Hiking in Takao (Kyoto); Kiyotaki, Mt Atago, and the Takao to Arashiyama hike

Autumn leaves at Jingoji temple, Takao

Autumn colours at Jingoji temple in Takao

Takao (高雄) is a small village nestled in Kyoto’s Kitayama mountains, to the north-west of the city proper (its apparent namesake Mt Takao in Tokyo is actually written with different kanji characters, 高尾山). It’s set along a picturesque river valley, is host to a few famous temples, and is (deservedly) known for being one of Kyoto’s best spots for the autumn colours.

Takao to Arashiyama hike map

Red: Takao – Kiyotaki, Green: Kiyotaki – Arashiyama, Blue: Mt Atago

Takao to Arashiyama hike

The Takao to Arashiyama hike follows the river downstream from Takao via the small village of Kiyotaki (清滝). This course forms part of the Kyoto Isshu Trail, and if you walk the Kitayama Nishibu course and Nishiyama course of the Isshu Trail you’ll be covering this hike in the process.

(See the Japan Guide Takao page for more background & access information for Takao as well as details for visiting the temples)

Signpost along the Takao to Kiyotaki trail Bridge over the river near Kiyotaki

Takao is reached from Kyoto station (or Nijo staton on the JR Sanin line) by bus number 8, which takes about 45 minutes. Your goal for the hike can either be Kiyotaki (from where there are buses to Arashiyama), or you can keep going all the way on foot to do the full Takao to Arashiyama hike – you can play this by ear. Kyoto’s highest mountain, Mt Atago, is located above Kiyotaki, so if you allow enough time you can also include an ascent of Atago in your itinerary for the day (see below)

Autumn colours in Takao

After getting off the bus in Takao, you need to take the steps down to the river. If you’re here in mid-November to early-December, the momiji (Japanese maple trees) you pass under should be blazing a fierce red. When you reach the bottom, go over the bridge. The hiking trail to Kiyotaki is a left turn after crossing the bridge.

The bridge in Takao

The bridge in Takao

The river in Takao

The steps on the right edge of the picture lead up to Jingoji

But before you head to Kiyotaki, take the steps going up the side of the gorge in front of you – a short, steep climb will bring you up to Jingoji temple (神護寺). This temple is one of the absolute prime spots in Kyoto for the autumn leaves, and due to the slightly higher altitude the colours change a touch earlier than in most of the city. So, if you’re in town a bit too early for those, try Jingoji. But the real reason I like Jingoji so much is the custom called kawarake-nage (かわらけ投げ)

Kawarake-nage disc throwing at Jingoji

This involves throwing small clay discs from a high vantage point in order to carry your bad karma far, far away (and perhaps directly into the head of a passing hiker below… must’ve happened at some point, though the discs are extremely light so you’d probably be okay…). This practice isn’t unique to Jingoji and is done at various temples around Japan though I’ve personally only seen it here. The throwing platform at Jingoji is a nice viewpoint looking down into the Kiyotaki river valley you’ve just climbed out of; if you throw the discs incorrectly, they just wobble and plop down into the bushes hugging the cliffside – but if you get it just right, they absolutely fly!

The river valley below Jingo-ji

You’re chucking the discs into this valley

We tried baseball-style pitches, underarm, a cricket-style run-up and over arm action, and various others, eventually settling on a couple of steps’ run up with a baseball-ish pitch action. See how you get on – just watch your wallet, as the discs are bought from the temple and they ain’t that cheap – the temple makes a tidy little income out of it, and you’re literally throwing your money away! I’ve done this twice, and while I don’t know if it helped my karma situation it is a good bit of fun (obviously, I don’t suggest climbing over the handrail to do this… but if you look at the shrubbery on the cliff top there are plenty of discs which people have fumbled right at the top and which could be safely reached for some freebies. Doing this may or may not ruin your karma, but will certainly ruin the impression you make on any watching locals)

