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Kurama to Kibune Hike: Half-Day Trip from Kyoto, Japan

Located in north Kyoto in Mount Kurama are two small towns: Kurama and Kibune. And there is a marked trail between the two picturesque villages where it takes about three hours to complete.

The Kurama to Kibune hike starts with a visit to Kurama, a town known for Japanese onsen. Then the hike continues through Kurama-dera Temple, a Buddhist temple in the forest. Then continue onwards through the lush forest and ends in Kibune where you can visit Kifune Shrine and have a traditional meal at a lantern-lit river-platform restaurant.

If you want to spend half a day hiking through the holy mountains northern Kyoto, see giant Japanese cedar trees, spiritual shrines and temples and hundreds of vermilion lanterns, then follow my half-day itinerary for hiking the Kurama to Kibune trail.

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Kurama to Kibune hike: what you need to know

Before you start hiking the Kurama to Kibune trail, take a look at my post on everything you need to know before going to Japan. I included a lot of tips on how to get around Japan and other travel tips.

Here are a few additional travel tips that you may find useful for your day hike from Kurama to Kibune:

  • Trail length: 5km 
  • Duration: 3+ hours 
  • Ideal starting time: 10am
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Facilities: public toilets, vending machines
  • Trail condition: stairs, dirt trail and paved path
  • Best time to go: cool in summer, snowy in winter, excellent all year round
  • Plan your trip around festivals and events in Kurama including:
    • Hanakuyo (mid-April) – offering of flowers to the deity and see Uzu Cherry trees
    • Nyoho Shakyoe (August 1-3) – an annual event held for over 800 years where one contemplate about the origin of the true self.
    • Kurama-no-Himatsuri (Fire Festival of Kurama) (October 22) – held at Yuki Shrine
    • Illumination of Autumn Leaves (November 3-26) – at Kifune Shrine from sunset to 8:30pm.

What to bring for hiking the Kurama to Kibune trail

The hiking trail from Kurama to Kibune is not hard, so you don’t need a lot of technical equipment. The most important thing is to bring water, sun protection and wear proper footwear.

You can follow my minimalist hiking gear list on what to bring or see my suggestions below:

  • Comfortable shoes like Birkenstock or sneakers
  • Sunscreensunglasses and a hat, as some of the trail is exposed to the sun
  • Water but there are vending machines at resting areas
  • ICOCA card or other rechargeable IC card for taking the train to and from the trail.
  • Cash for lunch at Kawadoko restaurants and drinks from vending machines

Kurama to Kibune Hike Map

This hiking itinerary starts from Kurama and ends in Kibune. Not all the attractions could be pinned properly so the trail roughly looks like the dotted line in the map below.

How to get to the start of Kurama hiking trail

The easiest way to get to the start of the Kurama hiking trail is by taking the Keihan Electric Railway on the Eizan Kurama Line.

Wherever you are in Kyoto, make your way to Demachiyanagi Station. The scenic train starts there and goes to goes to Kurama Station which is the last station. Make sure to get on the train bound for Kurama. It takes 30 minutes and costs ¥470.

At the end of the day, hop on the train at Kibuneguchi Station and take it to the last stop to Demachiyanagi Station in Kyoto.

How to hike from Kurama to Kibune

1. See Tengu at Kurama Station

Once you arrive in Kurama Station, you will see a well-decorated train station with a lot of information about the area.

Just outside the station, there is large red long-nosed statue facing the parking lot. This is Tengu, a Japanese mythical creature that is part of Japanese folk stories. And it is said that Tengu lived in the forests of Mount Kurama. There are many images of Tengu around Kurama and you can even buy little Tengu souvenir items in Kurama.

2. Walk through Niomon, the Gate of the Guardians

Leaving Kurama Station, walk on the main road zigzags in northeast then northwest direction. There are several local restaurants and cute souvenir shops in some of the Japanese houses but they are likely closed if you start hiking early.

Keep walking up the hilly road until you find Niomon (the Gate of the Guardians) at the top of the stairs.

At the temple gate, pay your entrance fee of ¥500 and continue up a flight of stairs with vermilion lanterns lining both sides.

At the top of the first flight of stairs, there is an entrance on the right for the Mt Kurama Cable Railway. I suggest skipping this because the hike up is not difficult. Even though you will miss Tahoto Pagoda at the top of the cablecar ride, but you will enjoy the path up to Yuki-jinja Shrine.

3. See Yuki-jinja Shrine

On the way up Mount Kurama, you will first see an entry way which will lead you to the Kitayama sugi tree, a 800-year-old Japanese cedar tree.

