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Mount Hiei - Day trip from Kyoto

View of Kyoto from Mount Hiei

Have you ever heard of Mount Hiei? Just like Tokyo, Kyoto has a lot to offer, to such an extent that you can spend weeks wandering around its charming streets and still be left hungry for more. What many tourists don’t know, is that Kyoto is also a gateway to its surrounding mountains and less crowded attractions. As a matter of fact, Kyoto’s true itinerary is hidden away, well off the beaten track.

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Mount Hiei - Day trip from Kyoto

Wanting to hunt for Kyoto’s treasures, we decided to take a day trip to Mount Hiei, which is home to Enryakuji, one of Japan’s most important monasteries. What attracted us to this mountain is that you can get a cable car to its top and then hike through a dense forest all the way back down. This adventure can be done in a day, and you don’t need any special gear. This was part of our 2 weeks in Japan trip.

Mount Hiei

How to get to Mount Hiei

You need to get the train from Kyoto Station to Hieizan - Sakamoto Station. The journey is covered by the JR Pass, or it costs 330 yen for a single ticket.

The Sakamoto Train Station is located about 15 minutes walk from the Sakamoto cable car. You can purchase your ticket from a vending machine. The ride takes just over 10 minutes, and it costs 860 yen (single) or 1620 yen (return) - 2023 prices.

The Sakamoto Cable Car

One of the highlights of our trip to Mount Hiei was definitely the Sakamoto cable car ride. This is Japan's longest cable car route, opened in 1927. You will enjoy going up through a wonderful path of dense forest. You will then reach a crossroad, where cable cars pass each other and the drivers exchange a special salute.

When you are almost at the top, you will have panoramic views of Lake Biwa. Honestly, it's great fun. Quite a journey in itself. It's well worth experiencing this.

sakamoto cablecar

What to do at Mount Hiei

Most people make this journey to visit in the Hieizan’s Todo area, which can be reached by walking for 10 minutes from the Sakamoto cable car station. Enjoy the fantastic views from the top of Mount Hiei - you will have plenty of photo opportunities.

Enryaku-ji Temple

Enryaku-ji Temple is a historic Buddhist temple. It is one of the most significant and influential temples in Japanese Buddhism and has a rich history that spans over twelve centuries. Enryaku-ji Temple is known for its cultural and religious significance, as well as its beautiful natural surroundings.

Enryaku-ji Temple is an active centre of Tendai Buddhism. It attracts numerous visitors and pilgrims who come to explore its historical treasures, experience traditional Buddhist rituals, and enjoy the serene atmosphere of the mountain. The temple's strategic location on Mount Hiei offers breathtaking panoramic views of Kyoto and the surrounding areas.

The temple complex is divided into three main areas: Todo, Saito, and Yokawa.

Enryaku-ji Temple Map Todo Area Mount Hiei Kyoto

Todo Area

The Todo area is the main complex and consists of several halls and structures. The most important hall is the Konpon Chudo, which enshrines a statue of Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of healing. This hall is considered the spiritual heart of the temple.

Saito Area

The Saito area is located to the east of the Todo area and is primarily used for training and meditation purposes. It includes a number of sub-temples and hermitages where monks practice rigorous ascetic training. The Saito area offers a serene and secluded atmosphere, making it a popular destination for visitors seeking tranquillity and spiritual retreat.

Yokawa Area

The Yokawa area is situated to the west of the Todo area and is known for its beautiful gardens and scenic views. It provides a peaceful environment for visitors to appreciate the natural beauty of Mount Hiei. Yokawa is also home to the Yokawa Kompon Daito, a large pagoda that serves as a symbol of Enryaku-ji Temple.

The trail down the mountain

We hiked back to the main train station by following the path through the forest. The walk is very pleasant and safe. You will enjoy a laid-back adventure which features some lovely views and great spots. We had great fun taking pictures. We visited in December, so we were dressed for winter, but it wasn't too cold. Although we used our hiking boots, we didn't need any specialised equipment for this hike.

hike mount hiei

The best of Mount Hiei

The best part of our trip to Mount Hiei, was when my partner proposed on the top of the mountain. Although he planned the proposal for Japan, he initially wanted to pop the question in a different spot, at the Fushimi Inari Shrine. But, as we are adventurers and nature lovers, the top of Mount Hiei turned out to be the best place for a proposal. That's yet another reason why Japan changed my life forever.

Cory Mount Hiei

There you have it, Mount Hiei is a magnificent place to visit. I may be a little biased, given the sentimental value Mount Hiei now carries, but I do honestly recommend you to explore Kyoto's surroundings. You might even find that perfect spot you would have otherwise missed. All I know is that it's good to feel lost in the right direction.

Tell me why you would like to visit Mount Hiei in Japan? Would you walk up to the top or would you like to experience the cable car? Let me know in the comments section below.

What do you think?

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Your Comment

phyllis mcmillan

hi walking back down the mountain would it be able to be done by a 77 year old lady. Taking my mother with me

Cory Varga
Cory Varga - You Could Travel

Hi Phyllis,

I would advise against it. We descended one day after a storm and there were some uneven paths, some fallen trees and some stretches which needed a bit more attention. I would say going up and down with the cable car is the safest bet for your 77-year-old mom. She will love the scenery for sure. You can still walk a little at the top and go visit one of the temples located on the top of the mountain.
I hope this helps.

Kind Regards,



Hey Cory, How do you use Sakamoto cable car up and the other cable car to descend? Any advice appreciated.

Cory Varga
Cory Varga - You Could Travel

Hi Jack,

The mountain can be ascended from either the Kyoto side by Eizan Cablecar and ropeway, or from the Shiga side by Sakamoto Cablecar.

You can take the Sakamoto Cablecar as we did to the top. From the upper station, Hieizan's Todo area can be reached in a 5-10 minute walk. From the summit, it is another 5 minute bus ride or 30 minute walk to the Eizan Cable car.
The cable car and ropeway do not operate from early December to mid March.