Yotei-zan Hiking (Hirafu/Kutchan Route)

羊蹄山(比羅夫・俱知安コース) | Makkari-nupuri

Posted on Apr 24, 2020
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Posted on Apr 24, 2020

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Reading time: 2 min
12km

Distance

8 hours

Time

1500m

Ascent

1898m

Highest point

7/10

Difficulty

Best season icon (Hokkaido Wilds)
June-Sept

Best season

One of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains, Yotei-zan (羊蹄山, 1898m) is an iconic symbol of Hokkaido, its classic volcanic cone prominent on tourist posters and internet sites everywhere. In winter it makes the perfect panoramic backdrop for the hordes of international skiers on the Niseko slopes. In summer, the summit crater can be reached by no less than four hiking routes, all of them long and steep. On a clear day, high above the farmland and clouds, the circular walk around the crater rim is sublime. Here we describe the western route from the Kutchan/Hirafu 倶知安・比羅夫 side of the mountain.

We visited this route on Jul 30, 2017

Featured image by Kaydi Pyette. Extra photos contributed by Szilvia Nagy (SN) and Kaydi Pyette (KP).

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Yotei-zan is a couple of hours drive southwest of Sapporo, southeast of the small town of Kutchan 倶知安 and close to the international ski resorts of Niseko ニセコ. This HIrafu/Kutchan trail up the western side of the mountain starts from the Hangetsu-ko Campground, here, near the Hangetsu-ko Lake.

General notes

The Ainu name for Yotei-zan is Makkarinupuri. This route involves a long climb (about 1550m from the trailhead) and descent and is steep in places – not recommended for anyone with bad knees or questionable fitness. There are no water sources past the trailhead so take plenty on a hot summer’s day. The nearby resort area of Niseko/Hirafu and Kutchan Town have many options for accommodation and facilities, including campsites. The closest campsite is a small free site right by the car park at the trailhead itself (Hangetsu-ko campsite 半月湖野営場, location). It is very basic but has a toilet and pot washing area. Nearby is the small crater lake of Hangetsu-ko 半月湖 which can be circumnavigated on a clear trail in 35 mins. The summer hiking season is from mid-June through to the end of September. Fresh snow on the summit is a possibility from early September onwards.

Hut

Yotei-zan Refuge Hut (full details here)

The Yotei-zan Refuge Hut (羊蹄山避難小屋) is a new, well kept hut high up on the western edge of the Yotei-zan crater rim. Situated at close to 1700m, it can be a prime location for setting oneself up for viewing the sun rise or sunset from the Yotei-zan summit. The hut has a hut keeper present in the summer months. The hut is also available for stays in deep winter, for those with good mountaineering experience in cold, high altitude environments.

Route

The Hirafu Course 比羅夫コース trail is well defined with signposts at junctions and way stations (合目, –gome) marked along the trail (ten including the summit). From the trailhead at 350m elevation climb up gently at first through forest to a blowhole 風穴 after about 45 mins, shortly before the 2nd station 二合目. From here the path gradually steepens and for the next two to two and a half hours goes through sasa and then birch and haimatsu dwarf pine zones. Around the 9th Station 九合目 a signed path branches off right to the Yotei-zan Refuge 羊蹄山避難小屋. The ground here is open and rocky and another trail soon heads off up to the left to the subsidiary peak of Kitayama 北山. Take this or continue straight on; either trail will lead you to the crater rim in about 30 mins. Walk clockwise (left) around the crater for 20-30 mins past some smaller craters and over some minor bumps, passing the junction with the Kyogoku Course 京極コース trail, to the summit marker on the opposite eastern rim. The Kimobetsu Course 喜茂別コース path joins here. Continue round the crater, over a tougher section of large boulders and past the Makkari Course 真狩コース trail that goes down to the hut after 25 mins or so. A few minutes beyond this the return path to Hirafu 比羅夫 turns down to the left for the long descent.

Route Timing
Up | 4.5hrs
Down | 3.5hrs

The above are average walking times, with stops for lunch etc. count on around 9 hours.

Transport

Public transport:

Bus: There is a bus stop (Yoteizan tozanguchi 羊蹄登山口, location) on the main Route 5 where the minor road turns off east to the trailhead. It is about a 30 mins walk up the road to the trailhead itself. Donan Bus (0136-22-1588) run 7 services a day in each direction, the earliest from Kutchan at 06.40. Niseko Bus (0136-44-2001, English 092-286-9555) have buses starting at Otaru Station and going via Niseko, not really early enough for doing the hike but perhaps useful if staying at the trailhead campsite.

Train: From JR Hirafu Station (比羅夫駅, location) walk up the road east for about 15 mins to the junction with Route 5 mentioned above, then on to the trailhead. The service is infrequent.

By car: 

From Kutchan take Route 5 south for a few km till a signed road turns left (east) to Hangetsu-ko Lake 半月湖 and the trailhead 登山口. There is a car park (location), and a small basic campsite with a toilet and a water source.

Physical maps

Yama to Kogen Chizu 山と高原地図, No.2 Niseko Yoteizan ニセコ・羊蹄山. Published by Shobunsha 昭文社. 1:50000 hiking map in Japanese with marked routes and course times.

Official Topo Map: Kutchan (俱知安) – map no. NK-54-20-3-4
Official Topo Map 2: Yotei-zan (羊蹄山) – map no. NK-54-20-4-3

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

The upper slopes and crater rim are exposed to the wind and it can be much colder up there than down at the trailhead. Take appropriate bad weather gear and warm layers. Although the path around the crater is obvious in good weather the open slopes could be confusing in mist. Bears are supposedly less common here but take precautions nonetheless.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Yotei-zan

Onsen nearby

There are many onsen in Hirafu and Kutchan. Our pick for onsen close-ish to the trailhead is Kira-no-yu (ニセコ駅前温泉 綺羅乃湯, location, 500yen) next to JR Niseko train station. It’s about a 20 minute drive from the Hirafu trailhead to Yotei-zan.

Extra Resources

In Japanese: Hokkaido Natsuyama Gaido 1, 北海道夏山ガイド 1 道央の山々 (Hokkaido Shimbunsha). These guides are updated every few years.

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

Many years before, in a younger and fitter incarnation, I had caught the 5.00am train from Otaru to Hirafu and hiked up to the summit, around the crater and back down with enough time to catch the train back in the early evening. This time, however, there were five of us with a car so we camped the previous night at the small site by the trailhead.

We were up early and on our way by 7.30. It turned out to be a lovely day, though the views were occasionally partially obscured by cloud below us. We pulled steadily up the long climb to the crater, and strolled around to the summit, purple flowers of iwaume adding splashes of colour among the rocks. It was an airy promenade with the crater dropping away on our right and the clouds and farmlands far below us on our left. It’s a popular mountain so there were other hikers around but it didn’t feel crowded.

After a bite of lunch we continued around the crater rim to where our return path dropped down, and began the long knee-jarring descent. Taking it steady we were back at the camp ground around 4.30pm, where we packed everything up before setting off to find a well-deserved onsen and some celebratory ramen.

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