Trekking is a popular activity that allows you to leisurely head into the woods and enjoy the mountains for what they are. Here are some recommended spots in Kansai where anyone from beginners to experts can enjoy trekking.
1. Mt. Hiei
This mountain on the border of Kyoto and Shiga has two mountain trails on both sides. They're both great for beginners and take about 2.5 hours one way. There are courses that diverge along the way, so please pack a map. Touring Hieizan Enryakuji, a temple that's a World Heritage Site with lots to see, takes some time, so for those that want to leisurely check it out, try taking the Eizan Ropeway (310 JPY one way) or the Eizan Cable Car (540 JPY one way). There's a place where you can enjoy the view of Lake Biwa and the city of Kyoto.
2. Takeda Castle Ruins
This is one of Japan's leading mountain castles, and even though it's been 400 years since it was abandoned, the rock wall is still mostly intact. It's become a popular spot in recent years, called things like "the castle above the clouds" and "Japan's Machu Picchu." Under the right conditions, you can see a sea of clouds like in the photo. The period between September to November is when there are many chances to see this mystical sight, so lots of travelers flock to the area. You can check the conditions and necessary equipment on the official homepage. If you start at JR Takeda Station, you can walk up the Ekiura Tozando path behind the station up to Takeda Castle. The trekking course takes about 3 hours round trip.
3. Mt. Yoshino
This entire mountain is registered as a World Heritage Site, and you can walk around the World Heritage Sites on it like Yoshino Mikumari Shrine, Kinpu Shrine, Kinpusen Temple, and Yoshimizu Shrine. One of the great things about this mountain is being able to enjoy nature as you go around the shrines and temples, such as cherry blossoms in the spring, hydrangeas in the rainy season, and the colorful foliage in the fall. The spring is especially lovely, with the mountain being covered with about 30,000 trees called Japan's best, leading to a rush in visitors. Information about the 6 hour trekking course is available from the Mt. Yoshino Tourism Association, so please check that out. There are also traditional Japanese inns and souvenir shops so you can enjoy local specialties and crafts.
4. Mt. Yamato Katsuragi
This mountain is almost precisely in the middle of Kongo-Ikoma-Kisen Quasi-National Park. Near the summit are wide fields that paint the mountain in clusters of azaleas in spring and Japanese pampas grass in fall. Travelers crowd the fields to see the azaleas in May. There are various mountain climbing paths, and the Kujira no Taki Course is aimed towards beginners even though there are many steps. People with some experience should consider the Kita-One Course, which has a great view. Both of them will take about 1.5-2 hours to reach the observation platform. From Katsuragi Tozanguchi, you can ride the Katsuragi Ropeway (740 JPY one-way, 1,250 JPY round-trip) and reach the summit in about 6 minutes.
5. Mt. Kongo
This popular mountain has one of the biggest numbers of visitors in the Kansai region, and is the highest peak in the Kongo mountain range, which includes Mt. Yamato Katsuragi. You can enjoy it all year round, with wild flora growing in spring, forest bathing ("shinrinyoku") in the summer (beware of lightning), colorful foliage in autumn, and snow in winter. The recommended trekking course is the most popular one, the Chihaya Hondo Road. There are many steps, but there aren't any dangerous areas, and it takes about 90 minutes to reach the summit. There are shops and plazas at the summit, so it's very lively on the weekends with tourists and hikers. For experienced hikers, there's the Takahata-do path or Tsutsujio Valley where you climb up rocks while holding onto ropes. You can also reach the summit by taking the Mt. Kongo Ropeway (750 JPY one-way) while gazing out at the scenery.
These are all hiking and trekking courses suitable for beginners. Please enjoy yourself by not just aiming for the summit of these mountains but also by immersing yourself in nature and wandering around World Heritage Sites.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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