The Best Kyoto Hiking Trails

A view of Kyoto in the Autumn.
A view of Kyoto in the Autumn.

Kyoto has a lot to offer those who are interested in Japanese religion and history, but did you know that it has just as much to offer when it comes to the great outdoors? After all, the city is surrounded by mountains on three sides, and this offers outdoor enthusiasts with many hiking trails to choose from.

Here we will reveal 10 of the most popular hiking trails in Kyoto. Each one provides superb views, and most are suitable for beginners.

Topics Covered

  • Fushimi-Inari Shrine
  • Kurama to Kibune
  • Mount Daimonji-yama
  • Mount Hiei
  • Shogunzuka and Seiryuden
  • Daigo-ji Temple
  • Tokai Natural Walkway
  • Isshu Circuit
  • Mount Atago
  • Takao to Hozukyo

Half-Day (or Less) Kyoto Hiking Trails

The six trails mentioned in the following section are ideal for beginners and those who are relatively unfit. They range from 1 to 3 hours to complete (depending on which trail). They are easy to moderate hikes so you can enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery without exhausting yourself entirely.

Fushimi-Inari Shrine Hike

Kyoto Hiking Trails: Fushimi-Inari Shrine Hike
Kakidai, Fushimi-Inari-taisha 1, CC BY-SA 4.0

Undoubtedly one of the most popular and memorable hikes in Kyoto one can undertake. You embark on a surprisingly easy walk through 10,000 Torri gates up the sacred wooded Inari mountain, which leads to a height of 233 meters. The shrine was constructed in 711 AD, and as the name suggests, it’s dedicated to Inari – the god of rice, sake, and prosperity.

Most of the path is paved, so no need for hiking boots or any such gear. There are also many places to stop along the way where you can rest and admire the scenery.

If you don’t like crowds, then start the journey at around 7 or 8 am because most visitors show up from 10 am. But for a truly magical and slightly scary experience, walk the trail at night. The forest can be frightening, but the pathway is beautifully lit up with Japanese lanterns.

Time to Complete2 – 3 Hours
DifficultyEasy – Moderate
Distance3 Miles
Admission FeeFree

Kurama to Kibune Hike

Hiking trails in Kyoto: Kurama to Kibune Hike
The Kurama to Kibune Hiking Trail in Kyoto.

On the Kitayama Mountains just outside Kyoto City sits two beautiful traditional villages connected via a spectacular, scenic trail. Exploring the trail makes for the perfect day trip outside of Kyoto, and getting here from the city is an easy 30-minute train ride.

Your journey starts at the Kurama-dera temple. There is an entrance fee of 300 Yen ($3 US) from where you will first make your way through the temple grounds before the actual trail begins. You will find quite a few attractions on these grounds, such as the Yuki-jinja shrine, the Inochi statue, and the small Reihoden Museum – all places well worth visiting before entering the tengu forest.

There are parts that can, at best, be described as spooky. After all, it is known as a spirit forest. Nevertheless, the scenery is beautiful and has loads of wisteria and cedar trees. Along the way, you might see some tame deer and several other attractions, one of which includes a spot where, according to legend, a 12th-century samurai warrior named Minamoto Yoshitsune measured his height and trained with a supernatural being.

This incredible path is also one of the best places in Kyoto to see the spectacular autumn colors – so if possible, visit here during autumn.

Time to Complete2 – 3 Hours
Distance3 Miles
Admission Fee300¥

Mount Daimonji-Yama Hike

Kyoto Hiking Trails: Mount Daimonji-yama Hike
ja:User:Kyoto-u, Hidoko of Daimonji, CC BY-SA 3.0

Mount Daimonji, sometimes called Higashi-Yama, is known for the Gozan Okuribi festival held in August. Other than that, it has a short but slightly challenging hiking trail that starts at the Ginkaku-Ji Temple and leads to a spot where you will be spoiled with spectacular views of Kyoto City – you can even see Osaka on a very clear day.

Make sure to bring a good pair of outdoor shoes, especially if it has rained recently or if it looks as if it might rain.

