Mount Hiei (比叡山) is a 841-meter-high mountain on the border of Kyoto and Shiga Prefectures. With a very long and renowed history, it is incredibly well-known ancient site. The typical access routes you will find listed on tourist sites are the Eizan cable car and the Sakamoto cable car, but most foreign tourists (and even some Japanese tourists) don’t know that you can actually hike Mount Hiei. And what a fantastic hike it is! Today, I would like to share my experience of this hike with you, so read on and then pack your bags to experience Mt. Hiei for yourself.
To access the trailhead, first take a train to Demachiyanagi (出町柳) Station north of Kyoto City. From Demachiyanagi you will need to take the Eizan Line to Shugakuin (修学院離宮) Station. The train ride is about 5 minutes and costs 210 yen. After arriving at Shugakuin, take a right turn over the train tracks (northeast, past the seven eleven) and walk up to the main road. Take a left and follow the main road until you come upon a stream/irrigation channel and simply follow it all the way up to the trail head.
The walk to the trail head is around 1.5 kilometers, but at about half way you will come across a small shop. Here they sell pudding that is just to die for. In fact, my biggest regret in leaving Kyoto is not being able to eat this pudding anymore, way more than anything else (well Futaba sweet store comes close…). It’s seriously amazing.
Above is a photo of the bridge over the channel we have been following to reach the trailhead. Cross it and walk up the road a little. The trail head is fairly visible, just off to the right.
The trail’s first section is really interesting, as it’s mostly runs through a trench-like path carved into the rock. The trees overhead provide great shade from the sun.
It’s pretty much impossible to get lost on a trail like this!
After a while we leave the trenches and the trail opens up into a more common type of mountain trail.
A little further ahead we reach a stone monument of some kind and a crossroads. Taking the path to the right is a very interesting walk but I get the feeling it’s less used, as the path starts to devolve back into nature.
To be honest, I was pretty lost following the right hand path…
But it eventually leads to a beautiful view point of Lake Biwa and the townscape of Shiga Prefecture.
With that little digression out of our systems, let’s take the left path up to the Hieizan summit.
And of course we finally come upon the stairs. In Japan no hike is complete without a set of stairs somewhere.
We start weaving through through a forest of tall trees. On a windy day, those things are moving all over the place and it’s a cool scene.
After getting out of the forest we find ourselves at a stop on the Eizan cable car’s route. Here you can claim a bench and eat your lunch with a view. The station also has a vending machine if you need to stock up on drinks.
The summit is very beautiful with many trees full of colour. There is a fantastic view point where we can see all the way from a little corner of Lake Biwa across a farmland nested in a valley, over Kyoto City and then, on a clear enough day, make out the skyscrapers of Osaka City.
From the summit there are multiple places you can (and should) head too. At the summit there is the Garden Museum (ガーデンミュージアム比叡), which showcases many local flowers artistically displayed. It’s open all year except during the winter season, providing a variety of species.
Further down the mountain is the very culturally and historically important Enryaku-ji Temple. This large temple complex is the main attraction and reason people come to Mt. Hiei…honestly you would be a little foolish to leave it off your itinerary. Seeing the temple complex in its entirety takes a lot of time though, so if you want to hike here and see it you’ll need to get up early in the morning!
With that you should be able to find your way to Enryaku-ji Temple and the peak of Mt. Hiei on foot with no trouble. The mountain contains many more paths than the one described here, making Mt. Hiei a perfect day trip for any tourist visiting Kyoto or those living in the Kansai area. Enjoy hiking Kyoto![cft format=0]