When you think of wilderness hikes, Chiba isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind. But a relaxing nature experience—complete with trail walking, outdoor cooking and even camping—is just a short train ride east of Tokyo. In the hills of Uchiurayama, you can do all of these things on the cheap.
Uchiurayama Kenmin no Mori is located on the eastern side of Chiba peninsula, between Katsuura and Kamogawa. The 294 hectare preserve was set aside in 1970 to protect the regional habitat, while offering us humans a chance to enjoy the natural setting. The area enjoys a relatively mild year-round temperature, benefiting from the kuroshio gulf stream. What makes Uchiurayama unique is that is it offers a mountain-like terrain yet is close enough to the ocean to reap its warm benefits. Few places I know offer a good hike through a lush, isolated mountain trail, have a 360m gain in elevation, and provide scintillating ocean views. Amateur botanists will go gaga over the biodiversity, again thanks to Uchiurayama’s location.
The forest boasts four distinct and uniquely attractive seasons, though this fact alone hardly distinguishes it from many other Japanese nature spots. Yet in Uchiurayama, each season welcomes a new set of vegetative surprises, as well as a host of animals. Birders will be delighted for sure: finches, cranes and several species of duck. Every time I have been there I have seen a new (wild) animal, be it a frog, deer or wild boar. What finally sold me on Uchiurayama, though, was the night I saw fireflies wisping and shimmering around. Magnificent.
There are several paved roads that make for easy hikes. There are also two hiking trails, and at least another two more that are soon to be refurbished. These are steep in places but worth the sweat. As the trail twists and turns up the gnarly ridge of a hill, the deep silence and subterranean feel of the paths give them an almost Lord of the Rings feel.
What Uchiurayama really has going for it is how well laid-out and user friendly it is. Easily accessible by train and car, the area is free to enter. There is a helpful visitor’s center where you can pick up a complimentary map and study a diorama of the area, giving you a clear idea what the hiking trails and facilities are all about. Nothing is very far from anything, yet the experience is designed to give the impression that your spot is your own little private slice of nature.
There are two separate campgrounds, with a total of 50 campsites that feature a cookhouse and communal wash-up area, toilets and showers. Each site also has its own fire pit. For those without camping equipment, rentals are possible.
If roughing it in a tent is not your thing, log cabins with air conditioning and a toilet are available for up to six adults (and as many kids as you can fit in). Still need more comfort? The visitor’s center is connected to the lodge, which has four Western and eight Japanese rooms, each with four- or six-person capacity.
The staff at Uchiurayama are friendly and helpful. You can sign up for and attend nature awareness seminars, star watching, and charcoal craft classes for kids. Many of these sessions are free, and if there is a charge, it’s just to cover materials. The classes are ideal for kids, and let mom and dad sit back and chill.
If you are a day-tripper, no worries—there’s still plenty to enjoy aside from the hiking and the classes. You can hang out in the lodge’s charcoal bath, check out the gymnasium, or even rent a tea ceremony cottage. A picnic spot with a barbecue grill and cooking sheet can be rented for ¥1,500. You can even arrange to buy food for the fire, and a small café serves up a fine bento. In other words, you can practically show up at Uchiurayama straight from the office, and everything will be sorted.
The fastest train to Uchiurayama from Tokyo station is the Wakashio express to Awakominato station (90min). It is also possible, though not recommended, to catch the JR Keiyo line. The forest is a 10min taxi ride or an easy one-hour walk. No buses. If going by car, the easiest and fastest way from Tokyo is to take the Aqualine under the bay to Kizarazu, continuing on route 409 to 297 and then to 128. At Kominato, in front of the train station, go west 10km on route 285. The directions are well-marked, and there are 60 free parking spots that are rarely full. Reservations for log cabin rooms, tent spots, auto camp places, BBQ pits and food can be made online (www.chiba-forest.jp/uchiurayama) or by calling 04-7095-2821. Prices are ¥600/¥900 per tent; for a room in the lodge, adults ¥3,600/children ¥1,300-¥2,800. Add ¥2,300 (kids ¥1,340) for dinner and breakfast.