Restaurant on the steps up to Jingo-ji

A tanuki on the steps up to Jingoji

Once you’re done with photographing the pretty buildings and leaves and lobbing clay discs into the valley, head back down and turn right at the bottom of the steps to follow the Kyoto Isshu Trail – look out for the Kyoto Isshu Trail boards which look like this:

Kitayama Nishibu trail board 94 in Kiyotaki

Kitayama Nishibu trail board 94 in Kiyotaki

Nishiyama trail board 1 in Kiyotaki

Nishiyama trail board 1 in Kiyotaki

…to aid in your navigation (but be aware that the little maps fixed to each post are schematic and not to scale). This is the Isshu trail’s Kitayama Nishibu course, which ends at board 94 in Kiyotaki. The Isshu trail’s Nishiyama course then starts from Kiyotaki, continuing on to Arashiyama and beyond.

Look out for flying karma discs while you’re in the firing line! Following the trail along the river will bring you to Kiyotaki in around an hour. From there, you can hop on a bus to Arashiyama (taking 15 minutes; there’s only one bus stop, on the edge of the village), or continue along the Kyoto Isshu Trail’s Nishiyama course to Arashiyama via the river and then up & over the ridge:

Kiyotaki River

Hiking along the Kiyotake River

Kyoto Isshu Trail Nishiyama course

This latter option takes another couple of hours; start from Nishiyama trail board 1 in Kiyotaki, and you’ll reach Hankyu Arashiyama station at trail board 24.

Takao to Kiyotaki hike map

Takao to Kiyotaki, following Kyoto Isshu Trail Kitayama Nishibu course trail boards 90 – 94

Kiyotaki to Arashiyama hike map

Kiyotaki to Arashiyama, following Kyoto Isshu Trail Nishiyama course trail boards 1 – 24

Another interesting alternative here is to end your hike at the enigmatic Hozukyo Station (the location of which you can see on the map at top) by continuing along the river rather than hiking up & over the ridge to Arashiyama (Hozukyo Station’s one stop from JR Arashiyama). At Nishiyama trail board 5-1 you’ll see this bridge:

Road to Hozukyo Station

If you go over the bridge you can continue along the road to Hozukyo Station.

A train stopped at Hozukyo Station

Hozukyo Station

(For more on the Kyoto Isshu Trail, how to use the trail boards, and where to buy the official maps, click here; the Nishiyama map covers everything on this page)

Side quest: Mount Atago

River & mountain views in Arashiyama

Although I hiked Takao to Kiyotaki and Mt Atago (starting and finishing from Arashiyama, see here) as separate hikes, you can definitely include a summit of Atago as part of the Takao to Arashiyama hike. The time from Takao to Kiyotaki is around an hour, and the time from Kiyotaki to Arashiyama is around two hours. An ascent and descent of Atago will add something in the region of another 3 hours to your hike, depending on your speed. Just take those times into account and make sure you get an early enough start if you want to include Atago.

Mt Atago trail map

The main Atago trail starts from Kiyotaki village at a red torii gate which marks the start of the trail (there’s a warning sign about not climbing in the dark and giving a total time of 5 hours up & down. I found this to be absurdly conservative, getting up & down in half that time). That isn’t the only trail up though, and there’s another more minor trail you can turn up before reaching Kiyotaki – this trail goes up via Tsukinowa-dera temple (月輪寺) which huddles along the mountain path, and from the top you can then descend via the main trail to Kiyotaki. This will save you re-treading your steps and allows you to see different trails when going up and coming down. The trail to the top via Tsukinowadera splits from the Kyoto Isshu Trail at trail board 93 (Kiyotaki is trail board 94), and from memory it might not be very obvious – if you’re not sure, you can just continue a short way to Kiyotaki and take Atago from there.

