Photo by Miyagi Prefecture
Photo by Laura Egan
Photo by Tohoku Sightseeing Organization
Mount Zao straddles the border of Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures. It has the distinction of being the only mountain in Miyagi to make the Hyakumeizan (Japan’s seminal list of 100 famous mountains). The mountain has several peaks, the highest of which is Kumanodake at 1,841 meters. Kumanodake technically lies a few meters into Yamagata, but most of the hike lies in Miyagi.
One of the best Zao hiking routes starts at Gaga Onsen, goes up and over Kumanodake, and ends at Togatta Peak (For an easier hike, start at Togatta Peak and end at Gaga Onsen). It was originally used by Shugendo monks during their ascetic training rituals. The trail climbs through deciduous forest and circumnavigates the jewel-like Okama Crater. The hike takes about four hours one-way. Bus stops are located near both ends of the trail, but it may be simpler to do a round-trip and stay overnight at Gaga Onsen than plan ones’s hike around the infrequent bus service.