Sam Godin is a university teacher living in Kanagawa, Japan with a strong passion for photography. See more of his work on Instagram and on his website.
Japan may be famous for its megacities like Tokyo and Osaka, but many forget that the island country is 70 percent mountains. Hiking is one of the most popular outdoor hobbies for those living there (skiing & snowboarding in Japan is legendary, too), and while Mt. Fuji justifiably gets most of the attention the Japanese Alps are full of amazing and less visited trails.
Never heard of the Japanese Alps? The range is a vein of peaks that stretches across the middle of Honshu, Japan's main island. Japan has a long history of hiking tradition and, along with it, a unique and longstanding system of mountain huts—some of which have been serving hikers for more than 100 years.
These mountain lodges have a range of accommodations from private rooms to sleeping shoulder to shoulder with fellow hikers. Some are open all year round while others close once the snow gets too deep. Some of the huts are pricey—costing as much as ¥17,000 (roughly $124 at the time of writing)—but many have tent spots that are a fraction of the price. One thing that all of these mountain huts have in common: they're the ideal way to visit some of Japan's most remarkable locations.
Read on for a breakdown of 12 prominent mountain huts we recently visited, complete with original photography shot on 35mm film. Enjoy and safe travels!
A Guide to Hiking Huts & Mountain Shelters of the Famed Japanese Alps
Enzan-so Lodge, Mount Tsubakuro
Opened in 1921 and sitting on one of the most remarkable ridgelines in the Northern Japanese Alps, Enzan-so is one of the most well-known and popular lodges in the mountains of Japan. The lodge is situated at 2,700 meters (8,500 feet), making it somewhat baffling to imagine people 100 years ago bringing up all the supplies to build it. Staying on the ridgeline allows for sunset views of Mount Yari across the valley, a peak that's known as "Japan’s Matterhorn.” There's ample tent space if you decide you want to camp instead of sleeping indoors.
Rate: ¥17,000 for breakfast/dinner/bed
Mitsumata Lodge, Mount Washiba
In the remote and sparsely populated Japanese Alps, Mitsumata Lodge is considered to be in one of the region's "last frontiers.” The lodge is right between the prefectures of Nagano and Toyama and was constructed in 1926. They make a mean cup of coffee here to give you the push needed to climb Mount Washiba, which towers over the hut. There's also an area a short walk from the lodge where you can set up a tent.
Rate: ¥12,000 for breakfast/dinner/bed
Miune Hut, Mount Miune
Constructed in 1961, the Miune Hut is an unmanned hut—which means there's no one to greet you when you arrive here aside from fellow hikers. The hut is not tended by staff and is purely open for use by those that need a place to stay at the top of the mountain. Stopping here puts you near the peak of Mount Miune, a mountain that is on the border of Japan’s Kochi and Tokushima Prefectures on the island of Shikoku. It's possible to set up a tent here, but there aren’t many suitable spots.
Kirreto Hut, Between Mount Kashimayari and Mount Goryu
This hut takes a bit of work to get to, but it is definitely worth it. You need to approach from either the Mount Goryu side or the Mount Kashimayari side, but either way there will be a lot of ups and downs before you can rest your feet here. If you come from the Kashimayari side, you will pass the Hachimine Cut, a large gash in the ridge and the namesake for this hut—Kirreto means "cut" or "divot" in Japanese. The hut was constructed in 1932. Because of the limited space, there are no tent spaces available.
Rate: ¥12,000 for breakfast/dinner/bed
Komaho Hut, Mount Utsugi
Komaho Hut is in the central portion of the Japanese Alps and sits at 2,800 meters (9,200 feet) just below the summit of Mount Utsugi. The hut was built in 1969 after increasing hiking traffic to Utsugi’s peak meant people needed a place to stay. Komaho has a great little terrace that can make for a spectacular breakfast location at sunrise. Tent locations are few and far between in this region of the alps, and Komaho Hut is no exception—so plan accordingly.