Torii at the Mt Atago trailhead in Kiyotaki

The torii in Kiyotaki marking the start of the Mt Atago trail

Access information for Takao and Kiyotaki

To reach Takao, take the bus from Kyoto station or Nijo station. At Kyoto station, go out of the main (north) exit and you’ll see a forecourt with a big cluster of bus stops in front of you. This is hard to work out and hard to describe, so just ask one of the staff which bus stop for Takao! From Nijo station, you need to exit the station building by the east exit (東口) and go to the bus stop on the main road (just to the left when you come out of the station). I don’t remember if the bus stops there have any English information – if not, look for 高雄.

If you want to do this hike in the opposite direction starting from Kiyotaki, you can take bus number 64 or number 94 from Arashiyama (sometimes the number is 62, 72, or 92, I think those are route variations prior to the bus reaching Arashiyama from elsewhere; but from Arashiyama they all go on to Kiyotaki). There are three train lines by which you can reach Arashiyama; Hankyu, JR, and Keifuku. There’s a bus stop immediately outside both the Hankyu and Keifuku stations (for the latter, you should cross the street for a northbound bus), but if you arrive to JR Saga-Arashiyama station you’ll need to walk for ten minutes or so to Keifuku Arashiyama station. The bus takes about 20 minutes and, at time of writing, costs 230 yen. (Also remember you can access Kiyotaki by walking along the river to/from Hozukyo Station, which is one stop beyond Arashiyama on the JR line)

See my Kyoto hiking and Tokyo hiking pages for more ideas.

Have you done the Takao to Arashiyama hike, or climbed Mt Atago? Any questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.

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19 comments on “Hiking in Takao (Kyoto); Kiyotaki, Mt Atago, and the Takao to Arashiyama hike
  1. Lena M. says:

    Hello Simon!

    Thank you for this wonderful guide 🙂 I am planning to visit Takao in mid-November — did you hike there on your own or in company? I’d be going on my own and keep wondering if it’s worth while taking the hike to Arashiyama as well (but not Mt Atago). Was it a crowded trail? Thanks!

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Lena, I’ve hiked in the area many times, both alone and with company. It’s not a crowded trail, but mid-November may turn out to be perfect timing for peak autumn colours (or approaching peak) at Jingo-ji which means a) lucky you! and b) there’ll be more hikers than usual from Takao to Kiyotaki. Which is to say, you’ll probably pass several other hikers or groups of hikers (rather than possibly none!)

      If you push on from Kiyotaki to Arashiyama, expect it to be even quieter – very possible that you won’t see anyone else hiking (but a few cars will likely come past on the road section) between Kiyotaki and the start of Arashiyama, after which it’ll get busier and busier with sightseers as you approach the bridge.

      Always possible to see how you do for time and then make the call when you reach Kiyotaki as to whether to carry on hiking or jump on the bus to Arashiyama. Whatever you decide to do, it’s a lovely season for it.

      • Lena M. says:

        Oooh thank you very much for such a detailed answer. This is the exact number of hikers I am looking to — some, but not too many 🙂 Your website is a trove of valuable info 🙂 L.

  2. Christina Chin says:

    Thanks for this helpful guide Simon! I’ve been struggling with the amount of partial information out there on hiking in Japan, so this is so helpful.

    I’m going to Japan in early April – do you think this is a good time for this hike? And is it possible to do this hike as a two day hike – i.e. extend it and stay at a mountain hut halfway through? If so do you have another recommended start or end point? Or are there other two day hikes you would recommend in the Tokyo/Kyoto regions?

    Would appreciate any info you may have!

    Thanks so much,
    Christina

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Christina,

      Early April? Lucky you! Perfect time to visit Kyoto, and a great time to do some hiking. I don’t think it’s really necessary to split this particular hike into two sections, but there’s a ryokan in Takao (see here) so what you could do is take the bus up to Takao in the evening and stay overnight before getting up early, visiting Jingo-ji temple, and then hiking to Arashiyama.

