Kitayama East Course: Hiking the Kyoto Circuit Trail

The Kitayama East course is a part of Kyoto Circuit Trail runs from Mt. Hiei to Ninose through Ohara and Kurama. Most of the trail goes into the mountains around Kyoto City. The trail can be pretty steep at times, and there are not many destinations or famous temples along the way, but if you truly want to experience the natural scenery of Japan, this is for you!

Note: See here for the other entries of our Kyoto Isshu Trail (Kyoto Circuit Trail) series. 

Kitayama East Course

Kitayama East Course: Cable-Hiei Station – Mizuiyama

The Kitayama East Course starts from the Cable-Hiei Station. The first part of the trails goes to Mt. Hiei. Mt. Hiei is a big mountain (848m), and sometimes it has a little snow in winter. If you decide to hike this trail in winter, be sure you wear the right footwear!

We advise you start the trail no later than 10 o’clock if you wish to walk to Kurama. Also, Keep in mind that it takes about an hour  to get  from the center of Kyoto City to the Cable-Hiei Station.

Abandoned Ski Slope: I don’t think it snows enough here to go skiing
The Shaka-do is the oldest building in Enryaku-ji

The trail for the Kitayama East Course goes right next to the Shaka-do of Enryaku-ji and along the Hieizan Driveway, a scenic toll road that connects Otsu to Mt. Hiei. Though typically almost nobody walks on this path, it is used in one of the strictest rituals in Enryaku-ji, called Kaihogyo, where you go visit Toto, Saito, Yokawa and Hiyoshi Shrine on foot for 1,000 days without any rest days. Traditionally, if you fail you were supposed to commit a suicide!

Gyokutaisugi on the Kitayama East Course
Great view from Gyokutaisugi

Right after we passed the Gyokutaisugi, we reached a fork. If you turn right at the fork, you will be in Yokawa. Yokawa is a part of the Enraku-ji temple complex and is known as the birthplace of omikuji.

The trail goes straight and then up two mountains in a row. This area is one of the steepest slopes in the entire Kyoto Circuit Trail. Try your best! First, you will head up Mt.Yokotaka and then Mt. Mizuiyama. 

Mt. Yokotakayama on the Kitayama East Course
Mt.Yokotakayama (767m)
Mt. Mizuiyama on the Kitayama East Course
Climbing up Mt. Mizuiyama
It is a very quiet forest

Kitayama East Course: Ohara – Ebumi-toge Pass

After we left Mt. Mizuiyama, the hard part is over. Once the trail goes in the woods, it is just another hour to Ohara.

Before long, we arrived the outskirts of Ohara (technically Ohara Todera). Central Ohara, is home to many temples, such as Jyakkoin and Sanzenin. Unfortunately, if you want to finish the trail in one day, you most likely won’t have time to visit them.

Kitayama East Course through Ohara
Cross National Route 367. If you want to go back to Kyoto City there is a bus stop in Ohara.
Takanogawa River. This river goes all the way to Shimogamo Shrine and merges with Kamogawa River.

In Todera, cross the Takanogawa River and head towards Ebumi Shrine. The trail turns left just before the shrine. From here to Kurama is only 5km and it takes about an hour and a half!

Ebumi Shrine

At this point the trail becomes a little hard to follow. After Ebumi Shrine, don’t just keep following the mountain path because it goes to Mt. Konpirasan. Around Ebumi-toge Pass, you have to turn left and cross a main road.

Kitayama East Course: Kyoto Circuit Trail
The guy in front of us was going the wrong way! Take the left fork here. It will take you to a paved road, but the trail will soon take you back in to the mountains.
Walk along this road for a while and go into the mountain path on the left side of the road

Kitayama East Course: Shizuhara – Kurama

After the Ebumi-toge Pass is little community of Shizuhara. We’ve reached the last leg of the trail!

Big cedar trees in Shizuhara Shrine

From Shizuhara, the trail goes up the Yakuozaka Slope. The famous monk Saicho allegedly used this slope to walk to Mt.Hiei while carrying a statue of Yakushi Nyorai.

Nison Banpi on the Kitayama East Course
Nison Banpi

The trail is almost over. Just one more large slope. Almost there!!!! 

Yakuozaka Slope on the Kitayama East Course
Hiking the Yakuozaka Slope

At last, we’ve reached Kurama! Kurama has two big tourist attractions: Kuramadera Temple and Kifune Shrine. These are some of the most famous destinations in Kyoto, so if never have visited them, you should someday!  We were too burned out from a full-day of hiking, not to mention we had to get home.

Kuramadera Temple
Kuramadera Temple
Legends say that Kurama is the home of Tengu!

After Kuramadera Temple, follow the railroad to Ninose. The road here is pretty narrow and there is fairly regular traffic, so be careful!

End of the Kitayama East Course
Road to Ninose
First Torii of Kifune Shrine
From here, Kitayama West Course starts!

15 minutes from Kurama is Ninose, the starting point of Kitayama West Course! Check out more trails on the Kyoto Circuit Trail.

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