Ashigara Touge (足柄峠) to Ashigara Castle Ruins (足柄城)
This hike is a favorite of mine because it’s literally in my backyard. Thus, I’ve had the opportunity to visit and revisit in different seasons. Each time, I am surprised to see a view I’ve seen before look even more beautiful in a different season. The mountains of Ashigara are famous for being the birthplace of the legendary axe-wielding bear-defeating boy god Kintaro（金太郎）. Kintaro is the mascot of Oyama Town（小山町）so you’ll see his statue everywhere.
The starting point of this hike is from Ashigara Station（足柄駅） in Oyama Town, on the JR Gotemba line（御殿場線）. Ashigara Station is a small unmanned station. Purchase a ticket before boarding the train, and hand your ticket to the train driver at Ashigara. Note that not all the train doors open at this particular station, and that only the first door of each carriage opens for alighting passengers. Suica cards, stored-value or pre-paid train passes cannot be used because there isn’t a machine to deduct your fare at the station. For the return trip, you could either purchase a ticket from the train driver/conductor after the train departs from Ashigara Station, or pay in cash at your destination station.
Once you arrive at Ashigara station, you’ll feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. The facilities at the station are basic – a very clean bathroom (great for a bathroom break because the next bathroom you’d come across is at the midway point between the start of the trail and the top of Mt. Kintoki) with heated toilet seats (bliss for anyone who has ever had the experience of sitting on a cold toilet seat in winter). Stock up on drinks at the vending machines near the exit of the station, or trot over to the only convenience store across the road from the station. There is an ATM at the convenience store. The other shops along this quiet main street near the station are a post office, liquor store and a clinic. Note that there are no restaurants or cafes near the station and there are no coin lockers in the station.
After alighting from the train coming in from Gotemba station, cross over the tracks to the other side. On a clear day, you may see the top of Mt. Fuji peeking out from behind a small hill to your left. After crossing the train tracks, with your back to Mt. Fuji, follow the small tarmac road upwards to the Ashigara Touge （足柄峠） trail head. Walk until you come to the fork of the road. Both choices will lead the trail head, but I’d suggest taking the path to the left for a more scenic route. Continue upwards on the road which goes past houses and farmland, toward the forest and the sound of water gurgling in a stream. After you’ve walked past the last house and last vegetable patch with a scarecrow, you’ll see a lovely little hidden shrine. This shrine is lovely in all seasons – surrounded by lush green trees in summer, sakura or cherry blossoms in spring, momiji or red leaves in autumn, and snow in winter. Say a quick little prayer here and be sure to check out the small waterfall at the back of the shrine, especially after a bout of heavy rain. The start of the trail follows the waterfall in a reverse direction. Cross a small bridge over the bubbling stream and continue along the Ashigara Pass. The tarmac road leads to a dirt trail and that is the start of the Ashigara Pass trail. This path can be a little muddy and slippery after a storm. The path is especially lovely in autumn when it is strewn with gold and yellow leaves. It also gets a little icy in winter and could be a slippery. A pair of light snow or ice cleats or crampons could be useful but not really necessary. I’ve trekked up the mountain in February, after a bout of heavy snowfall, with my basic but sturdy hiking boots.
This trail is seldom used so you’ll feel like you’re in your own secret forest, surrounded by tall pine trees. It’s very quiet on the trail, except for the sound of flowing water. To your right, you will see a mid-sized waterfall and a pool of very clear water. This is a lovely spot to stop for a picnic on a hot muggy summer day or a quick drink of water. It’s great for dipping your feet in too. Continuing on, you will see some steps leading away from the main path. This set of steps lead to a waterfall. The climb itself takes around 10-15 minutes, depending on your level of fitness. It is better to visit this waterfall during the rainy season. The waterfall isn’t particularly spectacular so it’s not on the must-see list. There is an abandoned hut at the top of the steps and a small shrine. Allocate an additional 15 to 20 minutes for this side trip.
Back on the Ashigara touge trail – you will know you are on the right track if you see the sign that says Ashigara Touge （足柄峠), with a gurgling stream to your right. The path stops at a road with the occasional car or mountain biker training for a race. In autumn, you will be able to see a very pretty yellow gingko tree here.
Take a left turn and you’ll be walking on a winding tarmac road, which can get a little steep at some sections. Keep walking until you see a sign that says Old Ashigara Trail （古道）. At this point, you could choose to continue walking along the tarmac road or take the cobbled steps leading into the forest. I’d suggest taking the forest trail because you’ll be rewarded with some lovely views of Mt. Fuji. The cobbled path ends abruptly and you’ll be walking on a dirt path again. Keep hiking until you reach another segment of tarmac road. Cross over and continue on the Old Ashigara Trail. The terrain could be uneven with jutting rocks and tree roots, but it is not particularly strenuous, just be a little careful if you have weak ankles or knees.
As you ascend, you will be tantalized by sneak peeks of Mt. Fuji. When you chance upon a clearing, remember to stop, turn around and look behind you. The hike from Ashigara Station to Ashigara Castle ruins takes around 130 minutes, without any breaks. Factor in rest times and visits to the shrine and waterfall.
Upon reaching the end of the Old Ashigara Trail, walk along the road toward the rest area and a little park, which is up a flight of stairs. This is a good spot to sit on a bench or at the gazebo or on the grass for a short break (or picnic) and to admire the views of Mt. Fuji which is spectacular on a clear day, the mountains in the horizon and Gotemba City at the foot of Mt. Fuji. The view here at sunset on a clear day is particularly lovely. On warm and sunny weekends, families have picnics on the grounds. In winter, small kids (and big kids) like to slide down snow banks. This area gets at least 10cm of snow every winter. It is the only area in Shizuoka – generally known for its mild weather – where you can look forward to building a real snowman every year.
You have reached the view point along Ashigara Pass. The castle which used to be on this platform had been destroyed. There is a memorial stone and a tomb of a deceased lord of Ashigara here.
Level: Easy to Medium
Gear: To attempt this hike, all you need is a sturdy pair of boots or trainers. The trail is mostly a gradual hike up flat terrain, except for some parts along the Old Trail where you have to step over uneven rock and tree roots. A walking stick is useful here. The trail can be slippery when wet and muddy or covered in ice.
Watch out for: Occasional vehicles along the road, wild boars or inoshishi（いのしし）and hunters with guns. I have seen the latter along the trail when hiking, but not the former.
Ashigara Station -> Ashigara Castle ruins (130 minutes) 5.3km
There are several options after you are done admiring the view at Ashigara Castle ruins, depending on how tired you are or how much time you have. I have included information about all available options below.
Tip: The view of Mt. Fuji from Ashigara touge is really beautiful at sunset. Be careful that you don’t accidentally forget the time. It gets very dark on the trail and there are no lights along the Ashigara touge trail. If you do not manage to finish your hike before dark, I’d suggest walking along the road toward Ashigara station, instead of heading into the forested part of the trail.
It is possible to complete the hike to Ashigara castle, Manyoukoen, Mt. Kintoki and Chikai no oka in one day, if you start early in the morning.
Option 1: Go back the way you came from, back to Ashigara Station. Plus another 130 minutes.