Hakone is a popular destination for tourists who come for the many hot springs, fancy restaurants and historic ryokan (inns). But, it’s also favored hikers and trail runners who come for the miles of well groomed trails. However, just over the mountains, on the “other side,” is a small, not-so-well-known town called Minami-Ashigara（南足柄）.
The locals persistently dug deep in search of their own hot springs fame, but to no avail. Just when they felt resigned to being overshadowed forever by their famous neighbor, they hit the jackpot. Deep beneath an old campground called the Acorn House（どんぐりの家）, they discovered a source that delivered steaming, hot, bubbling onsen water.
The Daiyuzan Trail is a round trip route starting and ending at the Only You Ashigara Hot Springs （あしがら温泉おんり〜ゆ〜）, a beautiful onsen facility built atop the former Acorn House. The trail is not as well known as those in Hakone, but it’s just as good—if not better—for trail runners who prefer uncrowded trails with fantastic views and, best yet, a beautiful outdoor onsen set deep in the forest awaiting you at the end of your run.
To get there, take the bus from Daiyuzan Station（大雄山駅） to “Only You” (note the pun: “yu” means “hot water” in Japanese). The price is a bit steep (¥1,800) but includes a day-use locker to stash all your belongings while on the trail, two towels and a comfortable pair of pajama-like pants and shirt/jacket you can wear while lounging around. Of course, it also includes unlimited après-trail run bathing in the hot springs.
From Only You, walk along the paved road toward Daiyuzan Saijoji（大雄山最乗寺）. This is a majestic Buddhist temple built more than 615 years ago and is still frequented by worshippers from around the country. The path leading to the temple is surrounded by an ancient grove of towering cedar trees.
In order to protect these precious trees, it’s said that anyone caught cutting one down was punished by having their hands cut off. The obvious result is a beautiful forest filled with thousands of huge trees for later generations (us) to enjoy.
The trailhead is located across a small bridge by the huge bright red geta (wooden sandals). From here, the trail heads toward the peak of Myojingatake（明神ヶ岳）. The climb is simple but long, about two to two-and-a-half hours, so take your time.
On your way up, you’ll cross a road and then pass “Miharashi Goya” (Viewpoint Hut / 明神岳見晴小屋）, where the view is nice, but not as nice as its name suggests. Keep climbing. Halfway up the mountain, there are two springs（湧き水）, “Shinmeisui” （神明水）and “Myōjinsui”（明神水）where you can fill your water bottle as the water trickles out of the earth, although the latter often dries up.
Further along the way, you’ll notice some rusted towers and remnants of what appears to be an old ski lift; relics from a not-so-ancient history. Turn around, look back and enjoy the outstanding vistas. Near the top, the path becomes steep, but hang in there; it’s just another few minutes to the top.
When you reach the end of the path, turn right and continue a few hundred meters to Myōjingatake. You are now on the border of Hakone and “the other side,” and the 360-degree panoramas from here are outstanding. To the south, you’ll see the town of Hakone and, on a clear day, you’ll be able to see out to the ocean. The white “clouds” below are from the volcanic steam vents of Owakudani Valley（大湧谷）.
To the northeast, you’ll see the towns of Minami-Ashigara and Odawara, Sagami Bay and, if you’re lucky, a glimpse of Chiba Prefecture way beyond the bay.
You won’t want to leave the fantastic views, but now it is time to descend. You have several choices. One is to take the trail down the Hakone side to Miyagino or, for a longer hike, all the way to the Tōnosawa（塔ノ沢） or Kinotokiyama trailheads（金時山登山口）.
The one suggested here is to go back down “the other side.” Continue west along the ridge for about five minutes to the trailhead leading down to Saijōji Okunoin（最乗寺奥の院）. There’s a small sign on your right hand side marking the trail. Take that trail down.
If you’re an avid downhill trail runner, this is where you’ll be greatly rewarded. From here the trail consists of continuous, smile-inducing, gravity defying slopes. Parts of it are smooth paths and others are technical, complete with roots, rocks and obstacles.
Cross the paved road and continue descending. You’ll pass “Okunoin” located high up the mountain within the innermost reaches of the Saijouji Temple. Take a very long set of stone stairs down to the main temple buildings of Daiyuzan Saijōji. This is where your trail journey will come to an end.
Stop by the main temple to say a few prayers and thank the trail gods. Ring the bronze temple bell, pick up an omikuji (fortune) and perhaps a few Daiyuzan Saijoji amulets for good luck. This temple is well known for bringing worshippers good fortune.
From here, take the same route back to “Only You” where you can throw off your trail shoes, kick back and relax in the hot springs on “the other side.”
Minami Ashigara, Kanagawa
By train (from Shinjuku): Take the Odakyu Odawara Line (Rapid Train) to Odawara Station. From there, transfer to the Izu Hakone Tetsudo Daiyuzan Line and get off at Daiyuzan Station. The bus station is right next to the train station. Take the bus heading to Daiyuzan Saijōji and get off at Daiyuzan Saijōji Temple. Travel time is approximately two and a half hours.
By car: Take the Tomei Expressway and exit at Ōi-Matsuda.
Approximate Distance & Time: 8.3 km. round trip / 3.5 – 4.5 hours
Best time to go: Year around
Note: All distances and times are approximate. Times will vary widely depending on the individual.
Hiking map: Yama-to-Kōgen Map #29 “Hakone”
Note, though, this map only shows the route from Daiyuzan up to Myōjingatake. The route down is not shown on this map, so follow the signs. You can also pick up a good hiking map of the Minami Ashigara area at a tourist office or at the Only You Hot Springs.
Web sites: Daiyuzan Saijōji (大雄山最乗寺): www.daiyuuzan.or.jp
Hot Springs: Ashigara-no-onsen Only You (あしがらの温泉 おんり〜ゆ〜)
Tel: (0465) 72-1126