Mt. Kurikoma (1626m) also known as Mt. Sukawadake 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 is 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 nine routes up this mountain that vary in difficulty and have different starting points but here are the major ones:
3km 中央コース Chuo Course: beginners and families (2hrs) 4km 東栗駒コース Higashikurikoma Course for beginner to intermediate (2.5hrs)
9km 湯浜コース Yubama Course for the healthy (6hrs)
4km 須川コース Sukawa Course for beginners and families (2hrs) *Parts of this course is blocked from Taikatai to the summit. The alternate route toward Ubunuma (産沼） is longer and trickier but will 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.
We chose the Sukawa Course (starting from Ichinoseki, Iwate) and set out to catch the autumn foliage which peaked around the Sukawa Kougen Onsen (須川高原温泉) 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. 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須川高原温泉 (sukawakougenonsen) 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 landscapes decorated with Kurikoma's signature, multicolored autumn foliage.
Things started to get treacherous as we headed towards the summit. We tried to go on further but were too ambitious thinking that we would not be affected by the incoming typhoon weather.
The weather 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 (right at the fork instead) 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 late-September to early October) is the peak season but by going early in the morning on a weekday, it allowed us to walk at our own pace and take many pictures. Sadly, the beautiful Showa Lake (seen below) must be bypassed due to the present closure of the route, but hopefully in the near future, it'll be safe to trek around again.
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. English speaking staff are available.
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/