Hiking Distance: 12+ km
Time: 5-9 hours
Elevation gain: 400-700m
Yoshinoyama is a mountain town in the south of Nara prefecture, the mountain is famous for it's cherry blossoms and features thousands of cherry trees nestled among hiking trails and temples. Many people consider it to be the best cherry blossom destination in Japan. Most of the tourism comes from local Japanese or expats, so you won't find many foreign tourists here. It has 4 sections that gradually ascend up the mountain: the Shimo Senbon at the base of the mountain, the Naka Senbon in the middle, the Kami Senbon for the upper section, and the Oku Senbon for the top of the mountain. Due to the elevation change, the lower mountain blooms first and the upper sections blooms later - the best time to go is when the Naka Senbon, the middle of the mountain, is in full bloom. The Mt. Yoshino website will give you the most accurate forecast for the cherry blossoms on Yoshinoyama.
Yoshinoyama is a UNESCO world heritage site and you could easily spend two days exploring all the different hiking trails and walking paths. I have listed the elevation change and the distance as estimates because it depends on how much exploring you want to do, and there are some bus options if you want to skip the walk back down.
Car or 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, trails, shops, and temples. 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.
Once you reach Yoshino station, the mountain is yours to explore as you wish, rather than give you specific directions I will instead point out some must see points of interest for the cherry blossom season and you can choose your own adventure. If you're not willing to walk and hike for an entire day, you can get bus information from the visitor centre at the station. Also note that the upper Oku Senbon area has very few cherry trees and an less impressive view, so it's often advised to skip this part.
Links to google maps are provided below.
The first must-see viewpoint is Yoshimizu Shrine.
Famous for its "Senbon-sakura" a magnificent view of over 1000 blooming cherry trees. The shrine has a lot of history which you can read about here.
The second point of interest is Naka Senbon Park.
A spectacular spot to have a picnic with views of the town, the mountains, and the temples. This is also the ideal spot to begin detouring through the cherry blossom forest - you'll find lots of side trails if you look closely. It's the perfect way to escape the crowds and feel more immersed in the unique environment.
And finally, make your way up to the Hanayagura observation deck.
It has the most famous view of Yoshino, alongside a nice humble teahouse. Note that if you stay for the sunset then you'll need a taxi back down to the station, otherwise, you'll miss the final train back to Kyoto/Osaka.
If you've covered everything described so far, and stopped to explore along the way, then you would have seen most of the highlights in Yoshinoyama. From the observation deck, another 45 minutes of hiking will get you to the peak of the mountain with a viewpoint of the surrounding landscape, although, the previous views are usually considered more impressive.
There are so many beautiful temples, shrines, onsen, and various other things to see and explore in Yoshinoyama, too much to cover in just one day, so if you have time, I recommend booking a guesthouse for the night.
Weather and Seasons
Spring, Summer and Autumn are all worth a visit to Yoshinoyama, but the sakura season in early April is the best time to visit.