Behind the 53m tree is Yuki-jinja Temple. The small shrine was founded in 940AD and is the protector shrine of the village and an Important Cultural Property. You can get an “Omikuji” (fortune telling slip) with the imagery of Tengu or a keychain of the mystical creature. And this is where the fire festival is held every October.

4. See panoramic views of Kurama

Hike up the path that zig-zags up Kurama Mountain. Soon you will reach Chumon, a large wooden gate or Middle Gate.

Continue up the stairs with vermilion lanterns. Don’t take the path to the right. This is the path from the cable car.

Also don’t miss the panoramic views of Kurama. It’s quite nice on a clear day.

5. Take a break at Tenporindo

Before approaching the main temple, you will see a temple hall called Tenporindo. It is a two-storey building where the first floor is a resting area with benches, vending machines and public restrooms and the second floor has a big statue of Amida Buddha.

This is a good spot for a bit of rest if you need it.

6. Visit the Kon-do Main Hall of Kurama-dera Temple

Kurama-dera Temple was founded as a defensive site half way up the Mount Kurama in 770AD. The temple is dedicated to one of the one of the Shitenno guardian deities in Buddhism and Sonten, a trinity deity is enshrined here. 

I saw many locals praying at the Kon-do Main hall. And they also stood in front of the main hall where the six-pointed Kongosho star is located. Apparently, this is a popular spiritual spot and visitors line up to stand on it.  

Address: 1074 Kuramahonmachi, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto | Hours: 9am-4:15pm | Admission: free

7. See Kurama-dera Bell Tower

Continue forward by walking up the path to the left of the Main Hall. And shortly after, there is a short flight of steps on the right going up to the Bell Tower. And here you can also see a view of the Kurama.

8. See exhibits at Reihoden Museum

Next on the hiking path is Reihoden Museum.

The first floor is the natural science museum with many displays of birds, animals, rocks and insects found on Mount Kurama. The second floor has Kurama-dera Temple historical relics from 1,200 years ago. And the top floor has various Buddha statues on display.

Not a bad price for seeing so many exhibits. But if you are short on time, skip the museum and keep hiking.

Address: 1074-2 Kuramahonmachi, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto | Hours: 9am-4pm; closed Mondays | Admission: ¥200

9. See Sekurabe Ishi and walk across Kinone Michi to Osugi-Gongen and Sojoga-dani Fudo-do

After the museum, hike through another wooden gate and you’l soon reach Sekurabe Ishi (Yoshitsune Height-Comparing Rock), which is a stone with a wooden fence around it.

Legend has it that a young samurai fighter measure his height here in the 12th century. He must have not been that tall because I completely missed the rock. And apparently this is the top of the hike. Yeay!

Follow the signs and hike down Kinone Michi (Tree Root Pilgrim Path) where you will you see the tangled roots of old Japanese cedar trees protruding from the ground.

The path leads to Osugi-Gongen, a place where Reiki (hands-on energy healing method) was born.

Continue down the hill and hike towards Sojoga-dani Fudo-do (Fudo Hall in Sojo Valley), which is dedicated to Fudo-myoo, one of the five guardians of Buddhism in Japan.

10. See Oku-no-In Mao Den

Oku-no-In Mao Den (Mao Inner Sanctuary) is next on the hiking route. This is the inner temple is dedicated to a deity who descended to Earth from Venus six million years ago.

I took my time around this area and saw people praying at each shrine. The atmosphere was quiet and peaceful.

The continue downhill via the guided path. The route weaves through the lush forest before arriving at Kurama-dera Temple West Gate in Kibune.

11. Get a paper fortune at Hongu at Kifune Shrine

After about 15 minutes of descending the mountain, you will arrive in Kibune, a small Japanese village that is known for traditional Japanese ryokan accommodations, and picturesque river-side restaurants.

Kibune is also the home to Kifune Shrine, which consists of three shrines: Hongu, Yui-no-Yashiro Shrine and Okumiya.

First, walk up the lantern-lined steps up to Hongu, the main shrine where the water dragon god is enshrined. You can get a sheet of “Omikuji”, float it in the scared pond and your fortune will appear on the paper. There’s even a QR code so you can scan and read your fortune in another language.

Address: 180, Kurama kibunecho, Sakyo-ku Kyoto-shi , Kyoto | Hours: 6am-8pm | Admission: free

12. Visit Okumiya Kifune Shrine

I read somewhere that the formal order of visiting Kifune Shrine is Hongu, Okumiya and then Yui-no-Yashiro Shrine. So that’s the order I’m using for my itinerary.

Walk all the way to Okumiya, which is the rear shrine of Kifune Shrine. This is the birthplace and the original Kifune Shrine. It is a sacred place surrounded by many tall cedar trees.

