The best day hikes near Kyoto and Osaka
Kyoto and Osaka are major destinations for expats, students, and travellers, but most of us don't own a car, so here's a list of the best day hikes accessible by public transport. There are a lot of mountains in Kansai, so I'll update this page if new contenders are found, this list is showcasing my favourite Kansai hikes after living in Kyoto for three years. If you have any recommendations, send us a message.
All of these hikes can be done year-round, but the best winter hikes on this list are Kurama and Mt. Hiei. The snow makes the trails and temples look absolutely amazing, and they're both relatively easy so are perfect for snowy days.
The 8 best day hikes near Kyoto & Osaka:
- Umanose, Hyogo
- Yatsubuchi no taki, Shiga
- The Konze Alps, Shiga
- Mt. Omine, Nara
- Yoshinoyama, Nara
- Mt. Hiei, Kyoto
- Kurama to Kibune, Kyoto
- Daimonji, Kyoto
The Umanose trail is a wonderful small hike in Kobe city, it offers incredible views with not much effort, and an exciting rocky section with a bit of exposure for those afraid of heights. As the hike only takes a couple of hours it's a great addition to a day trip in Kobe.
Train - The trail is located just a short walk from Itayada station.
Trail head: Google Maps
Kyoto Station: Itayada station is 1 hour 15 minutes from Kyoto and will cost ¥1,390.
Osaka Station: Itayada station is 50 minutes from Osaka and will cost ¥630.
The chains and ladders on Umanose
Yatsubuchi no Taki is an exciting waterfall hike that leads up to Mt. Bunagatake and offers nice views over Lake Biwa. Easily one of the best hikes near Kyoto, the hike is famous for its 8 waterfalls featuring chains, ropes, and steps bolted into the rock so you can climb up the riverbed. Mt Bunagatake is 1,214m tall and an optional part of this trail as there is a nearby viewpoint that offers a similar reward. The end of the hike takes you through the town where you can stop off at an onsen.
Train & Bus
The bus to the trailhead departs from Omi-Takashima station and takes around 25 minutes to arrive at Gulliver's Village. The bus only runs on weekends and public holidays, departing at 9:04, 9:29 and 10:28am. The train and bus is better than a car as you can end the trail at an onsen.
Trail head: Google Maps
Kyoto: Omi-Takashima station is 40 minutes from Kyoto and the train costs ¥860.
Osaka: Omi-Takashima is 1 hour 10 mins from Osaka and the train costs ¥1520.
One of the 8 waterfalls found along the trail
The Konze Alps are a small group of rocky mountains in Shiga prefecture. The loop trail which takes you over these mountains is an easy day hike that offers a variety of terrain, beautiful views, and a nice waterfall. The terrain is unique and features large sandstone formations that are perfect for climbing and scrambling. The sandstone serves as a beautiful contrast with the lush green fauna that covers most of the area, and there is also a campground at the trailhead in case you want to spend the night. During summer you'll find people swimming in the river and camping along the river banks. It's a super fun hike that stays somewhat under the radar for expats, but it's very popular with locals so the weekends can get pretty busy, it's well worth a trip from both Kyoto and Osaka.
Kyoto: The train to Kusatsu station takes 23 mins from Kyoto station and costs ¥420. From Kusatsu you'll need to catch the 153 bus to the trailhead which will takes about 35 mins and costs ¥440.
Osaka: There is a direct train to Kusatsu from Osaka station, it takes about 1 hour and costs ¥1200. From Kusatsu you'll need to catch the 153 bus to the trailhead which will take about 35 mins and costs ¥440.
Trailhead: Google maps
Kusatsu station: Google maps
Ferns are one of the many features on this trail
Mt. Omine is a sacred mountain in Nara prefecture and can be accessed by Dorogawa onsen. Mt. Omine is somewhat controversial for having UNESCO Work Heritage status as it also maintains an 800 year old ban on women, due to religious tradition. However, there are other beautiful trails in the same town and the surrounding mountains offer equally impressive views. The name of the peak is Sanjogatake and it can be completed in a day, there is also the option of a larger loop trail if you have enough time. You can read more about the mountain's cultural history on Wikipedia. In regards to the ban on women, hopefully this will change in the future, I would recommend directing your complaints and protests to UNESCO as they will be a more effective avenue than arguing with the Shugendo priests who occupy the mountain.
