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Oita Hot Spring Trail


6 Days, 5 Nights

Activity Level

Start / Finish

Nakatsu / Beppu

Technical Level

A walk from hot spring to hot spring in charming, rural Oita.

Gentle guided walking follows trails through varied terrain to Beppu in Oita Prefecture, Kyushu. Gorgeous valleys, a pretty plateau, soaring mountain scenery, and seaside. Myriad onsen thermal hot spring baths in our accommodation and varied, opulent cuisine.


The Oita Hot Spring Trail is a fully-guided tour suitable for reasonably fit people who can walk comfortably for two to four hours a day. The route is mainly on grassy paths, forest trails, gravel tracks, and quiet country roads. It is mostly even underfoot and the terrain is either gently inclined or rolling countryside. There are a couple of steeper climbs but these are completed in ten minutes or less. This is an Activity Level Two and Technical Level Two tour. Please read more on Tour Levels here.


A 6-day, 5-night tour starting at Nakatsu Station and finishing at Beppu. Accommodation is typically in Japanese inns with onsen thermal hot spring baths. Please read more on accommodation here. The small intimate nature of the tour makes the maximum group size 12 people. We have no minimum size. If we accept a booking we guarantee to run the tour.


This fully-guided tour introduces Oita Prefecture, an area of Japan particularly rich in the beauty of its countryside; its high quality and varied food; its ancient and somewhat different culture; its enlightened history; and its relaxed, friendly people. To its list of attractions Oita also adds onsen hot springs fed by waters derived from volcanic activity deep below the earth’s surface.


Onsen are found throughout the length and breadth of Japan. Oita, however, boasts the largest concentration of hot springs and they in turn are fed by the greatest volume of water. Here they come in many different guises; some are clear and others murky, some pungent while others are fizzy. Undoubtedly, Oita is the onsen capital of Japan, if not the world. It is a mecca for anyone who likes to indulge in the soothing and relaxing waters of hot springs whilst enjoying the distinctive and gracious Japanese culture associated with bathing.


Onsen are enjoyed for their therapeutic, relaxing qualities and are one of Japan’s great attractions; a perennial favourite amongst both the Japanese and overseas visitors. Buddhism, which first arrived in Japan in 552, used onsen for purification rites. To this day, bathing in Japan remains a ritual, an art distinctly Japanese. Throughout this tour we luxuriate morning and evening in hot springs. On some days, we also waylay ourselves at onsen for a quick dip as we make our way through the verdant Oita countryside.


Our route, which covers gentle terrain and is suitable for almost any walker, takes us through countryside lush with forest and farmland. We make our way through valleys threaded by sparklingly clear rivers to historic towns, past farmhouses and their neatly tended fields to spectacularly sited temples and, of course, hot springs. We cross over a high plateau to a Ramsar-listed wetland and bird sanctuary in the foothills of the Kuju Mountains. We see water vapour, a sign of seismic activity and onsen, issuing in the far distance from a volcano; closer to hand, billowing from Japan’s largest geothermal power plant; and seeping out from the road right under our feet.


In the expert company of the Walk Japan tour leader, we are immersed in the Japanese way of bathing and onsen, the beautiful countryside of Oita, its rural lifestyle and historic culture. Each evening we stay in top-class inns with onsen, where we enjoy sumptuous Japanese cuisine created from local produce harvested from Oita’s seas, fields, forest, rivers and mountains.


The tour starts at 3:15pm at Nakatsu Station in Oita Prefecture, where the Walk Japan tour leader meets the group. A private vehicle then takes us into the rural interior of Kyushu and Yabakei, a beautiful rural area riven by forested valleys. We visit the historic quarters of Hita and Taketa. The former was once a powerful stronghold of the samurai shogun, a city of Kyoto-style refinement and education. The latter is a charming town still dominated by the towering ramparts of Oka-jo, a strategic hill-top castle. We stay in Nagayu, a bucolic hot spring village known in particular for its extraordinary Lamune Onsen, a carbonated hot spring housed in one of the most interesting architectural structures found in Japan. We complete our journey together aside the sea in Beppu, Japan’s preeminent hot spring resort.


