Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods With Kids

Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods With Kids

The mind boggles when you think about how old the California redwoods are.  When some of these trees in Muir Woods were saplings 900 years ago, the world would have been a vastly unrecognisable place.  To put things in perspective, in 1144 AD, the French and Germans were off on a doomed Second Crusade.  In 1150 AD Angkor Wat in Cambodia was completed as the Khmer empire reached its height.  Nearly a millennium later, the Middle East is still a mess (albeit a different kind) and Angkor Wat is a well-trod tourist attraction.

We visited the California redwoods at Muir Woods with kids in tow because it was easily accessible to San Francisco.  Even though we did not have time to visit Yosemite or the UNESCO world-heritage listed Redwood National Park, we still wanted our children to see a primeval forest.

Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids

Easy trails and its proximity to San Francisco make Muir Woods perfect for a family visit.

A Quick Intro to California Redwoods

Folk hero, Woodie Guthrie, wove the California redwoods into the American popular consciousness with his catchy song, This Land is Your Land. Luckily, the redwoods are mentioned in the first verse because, let’s face it, most people only know the first verse of a lot of songs.

This land is your land, this land is my land.

From California to the New York Island.

From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream waters,

This land was made for you and me.

Woodie Guthrie from  This Land is Your Land

So, I grew up hearing about redwood forests without actually knowing what they were. It took a trip to Muir Woods to clear up what exactly redwoods are and how they are different from sequoia trees.

Why are California Redwoods special?

Trees similar to redwoods grew along the Western US coast hundreds of millions of years ago.  Nowadays, there are two types of redwood.  The coastal redwood which grows along the coast and its near relative the giant sequoia which you find in Yosemite National Park.

Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids

Redwoods get their name from the tannic acid in their bark which protects them from fire and fungal attacks.

The difference between sequoias and coastal redwoods

The coastal redwoods are taller reaching a height of up to 380 feet compared to the 300 feet of the sequoias.  Redwoods are younger (up to 2000 years old) while sequoias can be up to 3200 years old.

Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids

This tree trunk that was felled in the early 20th century has the passage of time marked on its rings.

Redwoods are about half the diameter in width.  The bark of redwoods are also about a 1/3 less thick than that of the giant sequoias.  So we are talking tall and thin versus shorter and wider.

Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids

My kids could easily fit into one of the splits in a tree trunk.

The feed and care of redwoods

Coastal redwoods drink approximately 500 gallons of water per tree!  In the winter, the area gets about 40 inches of rainfall per year. In the summer, the redwoods get most of the water from the fog and then when the water hits the soil, more water gets taken up by the shallow root system.

Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids

In winter Redwood creek swells with torrential rainstorms.

Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids

Burls at the bottom of a tree are dormant buds that can sprout a new tree.

The trees roots go down only about 10 feet deep but spread out nearly 100 feet.  You would think such a tall tree would just be top heavy and topple over!

Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids

So much ground cover in the forest.

Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids

We spent considerable time looking for a four leaf clover only to discover it was California sorrel, a different plant.

Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids

The undergrowth is so dense and you can hear the rustling of leaves and animals around you.

Why visit the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids?

We saw a family in front of us arguing with their stroppy teenage daughter who clearly did not want to spend the day with her family.  So why should you visit Muir Woods if you are in the area?

  • It’s a short hop, skip and a ride away from San Francisco.
  • California redwoods are the tallest living things in the world (cool fact for little kids)
  • The hikes can be as short as 45 minutes or as long as hours depending on your abilities/interest.
  • The boardwalk paths make using strollers easy if you have toddlers with you.
  • You’d have to be a really stroppy teen to not appreciate the quiet and peace.  Or, give them something really depressing to think about by telling them that their problems are a speck of dust in the vastness that is time as evidenced by the redwoods.

People have said that Muir Woods is a crowded tourist trap.  I didn’t think it was but, even if it were, so?  The redwoods are still amazing to see in real life.  Neither did we feel it was particularly crowded.  Sure, you don’t have the forest to yourself but we didn’t expect that level of seclusion either.  I may have lived in Europe too long – for crowded you need to be in the tiny towns of Italy during holiday season.

