The traditional route around the Hakone area officially starts in Hakone-Yumoto, from where the narrow-gauge Hakone-Tozan train switchbacks up forested hills to the resort town of Gōra.
For the best views and thinnest crowds, we recommend an early start from Gōra by funicular railway, which takes you to the cable car station. The cable car then whisks you over the treetops to the Great Boiling Valley, where, if the weather’s clear, there are unparalleled views of Mount Fuji’s conical peak.
The Boiling Valley itself is fascinating, and we suggest you give yourself a while to explore the geothermic area on foot. The black-shelled onsen-cooked eggs, reputedly give long life, and make a tasty snack. Then it’s on by cable car again to Lake Ashi, where you can board the charmingly kitsch “pirate ship” which takes you across the lake to Hakone-machi.
If you’re interested in Japanese history, we recommend a visit to the Hakone Barrier, or Sekisho, which once controlled the traffic on the old Tōkaidō Road. The impressive shrine should not be missed, and a walk along the avenue of stately cryptomeria trees which were planted in 1618 and still stand tall, is also well worth doing if you have the energy.
The traditional return is by bus on the mountain roads, but we suggest coming back the way you came instead – not only a prettier trip, but also essential for anyone who suffers from car sickness.