Important: Please note that in Japan it has traditionally been the custom not to allow anyone with tattoos to use public baths including onsen. Although this custom is currently being relaxed entrance is at the discretion of each establishment. Access at additional cost is usually allowed, however, to kazoku-buro private bathing facilities, which are found at many onsen, for anyone – including those with tattoos.
Map image
The itinerary for the Oita Hot Spring Trail is ground-only, beginning in Nakatsu and ending in Beppu. Prior to the tour, Walk Japan will provide detailed instructions for travelling to the meeting point in Nakatsu.


Day 1 Nakatsu - Yabakei

The tour group meets at 3:15pm at Nakatsu Station in Oita Prefecture.


From here we travel 30 minutes by private-hire vehicle to Yabakei, where we stay the night in the surroundings of a delightful onsen inn. Yabakei is known for its picturesque valleys, verdant forests, sparkling streams and, of course, its many onsen thermal hot springs.


After checking in, we have time to immerse ourselves in the onsen baths. Refreshed, we enjoy a sumptuous welcoming banquet.


Accommodation: Japanese inn with onsen thermal hot spring baths.
Meals: Dinner.
Total walking: N/A.
Total elevation gain: N/A.


Day 2 Yabakei – Yamaguni – Hita

After breakfast we make a short journey by vehicle to Ao-no-domon, a series of tunnels gouged out by hand over thirty years by a penitent monk, in the heart of the Yabakei region. We negotiate the tunnels before following the old footpath to Rakkan-ji, a temple perched beneath the cliffs of Mt. Rakkan. From here a spectacular panoramic view opens up over Yabakei. Re-joining our vehicle, we transfer to nearby Sarutobi Keikoku, a small but very scenic canyon found in bucolic surroundings. We enjoy lunch here before strolling through the delightful scenery.


We board our vehicle once again for transfer to one of the oldest sections of ishidatami stone-paving in Kyushu, the Hita Okan. This time we walk in the steps of the leading samurai of the Edo Period and his cohorts. We follow this road first on foot and then by vehicle into Hita, a town at the geographical heart of Kyushu that once served as the shogun’s most important stronghold on the island. We explore the old town and learn about its strategic importance. Hita also has many onsen hot springs. After relaxing in one, we venture into town for dinner at a restaurant near our accommodation.


Accommodation: Japanese inn with onsen thermal hot spring baths.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner.
Total walking: 5.6km (3.5 miles).
Total elevation gain: 77m (252ft).


Day 3 Hita – Handa Kogen - Nagayu Onsen

After breakfast we transfer by vehicle to Yume-no-Ohashi, a suspension footbridge that spectacularly spans a deep gorge into which flow two waterfalls. A local landmark, it attracts many to enjoy the views from the soaring vantage point it provides. A little further beyond is the starting point of our walk today over the Handa Kogen plateau to Chojabaru. Here we find ourselves alone enjoying the scenery that has now opened up to the towering Kuju volcanic mountain range.


We follow a leisurely path over either flat or gently rising terrain composed of woods and grasslands until we reach Chojabaru, which is located in the foothills of the Kuju mountains, and the end of our walk today. After lunch here, our vehicle takes us over the spectacular Maki-no-to Pass to our accommodation, a delightful inn aside a river at Nagayu Onsen. We stay here for the next two nights. Now well practiced in our evening routine, and after a leisurely soak in our inn’s onsen baths, we enjoy another delightful evening's meal.


Accommodation: Japanese inn with onsen thermal hot spring baths.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner.
Total walking: 11.1km (6.9 miles).
Total elevation gain: 320m (1,050ft).


Day 4 Nagayu Onsen – Asaji – Taketa – Nagayu Onsen

We transfer by private-hire vehicle to Asaji and the beginning of our walk, which follows a gently rising and falling mostly paved 12km route to Taketa. It includes two steeper sections, but neither of these are long and we can take them at a very leisurely pace. Our route takes us through hilly countryside, past paddies, arable fields and farmhouses, with their well-tended gardens, and aside water courses that disappear and reappear through tunnels carved into rock. We are rewarded with spectacular views across valleys as we make our way. At Fuko-ji temple, the scenery suddenly opens up to a giant, fearsome Fudo-Myo deity carved long ago on a cliff face.