History of Muir Woods

Redwood Canyon, the area that covers Muir Woods was a part of the many redwood forests that covered Northern California. In the early days, the trees in Redwood Canyon were saved from being cut down because it was a particularly remote area.  Afterwards, it belonged to the landholdings of a private owner, Rancho Sausalito.  The ranch got sold in the 1890’s and attention finally turned to the area.  A local businessman and his wife, William and Elizabeth Kent, bought the land in 1907 to save it from developers and donated it to the federal government.  The same president that created the first national monument, Devils Tower in Wyoming, designated the valley the United States’ 10th national monument in 1908.

As a member of Congress, in 1916 Kent also introduced legislation that created the National Park Service.  The NPS is celebrating its centenary this year.

Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids

Muir Woods is administered by the National Park Service.

The national monument was named after the early conservationist, John Muir, who felt it was a great honour.

This is the best tree-lover’s monument that could possibly be found in all of the forests of the world.

John Muir

The redwoods in Muir Woods are not the oldest of the redwoods.  They are ‘merely’ on average 600-800 years old.  The oldest redwood in Muir Woods is about 1200 years old.

Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids

The aptly-named Cathedral Grove trees soar into the sky like church spires.

Visiting Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument is a 560 acre park with 6 miles of trails. The main canyon trails are paved and an easy walk.  The park office has maps with marked trails for you to buy onsite.  Check out this website for some easy 2-5 mile hikes in Muir Woods.  My 10-year olds had no problem with the easy 1/2 day hike we did in Muir Woods.

Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids

Paved trails make it easy for children, including younger children in strollers.

If that is not exciting enough for you, unpaved trails out of the canyon connect with the trails at Mt. Tamalpais State Park nearby.  William Kent and others wanted to extend Muir Woods beyond its original area but they couldn’t because of the National Monument designation.  Instead, there is a fairly seamless connection with Mt. Tamalpais State Park which was established in 1928 and de facto extended Muir Woods.

Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids

This path leads to the Canopy Trail from which you can access the state park or return to Muir Woods.

In the early days, visitors were allowed to climb on and around the trees! Needless to say, such activity wasn’t so good for the trees.  There are signs everywhere to stay on the paved trails.

Visiting the California Redwoods at Muir Woods with kids

Although everyone says Muir Woods is busy, we found plenty of opportunity to strike out on our own.

Muir Woods National Monument is 12 miles away from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and about a 1/2 hour drive. There is parking available but it does get busy!

If you are like us and do not have time to visit Yosemite National Park, I would strongly urge you to visit the California redwoods at Muir Woods with kids.  The California redwoods are magnificent and encourage you to think about what a small place you occupy in the world.  A little retrospection and humility is good for everyone, including children!

Soft Adventure in the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales

Soft Adventure in the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales

I heard this traditional Welsh song on the tour bus before we stepped out onto the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales.

We’ll keep a welcome in the hillside

We’ll keep a welcome in the Vales

This land you know will still be singing 

When you come home again to Wales.

Mai Jones (1940)

As far as I was concerned though, you couldn’t hear the land singing so much as the wind whistling.  Even though I was bundled up from the cold, within a few minutes, my eyes were tearing, my nose running and my ears ringing.  As we hiked up the hill, I could appreciate the beauty of the landscape despite the discomfort.  Just about.

visiting the Brecon Beacons national park

The Brecon Beacons National Park

The Brecon Beacons national park stretches out over 332,100 acres with the valleys undulated between the Brecon mountains.  The stone formations ripple from the icy farewell kiss of glaciers retreating after the last Ice Age.  No one view the same as the other. Wild and remote, I can see the dramatic landscape bringing out the poet in anyone so inclined.  It’s no surprise to me that some of the best fantasy writers in English – C.S. Lewis, Philip Pullman and Roald Dahl are Welsh.

The highest mountain in Southern Britain, Pen y Fan, is located in the Brecon-Beacons National Park.  George Everest, the geographer for whom Mt. Everest is named, was a local boy who grew up clambering up and down the local mountains. Paul, our guide from See Wales Tours, is on a personal mission to make sure that everyone knows that Everest is correctly pronounced Eve (as in the wife of Adam)-rest.  So now you know.  Feel free to throw that tidbit about at your next cocktail party if you want to sound like a pretentious plonker.

The Brecon Beacons national park in Wales has outdoorsy fun for everyone

Who Lives There

Even though most of the population of Wales opts to live in the valleys nowadays (sensibly in my opinion), the Celts choose to live in hill forts above the valleys.  From their high vantage point, they could see unfriendly people or animals approaching.  I guess when confronted with the risk of death, being somewhat cold was a minor inconvenience.  Wales has evidence of over 600 of these Celtic hill forts with 24 of them being in the Brecon Beacons.  I would’ve have taken a photo of the fort we were shown if my fingers weren’t so numb from the cold.

