Daisetsu Kogen Onsen Numa-meguri Loop Hike

大雪高原温泉沼巡り

Posted on Apr 23, 2020
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Posted on Apr 23, 2020

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Reading time: 6 min
6.8km

Distance

5 hours

Time

274m

Ascent

1507m

Highest point

6/10

Difficulty

Best season icon (Hokkaido Wilds)
Jun-Oct

Best season

The Daisetsu Kogen Onsen Numa-meguri (大雪高原温泉沼巡り) is a high-altitude sub-alpine dayhike, weaving through a cluster of 16 pristine mountain tarns. The full circuit was only very recently re-opened to the public after lengthy trail reconstruction on the latter part of the route. The area is also home to large numbers of Ussuri brown bears. This makes it one of the most likely locations one will see one of these beautiful creatures in the wild in Hokkaido. Entry to the area is highly regulated - visitors need to take part in a short lecture on rules and bear safety before being granted entry.

We visited this route on Aug 27, 2019

This post was made with support from the Ministry of the Environment.

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

This hike around the mountain tarns near Daisetsu Kogen Onsen is on the northeastern side of the Daisetsuzan mountain range, within the Daisetsuzan National Park, in central Hokkaido. The hike starts at the Daisetsu Kogen Onsen Brown Bear Information Center (大雪高原温泉高原ヒグマ情報センター), here, next to the Kogen Onsen Lodge (高原温泉山荘).

General notes

This hiking route is not a hike-when-you-please route. There are strict regulations stipulating trail walking direction (clockwise), opening times (7am till 3pm), trail entry times (7am till 1pm), rest areas on the trail, and indeed trail openings and closures. Follow the Bear Information Center staff’s instructions. In particular, the trail may close from Kogen-numa (高原沼) onwards when higher than usual bear activity is recorded. The trail from the Bear Information Center to Kogen-numa is, however, usually open. Check in with the Bear Information Center on their website for up to date information.

  • Will I get eaten by a bear? No one has yet on this very popular hiking trail, so it’s highly unlikely you’ll be the first. Follow the instructions of trail staff, and you’ll be fine.
  • Route difficulty: The full circuit is suitable for experienced and fit hikers. There’s a lot of clambering over large boulders, some stream-bed walking, and distances are large. The trail until Kogen-numa is suitable for confident beginners and up. It’s is fairly well surfaced, but there are steep stairs to contend with, and there are plenty of ups and downs, and roots to clamber over.
  • English information pamphlet (by the MoE): http://www.env.go.jp/park/daisetsu/data/files/daisetsu_numa_02.pdf
Hut

None

Route

The only way to access this hiking route from the Daisetsu Kogen Onsen carpark is through the Bear Information Center. Just enter the building, take part in the 10-minute lecture (also offered in English), and then head out the side of the building to the trail proper. The trail spends about 30 minutes through varied forest before coming to a junction, just after a very active geothermal gully. Carry on straight past the junction – you’ll descend from the route to the right on the way down, if the full circuit route is open. From the junction, you’ll walk via the main larger tarns, some with short access trails. Only eat at the designated spots. Just after Kogen-numa, there’s a junction with a trail headed to the left headed up to the Takanegahara Plateau – this trail is mostly closed during the hiking season. It passes through Hokkaido’s most active brown bear area. If the route beyond Kogen-numa is open, you’ll now be on a much rougher, less well-trodden path. Expect some slippery and rough stream-bed walking along the way.

Route Timing
Up | 3hrs
Down | 2hrs

A full circuit will take strong hikers up to 5 hours to complete. A return trip to and back from Midori-numa (緑沼) will likely take about 2 hours.

Transport

Public transport:

This route is not accessible by public transport. A taxi from Sounkyo (here) will likely cost around 8,000yen for the 40-minute one-way trip. Note that those staying at the Daisetsu Kogen Lodge can make use of the free shuttle bus from Sounkyo.

By car: 

There is ample parking available at the enormous parking area near the Bear Information Center, here. Note that there are also public toilets at the car parking area – many people will sleep in their cars overnight there to get an early start. During the autumn rush (around the end of September), private cars are not allowed up the gravel road to the Kogen Onsen Lodge – a shuttle bus will be running from about 10km down the hill from the lodge.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Hakuundake (白雲岳) – map no. NK-54-7-3-1

NOTE: The GSI 1/25000 topo map(s) above can be purchased for 350yen from Kinokuniya bookstore next to Sapporo Station or online (in Japanese).

route safety

Bear Information Center staff warnings should be taken seriously, both in regards to bear safety and environmental conditions. By Hokkaido standards this is a high-altitude hike, with real disk of hypothermia for poorly equipped hikers. Pack appropriately for a variety of weather conditions.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Daisetsu Kogen Onsen Numa-meguri

Onsen nearby

The Daisetsu Kogen Lodge (大雪高原山荘, location, 800yen) is just next to the Brown Bear Center. It is full of character, with stuffed bears in the hallways, and carvings of bears on the walls. The onsen itself is great too – undiluted mineral hot spring water in wood-lined baths, plus a good outdoor bath. Highly recommended.

