CONTRIBUTED BY MURIEL COLLINS
There are moments when I am so blown away by this island’s beauty that I say to myself, “I can’t believe I live here.” The Forest of Residence Trail led me to one such moment.
A sunny day with lower-than-usual humidity encouraged my husband and me to discover something other than Okinawa’s beaches. We found a trail network while exploring Onna’s Forest of Residence Park. An unassuming trailhead marked by a sign in Japanese (with no English translation) hides in the brush right off the main road through the park.
Unsure of where the trail led, and with nothing but time on our hands, we decided to venture out of the park’s main area and on to the canopy covered trail. Shaded by the lush forest, we were transported into pure peace: quite, cool, serene. A gentle creek accompanied the first few hundred feet of the trail and the wind serenaded us as it rustled the trees overhead. Steep inclines tapered off to allow us to catch our breath before the trail ascended again. Along the path, we played experimental botanists as many of the trees and plants were marked by barcodes. Simply scan the code with your smart phone to pull up the name and information on the foliage. Twenty-first century hiking at its finest…
As we hiked upwards, we passed maps that designated where we were along the trail. Yet, these signs did not hint to the view we were to come upon. The summit seemed to come out of nowhere about 1200 meters from the trailhead. A tunnel of trees opened to a clearing on top of the mountain and the vista before us was nothing short of spectacular. It was a glimpse of God, magnificent and awe inspiring. The rolling landscape of Okinawa stretches as far as the eye can see in both the North and South direction, the East China Sea glitters in the sunlight, and off in the distance you can glimpse Ie Jima. We stood at the summit taking in the view for some time before retreating back down the trail.
The hike was moderate in difficulty. The trail changes frequently from man-made steps, to rocky path, to ground breaking tree roots. Sneakers or hiking shoes are strongly recommended. It is about three quarters of a mile to the summit and should take between 20-30 minutes to climb. We found coming down to be trickier, especially on the steep steps.
The park itself is lovely; 450 acres of open grassy spaces, shaded picnic tables, playground equipment, tennis courts, camp grounds, restrooms and a small convenience store. We have come back to this park and trail several times since we first explored and each time the park is nearly empty and we have yet to see anyone else on the trail. Perhaps the summer heat kept visitors away or perhaps few people know about it. But I encourage you to check it out. Happy Hiking!
Hours: 9:00 a.m.-6:30 p.m. (April 1st – August 31st)
9:00 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. (September 1st – March 31st)
Location: Forest of Residence Park – 2028 Afuso, Onna, Kunigami District, Okinawa Prefecture 904-0402
Coordinates: 26.503734, 127.910936
Directions: Heading North on the Expressway take exit 7 towards 88. Turn left off the exit onto 88. Follow 88 for about 3.5 kilometers until you reach a traffic light that turns 88 into a forked 58. Turn right onto 58 at the light. You will pass through Onna Village and Afuso. After about 8 kilometers you will come to a traffic light. On your right hand side will be the entrance to the park marked by a sign that reads “Resident of Pref. Forest”. Turn into the park and follow the main road. You will pass a few buildings, parking areas, and open green spaces but you want to go deeper into the park to the main “Adventure Space”. It is about 1.7 kilometers from the entrance to the “Adventure Space” parking. Park your vehicle and proceed on foot. Walk down the main road back towards the entrance. About 300 meters from the parking area you will find the trailhead right off the main road.