These forts though were no match for the Romans who invaded in 43 AD.  They eventually managed to subdue the Celtic tribes and set up their main base near the town of Beacon.  Although you think of sheep as being a dominant part of the Welsh landscape, they are actually imports. The sheep were brought to Wales by the Romans from the areas of their empire we now know as Iran and Iraq.

Did you know that during the spring and summer, there are 3 million people in Wales and 15 million sheep? The sheep become fat and happy until they are culled in the fall. Pretty much everywhere I looked there were sheep.

After the Romans, it was the turn of the Normans to invade Wales.  As they did in England, the Normans were big on building castles to keep their stranglehold on the local population. There are 641 castles in Wales and 6 of them are in the Brecon Beacons.

The Brecon-Beacons is also home to about 2000 wild ponies.  No  longer needed to work in the coal mines, the ponies are left to graze in the moorlands and keep the grass under control.

wild ponies grazing on moorland in the Brecon Beacons

As an American, I find it surprising that there are homes and towns in British national parks.  Unlike the USA where the government was able to designate national parks before they got settled, these lands have been settled for hundreds of years.  The Brecon Beacons was only designated a national park in 1957 – a mere blink of an eye relative to the amount of time people have lived there.

The main town in the Brecon-Beacons National Park is Brecon with a population of about 20,000.  There has been a settlement in the Beacon area for over 2000 years.

What to See and Do

The Brecon Beacons send out a homing signal for local outdoorsy types (of which there seemed to be many).  We saw many hardy souls hiking the mountains despite the blustery wind.  There is plenty of good hiking and biking trails.  The rivers provide water activities and fishing.  A portion of the Brecon Beacons has achieved Dark Skies status which means that the star gazing will be excellent.

For city folk like me, who prefer ‘soft adventure’ after a bracing (if short) walk, there are great country pubs and restaurants in the Brecon Beacons.  While I was on my tour, my husband and children enjoyed a long leisurely Sunday lunch at The Three Horseshoes Inn in Brecon which they told me was excellent.

Sunday Lunch at the Three Horseshoes Inn in Brecon Wales

While they were testing out the culinary options, I went to the UNESCO world heritage site, the Big Pit National Coal Museum, which tells the story of coal mining in Wales. Divide and conquer and all that.

The Big Pit National Coal Museum in Wales is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

In terms of towns, Brecon has a small but charming cathedral.  The Norman castle is a wreck and not worth visiting.  In addition, Hay-on-Wye is a small town just at the edge of the national park which holds a world-renowned literature festival every year.

Getting There

Wales is blessed to have 20% of its land mass designated as national parks.  There are three national parks – the Pembrokeshire Coast in West Wales, Snowdonia in North Wales and the Brecon Beacons in the South.  The most easily accessible for visitors is the Brecon Beacons.  You can easily reach the Brecon Beacons from Cardiff in about an hour.  There are regular express train connections from London to Cardiff.

Our day trip from Cardiff only covered a small portion of the Brecon Beacons.  I had a great overview of how beautiful the park is thanks to our day with See Wales Tours which was organised by the Welsh Tourist Board.  My family choose and paid for their own itinerary.  As ever, all opinions are my own.

Exploring the Caraca Nature Reserve in Brasil

Exploring the Caraca Nature Reserve in Brasil

The nearly-full moon lent its glow to the oversized metal gates and the front garden path to Caraca monastery at the Caraca Nature Reserve in Brasil.  The gardens themselves were dark, the shrubs creating shapeless forms and safety for the scurrying of little creatures.  The mountain night air was crisp providing a welcome respite from the heat of the day.  In front of the monastery doors, a tray of fruit and meat was placed as an offering to the Special Guest of the evening, the maned wolf (guara).  Like any modern-day celebrity, the maned wolf could be a diva and refuse to perform on stage even though the spectators had paid and were waiting patiently.  There were thirty of us sitting in chairs and on steps around the monastery gates eagerly anticipating the wolf from 7pm onwards.

