Tokyo residents in need of fresh air and greenery can spend half a day climbing Mt Takao-san (599m / 1965ft), in the hilly Western reaches of the Tokyo prefecture.
The place is especially popular during the kōyō (紅葉, autumn leaves) season, usually around the second and third week of November.
A favourite of Tokyoites, it can get crowded on weekends and national holidays, especially by fair weather.
The hike to the top is relatively easy, even for children. There are several trails, but the most frequented is the well-paved route No 1. Other routes are rougher paths that will appeal to those in need for real nature away from the crowds, although the view is probably the best from route No 1.
It takes about 90 minutes to reach the top, but this can be cut in half by skipping the steepest part using the cable car (￥470 one-way), which most Japanese weekenders in fact do. That explains why almost all the souvenirs shops, food stalls and vending machines that are not at the top of the hill are to be found around the cable car station.
The Yakuo-in Temple (薬王院) sits half-way between the cable car exit and the top of Takao-san. It is the main attraction and has delightful red, blue and green wood-carving representing dragons, foxes and humans. It is not without resemblance with Nikko's Tōshōgu shrine.
Although hiking in Takaosan is relatively easy, take good walking shoes if you intend to take the smaller paths such as the Inari route, as there are rocks and big tree roots galore.
The famous dango from Takao-san
View from Mt. Takao in Autumn
How to get there
The Keio line is the fastest and cheapest way from Tokyo. The journey takes 45 minutes from Shinjuku to Takaosan-guchi station and cost ¥ 370. Alternatively, the JR Chuo-line cost ¥890 from Shinjuku to Takao-san station, and is only really interesting if you have the Japan Rail Pass. But you will need to catch another train for the remaining one-stop (￥120) Takaosan-guchi if you don't want to walk unnecessarily.