Hakone is a popular destination for visitors to Japan. Located about two hours outside of Tokyo, this charming lakeside community offers peaceful hikes, relaxing hot springs, and ideal views of Mount Fuji when it isn’t hidden in clouds. After spending several days in Tokyo, we decided to get out of the busy city in search of solitude and serenity on a day trip to Hakone. Many who make this trip purchase the Hakone FreePass which gives them unlimited transportation throughout the area.
How to get to Hakone from Tokyo
Hakone is easy to get to by train from Tokyo. From Shinjuku station in Tokyo, you’ll take the train to Odawara. You’ll then transfer to another train to take you to Hakone-Yumoto Station. For an additional cost, you can purchase a ticket on the limited express Romancecar, which is a luxury tourist train with reserved seating. A day trip to Hakone is easily done from Tokyo. If you use the Hakone FreePass, you will likely spend most of the day and evening in Hakone and around Lake Ashi.
Hakone FreePass Itinerary
The Hakone FreePass is an unlimited transportation pass around Hakone and the Lake Ashi area. The pass costs 4,000 yen per person (approximately $37). Our 2 year-old was free. Although it may sound pricey, there is a lot included with the pass. If you purchase the Hakone FreePass, your day trip to Hakone and Lake Ashi will include various methods of transportation. The Hakone FreePass includes unlimited travel on the following:
You’ll also get discounts at about 50 local businesses and establishments if you purchase the Hakone FreePass.
Hakone Tozan Train
At the Hakone-Yumoto Station train station, you will board the Hakone Tozan Train. This smaller train takes you through a lush scenic area along a narrow train route for approximately 40 minutes. There are bathrooms and a small store here if you need to grab a snack or a drink.
Hakone Tozan Cable Car
After getting off the train, you’ll then board a cable car that will take you up a mountainous area. The cable car was extremely crowded when we went, but fortunately, the ride up the steep mountainside is brief, lasting less than 10 minutes.
At the top of the mountain, you will then transfer again to the ropeway or gondola. On a clear day, you’ll have a great view of Mount Fuji from the gondola. You will also go over the Owakudani active volcano valley, which has been coined the “Valley of Hell”. From above, you’ll see sulfuric gas and steam pouring out from the ground. The ropeway will stop here where you will transfer to another gondola that takes you to Lake Ashi. Before you transfer, stop and try one of the black eggs that the area is famous for. (More about that below.)
Hakone Sightseeing Cruise on Lake Ashi
The second gondola drops you off at the shore of Lake Ashi, where you can board a boat that resembles a pirate ship and cross the lake. The cruise on Lake Ashi is a relaxing 40 minutes. From the boat, you’ll see the famous torii gates of the Hakone Shrine, and have another chance to get a glimpse of Mount Fuji, if the weather is right.
Things to do on a day trip to Hakone from Tokyo
If you have purchased the Hakone Freepass, everything in the itinerary above is included on the sightseeing tour. But there are a few stops along the way and additional things to do in Hakone and the surrounding area while on a day trip from Tokyo.
Eat black eggs Owakudani
Along the ropeway from Hakone to Lake Ashi you’ll stop at Owakudani. The smell of sulfur in the Owakudani volcano valley is extremely powerful the moment you get out of the gondola. The staff will give you a cloth to cover your face if the smell is too much to handle. While there, stop in the gift shop and have a black egg or two. You can purchase them for a relatively inexpensive cost (5 cost approximately 500 yen). The eggs are boiled in natural spring water that contains sulfur and iron. The boiling process turns the egg shell black, although the egg itself looks and tastes like a normal hardboiled egg.
Legend has it that eating one of the Owakudani black eggs adds 7 year to your life. I ate two. (Here’s hoping for 14 extra years of travel!) You can also hike up a short distance and witness the boiling process. There, you can also purchase a freshly boiled egg.
Hiking around Lake Ashi
If you want to get away from the crowds, I strongly recommend hiking around Lake Ashi. There are beautiful trails around the lake that wind through the trees, offering a peaceful nature experience. We skipped the sightseeing cruise and decided to hike to the Hakone Shrine instead. Our hike took us about 2 hours, and we seldom saw any other hikers while we were there.
Hakone Shrine Torii gates on Lake Ashi
One of the biggest draws to Lake Ashi is the Hakone Shrine, known mostly for the picturesque torii gates right on the water. Torii gates are found throughout Japan, especially in cities like Kyoto and Nara. The gates are typically found at the entrance to a shrine and symbolize the transition from mundane to sacred.
Japan is a place of rich culture, traditions, and customs. Shrines like this, and the meaning behind them is one of the reasons I think visiting Japan is a must.
Hakone is also a popular spot for those seeking tranquil onsens or hot springs. Visitors to onsens in Japan are typically separated by gender because you bath in the mineral-rich hot springs nude. Kids are welcome with their parents at most onsens. We chose to skip this activity because our toddler was still in the process of potty training. However, if relaxation is what you seek, these traditional Japanese outdoor bath houses are said to be extremely therapeutic.
Sighting Mount Fuji at Lake Ashi
Perhaps the main reason the Hakone area is so popular for tourists is it offers exceptional views of Mount Fuji. The volcano, however, is often called a shy mountain because it’s typically shrouded in clouds. While we were hoping for a Mount Fuji sighting at Lake Ashi, it turned out to be a cloudy, rainy day, and Mount Fuji stayed hidden from us. However the trip, scenery was well worth the two hour trip from Tokyo.
Have you taken a day trip to Hakone, Japan? We’d love to hear from you! Leave us your thoughts or questions in the comments below.