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

View of Mt Atago from Arashiyama

Mt Atago behind me, from 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. 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.

Useful Links

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See my hiking in Kyoto & hiking in Tokyo pages and the excellent Hiking in Japan & Ridgeline Images blogs for further inspiration; if you’re also heading to Korea or Taiwan, check out my pages on hiking in Seoul and hiking in Taipei

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6 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!

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