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Climbing Mount Hiei

Home > Kyoto > Adventure | Day Trips | Escape the City | Nature | Outdoor
by Tom Desu (subscribe)
Outdoors over indoors, adventure over routine. Life is an excellent place.
Published February 18th 2015
Adventure only a step away from civilisation
A twenty minute train from Kyoto station and you're at Heizan Sakamoto station. While hidden from view at street level, Mount Hiei's presence is all around; hiking gear everywhere, tour groups waving their flags, groups of Japanese men and women posing for photographs. It's up the hill towards trail start, the thin roads of suburban Japan keeping you of your toes before the real hike has even begun.

It's September and the autumn leaves are in full colour. Sunlight beams down, turning streets red and orange as a cool wind blows fallen leaves in flurries around you as you walk. Crowds fade away as people take the fast route, a cable car to the mountain summit. The mountain path, starting at the Honzaka entrance, offers a much more exciting path to reach the temples at the top. Surrounded by mossy forest still fresh from the wet and humid Japanese summer, the chance of being surprised by the Japanese tanuki, wild boar and monkeys at any turn.

mount hiei autumn colours leaves momiji
The walking paths of Mount Hiei


Views given through gaps in the trees offer views over Kyoto and the dividing mountains at Yamashina. Looks the other way and Japan's biggest lake, Lake Biwa, occupying nearly 20% of neighbouring prefecture Shiga, dominates the landscape. The drastic contrast between metropolitan Kyoto and the countryside of Shiga laid out before you, like a panorama moving from times past to the development of the modern age.

kyoto shiga hiei mount momiji autumn
Looking back over Yamashina as the sun sets with Kyoto hidden behind the mountains.


Dirt trails give way to stone stairs and gravelled pathways, temples hanging to the side of the mountain remind the wandering mind of place and country. Sitting there alone as far off ahead a lonely hiker playing her flute, the sound mixing with that of water running over stones.

kyoto shiga hiei mount momiji autumn temple japan
Autumn colours next to a small shrine found on the walk.


Pushing on to the top, the one and a half hour walk has taken closer to three. It's getting cold and the sun is setting. The train departs in two minutes, calls the guard, thoughts of hot noodles and soup and a ticket is purchased without a second thought. A shame to miss the world heritage listed Enrakuji temple, five minutes further up the road, but this is not the last visit to be sure. Autumn, famed for the changing colours of the leaves, is still rivaled by Spring, when the Azaleas are in full bloom.

kyoto shiga hiei mount momiji autumn temple japan
Japanese maples in full colour


The mountain is accessible from both Kyoto and Shiga sides and it is possible to walk from one to the other. Hieizan Sakamoto station is a 20 minute ride from Kyoto station on the Kosei Line (Platform 3). Walking the mountain is free but Enrakuji temple costs around 400 yen. The cable train (Japanese) costs 840 yen, one way. The walk is easy, but steep in some spots. Unlike here, without excessive stopping it is easy to finish in less than two hours.
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Where: Sakamoto, Shiga, Japan
Cost: $10-25
Your Comment
Perfect!! We'll be there in a week and a half - were looking for some more hikes. Thanks for the article!
by Laura Turner (score: 2|476) 949 days ago
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