Kaede-sawa moss corridor to Tarumae-zan


Posted on Aug 5, 2021

Posted on Aug 5, 2021

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Kaede-zawa 楓沢 is a gorgeous volcanic moss gorge on the northern flanks of Tarumaezan 樽前山 (1041m). Hikers will find themselves in impossibly green moss-lined gorges, unique sub-alpine-like birch groves, and gully floors carpeted in lush green ferns. Most commonly used as an alternative access route to Fuppushi-dake 風不死岳 (1102m), Kaede-zawa also makes for a navigationally challenging option for access to Tarumae-zan. The trail is difficult to find at times, with only sporadic pink tape tied to trees to guide hikers. In this route, with two cars, we climbed up Kaede-zawa and descended to the Tarumae-zan trailhead near the hut, cutting out much of the descent.

We visited this route on Jul 11, 2021


Route Map

Need to know details


Kaede-zawa is a moss gorge on the northern flanks of Tarumae-zan volcano on the southern side of Lake Shikotsu in southern Hokkaido. The hike starts from the Morappu parking area モラップ駐車場, here.

General notes

It’s difficult to overstate just how other-worldly the moss corridors are that flow down from Tarumae-zan. Kaede-zawa is but one of the more well-known ones, and for good reason. It connects well to the traverse trail between Fuppushi-dake and Tarumae-zan. Kaede-zawa is a well-defined moss gorge at the lower reaches, transforming into somewhat of a labyrinth further up. All the way, however, is jaw-droppingly beautiful, with very unique vegetation, particular to this moist volcanic-ash landscape.

  • No official trail: It’s very important to note that this is not an official marked trail on any topographical map. The trail is marked sporadically with pink tape tied to trees, but it is very important that hikers are confident in navigating on their own using a topographical map. For experienced hikers, you’ll generally have no issue following the existing, reasonably well defined foot-trail, but it can be unclear here and there.
  • Stick to the trail: That said, the areas around Tarumae-zan consist of very delicate volcanic flora – keep to existing foot trails, particularly on the upper portions of the route.
  • Parking: Parking areas are limited around Tarumae-zan. Only park in official parking areas.
Route Timing
Up | 5hrs
Down | 1.5hrs

For this full route, assuming you’ve got two cars, you’d want to budget a solid 6 hours.


Park up at the Morappu parking area, and walk west for 30 minutes (2km) along Route 453. There’s a separated cycle path for most of it, so you’ll be away from the heavy traffic that tends to barrel along the highway. Soon you’ll come to a bridge crossing the Kaede-zawa – note that there’s a number of bridges along the way, so make sure you’ve got the right one. There’s a pretty clear foot-path worn into the ground heading south down to the gorge floor. Duck under the main highway bridge, and you’re now walking south along the volcanic-ash gorge floor of Kaede-zawa. The first 30 minutes or so of the moss gorge is relatively easy going. After 10 minutes or so, you’ll find yourself in a spectacular, mind-bending gorge with moss-carpeted walls, suitable for most hikers.

After about 45 minutes, however, the trail transforms into a realm only suitable for hikers confident in their navigation and trail-finding skills. The first challenge is to bypass an impassible section of the gorge-proper. To do this, you’ll need to find and scramble up a very steep cliff, with the aid of some precariously laid (and rather worn) ropes. Did we mention that this isn’t an official trail and all hikers use the trail at their own risk? Beyond this scramble, you’ll be following a rather faint trail through undergrowth marked sporadically with pink tape tied to trees. Back in the gorge proper, you’ll enjoy another 30 minutes or so of high-walled moss gorge. Here and there you’ll need to take detours around impassible rockfall and cliffs in the gorge-proper, usually to the climber’s left side of the gorge. One detour in particular is quite long, taking hikers up and over a number of small gullies before returning to the Kaede-zawa gorge proper.

The gorge walls slowly lose their height, and the upper 45 minutes or so of the route lose most relief all together. At around 555m in altitude, there’s the option of detouring through a gorgeous stunted-birch glade. Not far beyond that, at the very head of Kaede-zawa, there’s a beautiful fern-carpeted gorge, again with a bit of a scramble to get out of. This upper section is where most people may start to lose the trail somewhat, so it’s best to make sure you’re always looking out for pink tape.

Before long the topography and vegetation becomes much less forest-like and more volcanic. Follow existing foot-trails along spurs to the main Tarumae-zan to Fuppushi-dake traverse trail. For those wanting to make it a loop via Fuppushi-dake, it’s perfectly possible to head up to Fuppushi and down the main Kitaone Trail back to Route 453. Keeping it to Tarumae, however, we opted to head east towards Tarumae, and took the long loop via Nishi-yama around the caldera rim. Expect expansive volcanic scenery, regardless of the route you choose to take – the world’s your oyster, but just note that there’s no access to the very active lava dome.

In this route here we had two cars, so we finished the hike at the main Tarume-zan trailhead near the hut.


Public transport:

There’s no public transport to this route.

By car: 

Down near the lake, there’s plenty of parking at the Morappu parking area, here. Note that the upper Tarumae-zan parking area is a bit small, and fills up very early on weekends, particularly when there’s a good weather forecast. Get there early – preferably before 9am.