Caraca Nature Reserve

The gated entrance to the monastery

We all waited patiently at the beginning.  The first to get restless were the children.  I sent mine off to bed at 9pm.  I was reading a fantastic book – The Traitor’s Wife by Kathleen Kent about the executioner of King Charles I of England who finds himself in Puritan New England when the monarchy is restored to Charles II.  I was happy, therefore, to wait out the wolf.

Caraca Nature Reserve and Sanctuary

Waiting for the elusive maned wolf

In fact, I was the last person to leave the patio at 12:30 in the morning having decided that I really should get to sleep.  Just as I am in bed at 12:45, I hear a wolf howl.  Typical.  Mr. Wolf had won in our little battle of wills.  There was no need for him to gloat.

Briefly I wondered if I was just listening to an audio recording of a wolf howl played by the priests just to keep visitors believing in the myth of the Maned Wolf who would eat in front of you. I hear the next morning that the priests at the monastery had found all the food gone.  I decide that I would give the Catholic priests the benefit of the doubt that they wouldn’t cook up such a scam to increase tourist numbers. Other visitors I spoke to who had been at the reserve for a couple of days said they hadn’t seen the wolf either.  So, who knows?  Moral of the story:  Don’t expect to see the maned wolf.

Caraca Nature Reserve

Caraca Nature Reserve is located on the outskirts of the little town of Santa Barbara in the interior state of Minas Gerais about 120 kilometres from the state capitol of Belo Horizante. Belo Horizante itself is a one hour flight from Rio de Janeiro or approximately 8 hours by car. Caraca receives its name from the mountain behind the monastery which looks like the profile of a Bishop’s face complete with mitre.

Caraca was founded in 1774 by a Portuguese monk.  He couldn’t convince enough other monks though to join him in his little venture in the back of beyond.  He left his property to the Portuguese Crown who gave it to other missionaries.  In 1820, these monks created a school and a seminary which became very popular and prestigious.

Caraca Nature Reserve

The sanctuary buildings seen from a distance

A massive fire burned down a significant portion of the monastery in 1968.  The costs to replace the monastery were prohibitive.  The government and the church decided to cooperate to turn the remaining portion of the monastery into a pousada (traditional inn) and the sanctuary into a nature reserve.

Caraca Nature Reserve

Portions of the burned out shell of the monastery

Caraca Nature Reserve

It’s easy to imagine how beautiful the whole place would have been.

Remnants of the old monastic life are today still in existence.  There is a hill which is a replica of Calvary (complete with three crosses), a massive church, cloisters and halls of residence for the monks and students.

Caraca Nature Reserve

The Monastery’s large church shows how many people would have been to Mass during its heyday.

The Pousada at Caraca

The Pousada at Caraca very much reminds you of the monastery it used to be.  The rooms are simply furnished.  You have a choice of a double bed or single beds to make a double, triple or quadruple.  There are crosses and religious paraphernalia everywhere.

Caraca Nature Reserve

Spartan but comfortable accommodation

caraca nature sanctuary

The interior decoration style is full-on Catholic Monastery.

The head of the monastery, an older priest in a polo shirt and chinos, introduced himself to us.  He said so far this year 22 different nationalities had visited his monastery.

We saw him regularly shuffling through the corridors of the monastery.  I did wonder at his baleful expression – if he was remembering the days of yore when the premises were full of robed monks who would pray and study instead of earnest hikers in shorts and sneakers gulping from water bottles.

The only place with WiFi in the Pousada is the cloisters.  It was quite amusing seeing people twist, turn and balance to get a glimmer of WiFi for their electronics.  In the end, I just gave up on WiFi.

Caraca Nature Reserve

The beautiful cloistered garden

You are very isolated from the rest of the world at the monastery.  This isolation is part of its charm.  You really are a world away.  On the other hand, the isolation did lead to half the monastery burning down before local fire trucks could arrive for the rescue.

The Pousada doesn’t discourage Earthly pleasures though.  There is a small store that sells bottles of wine, soda and chocolate milk.  You can also get wine for lunch and dinner.

Lunch and dinner at the Pousada is served in the old Monastery dining room.  The tables are laid out cafeteria style.  In the middle of the room, there is an intricately carved stone lectern.  The walls are lined with portraits of previous priests who reign fire and brimstone through their expressions.  The buffet serves up standard Brasilian fare – there was always black beans, rice and pasta to keep my children happy.

Caraca Nature Reserve

Food served in keeping with a simple monastic style

The breakfast was served in a smaller cafeteria.  My children loved breakfast because they could make their own pancakes and eggs.  The ingredients are laid out on the buffet and you are expected to cook over the stone hearth with an open fire underneath.

