Hiking Mt.Unzen during Autumn

I visited Unzen in early November, looking forward to something more rural after being in Nagasaki. I hadn’t been lucky with autumn leaves in Saga, so I was delighted to see more and more appear as the bus brought us got closer to our destination. The view that greeted me as I hopped off the bus:

But before I jump into my trip report, let’s talk a bit about how to get to Mt.Unzen. It can be a difficult trip to plan with public transportation.

There are direct buses from Nagasaki to Unzen, but they depart later in the day. They are a good option if you only want to visit the Unzen hells. If you want to have enough time to visit Mt.Unzen and Unzen town together in one day, you’re going to have to take the first bus from Isahaya. For reference:

Nagasaki station train departs at 06:39am
Arrival Isahaya at 07:07am
Bus departs from Isahaya Bus Terminal at 07:20am
Arrival Unzen 08:41am
Shared taxi departs from Unzen at 09:00am
(Bus and taxi times may vary depending on traffic.)

The price for direct buses from Nagasaki and train + bus from Isahaya are around the same. It is best to make a reservation for the shared taxi to Mt.Unzen to ensure you have a seat and it costs 430yen one way (pay upon arrival, three taxis a day). As for Isahaya, once you get off the train you will probably want to run a bit to the Bus Terminal (follow the station’s bus signs and once outside go up the stairs and cross the bridge passing over the road into the Bus Terminal building). At the Bus Terminal, the person at the counter can point you to the correct bus stop.

Of course, all this only applies if you’ll be using public transportation, if you have your own car you don’t have to subject yourself to the infrequent timetables!

The view from the shared taxi was absolutely gorgeous. I was a bit late for autumn leaves at the top of the mountain, but the road leading to the ropeway was a show of oranges and yellows. I think I’ll even go as far as to say some of the best colours I’ve seen in Kyushu!

Above, a new friend I met during the ride and, below, the beautiful views from the ropeway.

The main trail starts near the upper ropeway station: the trail to the right is a viewpoint and the left leads to the mountain’s shrine as well as different hiking courses. English signs are decent, but I recommend learning to read the name of whichever trail you’re hiking so you’ll have an easier time. The mist still covered the area during my visit, giving the shrine a very mysterious feel.

But as I started walking and getting lower, the mist eventually cleared up a bit.

It’s a steady downhill walk until reaching a fork in the road. I decided to try Fugendake, the tallest accessible mountain (1359m), but I took the shorter trail rather than the long loop since signs warned of a rockslide.

The sign said it was a simple 30min uphill but, as expected, I took a while longer than that.

And finally I reached the top! There were quite a few people around the ropeway station, but I was alone on Fugendake.

I highly recommend you buy a one way ticket for the ropeway and simply continue walking back down to the starting point. If you buy a roundtrip ticket, you’ll have to hike uphill back to the ropeway station.

After Fugendake there were many more trees and some nice autumn leaves too. The view of Shimabara city and Kumamoto from the lower ropeway station, after the mist cleared:

And with that I took the next shared taxi back to Unzen town, where I spent the rest of the day. I would visit Mt.Unzen in late October or early November (before the 12th, which was when I visited) to get the best autumn leaves, though Unzen town does turn colours around early-mid November if you’re trying to get both together.

 

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