Hiking Kyoto’s Mt. Hiei

If you happen to be in the Kansai area and want to enjoy nature for a day, then check out Mt. Hiei.

Mt. Hiei and the local area

After Mt. Atago (924 m.), Mt. Hiei (848 m.) is the second tallest mountain in Kyoto. It lies northeast of Kyoto City, straddling the border between Kyoto and Shiga Prefectures and boasts amazing scenery year-round.

There are plenty of other tourist destinations nearby as well. Near the base of the mountain by Yase-Hiezanguchi Station lies Rurikoin, a temple famous for its fantastic greenery and fall foliage. However, it’s only open for "special viewings" during the spring and fall seasons.

At Mt. Hiei’s summit, you’ll find Enryakuji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, originally home to warrior monks, but now the residence of marathon monks, who commit themselves to running every day for 1,000 days.

Additionally, Garden Museum Hiei sits on the very top of Mt. Hiei and affords sweeping views over Lake Biwa.

How to get to Mt. Hiei

From Osaka, take the Keihan Line from Yodoyabashi Station to the final stop, Demachiyanagi Station. Follow the signs for the Eizan Line and take a train bound for Yase-Hiezanguchi Station.

From Demachiyanagi Station, take care not to get on a train bound for Kurama. Although Kurama and Kufune-jinja are also beautiful destinations, they are a bit far from Mt. Hiei.

If you’re already in Kyoto, you can also hop on the Keihan Line from any nearby station such as Shichijo, Shijo, or Sanjo and follow the same route described above.

From Yase-Hiezanguchi Station, you can walk a short ways to the Eizan Cable Car Station and ride to the summit for 550 yen (one-way ticket price).

Hiking Mt. Hiei

Those looking for a challenge may also choose to hike to the summit. There are several routes to choose from such as one connecting from Daimonji all the way to Ohara.

But the main trail that I’ll describe takes about 3 hours, depending on your condition.

First, you’ll take the Eizan Line from Demachiyanagi Station and get off at Shugakuin Station. From there, head northeast until you find a canal. Follow the canal’s sloping road towards the mountains in the East.

You’ll arrive at the last bridge to cross to the north side of the canal and continue up a steep slope to reach the trailhead. Here’s a photo of Tomi, a Finnish mountain god, who will be our guide along the way.

The beginning of the trail looks like a dried up river carved a path into the mountains. It’s a bit rough for the first 20 minutes or so, but then opens up to a more regular mountain trail.

You’ll see plenty of signs marking the right direction so it’s pretty hard to get lost from there.

Don’t forget to enjoy the views on your way up!

After about 90 minutes of hiking, the forest scenery changes and the path will weave between tall pine trees. And of course there’s lots of stairs!

As you near the summit, you’ll see a signpost marking a fork in the road. Taking a left leads to the cable car station and a photo spot with viewfinders.

Continuing to the right leads to the summit, Garden Museum Hiei, and eventually Enryakuji.

We stopped to have lunch at a viewpoint with benches and enjoyed the sprawling mountain landscapes.

It felt like we slipped deep into the past along the trail to Enryakuji.

Arriving at Enryakuji, take some time to soak in the deep quiet settled over the temple’s Zen gardens and walk around the temple grounds.

How to get home

There is a bus stop near Enryakuji which will take you back to Kyoto city. Otherwise you can hike back to the cable car and ride that down to Yase-hiezanguchi Station, or hike all the way down to the base in about an hour.

I hope I’ve convinced you to check out one of Kyoto’s most beautiful hiking spots. Watch out for wild animals and enjoy the journey!

By - Mujo.