Time to Complete1 Hour
DifficultyEasy – Moderate
Distance1 Mile
Admission FeeFree

Mount Hiei Hike

Hiking Trails in Kyoto: Mount Hiei Hike
k n, かわらけ投げ (8677229405), CC BY-SA 2.0

Mount Hiei sits east of Kyoto City and is home to the Enryaku-Ji Buddhist Monastery. It’s one of the attractions on the Hiei hiking trail and was built centuries ago by a group of rebel warrior monks who frequently conducted raids on Kyoto City. There are other temples to be found in the vicinity too, as well as the Kokuhoden Museum. Visiting these attractions does not necessarily require much effort because there is a cable car that will take you to their locations.

This particular trail starts tough because the beginning section is steep and thickly forested. Soon it becomes a lot less steep and opens up to extremely tall cedar trees. Reaching the top will take around 3 to 4 hours, from where you will enjoy beautiful views of Kyoto city from a height of 2,782 feet.

Time to Complete3 – 4 Hours
DifficultyEasy – Moderate
Admission FeeFree / or 1000¥ for a pass to enter all temples and the museum.

Shogunzuka and Seiryuden Hike

Kyoto Hiking Trails: Shogunzuka and Seiryuden Hike
The Shogunzuka and Seiryuden hiking path which is a part of the Isshu trail.

The Sohunzaka hiking trail is probably the easiest to complete on this list and is part of the much longer Isshu trail. It’s located in southern Higashiyama and starts at the back of the Chion-in Temple. To access the pathway, you first enter the temple grounds from where you will follow sets of steps leading to a 70-ton bell – the largest temple bell in Japan.

The forested trail you want sits behind this bell. You will walk up another flight of steps and through a gate that is only open during daylight hours. There is only one attraction along the way – the Hotaru-no-Iwaya cave, which is where Honen, founder of Jodo-shu Buddhism, taught some of his followers how to do the Nenbutsu prayer.

You will also notice some smaller side trails, but it’s easy to get lost, so stick to the main one.

The walk to the summit will take around an hour to complete, and when you do reach the top, you will have two stunning views of Kyoto.

The first viewpoint is from a deck that belongs to a sub-temple of the Shoren-in Temple. You will have to pay an entry fee of 500 Yen ($5 US), but if you don’t want to pay, then don’t worry; there’s also the main Shogunzuka viewpoint, which is free.

Time to Complete2 Hours
Distance2 Miles
Admission FeeFree / 500¥

Daigo-ji Temple Hike

The Daigo-Ji Temple hiking trail in Kyoto.
A view of the Daigo-ji Temple.

To the southeast of Kyoto City sits the picturesque Daigoyama mountainside. What makes this place so unique is that it’s where you will find the enormous Daigo-ji temple complex. The temple complex, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stretches all along the Daigoyama Mountain and consists of many different buildings connected by a beautiful hiking trail.

The Daigo-ji Temple complex was built by the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism, and many of the buildings have been there since the year 926.

Some of the structures you will see along the way includes the former residence of the head priest, a Kondo Hall, a garden, and the oldest verified building in Kyoto – a 5-story (38 meters tall) pagoda. You will also be able to visit the Reihokan Museum, which houses various artworks, paintings, and an enormous collection of documents.

Apart from these historical buildings, you will also walk through a bamboo grove and a forest.

If you ever get the chance to walk this spectacular Kyoto hiking trail, then try to do it in spring or autumn. During spring the mountainside has all of its cherry blossom trees in full bloom, while the colors of autumn are breathtaking.

The trail starts from behind the main temple at the base of the mountain, and there is a 600¥ ($6 US) entrance fee.

Time to Complete2.5 Hours
DifficultyEasy to moderate
Distance3 Miles
Admission Fee600¥

Full to Multiple Day Kyoto Hiking Trails

The trails listed in the following section are not necessarily harder than the ones already mentioned, but they do take more time to complete. If you are fit enough and enjoy spending more than half a day trekking along nature trails, then the following trails are perfect for you.

