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Mount Hiei Makes An Exceptional Day Out Of Kyoto

mount hiei forest

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

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 to the train station. 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.

Mount Hiei

How to get to Mount Hiei

You need to get the shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Hieizan - Sakamoto Station. The journey is covered by the JR Pass, otherwise, it costs 320 yen for a single ticket.

The Sakamoto train station is located about 15 minutes walk away 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).

woods mount hiei

What to do at Mount Hiei

Most people make this journey in order to be in the Hieizan’s Todo area which can be reached by walking for 10 minutes from the Sakamoto cable car station. You will have a lot of photographic opportunities and enjoy some amazing views from the top of Mount Hiei.
You will love the Todo, Saito and Yokawa. Usually, Todo is the main area of interest as that’s where the Enryakuji monastery was originally founded.

From there, you can enjoy an awesome walking trail through the forest which connects the Todo with the Saito area, whose main building is the Shaka Hall, the oldest building on the mountain.
The least visited area is Yokawa, which is quite a few kilometres North of Todo and Saito areas. If you are up for the adventure, you can view Yokawa Central Hall.

The Sakamoto Cablecar

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

The trail back

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 picnic spots. We had great fun taking pictures whilst breathing fresh air. We visited in December, thus we had to dress up 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?

Did you like this article? Do you have any questions or suggestions?
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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.