Life on Mars: Aso-Kuju National Park

‘Mount Aso is one of the most active volcanoes in the world that ordinary tourists can visit,’ I read on a board while looking out to the smokey mountainscape and pondered on whether to feel terrified, but rather enjoyed looking out at such a majestic landscape.

Mt Aso Boardwalk

Mount Aso can be seen in two distinctly different looks – the greenest green you will have ever seen (according to a friend of mine who visited in autumn) or simply life on Mars, as we found it in late March this year. This look is carefully created by volunteers once a year by controlled burning ‘to ensure a fresh grass for the cattle to grow and to prevent the forest from taking over’ (Aso Denku, 2018).

Whether you’re just passing through Aso town and its’ mountain range like us or staying overnight (which I would highly recommend!), here are our recommendations on what to do around Mount Aso.

Drive or Cycle along the Mountains and Enjoy the Scenery!

The easiest way to explore the Aso mountain range is by driving or cycling around the mountains. We chose the former for our trip and rented a car at Oita Airport for a week; however, looking at the brand new paths leading around the mountains, we would love to return and cycle this route! We particularly enjoyed stopping at Shiroyama Viewpoint as we entered the Aso mountains from the north. There are aso a few road stops like 阿蘇の森 where you can have a coffee and grilled fresh corn from a little van with breathtaking views!

#1 Stop for walks on the prairieland for views of the active volcano

Kusasenri-ga-hama is in the centre of Aso Nationalpark and the ideal spot for a short walk along the prairie with volcano views. Activities like horse-riding are also offered and to our amazement, a brand new coffee shop with proper lattes (草千里珈琲焙煎所) that felt like fresh out of Tokyo, just opened at this viewpoint! Side note: We found this coffee shop after complaining for hours that we were unable to find a proper cafe with proper coffees (instead of the popular Japanese drip) and then stumbled upon this coffee oasis which felt like we just manifested it!

Embrace on a stunning nature Boardwalk

In addition to an abundance of adventurous, long hikes around Mt. Aso, you can also take it easy and enjoy the special scenery by strolling along the boardwalk. This only takes about 20-60 minutes, depending on which paths you choose and the further you walk (as with most tourist sites), the more you will find yourself alone in nature. I remember walking along the last section of the boardwalk and feeling like I just entered the scene of an enchanted forest.

Yatto Mitsuketa Totteoki Strawberry Farm

Strawberry Picking

Despite having experienced strawberry picking as a child in Germany, I had this on my to do list in Japan for almost four years, as it’s a different experience here! Once you arrive at the strawberry farm, you pay a flat fee of about ¥1,200 / 9€, get given a basket, a cup of sweet condensed milk and unlimited time to leisurely stroll around the huge, covered strawberry farm where you pick and immediately eat strawberries. In Japan, ‘all you can eat’ doesn’t make people go crazy like in Europe, but people genuinely and slowly just eat however much they fancy, which makes it feel so much more relaxed. For our first strawberry picking experience, we chose ‘Yatto Mitsuketa Totteoki no Ichigo‘ and were very happy with it, as the owners were extremely friendly; however there are also other strawberry farms with good ratings in this area to choose from.

Aso Shrine, one of the oldest in Japan. Heavily damaged in the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake and fully repaired by 2023.

Great variety of local cafes

Alongside the recently rebuilt famous Aso Shrine, the town centre has a surprising amount of local delicacies on offer. We started with a white bean taiyaki (fish-shaped waffle), continued with an organic veggie soba lunch at Zero Cafe and left Aso with fresh pastries in hand from the local bakery! Wherever we go in Japan, we always check Google Maps for good bakeries, as you can find some outstanding hidden gems in the smallest of places.

Nearby Award-winning Rice Terraces

Seen enough mountains? South of Aso, you can find a hidden gem – the award winning Sugayama Rice Terraces. These were the most stunning ones we’ve seen so far and we enjoyed just walking along the path next to them for about an hour with no other tourists around!

Light-up at Kurokawa Onsen

Kurokawa Onsen

We splashed out on a one night stay in the famous Kurokawa Onsen town. Enjoy private hot springs, Japanese style dinner and breakfast included and wondering around town, especially in the evening when the beautiful light displays are switched on! Even though it was cold, hotel guests walked around in their yukata and wooden slippers. You can also visit Kurokawa onsen as a day trip from Yufuin, Beppu or Aso and do the tour of all the different onsen for the ultimate bathing experience in natural hot springs.

PS: What is an ‘ordinary tourist’?

– Her

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