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Best Day Hikes in Kyoto: Explore Picturesque Kurama and Kibune

Kyoto has much more to offer travelers who venture to the outskirts of the city by planning a peaceful day hike through the forest of Mt. Kurama.
Kifune Shrine

Kyoto is best known for its rich history, numerous temples, shrines, and traditional teahouses. But many travelers don't realize how much more this city has to offer. The region surrounding Kyoto is overflowing with natural beauty. Kyoto is a city enveloped by mountains that feature crystal clear rivers and lush green forests. It is here that you'll discover picturesque hiking trails that are suitable for all fitness levels.

In particular, the hike from Kurama to Kibune takes you through the scenic and picturesque areas in the hills north of Kyoto city where you'll find the perfect combination of nature, history, and culture. By venturing beyond the city limits, you'll learn why visiting Kyoto is a culturally unique experience beyond the famous Kifune shrine or Kurama-dera temple. Taking a day hike while in Kyoto is the best way to experience the Japanese exercise of shinrin-yoku, otherwise known as forest bathing.

The following day hikes, between the regions of Kurama and Kibune, are the best way to discover the natural wonders and picturesque wilderness areas that surround Japan's ancient city.

Visit the birthplace of Reiki at Mt. Kurama

Mt. Kurama

Mt. Kurama is a sacred mountain located to the north of Kyoto, famous for its hiking trails. Nestled on the mountainside is Kurama Village, which is basically comprised of only the mystical Buddhist temple of Kurama-dera, the Yuki-jinja shrine, and a natural thermal hot spring or onsen. Mt. Kurama is a majestic mountain known for being the birthplace of the energetic healing practice of reiki. It has plenty to offer travelers looking to immerse themselves in the history and culture of the region while enjoying the great outdoors. The lush cedar forest hides magical temples, mystical shrines, and a warm, welcoming hot spring. Although these are all great reasons to visit, the easy day hike makes a trip to Mt. Kurama even more worthwhile.

You can easily reach Mt. Kurama by train from downtown Kyoto. Take the Eizan Dentetsu Line from Demachiyanagi Station to Kurama Station. The journey only takes 30 minutes and is incredibly scenic with stunning mountain vistas and thick forest scenes that obscure ancient sites and shrines. Upon arrival at Kurama Station, you'll see the statue of Sojobo, king of the Tengu, who, according to legend, originated in Kurama.

Explore the Buddhist Kurama-dera Temple complex

Kurama-dera Temple

Not far from Kurama Station is the entrance to the main attraction of Mt. Kurama, Kurama-dera Temple. This is no ordinary temple but rather a huge complex that spreads across a large portion of the mountainside. When visiting, you can either take a cable car up the side of the mountain to reach the main shrine, or you can opt to walk up the gorgeous winding path through the forest and explore all the smaller shrines along the way as well. At the top of the mountain, the steep slope levels out into a plateau, and the main shrine sits within a courtyard overlooking the valley below.

The Kurama-dera temple complex and Kifune shrine have an ancient history dating back to 770. Although the Kurama-dera temple was originally founded by the Tendai sect of Buddhism, it became part of the newer Kurama-Koyo sect in modern times. However, worshipers still visit the temple complex to honor Sonten, who is believed to have created the universe. Every part of this massive temple complex on Mt. Kurama has great spiritual significance. You'll discover both charming shrine structures and the most breathtaking natural beauty, all in one must-visit location. This is the complete opposite of what you would find in the city limits and why you can't skip Kyoto on a trip to Japan.

Follow the sacred path to Kibune

sacred path to Kibune

If you feel like extending your hike even further, you can walk from Kurama all the way through to Kibune as well. To follow this route, continue up Mt. Kurama taking the wooden steps until you leave the Kurama-dera temple complex. Eventually, you'll reach the summit, and as you descend on the other side, you'll reach the town of Kibune. This hiking trail is called a sandō path (sacred path), and it directly links Kurama and Kibune. Along the peaceful forest path, you'll find numerous small shrines and spiritually significant spots worth exploring. For example, there is a serene grove of trees with roots woven together above ground and Maō Hall which is dedicated to a deity that, according to legend, arrived from Venus millions of years ago. 

This fascinating day hike is about 3.9 km in total from the base of the Kurama-dera temple complex to Kibune. The easy hike will take you about two to three hours to complete if you regularly stop to take in the scenery and is suitable for beginners. It's a great way to avoid the crowds and truly get to know Japanese history and culture. There is a mysterious atmosphere in the forest thanks to the giant cedar trees, wisteria trees, and local wildlife, yet a truly magical place to experience.

Experience a unique fortune telling at Kifune Shrine

Kifune Shrine

The small town of Kibune is situated in a forested valley north of Kyoto and actually developed around the Kibune shrine, which is better known as Kifune Shrine. Legend has it that a goddess traveled up the river by boat from Osaka all the way into the mountains north of Kyoto. Kifune Shrine was then built at the very spot where her journey by boat ended. However, the shrine is actually dedicated to the god of water and rain, who is believed to be the protector of those out at sea. Visitors to this shrine can receive a uniquely delivered fortune. Your fortune will be written on paper slips called omikuji that only reveal your message once it has been dipped in water. The inner sanctum of Kifune Shrine has a large rock called the boat stone, which covers the place where the goddess's boat is said to be buried.

The town of Kibune comprises a number of traditional ryokan and restaurants that line the narrow road that runs parallel to the Kibune River. It's also possible to do the day hike from Kibune through to Kurama-dera temple if you prefer. However, you'll be entering the temple complex from the rear entrance. If you want to start your hike from Kibune, you can also reach this town via train from Kyoto. Take the Eizan Railway from Demachi-Yanagi Station in central Kyoto and get off when you reach Kibune-guchi Station. The journey also takes about 30 minutes with a five-minute bus ride or 20-minute walk from the station to Kifune Shrine.

Enjoy Kawadoko restaurants in Kibune

Kawadoko restaurants

While in Kibune, you should stop for a bite to eat at one of Kibune's famous "Kawadoko" riverside restaurants. During the summer months, you can actually dine while seated on a platform that is constructed over the river at both. This relaxing experience is one of the best ways to beat the heat and humidity of summer in Japan while enjoying a delicious meal. These unique dining styles mean visiting Kibune is a fun experience and a great way to end your day hike through the forest.

Hike the Kurama-Kibune circuit

Hiking the Kurama-Kibune Circuit is a must when visiting Kyoto, so be sure to add it to your Japan itinerary. Kyoto doesn’t have an airport. The closest airport is Kansai International Airport (KIX) or Itami Airport (ITM) in Osaka. For the travelers arriving in Tokyo, it takes about one hour and 15 minutes to Itami Airport in Osaka and about one hour and 30 minutes to Kansai International Airport when flying with Japan Airlines. Explore all the natural beauty and wonders Japan has to offer by planning a day hike in Kyoto and make your travels even easier by purchasing the JAL Japan Explorer Pass.

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