Tokai Natural Walkway

Hiking Trails of Kyoto: Tokai Nature Trail
Σ64, Tokai Nature Trail in Mt.Shiro 02, CC BY 3.0

Feel like walking from Kyoto to Tokyo? Or how about from Kyoto to Osaka? Well, you can do exactly that on the Tokai Natural Walkway (Tokai Shizen Hodo) because it connects Tokyo to Osaka through Kyoto. It stretches for 1054 miles through 11 prefectures and is full of stunning natural scenery and famous historical spots.

If trekking to Tokyo or Osaka (a 4 to 5-day hike!) is a little bit too much for you, then enjoy some of the many smaller hiking trails which branch off the Tokai Natural Walkway.

Read more about the Tokai Natural Walkway on Wikipedia.

Isshu Trail

The Isshu Hiking Trail
KimonBerlin, Kurama (7057178963), CC BY-SA 2.0

Isshu, also known as the Kyoto Circuit Trail, stretches for 43 miles around the city. It’s the best Kyoto hiking trail on the list because it combines so many of the other routes already mentioned.

The Isshu Trail doesn’t exactly run right around the city since it covers most of the east and west, as well as the entire northern side while leaving the south open. The route stretches from the legendary Fushimi Inari Shrine to the Saiho-Ji Moss Temple.

Along the way, you will encounter lots of wildlife, historical sites, and religious places. One could choose to hike individual sections of the trail, or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, do the entire circuit all at once. Doing so would take around 4 to 5 days, and you will have the option of camping out at night or make use of whatever local accommodation is available.

Time to Complete4 – 5 Days
DifficultyEasy – Moderate
Distance43 Miles
Admission FeeFree

Mount Atago Hike

Hiking Trails in Kyoto: Mount Atago Hike
Mass Ave 975, Atago03, CC BY-SA 3.0

On the western side of the city is the highest and most sacred mountain in Kyoto – Mount Atago. From the base to the summit is just over 3,000 feet, and it would take around 4 – 6 hours to complete a round trip. There are three shrines on the mountain with the Atago shrine sitting at the very top.

Each year on the night of July 31st, many pilgrims will be on the mountain for the annual religious fire festival known as Sennichi Tsuyasai. It’s a fun-filled event well worth attending if you happen to be in Kyoto during that time of year.

There is a sign at the base of the mountain, which states that it takes around 5 hours to complete a round trip, and visitors should, therefore, time their hike so that they won’t still be on the mountain after dark. So it might be best to start hiking before midday, especially if it’s your first time.

Half of the journey will be on steps – some concrete and some logs, and you are more than likely to spot a lot of wildlife too.

Just be sure to take warm clothing with you because you will need it the higher you get. And although this Kyoto hiking tail can be extremely tiring, the hike is well worth it because of the spectacular and often spooky natural scenery and of course, the incredible view of Kyoto City from the top.

Time to Complete4 -6 Hours
DifficultyModerate – Hard
Distance17.4 Miles
Admission FeeFree

Takao to Hozukyo Hike

The Takao to Hozukyo Hiking Trail
Laichuan Yinfu, Hozukyo, CC BY-SA 3.0

Takao is a spectacular mountain region in the northwest corner of the prefecture and takes less than an hour to get there by bus from Kyoto city. The region with its temples and incredible natural attractions is where you will find one of the best full-day Kyoto hikes.

This trek starts at Takao village and conveniently ends near the train station at Hozukyo, where you can board the train and be back in Kyoto City within 20 minutes.

The trail takes an average of 6 hours to complete, and hiking boots are not essential because of the fairly easy terrain. After all, it’s going to be a long walk, so comfort is more important.

There are three temples at the start of your trek – the Saimyo-Ji, Kozan-Ji, and Jingo-Ji, followed by incredible natural scenery where you will see rivers, ponds, the Kuya-no-Taki waterfall/shrine, and Kiyotaki village.

Undoubtedly one of the longest, yet most scenic Kyoto hiking trails available – if you’re up for it.

Time to Complete6 Hours
DifficultyModerate – Hard
Distance6.8 Miles
Admission FeeFree / 500¥

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