Look for Renri-no-Sugi, which is a cedar tree tied together with a maple tree. And keep and eye out for Funagata-Ishi, which is a boat-shaped rock with a sacred straw rope.

13. Write a wish at Yui-no-Yashiro Shrine

Last but not least, walk back to Yui-no-Yashiro Shrine, which is the middle shrine and is famous for matchmaking. The god of marriage is enshrined here.

It is said that if you write your wish on the green paper (which you get at Hongu) and tie it in front of the shrine, then your wish will come true.

14. Have a traditional meal in Kibune

Kibune is famous for the lantern-lit river-platform restaurants called Kawadoko. The platform literally suspends above the waters of Kibune River. As for food, they typically serve a variety of fish dishes, including Ayu fish, small freshwater fish.

Even though there are many options to eat in Kibune, some restaurants require reservations, some are quite expensive, many take cash payment only and some have long queues.

So I included various options for eating in Kibune below. These are excellent for solo travellers who don’t want to spend a lot:

  • Torii-chaya – a small casual restaurant on the opposite side of the river. I got the Ayu Chazuke (Ayu fish on rice with green tea) and it comes with sashimi. English menu available.
  • Hirobun – very popular restaurant serving Nagashi somen noodles (flowing cold noodles). 2 hour+ wait. Only from May to September. Closed on rainy days.
  • Dembei – a casual restaurant serving homemade soba noodle. One of the cheaper restaurants in Kibune. Japanese menu only. They also have Kawadoko seating.
  • Kokon Fujiya – a casual Kawadoko with a modern twist. Closer to Kibunegushi Station than the main area of Kibune village.

15. Walk to Kibuneguchi Station

The last bit of walk to Kibuneguchi Station is not super exciting. Many cars and buses drive on the main road as you walk by, which seemed a bit dangerous. But at least the scenery by the river is quite nice and it’s a downhill walk.

It takes about 30 minutes from Kifune Shrine to Kibuneguchi Station.

For people coming from Kibuneguchi Station, they can take bus 33 from the station to the main area in Kifune. You could take this bus down to Kibuneguchi Station. The bus runs every 12 minutes or so from 8:55am to 6:20pm and costs ¥170.

Once you are at Kibuneguchi Station, take the same train in the reverse direction and go back to Demachiyanagi Station in Kyoto.

Kibune to Kurama hike: opposite direction

It is possible to hike in the opposite direction from Kibune to Kurama. Basically it is this itinerary but in reverse. But I would take bus 33 from Kibuneguchi Station to Kifune Shrine to save 30 minutes walking uphill.

So, consider hiking from Kibune to Kurama if you want to:

  1. Start later (around lunch) and have a delicious meal in Kibune first
  2. Start early and queue for Nagashi somen noodles at Hirobun
  3. Finish the day in Kurama and do a bit of souvenir shopping
  4. Visit Kurama Hot Spring after the hike

Is it worth hiking the Kurama to Kibune trail?

For anyone who is visiting Kyoto and looking for a bit of nature, this is the perfect hike. The Kurama to Kibune trail is easy and well-marked. It is one of the best ways to spend a few hours in the countryside and visit a few spiritual temples.

For me, I prefer hiking from Kurama to Kibune because the uphill climb is easier, perhaps it’s because there are many things to see while hiking uphill. Plus, I like ending a hike with good food and Kibune is the perfect spot for delicious food.

I hope you enjoy reading this itinerary and will consider taking a short day trip from Kyoto to see the spiritual side of the city.

Thank you for reading my Kurama to Kibune hiking itinerary

You might also like these other posts on solo travel in Japan:

Introduction to Japan

Kansai region

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About Author

Hi, my name is Queenie, and I've been a solo traveller for 20+ years and currently based in Hong Kong. Follow me on my adventures through Instagram and my blog!

2 Comments

  • Shannon Watters
    November 4, 2023 at 11:16 am

    I just finished the hike. It was good to spend some time in nature after Tokyo and Osaka. I’m going to check out some more of your off-the-beaten-path itineraries this week.

    Thanks for the itinerary Queenie!

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      November 4, 2023 at 8:54 pm

      Hi Shannon,
      So happy you get to see Kurama and Kibune this time of the year – it must have been so beautiful with all the fall colours!
      If you are still around Kyoto area, Uji is a cute town for a day trip. Same with Nara. There’s a long ancient hike south of Nara called Yamanobe-no-michi. Or if you want to check out Arima onsen town. At the north end of Osaka is Minoo Falls – a really short hike but must be pretty with all the foliage.
      I hope that helps! Enjoy your trip in Japan! 🙂

      Reply

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