Surrounded by mountains on three sides, Kyoto has some brilliant hiking. There are good hikes right in the city and others just a short train or bus trip away. Here are my five favorite hikes in and near Kyoto.
Kyoto is a hiker’s paradise: the mountains around the city are literally latticed with trails. You can do some great hikes right out of the city, just minutes from downtown. So if the concrete is starting to get you down, why not head for the hills?
The hikes listed here are all in or near Kyoto. You can do them in any season and you don’t need hiking boots unless there’s snow on the ground or you have weak ankles. Note that it only snows and sticks on the ground a few times a winter in Kyoto itself, while up in the mountains north of the city (in places like Kurama, Takao etc), it snows and sticks several times a year (usually between Dec and Feb).
Here are my five favorite Kyoto hikes. For maps and more details on these, please pick up a copy of Lonely Planet’s excellent Hiking in Japan guidebook. If you can read Japanese, pick up a copy of Shobunsha’s “Kyoto Kitayama” map, which is part of their superb Yama-to-Kogen series (you’ll find it at Junkudo bookstore in downtown Kyoto).
If hiking is going to be a major component of your visit to Kyoto, you might want to consider staying at the lovely (although not cheap) Garden Ryokan Yachiyo, which is just a 10 minute walk from the Higashiyama mountains but still only a 10 minute subway ride into downtown Kyoto.
Hikes in Kyoto City
Mt. Daimonji-yama Climb
Duration: 1~2 hours
Distance: about 2 km
Go to Ginkaku-ji Temple and walk left just before the entrance, then turn right and walk through a car park and past a vending machine. Follow the river uphill into the woods. After a few minutes, you’ll see a small bridge on your right. Cross this and ascend a switchback and then traverse a short flat section to reach some flights of log steps.
At the top of these, it levels out and then climbs to a saddle with a small shrine. Take a hard left here (don’t continue straight across the saddle). You’ll soon find yourself at the bottom of a flight of concrete steps. Climb these and you’ll come out in the middle of the giant “dai” (the Chinese character for “great”) on which fires are burned during the August Daimonji Gozan-Okuribu Fire Festival. The view from here over Kyoto is superb. Retrace your steps to get home.
Read my in-depth walkthrough of the Mt Daimonji-yama Hike from Ginkaku-ji Temple.
Shogunzuka and Seiryuden Hike from Chion-in Temple
One of the easiest and best hikes in Kyoto City, this brief jaunt takes you up to a viewpoint where you can enjoy eye-popping views over the whole city.
Read my in-depth walkthrough of the Shogunzuka and Seiryuden hiking route.
Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Pilgrimage Circuit
Duration: 2~3 hours
Distance: about 4km
Get to the main hall of Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine. When you’re facing the main hall, walk toward it and turn left and go up a flight of steps. Go up the flight of steps and through the tori (Shinto shrine gate). Walk straight (toward the mountain) and go through the large torii with stone foxes on either side and up the steps. On your right will be a large torii – don’t go through it. Instead, bear left.
Walk 20m and take the first right (there’s usually a fortune teller at this junction). The path is now a dirt road. Walk straight for about 50m. You will come to a bridge on your left. Cross the bridge and continue straight. The path curves to the right (don’t take the left fork). You will now see the first torii arcade. Walk to it. Enter the torii arcade (torii tunnel) and walk straight. You will pass a public toilet on your right. About 100m after the toilet, you will come to a flight of steps. Climb the steps.
This brings you to a pond called Shi-ike (新池). Take a left and continue through the torii arcades uphill. This is where the real climbing begins. After about 150m you come to a junction called Mitsu-tsuji (三ッ辻). Turn right and continue uphill. You will pass through three flat areas with rest houses, but it’s mostly up, up, up.
A total of about 300m walking from Mitsu-tsuji brings you to Yotsu-tsuji (四ッ辻), which is where four paths converge. There are resthouses here and benches to admire the view. If you’re tired, turn around here after resting. Otherwise, take the path on the right/south (the one that passes between the two rest houses).
About 75m of climbing brings you to another rest house. Continue straight along (it’s flat now) for 50m, then jog left then right and another 100m of climbing brings you to the next rest house. On the left is a staircase to a small shrine, and on the right is the rest house. After visiting the shrine, walk past the store and continue on in the direction you were going. It’s flat to start with and then climbs to the summit. A total walk of about 100m brings you to the summit. Take a rest and then continue along in the direction you were going.
From the summit, it’s an easy 300m downhill walk to the next rest house, which is at Yaku-ryoku (薬力). From here, DO NOT take the path downhill, but continue on the level (follow the English sign that reads “Inari Shrine Station Exist Route”). It’s level for a while then there is a slight rise.
A total walk of about 150m brings you to the next junction. Go straight, slightly downhill. This brings you to Gozen-dani (御膳谷) (there is a shop on the left). Walk the shrine shops (on your right) and the map (on your left) going on the level. About 100m of level then slightly uphill walking brings you back to Yotsu-tsuji.
Now, it’s just a matter of retracing your steps downhill and back to the Keihan Station. The only tricky bit is at Mitsu-tsuji. Here, be sure to take the path on the left, more steeply downhill, which will bring you back to Shin-ike.
Hikes near Kyoto
Note that I won’t provide route descriptions for these. For detailed route descriptions and maps, please pick up a copy of Lonely Planet’s Hiking in Japan guide.
Kurama to Kibune Hike
The best half-day hike near Kyoto, the Kurama to Kibune hike has it all: mountain temples, shrines, plenty of greenery and a quaint village. Read my complete walkthrough of the Kurama to Kibune hiking route.
Duration: 2~3 hours
Distance: about 4.5 km
Takao to Hozukyo Hike
One of my favorite hikes for when I want something longer than the Kurama hike. This hike starts with two superb temples in Takao and then follows a beautiful river that’s great for swimming in the hot months
Duration: 3~4 hours
Distance: about 6 km
Mt. Atago-san Climb
This is for those who really want to get above it all. It’s an odd mountain – steeper near the bottom and more gentle near the top. There’s a shrine on the summit and it’s often snow-covered here during the winter months.
Duration: 4 hours
Distance: about 6km
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
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