Exploring the Nature Reserve

The Nature Reserve consists of about 30,000 acres of grassy fields and forest surrounded by mountains.  The reserve is home to 386 species of birds, 42 species of reptiles, 12 species of fish and 76 species of mammals.

Caraca Nature Reserve

The beautiful landscape

There are numerous trails of various difficulty.  The trails are well-marked and each is assigned a difficulty.

Why you should go chasing waterfalls at the Caraca Nature Reserve in Minas Gerais Brasil

Why you should go chasing waterfalls at the Caraca Nature Reserve in Minas Gerais

Easy trails (classified us up to 2 kilometres) will take you to a small beach, waterfalls and lookouts over the valley.  We did some of these trails with our children and they were indeed easy.

Caraca Nature Reserve

Hiking through the Caraca Nature Reserve

Our favourite path lead to a small (for Brasil) waterfall. The waterfall was tiered over 4 stages and about 130 feet tall.  At stage 3 which is where the path leads you, you can enter the waterfall.  The mountain water was crisp, cold and a joy to enter on a hot day.  The water retains a reddish brown hue because of the minerals in the soil.

Caraca Nature Reserve

The small waterfall

The easy hiking paths were wide and fairly flat and occasionally even shaded from the heat of the sun by trees.  You could hear the chirping of birds everywhere which is pretty standard for Brasil.  As you walk, you will notice lizards scampering around rocks and butterflies fluttering amongst the flowers.  It feels a million miles away from the crowded beaches of Rio.

Caraca Nature Reserve

An isolated little beach

We spotted lots of little lizards

We spotted lots of little lizards

Other trails, marked as long distances (2-6 kilometres), are more challenging.  For trails that are above 6 kilometres you are required to hire a registered guide to escort you.

Visiting the Caraca Nature Reserve in Minais Reserve, Brasil with kids

Visiting Caraca Nature Reserve

It is suggested that you stay 2 days at the Caraca Nature Reserve so you can do a few of the different walks.  We did meet plenty of people though who were staying longer.  I think the lack of WiFi would’ve sent  me over the edge though.

We were told last year that 17,000 people visited the nature reserve.  Many Brasilian people come just for a weekend with nature.  We met lots of Brasilian visitors, some French and a couple of Americans.  My husband was surprised that there weren’t more people from the United Kingdom (even paging through the visitor books for past guests).

The nature reserve’s website is in English if you would like to learn more about this off the beaten path experience in Brasil.  I would highly-recommend it.

This post is linked up with Travel Tuesday.

Fun Things To Do In Hakone With Kids

Fun Things To Do In Hakone With Kids

Visiting the Hakone region of Japan is a nice and easy excursion from urban sensory overload if you are visiting Tokyo.   Located only about a 100 kilometres away from the capitol, Hakone is a very popular destination for both Japanese and international tourists to revel in some beautiful countryside.   There are lots of fun things to do in Hakone with kids and it shows a very different side of Japan.

Some fun things to do in Hakone in Japan with kids

Some Fun Things To Do With Kids in Hakone

The best thing we found we did was actually just to go hiking.  We wandered around some of the trails, hopping on and off the train which runs regularly to visit some of the little towns and generally had a good time exploring.  Although the leaves had started changing, we did not have the full colour of autumn in the mountains of Japan which is a spectacular sight to behold.

7 Things To Do In Hakone With Kids

7 Things To Do In Hakone With Kids

Here are some other things to do that add more structure to your time in Hakone:

The Town of Moto Hakone

The Hakone Shrine is located in the little town of Moto Hakone and is surrounded by woodland.  You can see the tori gate for the Hakone Shrine from the lake.  Moto Hakone also has a giant tori gate as an entrance to the town itself.  The pirate ships that cross Lake Ashi dock at Moto Hakone.  Moto Hakone also has part of the old Tokaido Highway which was an important route during the Edo period of Japanese history.  It is lined with hundreds of cedar trees planted in 1618.

7 Things To Do In Hakone With Kids

A giant tori gate

7 Things To Do In Hakone With Kids

Moto Hakone is full of little hidden gems.

Moto Hakone is supposed to have great views of Mt Fuji.  By the time we reached the town though, the mists had rolled in and night was falling.

