Japan’s Three Sacred Mountains: Hiking Hakusan

It’s almost June, which means hiking season is nearly upon us! While some areas have been “hikeable” for a while now, the tallest summits are still snow covered into early summer. Mt. Fuji is only open to hikers in July, August and the beginning of September. Out west, the Japan Alps get so much snow that many sections are impassable for the average hiker until late June. Mt. Fuji, although famous internationally, is actually only one of three sacred mountains in Japan (三霊山) along with Mt. Haku (白山, Hakusan in Japanese, which means White Mountain) and Mt. Tate (立山, Tateyama). Hiking Mt. Fuji comes up frequently on bucket lists but is famously better from a distance, thanks to the ridiculous crowds and the rocky, plant-free landscape. You’re much better off visiting the lakes around Mt. Fuji and taking your hiking boots over to one of Japan’s other sacred mountains. Tateyama, in Toyama prefecture, is the next tallest after Fuji at 3,015 meters and is reportedly a relatively easy hike that can be completed in a couple of hours. I have plans to climb it this summer and will be posting photos and a complete guide here! Hakusan, in Ishikawa prefecture, is the smallest of the three sacred mountains and I am lucky enough to get to see it everyday on my drive to work. (The best view ironically is on the section of highway right next to the local Costco. 🤦 Oh Japan!) It’s the furthest west of the three mountains; on a clear day you can see the Sea of Japan from the summit.

Hakusan, Ishikawa JAPAN
Early morning light near Bettodeai
Hakusan, Ishikawa JAPAN
Rock colorations near Bettodeai
Hakusan, Ishikawa JAPAN
Resting midway between Bettodeai and Murodo

Hakusan consists of three separate peaks, the tallest of which is Gozengamine (御前峰) at 2,702 meters. Gozengamine incredibly has a shrine at the very top with a charming green, metal roof. (How in the world did they carry the building materials all that way up!?) The peak also has a view over Midorigaike, a deep blue-green pool formed in a volcanic crater. There are several different routes to the peak, including a route from Gifu prefecture up the east side of the mountain! From the west side of the mountain, both the Saboshindo route and the Kankoshindo route start from the same trailhead. Pick your route based on how much time you have and difficulty you can handle; you can choose the day of easily and try the other route on your descent. You can see a general map here, the routes are well marked throughout the trail system. Hiking the Saboshindo route to the top of Gozengamine is a very full day hike. Try to time your arrival for sunrise and be aware of your pace so that you can make it back in plenty of time before sunset, the hike takes approximately 8-10 hours. If you’re not so into getting up early and doing the whole hike in one day, another popular option is hiking up one day to Murodo, spending a night in the lodge, getting up to see the sunrise and having a leisurely hike down. Be sure to reserve in advance, information here.

Hakusan, Ishikawa JAPAN
View of Midagahara, a rare flat section

Hakusan, Ishikawa JAPAN

Hakusan, Ishikawa JAPAN
View of Murodo Lodge from Gozengamine
Hakusan, Ishikawa JAPAN
Hikers fill the switchbacks above

Start your hike at Bettodeai. You can drive and park here in the fall, or get a bus from Ichinose for 500 yen each way during peak season. You can get public transportation all the way from Kanazawa station, find complete information here. Grab a map at the visitors center, choose a route up, and get hiking. Those super tall stairs that you spend the first hour doing vertical lunges up? There will be plenty more of those. This is ascending a mountain, so most of the hike is very much uphill. Take breaks, drink water, and snap lots of photos. Even if you’re not staying over night, Murodo (where the lodge is) is a great place to sit and have lunch before pushing those last 40 minutes to the very top.

Hakusan, Ishikawa JAPAN
Summit view of Gozengamine, 2702 meters
Hakusan, Ishikawa JAPAN
View of Midorigaike, a volcanic crater, from Gozengamine
Hakusan, Ishikawa JAPAN
View of the Sea of Japan from Gozengamine

Make sure you bring:

  • LUNCH — this is the time to break out those onigiri… or Costco sandwiches if you’ve just been in Japan too long.
  • Water — obviously. Bring a lot. There are some stations for refilling bottles, but better safe then sorry.
  • Rain gear — even when its all sun in the forecast, just bring it.
  • Shoes — hiking boots are your best bet! If you only have running shoes (and they’re comfortable) you’ll be fine. Don’t wear Converse.
  • Sunscreen — even just pop some on your nose before you leave the house.
  • Phone/camera/anything to take pictures
Hakusan, Ishikawa JAPAN
Fall colors along the path
Hakusan, Ishikawa JAPAN
Racing daylight back to the trailhead

Once you’ve made it all the way back down, relax those bones in one of the local onsens. There’s plenty right along Rte. 157. Take your pick! (I’ve been eyeing this one.) You could even book a room for the night in Shiramine and be able to hop right back in the onsen when you wake up the next day and realize you actually can’t walk. (That will happen. It will happen the day after as well. Sorry! But it is worth it. And good for you?)

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If you make it all the way up to Hakusan, don’t miss the chance to visit Shirakawa-go, a charming village of traditional Japanese farmhouses with thatched roofs that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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