Rate: ¥5,000 for a spot to sleep, no breakfast/dinner
Miyama Lodge, Mount Tanzawa
Unlike most of the other huts on this list, Miyama Lodge is placed directly on the peak of the mountain it is associated with—Mount Tanzawa, which lies in the Tanzawa Mountain Range in the Kanagawa Prefecture. The peak and the lodge offer fantastic views of Mt. Fuji. If you opt to pay for the meal at the lodge you get an amazing dinner menu with yakiniku, or grilled steak, which is a very rare find in Japanese mountain huts. The hut was reconstructed in 2004 and is relatively easy to access from Tokyo by either train or bus. The area doesn’t allow tents to be set up.
Rate: ¥6,000 for yakiniku dinner, breakfast, and a bed
Goryu Lodge, Mount Goryu
Goryu Lodge is located on the same ridgeline as the Kirreto Hut in the Northern Alps, albeit in a much easier to reach spot. The five-to-seven-hour hike to the hut starts at the famous Hakuba ski area. The hut was constructed in 1951 and has enough space for 250 people to spend the night inside. The name of the mountain and hut means “five dragons.” While there are spots to set up tents, they're located precariously on the side of the mountain outside. It’s safe, but if you have a fear of falling in your sleep, opt to stay in the lodge.
Rate: ¥13,000 for breakfast/dinner/bed
Toden Hut, Oze National Park
One of the lower elevation huts on the list, the Toden Hut is not so much on a mountain as in a lowland swamp area that is part of Oze National Park. Two of Japan’s famous 100 mountains—known as the Hyakkumeisan—sit on either side of the hut. Toden Hut was built in 1927 by the Kanto Water Company to originally house workers checking the water power plants in the area, but now it's a refuge for any tired hikers in the area. The hut is connected to many more huts in the park by a web of wooden boardwalks. Since it's in a marshland, there are no places to set up tents.
Rate: ¥9,500 for breakfast/dinner/bed
Shimagare Lodge, Yatsugatake
Shimagare Lodge is another one of the huts on the list that isn’t incredibly difficult to get to but is located in a beautiful part of Japan. The lodge is located in the Yatsugatake Mountain Range, which is in the Nagano Prefecture, and offers a variety of mountain activities from mountain biking to telemark skiing and winter climbing. The easy access comes from an aerial tram that's located 20 minutes away. The hut was built back in the 1950s and is an excellent place to rest up before a hike through the Yatsugatake area. For a tent location, you’ll have to hike a bit further into the mountains to find one.
Rate: ¥8,800 for breakfast/dinner/bed
Hinokio Mountain Shelter, Mount Hinokio
The Hinokio Mountain Shelter is not quite as luxurious as the rest of the huts on this list, but it is located in just as beautiful of a location in the Central Alps between Mount Utsugi and Mount Kiso. The hut was built for the purpose of dodging the unpredictable weather that comes with hiking a ridgeline that's at the crux of two weather systems. This is just one of the hundreds of unmanned bunkers that can be found throughout Japan, and no one is certain when it was first constructed. The shelter was recently renovated in 2022, making space for tents so camping is an option.
Rate: ¥6,500 for a spot to sleep, but no breakfast/dinner/bedding
Jonen Hut, Mount Jonen
Established more than 100 years ago in 1919, Jonen Hut joins Enzan-so as being one of the oldest mountain huts on the Omote Ginza ridgeline in Japan’s Northern Alps. The phrase Omote Ginza is typically used to describe the main street or busiest area of a city, and true to the name, this ridgeline sees a lot of foot traffic. Connecting Mount Jonen with Mount Tsubakuro makes for an excellent two-to-three day hike itinerary. There are plenty of spaces for tents outside of the hut here.
Rate: ¥14,000 for breakfast/dinner/bed
Notori Hut, Between Mount Aino and Mount Notori
The only hut on this list that is placed in the Southern Japanese Alps, Norori Hut is located between two famous mountains, Mount Aino and Mount Notori. These two peaks along with Mount Kita make up the Shirane Sanzan, the “three white peaks” of the southern Alps. Notori Hut is an excellent spot to spend the night if you need a break while trekking the ridgeline. The caretaker of the hut has garnered quite the reputation as either someone you like or someone you really can’t stand. In case it’s the latter for you, there are plenty of spaces to set up tents outside.
Rate: ¥9,000 for breakfast/dinner/bed