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There’s no better way to escape Japan’s sticky heat than by climbing to cooler climes. To get away from the crowds, head to Hokkaido; not only does Japan’s northernmost island dip a few degrees lower than the rest of the country, it’s home to many beautiful, but little-discovered, corners. Tour leader Robert Kodama packs his hiking boots and heads north in search of Rebun Island.
Rebun Island is a scenic hideaway in the Sea of Japan, just off the northern tip of Hokkaido. While most prefer taking a ferry to nearby Rishiri Island to hike around striking Mount Rishiri, you’ll find much more character in the hiking paths and views across Rebun; it’s famous for around 300 species of alpine plants that start blooming in late spring, some of which are indigenous to the island itself.
Being off the beaten track, the area attracts a minimal number of tourists, and hikers that do make it this far north normally make a beeline for Rishiri, so Rebun is a great quiet alternative to enjoy nature without the crowds.
How to get to Rebun Island
To reach this hikers’ paradise, you take a ferry journey from the port in the small town of Wakkanai (also home to the northernmost point of Japan). Rise early to take the first departure of the day from Heartland Ferry Port near Wakkanai Station (the northernmost train station in Japan – there is a pattern here…). You can find the timetable here.
It is best to stay in Wakkanai the night before to have enough time to hike there and back in a day – accommodation on the island is quite limited. Make sure you have everything you need the night before and take lunch with you (ATMs and shops are not readily available on the island).
Hiking route on Rebun Island
On arrival, turn left on the main road and head to Shiretokomanai village for the start of a hiking path. There is a public toilet before the path (I recommend going before you start the hike!), from here you follow signs to Momoiwa Observatory to reach a stunning viewing spot. The hike should take around two hours to complete.
After pausing to take in the spectacular views, there is the option to follow the path down to Rebun Town itself, where the port is, or continue through Sankakuyama and Mount Rebun before heading back towards Kafukai Town. If you extend your hike, spare an extra 4-6 hours to ensure you can comfortably make it back to the port in Rebun Town.
If you need to relax your muscles after your hike (and have enough time), visit Usuyuki Onsen near the port before making your way back to Wakkanai.
When to visit Rebun Island
The island’s hiking season is between May and September. Due to heavy snowfall in Hokkaido, it is inadvisable to hike during winter and early spring. You may need to prepare for some snow on the paths if you go in late spring, so double check the weather before you go. Some of the paths also have some steep climbs that take you along the cliff edge. Take extra care and ensure that you have appropriate clothing and footwear before you go.
Whether the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage or the Shin-Etsu Trail (just a short trip from Tokyo), we’ve taken on Japan’s diverse landscapes to discover the best places to hike in summer. Take a look at our walking and hiking packages or get in touch with our Japan experts to find out more.