to see Mount Fuji in the distance is in winter time.
The most I saw was the shadow of it, keep reading to see that 😉
We arrived to the 6th station 3 hours after we started down at the old tollgate. The 6th station is at 2490m so we calculated that if it took us 3 hours to slowly climb just over 1000 meters and we were already almost half way to the summit we had to decide on where to spend the night.
There was no discussion that this was going to be under the stars as we were not going to pay 60 US dollars for a couple of hours rest, but more on to at what altitude, as the highest we would be the colder it would get.
We decided to push just a little more and 45 minutes later we arrived to the “new” 7th station and decided to set up our non-existent camp and spend a few hours there.
Spending the night at the new 7th station
At the 7th station it was dark already. There you will find a long bench where it’s possible for 3 or 4 people to lay down, which we did at the beginning but after a couple of hours more people started to arrive so out of politeness we sat as to not to take over the entire area.
Be careful with your food if you decide to stay there for a while as I saw quite a few rats wandering around.
The new 7th Station is at 2780m of altitude, just a few meters short of 1000 meters to the summit.
We were very lucky to have a wonderful starry night as even that I found it hard to actually sleep I enjoyed the wonderful view while trying not to think too much of the cold. I had to put all my layers on and it was still pretty cold, so make sure to prepare well for this!
Whenever you’re climbing is easy to be really warm, but at the point of stopping for a little while is when you get very cold really quickly. We stayed at the 7th station for almost 5 hours…
Considering that sunrise was going to be just minutes before 4am, we decided to start hiking again right after midnight, what a pleasure to feel warm again!
It took us about 40 minutes to get to the 8th station and then 30 more minutes to arrive to the 9th.
This last stretch was already pretty crowded and at a much slower pace as the trail is steep and narrow, making it quite hard to overtake large groups of people.
By now we knew the summit was just about 45 minutes away so we took another forced long stop at the 9th station which is pretty crowded and difficult to even find a spot to sit and chill for a while.
Summiting Mount Fuji!
The final section of the climb between the 9th station and the summit, passing through the 9.5 station, was in all honesty the one that I enjoyed the least as here the crowds were already quite large and the pace was pretty slow.
it’s worth pointing out that at this altitude you already need to be careful and climb slowly to avoid any altitude sickness though, so if you get stuck with the crowds just think that it’s all for the good. Better and safer to climb slowly no matter how strong you’re feeling.
Always remember! if you start feeling even a slight headache when you’re over 2500m take it very slowly or stop completely. If the pain doesn’t fade you have to go down a few hundred meters.
Altitude sickness can be fatal so always be extremely careful, even more if you consider yourself very fit as that will make you confident to climb faster which can actually act against you.
Once we reached the summit we had to still go counter-clockwise around the crater to position ourselves facing east for the best spot to catch the sunrise. You can calculate this to take some 15-25 minutes depending on when you finally decide to stop.
When we finally decided a spot with not many people around and protected from the wind it was only a matter of minutes to be rewarded by nature’s magical way to greet the new day.
To catch the first glimpse of dawn at the ceiling of Japan was even more magical than I was expecting. Our celebratory small bottle of sake was perhaps even too small! it not only tasted great but also helped to warm up.
Exploring the top of Mount Fuji
Once the colours of the sky finished offering the show of a magical sunrise it was time to go around the crater to explore and enjoy the 360 views.
When daylight is strong enough you’re finally able to see the amount of people that made it up with you across the four different trails. Quite a few people…for the entire summer climbing season there’s an average of 5000 people climbing every day…
Fortunately that doesn’t ruin the entire experience as the crater rim is pretty large and there are only a couple of hotspots where the crowds tend to gather, this is by the two shrines as there are some restaurants and souvenir shops and even a post office.
Prepare yourself for quite a queue if you’d like to post a letter from the top of Mount Fuji!
Going around the rim of the crater (there are actually two visible craters!) you get wonderful views, on the west side of the crater, opposite to where the sun rises, we got this wonderful view of the iconic shape of Fuji.
This was the closest I came to see Fuji “in the distance” among all my time in Japan as every other day the mountain was completely covered in clouds.
Once we completed the circle around the crater it was time to make our way down.
Hiking down Mount Fuji via the Gotemba Trail
All good hikes sadly have to come to an end at some point. But when you’re Hiking in Mount Fuji, the way down doesn’t necessarily mean taking a boring trail back. If any, this iconic volcano still had more adventures planned for us!
For the way down we took the less transited and longest Gotemba Trail which goes through nearly featureless terrain made up of fields of lava rock.
The trail starts with a series of steps and rocky patches, that last for about an hour.
Once you reach the 7th station you can take a left on the trail that is used to go up to the summit or take the right trail and prepare for lots of fun! This is a good spot to have a snack and hydrate yourself as the best is yet to come!
This is the beginning of a thrilling section of the trail, known as the Osunabashiri (“great sand run”), this is a wide, straight path covered in loose lava gravel where you can run down a third of the mountain. This is an awesome highlight of your Mount Fuji hiking adventure!
No matter how tired you are, the incline of the mountain mixed with the soft terrain that makes your feet sink a bit on the gravel will slowly push you into a run!
It’s actually harder to just walk on this section, so even that by this time I was already at almost 24 hours with no sleep and a little overnight climb on my legs, it was an incredibly fun way to hike (run!) down Mount Fuji.
The soft terrain also makes it really gentle on your knees as the shock is absorbed by the gravel.
The run down the mountain is pretty long, because of the excitement I didn’t pay attention on how long it took but the sign boards say that it takes 60 minutes to go down. I guess it may have taken us some 40 minutes or so to cross the Osunabashiri based on all the other timings we had going up and down.
When the Osunabashiri ends I was hungry for more! I really wanted to keep running but the terrain gets a lot more compact and by then the tiredness on my legs were transforming into some pain on my knees so I had to force myself to just walk again.
By the end of the Osunabashiri there was still a 30-40min hike towards the 5th station, where the Gotemba trail starts/ends. By this point we were surrounded by fog and then eventually started raining a little bit.
At the 5th Station is were our couchsurf host was going to pick us up. Here you can also grab a bus towards Gotemba.
Going back to Gotemba from Mount Fuji 5th Station
Aim to time your way down with the buses as they’re not very frequent, during the climbing season of July-September, the buses going from the 5th Station to Gotemba depart at:
9:15, 10:15, 12:15, 14:15, 15:45 and 17:45 (remember that in Japan the times are punctually sharp so don’t be late!
At the 5th station you can have some breakfast and drinks. There’s also a souvenir shop and free wifi available in case you have to wait too long for the bus.
Wanna go Hiking Mount Fuji with no guide?
GO GO GO! this is a fantastic and iconic volcano to tick off your bucket list adventures.
You do NOT need a guide to go hiking Mount Fuji, just make sure to have plenty of warm clothes (and be prepared with waterproofs) and take plenty of snacks and water as well, although you can buy these during the hike at a much more higher price you’d pay elsewhere in Japan.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about Hiking Mount Fuji with no guide or if you would like to share your experience I’d also love to hear about it!
If you’re backpacking in Asia have a look at my other posts about my adventures in Japan for more ideas on your next trip! 🙂