Mt. Kurikoma (1626m) also known as Mt. Sukawadate in Iwate, is a volcano that borders Iwate, Akita and Miyagi prefectures. It boasts some of the most spectacular autumn foliage in the region and in spring/summer, it's a hot spot for alpine flora and recognized as one of Japan’s 100 most famous peaks for flowers. It's also home to some of the most acidic onsens in Japan (check out the Sukawa Onsen article)!
There are seven routes up this mountain that vary in difficulty but have different starting points:
3km 中央コース Chuo Course: beginners and families (2hrs) 7km 表掛コース Omotekake Course for intermediate to experts (6hrs) 4km 東栗駒コース Higashikurikoma Course for beginner to intermediate (2.5hrs)
9km 湯浜コース Yuhama Course for the healthy (6hrs)
4km 須川コース Sukawa Course for beginners and families (2hrs) *Parts of this course have been blocked from Lake Showa to the Summit). The alternate route toward Ubunuma is a little more tricky but will still get you to the summit! At 苔花台（taikatai), take the left route rather than the right, and it's pretty straight forward from there.
6km 裏掛コース Urakake Course for the healthy (5hrs)
9km 大地森コース Daichimori Course for intermediate (6hrs)
We chose the Sukawa Course (starting from Ichinoseki, Iwate) and set out to catch the autumn foliage which peaked around the Sukawa Onsen Kougen (須川温泉高原) area up toward Lake Showa (昭和池) in early October. You'd need to hike a few weeks earlier to see the foliage closer to the summit and Lake Showa. Sadly, this time around we weren't able to get to the summit as the clouds were too thick and winds were too strong, but stick around to see the spectacular alternative trail we took on our way back.
We parked our car at Sukawa Visitor Center (須川ビジターセンター) and started our ascent from ①須川温泉高原 (sukawaonsenkougen) at about 7am (these pictures were taken after we finished our hike as the clouds were too thick). Walk up toward the iconic Daiichi Rock.
As you walk up you will see the Sukawa Onsen Shrine. The trail will lead you to a a vast open expanse ② 名残ヶ原 (nagorigahara). In spring, it transforms into a field of cotton grass and in autumn, Japanese pampas grass.
As you go further, you will start to see some amazing mountainscapes decorated with Kurikoma's signature multicolored autumn foliage.
Things started to get treacherous as we headed towards ④昭和湖 (showako). We tried to go on further but were too ambitious thinking that we could walk up and not be affected by the incoming typhoon weather. We headed back a little after passing the sulfurous 'Hell Valley', 地獄谷 (jigokudani).
To our surprise, the weather actually cleared up as we headed down back toward ② 名残ヶ原 (nagorigahara).
At ② 名残ヶ原 (nagorigahara) we took the alternative route (check back to the map) which lead to some spectacular, rocky cliff faces and rock formations.
The barren rocks reminded me that I am indeed on top of a volcano. As waves of clouds started to engulf the mountains, it was time to head back.
Our adventure ended at 9am.
Autumn (mainly October) is the peak season but by going early in the morning, it allowed us to walk at our own pace and take many pictures. We missed out on beautiful Lake Showa and the summit, but I will definitely try again maybe in the spring to see the flowers! At present (July 23rd 2019) there is a warning in place - Lake Showa and toward the summit is closed off, please head towards Ubunuma instead 産沼）.
From JR Ichinoseki Station take the Iwate-ken Kotsu Bus (Bus stop 9). *Buses are infrequent so do make sure to plan ahead, if unsure double check with the tourism center.
For those planning to go by car park at the visitor center that I have pinned on the map.
For more information about Kurikoma and its seasons, please visit a post I wrote for the Kitakami Times (in this post we make it up to the summit!)-> http://www.iwate-ilc.jp/eng/ktimes/kurikoma-hiking-with-the-seasons/