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The Mount Usu Ropeway, also known as the Usuzan Ropeway, is a fantastic spot for sweeping views of Lake Tōya (Tōyako) and steaming hot volcanoes. Mount Usu is very much an active volcano, with four major eruptions in the 20th–21st century alone. It is part of the Tōya-Usu Geopark.

Fun fact: The 1910 eruption of Mt. Usu was the first successful preventative evacuation in history.

What should I see and do at the Mt. Usu Ropeway and Observatory?

Mt. Shōwa-shinzan

Photo by Alex Ziminski

You don’t even have to go up the ropeway to see the first signs of potential imminent destruction. Mount Shōwa-shinzan is a baby in the geology world, having only formed over two years after the 1945–55 Mt. Usu eruption; however, it still bubbles away ferociously. You can find it just opposite the ropeway entrance at the foot of Mt. Usu.

Mt. Usu Terrace

Mt. Usu Terrace has spectacular views: From here, you can see the aforementioned Mt. Shōwa-shinzan, as well as Lake Tōya and local birds.

Following an expansion in 2022, the terrace now has comfy chairs, love seats, and other areas for laying back and taking in the vista.

Mt. Usu Crater Trekking Course

If you want an alternative landscape — one that includes Fuji’s asymmetrical brother, Mount Yōtei — then you may want to go on the crater trekking course. While closed in winter (Nov.–Apr.) due to snow, it is a brilliant spot to visit in the summer months. Note that there are 600 steep steps on the way.

Photo by Alex Ziminski

Is there anywhere to eat?

Cafe Mt. Usu is situated right beside the terrace. They use local ingredients and have interesting dishes to take away; try the grilled sandwiches in the shape of a very triangular mountain. The cafe is usually closed in winter. There are a few more places to eat if you want a sit-down meal, like Usuzan Restaurant Funkatei.

What about to buy?

If you are looking to buy some gifts, then there are a few gift shops that feature apple products and plushies of a cute long-tailed tit (Shimanaga) that lives in Hokkaidō.

How long should I spend at the Mt. Usu Ropeway and Tōyako Observatory?

The round-trip ropeway journey takes around 12 minutes (only 6 minutes up and down). We recommend walking to at least the crater lookout point and back (15 minutes each way). If you have the time, you can always go further to the southern rim lookout, but that’ll take an extra 60 minutes one-way).

When should I go? Does it get crowded?

To make the most of the ropeway and to have the opportunity to see Mount Usu’s crater, we recommend going in the summer. This is also when fireworks shoot off every night from Lake Tōya.

It closes for more than half of January, depending on weather conditions. Check the website for up-to-date opening and closing times. It won’t likely ever be overly crowded.

What’s near the Mt. Usu Ropeway and Tōyako Observatory?

Right next door to the ropeway’s entrance at the bottom of Mt. Usu is a memorial hall for Masao Mimatsu, a postmaster, and somewhat a local hero, who bought the land that Mt. Shōwa-shinzan resides on. He was an avid painter and recorded the formation of the small mountain through sketches — you can see these in the hall.

Of course, there are plenty of other things to see and do near Lake Tōya, including boat rides, hot springs, and Tōyako Visitor Center.

How to get to the Mt. Usu Ropeway and Tōyako Observatory?

If you are coming from JR Tōya Station, take the bus bound for Tōyako Onsen and get off at the last stop, Tōyako Onsen Bus Terminal (15 minutes). Then, change for a taxi (around ¥2,000) or bus bound for Shōwa Shinzan (15 minutes). Note that the latter bus does not run during winter (currently suspended, check here for up-to-date timetable).

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