Our walk takes us through the remains of Oka-jo castle, which offers us striking views back to the Kuju mountains. Only the castle ramparts remain, but their scale and impressiveness allude to the power that this hill-top citadel once had.


A short distance beyond is Taketa, a delightful small town where we have time to explore and relax in. After transferring back to Nagayu Onsen we visit the nearby Lamune Onsen, which is known for its unusual carbonated hot spring waters. A fantastic spectacle, the baths themselves are housed in equally intriguing buildings designed by Terunobu Fujimori, one of Japan’s lesser-known but no less great architects. After taking the waters, we return on foot to our inn for another sumptuous dinner.


Accommodation: Japanese inn with onsen thermal hot spring baths.
Meals: Breakfast & dinner.
Total walking: 12km (7.4 miles).
Total elevation gain: 371m (1,217ft).


Day 5 Nagayu Onsen – Bungo Ono – Beppu

After breakfast we wave goodbye to our innkeeper as we depart on a vehicle which stays with us for the day. Today, we explore Bungo Ono, a rural district with such a wealth of geologically interesting sites that it has been designated a Geo Park by the Japanese Government.


Our first stop brings us to the beginning of our stroll. A couple of sub-shrines provide the first indication of what to expect as we make our way over a small hill to the main shrine of the area. The latter is built on a small hill overlooking the horseshoe-shaped waterfalls that are celebrated as a deity. We cross the falls to join part of the Himuka Kaido, an old highway through the area. Today, it has become a quiet local road, but the buildings aside it and the general ambience provide us with a feel of an older age.


Our destination is a saké brewery. The owner encourages us to sample her excellent range of brews. For those who would rather delay drinking until the evening, the delicious water, which is drawn up from their well and is an essential ingredient in her products, is also available on tap. From here, we take lunch at a nearby restaurant.


A further journey brings us to Beppu. With more hot springs than anywhere else in Japan, it takes the crown as the nation’s top onsen destination. We explore the old quarter of Kannawa, where we also spend the night in a local inn. Not only does our accommodation have its own hot spring baths, but onsen literally surround us. Water vapour emanates from grilles in the streets, and above us from towering vents. Locals are to be seen throughout the day to-ing and fro-ing with towels in hand to the many public baths in the neighbourhood.


Accommodation: Japanese inn with onsen thermal hot spring baths.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner.
Total walking: 5.2km (3.2 miles).
Total elevation gain: 94m (308ft).


Day 6 Beppu

The tour ends after a Japanese breakfast. Travelling to Fukuoka or other destinations in Japan is easily accomplished by train. Flights also depart from nearby Oita Airport to Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.


Accommodation: N/A.
Meals: Breakfast
Total walking: N/A.
Total elevation gain: N/A.


This itinerary is subject to change.

The itinerary for the Oita Hot Spring Trail is ground-only, beginning in Nakatsu in Oita Prefecture and ending in Beppu.


The airports closest to the tour’s start at Nakatsu station are Fukuoka International Airport and Oita Airport, with domestic flights departing frequently from Tokyo and Osaka’s airports.


From Fukuoka International Airport, take the City Subway line to Hakata Station, which takes approximately 5 minutes. Alternatively, the journey by taxi takes approximately 15 minutes. From Hakata Station travel by rail following the instructions found below.
From Oita Airport, travel to Nakatsu either by taxi, or by bus. Please note that the latter runs only four times each day.


Travel by the JR Sonic Express train to Nakatsu Station. The journey takes approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.


Travel by the JR Sonic Express train to Nakatsu Station. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes.


The pre-tour pack includes detailed instructions, including a map, for travel to the accommodation at the start of the tour.


Tour participants are strongly advised not to book themselves out on a morning flight at the end of the tour, as the journey from Beppu to the nearest international airport is approximately 2 hours.

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