Extra Resources
No extra English resources that we know of. If you know of any, please let us know in the comments.

Guide Options

If you’d like to hike this route and/or explore other areas of central Hokkaido with a local certified guide, then contact Jun Ishiguro. He’s a JMGA (Japan Mountain Guides Association) mountain guide and Director of the Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA). As a senior figure in the Hokkaido guiding scene, and with extensive experience, he can tailor trips to your needs. 

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

Haidee and I had been asked by the Ministry of the Environment to come on a four day ‘monitor tour’ in the Daisetsuzan National Park. They were keen to get our feedback on some activities they were going to be recommending as examples of what one might do on a visit to the national park. One of those activities was a five-hour trek around the mountain tarns next to the Daisetsu Kogen Onsen – the famous Numa-meguri (literally “tarn visiting”). Haidee and I had never seen a bear in the wild in Hokkaido – despite living and exploring in the outdoors for 10 years – so we were excited that this was one of the most likely places in Hokkaido that one would see a bear in the wild.

We stayed the night before in the cosy Daisetsu Kogen Lodge. Great food, great onsen, amazing sub-alpine atmosphere, and well set up for hordes of hikers.

We started off early in the morning, getting to the Bear Information Center right at opening at 7am. The Ministry of the Environment had arranged a guide for us on this walk, so he went through the guidelines and requirements for when we were on the trail. They were doing the lecture in Japanese, but apparently they can also do it in English.

Armed with cameras for us to take photos of interesting points along the way (for consideration by the Ministry afterwards), we set off in toe behind the guide. He was wearing his signature straw conical hat.

The forest in the morning was cool and calm. Along the way, bridges and staircases were all made with locally sourced windfall. Our guide was Hiroshi Sakuma, an active member of a number of NPOs working to improve trails in the Daisetsuzan National Park. Along with Tetsuo Okazaki, members and volunteers from a number of NPOs have undertaken big projects, supported with the sparse budgets the Ministry of the Environment can provide. It’s somewhat of a challenge regarding funding for national parks in Hokkaido. On the one hand the Japan government is pushing hard to get an increase in foreign visitors to national parks in Japan (see their Visit National Parks project here). On the other hand, there’s currently no system of collecting revenue from those visitors in the vast majority of national parks, including those in Hokkaido. So NPOs in Hokkaido do incredible work, largely through the sweat and passion of volunteers.

It wasn’t long before we started weaving our way through the high plateau of sub-alpine tarns. Each had a name, and each had their own character. Our guide, Sakuma-san, stopped every now and then to tell us about plants, topographical features, and other tidbits. We’d never had a guide on a hiking trip before, so it was a refreshing experience to get some first-hand on the ground insight.

We made a small climb up to Daigaku-numa Tarn, and suddenly Sakuma-san called out to us to hurry up the trail to him. “There’s a bear on the other side of the tarn,” he exclaimed excitedly, in a hushed tone.

Sure enough, about 150m away across the tarn, there was a young brown bear, nervously watching us. He didn’t stay watching long, however. He soon scampered off into the bush.

“That’s very typical of the bears here,” said Sakuma-san. “They’re extremely timid creatures. They really want to avoid encounters with humans.”

Of course, in the excitement of seeing my first bear in the wild ever, I somehow forgot that I could zoom my 300mm lens. A small speck in the distance is all I managed to capture.

The scenery was now much more dramatic, with the towering cliffs of Takanegahara above us. We were right at the treeline now, with broad meadows stretching out in front of us.

Not very far past Kogen-numa, we saw some more bears. Further away this time, there was a cub with its mother, and a large male some distance away from them.

It was the summer of 2019, and the trail from Kara-numa onward was still officially closed to the public. It had been damaged considerably by unseasonable heavy rain a few years back, and volunteers were in the final stages of repairing it. Upon special request from the Ministry of the Environment, the Bear Information Center allowed us to continue on along the trail, considering it would be open to the public for summer 2020.

We were now on the highest section of the trail, walking through sub-alpine meadows and the last of the mountain tarns in the area. Crystal clear water flowed from nowhere out of rocks.

The final hour or so of the hike took us deep into a creek gully, with the stream gaining strength the further we descended. Great large boulders dotted the creek-bed. At one point, Sakuma-san pointed to some heavy-duty metal wire slings, chain, pulleys, and huge person-sized winches. “Here, they’re trying to move that big boulder to connect the track up across the creek,” he explained. “They’ve been working on this crux point for the last month. We’ll get there eventually.”

The terrain here was very inaccessible. Any track maintenance was, by necessity, all human powered.

Eventually we emerged out of the gully into a large clearing. down below we had a good view of the geothermal mud pools and boiling water pools on the floor of the valley. Further down was a sea of forest, for as far as the eye could see.

The rest of the hike was returning along the access path to the Bear Information Center. We had a quick lunch of rice balls and snacks, and were soon whisked away for the next activity the Ministry of the Environment had organized for us.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route up Mt. Daisetsu Kogen Onsen Numa-meguri? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback or queries here. Thanks!

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