Mount Takao (高尾山, Takaosan) is one of the closest natural recreation areas to central Tokyo, offering beautiful scenery, an interesting temple and attractive hiking opportunities. Although outside the city center, the mountain is still located within metropolitan Tokyo and takes only 50 minutes and 390 yen to reach from Shinjuku.
A network of numbered hiking trails lead up the slopes of Takaosan. The majority of visitors use trail number 1, which is broad, mostly paved and passes all of the major sites as it winds its way to the top of the 599 meter high summit. The other trails are narrower, unpaved and see significantly less traffic. The hike to the top of Mount Takao along trail number 1 takes about 90 minutes from the base of the mountain, but that time can be cut in half by utilizing the cablecar or chair lift that lead halfway up the mountain.
Near the cablecar's top station, there is an observation deck from where you can look out over Tokyo, while the summit offers views of Mount Fuji on clear days. An even larger network of hiking trails can be found beyond the summit of Takaosan which connects to the many peaks of the nearby Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park.
Considered a sacred mountain, Takaosan has been a center of mountain worship for more than 1000 years. Yakuoin, an attractive temple, stands along the trail near the mountain's summit, and many visitors stop there to pray to Shinto-Buddhist mountain gods (tengu) for good fortune. Statues of the gods, one with a long nose and one with a crow beak, can be found at the temple and also other spots around the mountain.
Another attraction along trail number 1 is a monkey park. The park's glass walled enclosure is home to about 40 Japanese macaques that put on shows at various times throughout the day. A wild flower garden with 500 different types of plants is also part of the monkey park and can be viewed with the same admission ticket.
Around the base of the mountain behind the railway station, visitors will find the Keio Takaosan Onsen Gokurakuyu, a hot spring bath house that offers a variety of gender segregated baths. There is also the Takao 599 Museum, a nature museum about the ecology surrounding Mount Takao (free admission). Takaosanguchi Station was renovated in 2015 and features a beautiful timber canopy and wood paneled passageways designed by renowned architect Kuma Kengo.
Due to its proximity to central Tokyo, Takaosan can get very crowded on weekends. It is especially busy during the second half of November, when the mountain's scattered autumn colors cause it to become one of Tokyo's most popular koyo (autumn foliage) spots. Consequently, you are well advised to visit Takaosan during the week if you are looking for a break not only from the concrete but also the crowds of Tokyo.
Mount Takao is also a good place to see cherry blossoms a couple of weeks after those in central Tokyo. There are a few trees around the mountain's base, trails and summit, but the best spot for cherry blossoms is the Itchodaira area, which lies an additional 30 minutes hike beyond the summit. Also known as the Takaosan Senbonzakura ("Mount Takao Thousand Cherry Trees"), the area is filled with several varieties of trees that are typically best viewed in mid to late April and are well worth a visit if you missed the main season around the city.