Hiking is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Tokyo. But on second thought, it makes sense considering the amount of mountains on this small island about the size of California. Just west of Tokyo center is Tama which is ripe with day hiking options. In my first three months living in Japan, I have tried three of them based on recommendations from friends and locals.
I have found hiking in Japan much different than the United States and Europe. Many of the trails are actually paved. They are also very steep going for the most direct route instead of switch backs to decrease the incline. Japanese often go out as a large group and outing and are more concerned with just enjoying the day than any serious hiking. This often results in me feeling like I am in a mall instead of nature!
The trails are also often lined with options for eating, there are plenty of restrooms and expect to see several temples along the way or at the summit.
Mount Takao: This is by far the most popular of the three areas. I went on a beautiful spring day and it was packed! On a clear day, the trail offers magnificent views of both Tokyo and Mount Fuji . The hike is steep and climbs 599 meters over about 4 kms. However, you have the option to take a cable car up the first half or to walk the entire trail.
Getting there: The trail head is conveniently located just steps from a subway stop, Takaosanguchi. You can get there direct via Keio Railways or take the JR Chuo Line to Takao Station and then transfer to the Keio Line and ride one stop to Takaosanguchi. On a weekend, just follow the crowds. If you are lucky enough to be there when it is less busy, there is a map and sign directly in front of the station. Turn right and walk straight for about 5 minutes and you will walk to the cable car and the trail head.
Mount Mitake: This hike was considerably less busy but is still very accessible from Tokyo. Again you have the option of a cable car or to hike up. Once at the top there are a shires and a village dating back to the 14th century. From the summit you have access to continue to explore and hike throughout Chichibu-Tama-Kai national park. The most popular and reasonable for an additional hike is to walk to Mount Otake from the Rock Garden. The trail is well marked but gets you into nature and off the paved path.
Getting there: Mount Mitake is also easy to reach via the train. From Tokyo, take the JR Chuo Line to Ome Station. In Ome, transfer to the JR Ome line to Mitake. Once in Mitake, leave the train station, take a left and walk one block. Across the street from the 7/11 you will see a parking lot. Here there is a shuttle bus that will take you to the trail head and cable car. You can use your rail pass to pay for the bus ride.
At Ome Station, change to another orange train on the JR Ome Line (usually waiting on the opposite platform of the arriving train) and ride as far as Mitake Station (20 minutes). The whole trip from Shinjuku to JR Mitake Station costs 920 yen one way and is fully covered by the your rail pass.
Once at Mitake Station, take the bus to the lower station of the Mitake cablecar (10 minutes, 280 yen one way, about 2 buses/hour). The cablecar lifts you to close to the summit of Mount Mitake (1110 yen roundtrip, about 3 departures/hour).
Hinohara Village: This area is harder to reach by train but is gorgeous and less busy. There are numerous trails (none of them are paved). The area is famous for its waterfalls and rock climbing. These trails are more similar to what you would expect to find in the United States for Europe. You can go for a day hike or multiple days and see all eight waterfalls.
Getting here: If unable to drive, take the train to JR Musashi Itsukaichi and then a bus or cab to the trail head.