      Also see my page on the Kyoto Isshu Trail here – another idea would be to hike the Takao-Arashiyama section on day 1, stay overnight in Arashiyama, and then on day 2 finish off the Nishiyama course to Katsura. Other good places to stay and hike are Ohara or Kurama in the northeast (you can read about those on the same page), also see the Kurama-Kibune hike here – you could catch a bus out to Ohara on the first morning and hike from there to Kurama, stay overnight in Kurama, then on day 2 do the hike to Kibune before riding the train back into the city.

      I’ve just given you quite a lot to read and think about, haha – if you have any questions about any of those suggestions, fire away!

  3. George Stradley says:

    Hi Simon,
    Thanks for your info about these trails. I found your info more than helpful. Once again “Thank You” for doing that. I am planning to hike with friends in Kyoto area in mid November 2019. Will I be able to buy some Kyoto trail maps in English from the link below when I get to Kyoto?
    https://www.kyoto-trail.net/trail_outline_e.html

    Thanks for any help in advance!

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi George, yes I highly recommend getting your hands on those maps. That link lists the various places you can buy them, I suggest going to the bookstore I describe here as it’s centrally located and easy to find.

      Glad to hear you’ve found my site useful, and November’s the perfect time to be hiking in the mountains around Kyoto. Let me know if you have any further questions before then. Cheers!

      • George Stradley says:

        Hi Simon,
        I would like to hike from Takao to Mount Atago in 1 day. I understand that I need to hike from Takao to Kiyotaki, then Kiyotaki to Mount Atago. My questions are as follows:
        Does the yellow map – Nishiyama course 西山コース cover the trail to Mount Atago? Or do I have to get the blue map – Kitayama Nishibu course 北山西部コース instead? Do I need to buy both blue & yellow maps?

        Thanks for helping

  4. MT says:

    Hello Simon,

    Thank you for your excellent site. It is very helpful for planning my November visit to Kyoto. I do have a few questions about these hikes.

    Your report seems to suggest that from Takao to Kiyotaki takes one hour, and from Kiyotaki to Arashiyama takes a couple of hours. Is this correct? For what level of a hiker?

    Which trail is more hilly and steep? Which direction is more so?

    Where can I find the schedules and stops of the buses between Takao and Arashiyama?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi MT,

      Firstly be careful about buses – there is no direct bus between Takao and Arashiyama. The bus connects Arashiyama with Kiyotaki, but the bus connections for Takao run from Kyoto Station & Nijo Station.

      It is however possible to go from Arashiyama to Takao by a combination of tram & bus, if that’s what you need to do. It involves 2 transfers: you can ride the Randen Keifuku tram line from Arashiyama to Omuro-Ninnaji Temple Station (with a change of tram at Katabiranotsuji Station), then walk 100m north to the front gate of Ninnaji Temple (it’s a large temple with an impressive entrance gate, can’t miss it). The buses from Kyoto Station & Nijo Station to Takao stop at the bus stop directly in front of the gate. This would take about an hour altogether, perhaps up to 80 minutes or so depending on the waiting time for the bus.

      As for the hike, those times are for walking at a moderately fast pace, if you consider yourself a slower walker then allow longer accordingly.

      Takao to Kiyotaki follows the river and is completely flat apart from the initial steps from the Takao bus stop down to the river (also if you visit Jingo-ji you have to climb up & down another set of steep steps to reach it). On the other hand, Kiyotaki to Arashiyama involves a big climb up & down over the ridge; the first section along the river is flat (though the hiking trail gets a bit rougher in places), but then you follow the road up a steep series of switchbacks to get out of the valley, then it’s downhill again into Arashiyama. Kiyotaki to Arashiyama is far more effort than Takao to Kiyotaki.

      November’s a great time for this hike – hopefully you’ll have good timing for the autumn colours at Jingo-ji, so do make sure to include the temple.

      Hope this helps and let me know if you have any more questions.

  5. MT says:

    Hello Simon,

    Thank you so much for your response.

