Hiking Distance: 10km
Time: 5 hours
Elevation change: ➚720m ➘720m
➚ 720m ➘ 720m
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.
The trailhead begins from the stone steps next to the torii gate at Hiyoshi Shrine, about 5 minutes walk from the station. The trail gradually ascends up the mountain and quickly reaches the top in a little over an hour. Once you reach the top, check out the map provided when entering the temple area and spend some time exploring Enryakuji. You have a few options for the return journey: head back down the way you came, take the cable car, hike down the Kyoto side, or take the cable car down from the Kyoto side.
Weather and Seasons
Mt. Hiei can be hiked year round and is beautiful in every season. Summer is lush and green, and the autumn leaves become colourful in early November. It's also amazing during winter with fresh snow, which falls from December to February.