Japan is known for its urban sprawl and high technology, but with its many forests and mountain ranges it’s also a hiker’s paradise. Some of the best hikes in the nation are accessible just outside of the biggest cities, including Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara. Check out our list of the best hikes in Kansai, all of which can be done in a day from most of the region’s major downtown areas.
The Kumano Kodo ancient road is one of two pilgrimage routes in the world to receive the title of World Heritage Site. There are actually multiple, interconnected hiking trails making up this trek stretching from Mie to Nara to Wakayama. To hike the entire road would take days, so most people break it up into one or two-day treks. Highlights include hiking to the top of venerated temple town Koyasan, visiting picturesque Nachi Falls, and soaking in natural hot springs at Yunomine.
This unique trek takes you on the route of a former train line that went from Namaze and Takedao Stations in Hyogo, just outside of Osaka. The former tracks are still somewhat exposed but overgrown and the once busy tunnels are now dark and dank, so be sure to wear proper footwear and bring a torch. Otherwise, the hike is quite simple and pleasant and a fascinating alternative to the average trail.
Mt. Atago is the highest peak in Kyoto and a local holy site. At the top of the peak is Atago Shrine, the home of an annual festival of good luck on July 31. This hike takes about five hours to complete. It starts with stairs upon stairs upon stairs and takes hikers through the shrine and down through stately woods and abandoned buildings. Take a Kyoto bus from Hankyu Arashiyama Station to Kiyotoki to the trailhead.
Osaka’s tallest mountain is a place of significant beauty and historical importance. As the birthplace of Shugendo, a native religion, and the site of a 1330 battle, it is yet another of the region’s revered peaks. Many people enjoy hiking up this mountain in the winter months, as it offers a rare chance to see snow in Osaka, but it’s a fine hike at any time of year. At the top of the mountain are holy sites, a museum, and a campsite. From Namba Station take the Nankai Line to Kitauchi Station.
Located between Osaka and Nara, Mt. Ikoma is a sacred spot that offers panoramic views of both cities. Long worshiped and revered, the mountain is home to many forest shrines and temples located along the hiking path. The hike includes a number of steep inclines and takes about four or five hours to complete, though it can be shortened by taking a cute cable car down from the theme park located at the top. Start the hike at Shin-Isikiri Station and head towards the shrine of the same name to find the trail, which starts on a road famous for fortune telling.
Mt. Rokko, located near Kobe, is an exciting destination that features more than just nature; the summit has been designed to act as an attraction on its own. Start at Hankyu Ashiyagawa Station for a challenging but feasible day hike that starts rough but levels out for the remainder of the trek. It should take about four or five hours to get to the top where a petting zoo, a botanical garden, 360-degree views of Kobe and Osaka, and more can be enjoyed. From there, hikers have a few options – take a cable car down the mountain, continue the hike to Mt. Maya or Takurazuka, or the highly recommended walk to Arima Onsen, one of the best hot springs towns in the country.
These mountains on the border of Osaka and Wakayama Prefectures provide a journey through unspoiled flora and fauna and views of Osaka, Kansai Airport, and the Pacific Ocean from various peaks. Though the hike itself is easy, much of the trail is wild and unmaintained, so hikers should prepare accordingly with proper hiking clothes and shoes, and proceed with caution if hiking after recent rain. There are plenty of places to relax and enjoy the views from the rolling peaks, so bring some snacks and enjoy the scenery at a leisurely pace. From Tennoji station take the JR Wakayama line to Yamanakadani Station.