What I love about Kyoto is that the nature is very close. The city is surrounded by mountains, and the best hikes are only a short bike or train trip away. Sometimes you don’t even have to leave the city and still have a brilliant hike.
One of the hikes I love, is the Fushimi Inari circuit. Fushimi Inari, one of my favorite temple complex in Kyoto offers a beautiful 4km hike dotted with small shrines, beautiful brigh orange torii gates, tea-houses and shady trees. The hike is quite easy if you’re moderately fit, we did it in 1.5 hours although the official time would be 2-3 hours.
With its 924 meters high, Mount Atago is the highest mountain in Kyoto and has a great climb route. The mountain is steeper than I imagined, and quite challenging. The hike lasts for 3-4 hours and it’s about 6km.
At the top of the mountain, after some rough climbing you can rest and enjoy some peaceful moments at Atago Shrine, founded more than 1300 years ago.
Mt. Hiei is the second highest mountain in Kyoto, and is one of the best trekking routes near Kyoto. Great wildlife (deer, monkeys, etc), beautiful old trees and wonderful views of the city.
The top of the mountain features a World Heritage temple, Enryakuji Temple, which is famous for the “marathon monks”. The practice of walking is called Kaihōgyō (circling the mountain) and is performed by monks in training at the temple (belonging to the Tendai Buddhism school), in their quest for enlightenment. The Kaihōgyō is completed in 7 years and it consist of walking 40km a day for 100 consecutive days for the first 3 years, 40 km a day for 200 days the 4th and 5th year, 60km per day for 100 days in the 6th year and in the last year, 84 km per day for 100 days, followed by 40 km per day for another 100 days. A total of 1,000 days. It takes an amazing spiritual strength and devotion to complete this grueling training.
When descending, it’s better to take the route on the other side of the mountain, that leads to Sakamoto. There is also a cable car that connects the top of the mountain with its base, but walking is really the best option: the view over the lake Biwa is simply amazing.
Finally, this hike is a great Sunday trip, just half an hour ride from Kyoto ( from Demachiyagi Station). The hike starts from Kurama station, it goes up to the temple, then it continues down to Kibune Shrine. During the entire hike you can feel a mystic vibe, given by the strangely twisted root trees and the highest trees I’ve ever seen (on the way to Kurama Temple).
Once in Kibune the atmosphere gets traditional and cozy, with restaurants suspended above the river (they are called Kawadoko) and traditional Japanese Inns all along the way.