Southward 6.1㎞ from Utase Campground
On the border of Kumamoto and Miyazaki, one of Kyushu's oldest and most charming towns, Mamihara, welcomes you. Known as a wealthy merchant town in the Edo Period, two large stones on either side of the iconic bridge still stand as the checkpoint for all who enter Mamihara. Enjoy the view of old residences as you stroll through the main shopping street. Make sure to stop in for local delicacies at Miyabe's meat shop, Tariki's fresh fish monger, and the traditional tofu shop before arriving at the sweetest Japanese souvenir shop beside Iwashiroya hardware store.
Hibuse Jizou Matsuri (third weekend in August)
This festival and fireworks held in summer includes local boys and men bouncing a jizou statue through the river to ward off fires and protect the town for the year.
Eastward 19.9km form Utase Campground
While it may appear that this is a stone bridge, Tsujunkyou is actually an aqueduct, built as an irrigation canal in the Edo Period. It is a National Important Cultural Property, and its flow of water to the many rice paddies in the area of Yabe Town provides the community with sustenance and beauty. Walk across the top, enjoy a small hike to one of the many beautiful waterfalls in the area, and be sure to purchase local rice and farm goods in the market nearby.
Hassaku Matsuri (first weekend in September).
Yabe Town's festival and fireworks is a famous, long running event where local residents create huge statues, made entirely of forest, natural materials, to be paraded through town.
Northward 37km from Utase Campground
Mt.Aso is an active volcano in one of the world's largest ancient calderas, with a diameter of up to 25 kilometers and a circumference of over 100 kilometers. Enjoy incredible views of rolling grass covered hills with grazing cows as you wind up steep mountain slopes with epic vistas. The entire Aso area is famously dotted with lovely restaurants, cafes, and small boutiques awaiting you. Be sure to take time out to enjoy one if not many onsen hot spring baths amidst the beautiful scenery.
Traveler Note: Due to the increased volcanic activity of the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes, a no-entry zone is currently in effect, stretching one kilometer from the crater. While there is closure of the volcano rope way, road, and hiking trails to the crater, all other roads and businesses in the Aso area are open and awaiting you.
Minami South Aso
Northward 29km from Utase Campground
With a high water table and an abundance of natural hot springs, the south Aso area stands in the foot of the volcano, rich in pure water resources. Enjoy a drink from one of the most beautiful water sources Shirakawa-suigen白川水 and after visiting the shrine, be sure to try tofu from the soy sauce shop. Just up the road, the sweetest Tomato Roll Cafe serves a most delicious tomato whip cream roll cake with fresh water brewed coffee.
Eastward 26km from Utase Campground
Takachiho Town is famous in Japan for its geologically and mythologically significant sightseeing. So much beauty to take in, but while in town, you must walk through Takachiho Gorge, visit Takachiho Shrine, and see the miraculous cave within Amanoiwato Shrine天岩戸神社. Local chicken nanban is delicious, but don't pass on the opportunity to eat Takachiho beef, the young meat that ages to become Kobe beef.
Gokase Highland Ski & Snowboard
Southward 24.2km from Utase Campground
■Hours & Holidays depends on weather
The southernmost natural ski run in Japan, Gokase offers a day of exciting snowboarding and skiing from epic mountain top slopes. Passes, lifts, shopping and chalet, slow things down with trekking through frost-covered trees and snow shoeing deep in the mountains.
Soyokaze Park Kitchen Mom
■Hours 11:30~14:30 (last order time)
■Fee Adults 1080yen
Ages 4 to 6 500yen
Under 3 free
Add drink for 120yen
Only a three minute drive from the campground, this country buffet is prepared and served daily by local women with all the delicious dishes of rural Japan. Enjoy a casual and authentic lunch.
■Open Lunch time: 11:00~15:00
Dinner: course meal (advance reservation only)
■Closed Tuesdays, September, and New Year
Southward 4km from Utase Campground
Serving locally sourced ingredients, this restaurant’s soba noodle is the dish to try. Their homemade tofu-miso is delicious.
Artisanal Bakery YamaGEN
■Closed Mondays, Tuesdays
across the street from Heitate Shrine幣立神宮
Using homemade natural yeast, seasonal ingredients, and domestically-produced wheat, this family run bakery will delight in its variety of bread, pastry, and scones. Inside you'll find a small shop of organic products and enjoy a quick lunch or hot coffee in the charming attached cafe.
■Closed Tuesdays, Wednesdays
Southward 13.6km from Utase Campground
At first, you will doubt that there is a cafe in such a mountainous area, but you'll be delighted to enjoy lunch, sweets, and coffees with Mizutama's view of all five Aso mountain peaks. Breathe in some quiet relaxation sitting in front of their wood fireplace and shop their selection of local crafts on the way out.
■Closed Mondays (Tuesday if Monday is a national holiday), New Year’s Day
Eastward 19.1km from Utase Campground
Ramen, noodles in a savory broth with a variety of meat and vegetable toppings, is a comfort food for local people. You haven't experienced Japan until you have eaten in a rural countryside ramen shop, and Ochika Ramen is ours. Enjoy!