The Hike

Mt. Kuromatsunai-dake (黒松内岳, Kuromatsunai-dake) sits in the western part of Kuromatsunai Town (黒松内町, Kuromatsunai-chou), a town famous among those in the known for being the northern limit of the Japanese beech’s habitat. Although the mountain isn’t even 1000 meters tall, its slim form can be easily recognized from miles around.

The Kuromatsunai River (黒松内川 Kuromatsunai-gawa), also finds its headwaters on the flanks of the mountain. It flows downstream into the Shubuto River (朱太川, Shubuto-gawa) before reaching the sea.

Mt. Kuromatsunai-dake's name comes from the Ainu kurumat-nai, meaning ‘stream of the Japanese woman’. There are actually a number of places across Hokkaido with similar names, but this one, at least, can anchor itself in history. Legend has it that wives from mainland Japan were sailing up to meet their husbands further north, but that their ship was wrecked on the rocks near here. They came ashore and settled in the area.

There are two trails up Mt. Kuromatsunai-dake: one starts from the upper reaches of the Kuromatsunai River, while the other climbs direct to the summit from a forest road on the northern slopes. The former is short and sweet; the latter is even shorter and is lacking in charm and adventure. You can guess which trail we'll introduce here.

Heading up the Kuromatsunai River along a small forest road from Prefectural Route 9 (道道9号線, Doudou 9 gosen), you’ll travel for about 5 kilometers before you hit the trailhead. As there are no places to fill up on water along the trail itself, collecting a bottle or two from the nearby stream might be a good idea.

You’ll climb a steep slope up to the top of a ridge, at which point you’ll start to see the famous Japanese beech. The lowlands of Kuromatsunai are the northernmost reaches of the Japanese beech’s habitat, so hikers accustomed to mountains further north will likely find this a pleasant change of pace. From the delicate buds and vivid green leaves blooming in the early summer, to the brightly multicolored leaves of the fall, the Japanese beech is a tree to enjoy throughout the hiking season.

You’ll climb along a ridgetop forest of the same Japanese beech towards where the ridge levels out at 528 meters above sea level; here and there on the moss-covered fallen trees you may see bunaharitake mushroom, late oyster (a flower, not a mollusc), and the very poisonous tsukiyotake mushroom, among a variety of other mushrooms.

The beech will thin as you climb and be replaced by fields of sasa bamboo, giving you a great view of the summit ahead. The slope east of the summit is a quite steep one, and a likely spot for avalanches in the winter. On the grassy fields around here, once the snow melts you’ll see European goldenrod and Japanese aster bloom profusely.

Near the end of the hike, you’ll cross a dangerous outcrop and merge with the more direct trail coming from the north; shortly thereafter you’ll arrive at the summit of Mt. Kuromatsunai-dake. The view over the farmland of Kuromatsunai and over the northern forests of beech make this a tranquil spot to rest a while.

You’ll head back down the mountain along the trail that you came up. Take care along the descent directly below the summit--it’s quite steep.

One Point Advice

  • You can take a taxi to the trailhead from Kuromatsunai Station (黒松内駅 Kuromatsunai-eki).
  • Within Kuromatsunai, you can also visit Utasai Forest (歌才の森, Utasai-no-mori), where there is a flat nature trail through a forest of lovely Japanese beech. The Buna Center (ブナセンター, Buna-sentaa) at Utasai is also a great resource on the Japanese beech and the nature of Kuromatsunai.
  • For post-hike hot spring soaks, you can find Kuromatsunai Onsen Buna-no-mori (黒松内温泉ブナの森) within Kuromatsunai Town. The hot spring water is high in alkali content, which makes your skin feel extra-soft. From April to November it’s open from 10 am to 10 pm; from December to March it’s open from 11 am to 9:30 pm. It’s closed on Wednesdays.
  • In town you’ll find a hotel called Utasai Shizen-no-ie (歌才自然の家) and a campsite called Utasai Auto Campsite (歌才オートキャンプ場, Utasai ooto-kyanpu-jou), so feel free to bring the family down and make a relaxed weekend of the trip.

Season

The Japanese beech blooms from around mid-June onwards. Their leaves change around the end of October. Because the mountain isn’t particularly high, nor the trail particularly long, the hiking season lasts until quite late in fall. It’s especially lovely to travel to the mountain and become familiar with the different looks of the beech-covered ridge at different times of year.