7 Things To Do In Hakone With Kids

Hidden by the clouds is Mt Fuji

Cross Lake Ashinoko

This lake is a volcanic crater lake which has beautiful views of the surrounding forested mountains. The lake has lodging options as well as cute little row boats and swan boats that you can hire.

The boats that cross the lake look like pirate ships which my kids thought was fun.  Within the boats themselves, there are cool 3D images where you can take photos pretending you are fighting pirates.

Check the TripAdvisor reviews for Lake Ashii

7 Things To Do In Hakone With Kids

Beautiful Lake Hakone

7 Things To Do In Hakone With Kids

swan boats to hire

7 Things To Do In Hakone With Kids

somewhat incongruous but still fun

7 Things To Do In Hakone With Kids

Mucking around on the pirate ship

Visit a Hakone Onsen

For the Japanese, visiting Hakone invariably includes visiting one of the onsens (hot spring baths) that feed of the geothermal activity in the area.

If you are with children, the best option I found was called Hakone Kuwakien Yunessun.  This onsen is located at the Kowaki-en stop on the Hokan Tozan light railway.  It’s got a dedicated area for children which water slides. In addition, unlike traditional onsens, which require you to be nude, there is a bathing suit area which seems to be somewhat gimmicky.   I expect the non-bathing suit area is what you would get from a more traditional onsen experience.

Check the TripAdvisor reviews for the Hakone Kowakien Yunessun Onsen

Explore the Hakone Open Air Museum

As I have mentioned in the post on the Hakone Open Air Museum, this place is a wonderful way to combine modern art with fun for the kids.

Check the TripAdvisor reviews for the Hakone Open-Air Museum

Take Some Cool Transportation Options

The Hakone Tozan railway is a charming little train that zig-zags up the mountain. It has 3 switchbacks which the kids found cool.  The driver walks from one end of the train to the other at each switchback to drive it the other way.  As Japan’s oldest mountain railway, in operation since 1919,  it has fantastic views of the mountainside.

Check the TripAdvisor reviews for the Hakone Tozan Railway

The Hakone Tozan light railway in Hakone

The cute little Hakone Tozan train that goes on the switchbacks.

You can take a cable car in Hakone from Gora to the gondolas which cross the mountain.  We were able to take the cable car but because of recent geothermal activity at Mt Fuji, the gondolas have been suspended for the last few months.  Instead, we took a replacement bus service.  Although nice, I’m sure the gondolas would have had better views!

Check the TripAdvisor reviews for the Hakone Ropeway

The gondolas/replacement bus take you to Togendai which is where you get on the Lake Ashii pirate boats.

Tips for Visiting Hakone

Shinagawa station from where we took the Shinkansen has dedicated Japan tourist guides to help you sort out your trip and its details.  There are various transportation options from Tokyo from tourist buses to DIY tickets on the Shinkansen (bullet train) or the Romance Car (a more direct route).  We took the Shinkansen because there was no way my kids were not going on the bullet train!

You can do a circular route around Hakone starting with Odawara castle, the Hakone Tozan train, cable car/replacement bus, the  Lake Ashi boat and then back to Odawara.  It’s very easy to navigate with helpful staff along the way.

An easy day trip from Tokyo: Hakone in Japan

I really regret that I did not spend the night in Hakone.  I didn’t realise how much fun it would be for the kids and myself.  We took an early train to the area and barely made it back to Tokyo on the last train back!

We were having so much fun we lost track of time.  I’m sure you know that when kids are having fun its hard to keep them on schedule.  My kids can pretend fight with sticks, climb rocks and chase each other around paths until the cows come home.  Staying overnight would have been a better option for us because it would have been more relaxing.

Many moons ago when I lived in Japan, I had visited Hakone as part of a longer trip which involved climbing Mt. Fuji. Getting to the top of Mt. Fuji for the sunrise is an event that many people like to do. It’s not a particularly hard climb in terms of mountaineering terms. We saw lots of elderly people doing the climb, too. I did not attempt the climb with my kids on this trip. If you’d like to know more about climbing Mt. Fuji, this article explains the enduring fascination that this mountain has for the Japanese people.


