Written by Rachel Davies
Kyoto’s Best Hiking Trails And Hot Springs - 3 Recommended Routes
Most people come to Kyoto to admire the rich history of the ancient capital, but Kyoto is also a haven for hikers, walkers and nature-lovers with some of the best mountain trails and soothing springs only a short train ride from the city.
Surrounded by mountains on three sides, Kyoto city is in an enviable position. The hubbub of the center can be easily escaped into a lush countryside, where you can really appreciate the tranquility and find the connection to nature that resonates from these wondrous walking sites.
After a long day of hiking, there's nothing more relaxing than a long soak to ease the aches and pains of tired muscles. What's best about Kyoto’s top trail-ways is that you can do just that at one of the mineral-rich natural hot springs, or ‘onsen’ as they're known in Japanese, that are perfectly poised en route to unwind weary travelers. You can head for the hills in any season and won't need any specialist equipment, just remember to take your camera as the views offer some incredible photo opportunities!
Ohara - Visit Amazing Temples
Ohara, a rural farming village, only an hour by train and bus from central Kyoto, has to be high on the list for an afternoon of hiking and hot springs. Famed for growing shiso and making the most delicious tsukemono (Japanese pickles), Ohara also has a number of stunning temple complexes.
Lanterns lining the mountain path toward Kurama
Sanzen-in is the most acclaimed, particularly lovely in autumn when its grounds, a sea of maple trees whose leaves burn with a vermillion palette, are at their full glory. It’s also the perfect starting point for the two and a half to three hour Ohara to Kurama hiking trail.
Mountain shrine in Kurama
Begin in the morning with an hour or two wiling away in the grounds of Sanzen-in. From here head to Jakko-in, where you will enter the mountain trail passing in front of the Ebumi Shrine. Walk the Ebumi Ridge to the village of Shizuhara where you can slip into silent admiration for the stunning scenery.
From Shizuhara the path leads over another ridge to the old village of Kurama, including outdoor hot springs where you can sit back and relax in the hot, healing waters. The trail can be reversed and onsen enjoyed in Ohara as well. There are both overnight and dayspring options available and the outdoor bath at Kurama Day Spa is a particular highlight.
Address: Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto City, Sakyo Ward, Ohara Raikouin-cho 81-2 (Kyoto Ohara Sightseeing Hoshokai) Google Map
Access: From Kokusaikaikan (Kyoto International Conference Center) Kyoto Municipal Subway Station, take Kyoto Bus 19 for 23 minutes
Official Website: http://kyoto-ohara-kankouhosyoukai.net/ (Japanese)
Mount Hiei - A History-Rich Temple Mountain
Mountain steps on the Hieizan trail
Abandoning the well-trodden, touristy temples of the inner city, hiking Mount Hiei presents visitors with not only spectacular natural scenery. It's famous cedars and scents have been chosen as one of the 'Kaori Fukei 100 Sen' or the 'Best 100 Scent Sceneries' in Japan. The Enryakuji temple complex, which radiates graceful elegance amongst an ocean of nature, is also one of its highlights.
There are a number of hiking routes to the summit and even a cable car for those who don't fancy the walk but the best path starts from Shugakuin Station, on the Eizan Line from Demachiyanagi. From here it’s about a 15-minute walk, heading east past Shirakawa Dori and alongside the canal, to the trailhead. The first thirty minutes are steep and some parts of the path are carved between giant rocks with an uneven surface. Sturdy shoes are advised.
Even though the path is steep, it’s direct and very easy to follow, taking even inexperienced hikers no more than two hours to reach the top. The energy expenditure is worth it for the clean air thick with the smell of cedar and incense and the juxtaposition of bright vermillion structures nestled into lush greenery.
Descending on the Shiga side of Hieizan brings you to Sakamoto and Ogoto Onsen where you can take a rest at one of the many onsen ryokans. For something particularly special, spend the night at Yomotokan Ryokan to unwind in their rooftop hot spring overlooking Lake Biwa.
Address: Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto City, Sakyo Ward, Yamabana ichoda-cho, 14-1 Google Map
Access: 30 to 40 minutes from JR Kyoto Station
Official Website: https://www.hieizan.gr.jp/design/pdf/en.pdf
Kameoka - Explore an Ancient Forest
Private outdoor bath Sumiya Kihoan
Heading west from Kyoto, past Arashiyama you will find a beautiful mountain area called Kameoka. Take the JR line train to Hozukyo station where you will be able to join the Akechigoe course of the Hozukyo Hiking Trail. After leaving the station, head north and follow the river towards the Old Mizuo Road. This will take you to your trailhead. Here turn east towards Doyo no Reisen and head east on the clearly signposted mountain path, which will take you to Kameoka via some stunning Shinto shrines sitting hidden in the ancient forest.
This area is famous for growing yuzu (a famous Japanese citrus fruit), with the Mizuo Yuzu Farm a short detour from the Old Mizuo Road. Here you can try the area’s famous yuzu chicken sukiyaki or even bathe in yuzu-infused hot springs.
Private outdoor bath Sumiya Kihoan
The highlight of the Kameoka hot-springs is Sumiya Kiho-an in the Yunohana Onsen region. They offer a day spa and lunch option or treat yourself to an overnight stay and join the likes of Yoko Ono and John Lennon who used to regularly frequent this ryokan when staying in Kyoto. At Sumiya the pools are radium-rich and believed to relieve neuralgia and arthritis, soothe chronic digestive diseases, fatigue and even alleviate gout. So just imagine what it will do for a few aching muscles.
Kameoka Akechigoe Hiking
Address: Kyoto Prefecture, Kameoka City, Hozu, Hozusan 3-1434 (JR Hozukyo Station) Google Map
Access: around 20 minutes from JR Kyoto Station
Official Website: http://www.kameoka.info/foreign/en/
Enjoy Exploring Kyoto's Surroundings!
Spending time hiking the trails of Kyoto is an unmissable break from normal city exploration. Paths are strewn with beautiful temples meaning that you can still enjoy Kyoto’s renowned culture whilst basking in the breathtaking natural beauty of the surrounding mountains. An afternoon of hiking and hot springs is the perfect way to explore and experience a different side to Kyoto!