    There was one mistake in my questions. What I meant to ask is:

    Where can I find the schedules and stops of the buses between Kiyotaki and Arashiyama? I think that would mean bus number 64 or number 94.

    Here’s what I have in mind, for almost a full day, from downtown Kyoto:

    – Visit Arashiyama early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Include Gio-ji Temple which is supposed to be less crowded.
    – If time permits, and if not too strenuous, hike to Kiyotaki from Arashiyama.
    – Otherwise take bus 64 or 94 from Arashiyama (or somewhere midway, like at Gio-ji Temple?) to Kiyotaki.
    – (Is it possible to hike from Hozukyo Station to Kiyotaki? Is there a bus from Hozukyo Station to Kiyotaki?)
    – Hike from Kiyotaki to Takao.
    – Take bus from Takao to Nijo Station (or Kyoto Station).

    I tend to stop frequently for photos, and allow more time than just getting from A to B.

    Thanks again,

    MT

    • Simon Norton says:

      Ah, I see, yes it’s the 64 and 94 (also sometimes 62, 72, or 92, but same thing). They go roughly hourly from 7am to 7pm, you can check the schedules on Google Maps actually, I just looked and the last bus from Kiyotaki back to Arashiyama these days is 18.25

      In Arashiyama the easiest bus stops to find are the ones right outside the Keifuku tram Arashiyama Station (opposite side of the road from the station), or the parking area in front of Hankyu Arashiyama Station across the river. There is also a stop near Giou-ji if you go there, it’s about 8 mins walk north of the temple, the stop’s called Gohodo Benten Mae 護法堂弁天前. If you zoom in on Google Maps you can see the little blue bus stop symbol marking these bus stop locations.

      The stop in Kiyotaki is at the southern end of town. If you’ve walked to Kiyotaki you arrive at a bridge; turning left over the bridge goes into the village, but turning right from there up the hill goes to the bus stop.

      And yes, it’s absolutely possible to start your hike from Hozukyo Station, that’s another good option. It’s a pretty interesting station actually, and the walk along the river’s nice. You just walk north along the road from the station alongside the river, it’s an easy walk on a paved road (super quiet road though with very few vehicles, no buses) then when you go through the tunnel and over the red bridge (in the picture above, 5th picture up) you turn left along the walking path to Kiyotaki.

      The walk from Hozukyo is easier than the walk over from Arashiyama as it’s shorter and mostly flat.

  6. MT says:

    Hello Simon,

    Thanks again.

    Now I have to decide which hike!

    Arashiyama > Kiyotaki > Takao

    or

    Arashiyama > Kiyotaki > Hozukyo Station

    https://www.hankyu.co.jp/files/hiking/1098/course_file_7bd66825e9a97424ffe5645549270832.pdf

    MT

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi MT,

      That’s a good route if you want to end at Hozukyo, as it avoids any backtracking along the river.

      For me Takao is probably the more interesting goal due to Jingo-ji, but either way those are both good hikes.

  7. MT says:

    Hello Simon,

    I just found out about this boat ride:

    https://www.hozugawakudari.jp/tickets/reservation#teiki

    After the Arashiyama > Kiyotaki > Hozukyo Station hike, I can take the train from the Hozukyo Station to the Kameoka Station and board the boat.

    Do you recommend this boat ride? It seems like I cannot make a reservation, and will have to just show up. I’ll shoot for the 2:00 departure, and if there is no availability wait for the 3:30. Does that sound right?

    Thanks,

    MT

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi, I can’t recommend it as I’ve never done it. But having hiked in the area, I know it’s a beautiful stretch of river and so I imagine it would be good for rafting. So yes, I’d say it’s probably a good plan, hopping on a train to Kameoka from Hozukyo is very straightforward and then the raft would be a nice way to get back to Arashiyama.

      It says you can make a reservation by calling them on the number at the top. Might be worth trying

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