Train + Bus - You'll need to catch the 6am train to Shimoichi-guchi station, which is just under 2 hours from Kyoto and Osaka. From Shimoichi-guchi, catch an 8:20am bus to Dorogawa onsen. Make sure to plan your return carefully, as the last bus from Dorogawa is at 5:58pm. You can view the bus timetable here.
Carpark for the trailhead: Google Maps
Shimoichi-guchi Station: Google Maps
The trail on the way to the peak
Yoshinoyama is a mountain town in the south of Nara prefecture, the mountain is famous for its cherry blossoms and features thousands of cherry trees among hiking trails and temples. A lot of the tourism comes from local Japanese or expats, so you won't find many foreign tourists here. Although it's mostly popular for its cherry blossoms, the hiking in summer is also beautiful as the vibrant and lush green landscape gives an adventurous feeling among the many temples and shrines. Much of the hiking is on roads, however, they are designed for walking and have some restrictions on vehicle traffic so are quite peaceful, you'll be taken past picturesque shops and many viewpoints.
Train: Yoshino station is where the hiking begins. You can also drive but the mountain is best experienced on foot so you don't miss out on many of the beautiful paths and trails. Although it will be busy on weekends, the mountain holds a variety of trails so it's easy to escape the crowds.
Kyoto: Yoshino station is 2 hours from Kyoto and the train costs ¥1,250.
Osaka: Yoshino station is 2 hours from Osaka and the train costs ¥1,270.
One of the viewpoints along the trail
Kurama is mountain town just north of Kyoto city and is easily accessible by train, it shares its popularity with the neighbouring town of Kibune with an enjoyable hike connecting the two towns. Although it's outside the common tourist radar, Kurama is famous among locals and expats for its onsen, mountain temples, and the Kurama Fire Festival. The town of Kibune is famous for its beautiful streets lined with shops and restaurants, which setup dining terraces on the river during the summer. The hike is one of the best winter hikes in Kyoto, it's quite easy and looks amazing in the snow, the path features numerous lanterns and the Kurama-dera temple is at the top. It's also worth mentioning that many travellers consider the Kurama Fire Festival to be the best festival in Japan, I've included some photos below and you can read more about it here.
The train to Kurama station (and Kibune station) departs from Demachiyanagi station which is easily accessed from anywhere in the city via train or bus. In most cases you can easily reach Kurama from Kyoto within 1 hour
The trail up to Kurama-dera
Mt. Hiei is the most recognisable mountain surrounding Kyoto city, it shares its peak with the neighbouring prefecture of Shiga and overlooks the beautiful Lake Biwa. On top of the mountain is the Enryakuji temple complex, it's one of the most important monasteries in Japan, with a rich and violent history. The most notable event occurred in 1571 when the warlord Oda Nobunaga grew tired of the warrior monks challenging his power, he stormed the mountain, burning all the buildings and killing everyone. The death toll was over 1000, including monks, women, and children. You can read more about the siege and Nobunaga here.
There are two hiking trails for Mt. Hiei, one from the Kyoto side and one from the Shiga side. This description focuses on the Shiga trail as its only 30 mins from Kyoto and a bit more enjoyable, with more history and less disturbance from the cable car. Both trails are easily accessed from the train station and both have the option of taking a cable car. Entry to the temple complex costs ¥1000.
All you have to do is reach Sakamoto station which is only 30 mins from Kyoto. From the station it's only a 5 minute walk to reach the trailhead next to the Hiyoshi-Taisha Shrine, just follow the map and the signs.
Enryakuji in the winter
Mt. Daimonji is a popular small hike in Kyoto and offers perhaps the best view of the city. It's a great place to watch the sunset and the trailhead is located next to the beautiful Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion) and the Philosopher's path.
Bus or Bike - You just need to reach the entrance of Ginkakuji temple, there are a few different busses or you can ride a bike.
Trail head: Google Maps
Kyoto Station: The trailhead is about 45 minutes by bus from Kyoto station and will cost ¥230.
The sunrise from Daimonji