Physical maps
GSI Topo Map: Tarumaezan (樽前山) – map no. NK-54-14-12-2

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

route safety

As mentioned previously, this is not an official trail, and is not maintained. Therefore, its use is on an at-own-risk basis. Navigation can be tricky at times, so the route is suited for hikers confident of their map-reading and navigation skills. Gorge walls can be unstable; rockfall is uncommon but not unheard of.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Tarumae-zan and Kaede-sawa

Onsen nearby

For cheap-and-cheerful, try the Kyuka-no-Mura Shikotsuko (休暇の村支笏湖) here. They don’t have an outdoor bath, but they’re open later (till 5pm) than any other onsen in the area. For something more upmarket, Mizu-no-Uta (水の歌), here in Shikotsu Village, can’t be beaten.Their 2,000yen buffet lunch and onsen set is a pretty good deal, so consider booking ahead and treating yourself.

Extra Resources

Guide Options

If you’d like to hike this route and/or explore other hikes in the central Hokkaido area together with a local certified guide, get in touch with Yasuko Kikuchi. Born and raised in Hokkaido, she’s a JMGA-certified guide now based in Sapporo. Her outdoor experience is broad and worldwide, having worked as a Canadian Ski Patrol member, and has sumitted a number of 6,000m+ peaks around the world. She speaks good English. In addition to Yasuko, also see a full list of English-speaking Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA) guides on the HMGA website here

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Route Trip Notes

Haidee and I were still on a mission to get conditioned for hiking with heavy packs on, leading up to a longer traverse hike we had planned for August. So when Ian mentioned he was keen to hike the Kaede-zawa route up to Tarumae-zan, we tagged along with unnecessarily large and heavy packs. I’d had my first COVID jab (Moderna) the day before, to add to the fun.

Ian was travelling from Niseko, and we were coming from Sapporo, so we had two cars. “My knee has been playing up a bit lately, so I’d prefer to avoid some of the downhill,” texted Ian.

So it was that we ended up climbing up the Kaede-zawa gorge, looping around the Tarumae-zan caldera, and just doing the easy descent down to the main Tarumae-zan trailhead. This was all made possible because we had the two cars to shuttle with.

Haidee and I had already walked most of the moss corridor proper previously. On that trip, we’d canoed from Shikotsu Village to the gorge entrance, but we didn’t go all the way to the Tarumae-zan trail. This time we parked up on Route 453 and walked to the entrance. Like last time, it was clear that plenty of people had walked along the gorge. The volcanic ash sand floor of the gorge was littered with footprints. Despite this not being an official trail of any kind, it was certainly well frequented.

Soon enough, we were well into the depths of this fascinating moss corridor. It was Ian’s first time here, and he was suitably impressed.

We made good time along the easy part of the gorge and were soon at the steep scramble-detour around the impassible rockfall. Ian went ahead along the gorge to the rockfall area to scout out how impassible it really was. Haidee and I carried on via the detour. With our heavy packs on, the steep scramble felt all the more sketchy. More than last time, I was rather hesitant to grab the visibly ageing ropes.

Soon, Ian appeared behind us, scrambling up the detour.

“There’s a big overhanging spot that is a bit of a challenge with just one person!” he reported.

Soon, we arrived at the spot where we’d turned around last time. I was interested to see what was up ahead. We pushed on.

Slowly the terrain flattened out somewhat, with the gorge becoming distinctly less gorge-like. In places, there were short detours through the forest. We were following and searching for pink tape tied to trees. We didn’t really have any issue following the trail, but we’ve heard of others getting mildly lost in this upper route section.

Perhaps the more surprising section of the route was the incredible grove of stunted white birch. Just off to the climber’s left of the trail, this short detour was so perfectly inspiring – a lost world of calm and poise. It reminded us of how much variety Tarumae-zan and surroundings offer – micro-climates within micro-environments.

We were now getting to the terminus of the lush green forests of the lower flanks of Tarumae-zan. Soon, we found ourselves climbing up a rough trail up a gravely volcanic spur. Soon after that, we were at the Tarumae-zan to Fuppushi-dake traverse trail proper.

The plan had always been to walk anti-clockwise around the caldera via Nishi-yama. So, despite the low visibility and no view, we did just that. Of course, we would have preferred a view, but still, the green, while scant, vegetation of Tarumae-zan was really quite picturesque.

After about 4.5 hours of not seeing another soul on the trail, it was a bit jarring to be passing day-hikers in jeans and t-shirts and sneakers on our descent down to the main Tarumae-zan trailhead. The peak itself from the main trailhead is an easy hike. But for those keen (and equipped) for a more challenging hike, the Kaede-zawa is really quite special.

Back at the trailhead we climbed in to Ian’s car and enjoyed the easy descent back down to our car near the lake.

A very worthwhile 6hr training hike.

Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this Tarumae-zan and Kaede-sawa route? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback or queries here. Thanks!

4 thoughts on “Kaede-sawa moss corridor to Tarumae-zan”

    1. Hi Jacob, thanks for the message. This Kaede-sawa (as described on this post) is different from the Koke-no-domon you linked to. Indeed, the Koke-no-domon (a popular tourist destination in the past) is currently official closed. The Kaede-sawa (an off-trail backcountry hiking route) is not closed. I hope this helps!

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Kaede-sawa moss corridor to Tarumae-zan Difficulty Rating





Vertical Gain



Time ascending















GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.