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Modern Art and Mountains: Hakone Sculpture Park and Hakone Open Air Museum Japan

Modern Art and Mountains: Hakone Sculpture Park and Hakone Open Air Museum Japan

Hakone Open Air Museum is located in a majestic setting nestled among the green-forested mountains near Tokyo.  The Open Air Museum Hakone is  Japan’s first open air museum. The Hakone museum   features about a 120 works from a who’s who of international modern artists such as Rodin, Picasso, Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and Niki de Saint Phalle.  The Hakone Outdoor Museum’s ethos is to balance art and nature. In our opinion, this Japan Open Air Museum achieves this effect beautifully. Although many of the works are set in a Hakone sculpture park, there are also indoor pavilions. When you are visiting Hakone with children, in addition to its many tourist attractions such as the cruise on Lake Ashii and visiting a Japanese hot spring, a stroll through the  Hakone Open Air Museum is a must-do.

Visiting the Hakone Open Air Museum in Japan

Child-Friendly Exhibits at Hakone Open Air Museum

My children loved the Hakone Open Air Art museum running around and playing amongst the exhibits.  In addition, I was able to take them on a short crash course of modern sculpture since there were so many famous artists present in one place. They could see for themselves the difference between the works of Henry Moore versus Calder because they were near each other in this Hakone sculpture park.

Hakone Open Air Museum

Fried egg benches

Some of the exhibits at this Hakone Outdoor Museum are actually meant for human interaction such as the giant maze of flowers called A Garden of Stars.

Hakone Air Museum

The Garden of Stars Maze

My son loved soaking his tootsies in the foot bath which has oranges and lemons floating among the hot water – the same thermal hot spring water that fills the onsens nearby.  For a nominal 100 yen (about 50p) in the Hakone Open Air, you can take a little towel to dry off your feet afterwards.

Hakone Open Air Museum

Every museum should have a place to refresh tired feet.

The children also loved feeding the giant koi in the pond at the Open Air Museum Hakone. When I say giant, I mean giant. These koi have probably been fed way too much by indulgent tourists.  I loved the honour system where you put in some coins and you can help yourself to a little dish of fish food. It’s so Japanese to trust visitors will do the right thing at this Hakone Open Air Art Museum.

Hakone Open Air Museum

Some greedy fat koi

My kids’  favourite exhibit at Hakone Open Air Museum was the soap bubble castle, a plexiglass and steel work technically called Curved Space Diamond Structure. Set in the Hakone sculpture park, this piece by American sculptor Peter Pearce, is a structure that you can climb inside and around. My kids did not need a second invitation!

Like the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, outdoor artwork is easier for children to engage with – perhaps because it is less formal and playful in natureOutdoor artwork is meant to withstand Mother Nature never mind kids. Without any boundaries, you can get as close to the artwork as you want.

Hakone Open Air Museum

Inside the Soap Bubble Castle AKA Curved Space Diamond Structure

Hakone Air Museum

Climbing soap bubbles into the sky

The Permanent Collection at the Open Air Museum Hakone

Many of the works at this Hakone museum are oversized but feel perfectly set in their Hakone open air location because of the scale of the mountains.

Hakone Open Air Museum

I came in like a wrecking ball AKA a Moment of Movement by Aiko Miwaki

Hakone Open Air Museum

Le Pieureuse by Francois-Xavier and Claude Lalanne

Hakone Open Air Museum

I’ve fallen and can’t get up. AKA Close by Anthony Gormley

The Hakone Open Air museum rotates its display of 26 Henry Moore sculptures which is the largest collection of his works anywhere in the world.

Another amazing exhibit is found in the Picasso Pavilion which contains over 300 of the artist’s works.  They were donated to the Museum by Picasso’s daughter.

Hakone Open Air Museum

The Picasso Pavillion

Practicilaties for the Hakone Open Air Museum

We all loved the Hakone Open Air museum and were so glad our friend recommended we visit it. It was a delightful afternoon spent amongst beautiful modern art in the mountains.  At the end of the day, I had to usher my kids out of the Hakone outdoor museum because they could have stayed longer!

Visiting the Hakone Open Air museum with kids

Visiting the Hakone Open Air museum with kids

Getting To Hakone Open Air Museum Japan

The Hakone Open Air Museum is very easy to find.

Most of the people getting off at the stop will be going to the museum – there’s not much else in town!  It is a short walk from the little train station at Chokoku-no-Mori Station (the penultimate stop on the Hakone Tozan Line) heading towards the town of Gora.

Hakone Open Air Museum Hours

The Hakone Open Air Museum hours are generous – open every day of the year from 9-5. There is reduced admission for students.

Hakone Open Air Museum Reviews

Check the TripAdvisor reviews for the Hakone Open-Air Museum


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