Kūya-no-Taki Falls | A Beautiful Day Hike in Kyoto
There is so much history in Kyoto and tons to see and explore, making it a popular tourist destination year-round. Obviously, that means that pretty much anywhere you go you’re going to run into CROWDS.
This is doubly so during long weekends and extended holidays like Golden Week, which happens around the end of April and beginning of May. So, when my boyfriend came to spend a few days with me here in Kyoto this past Golden Week, we knew we would not be hitting any of the major temples or tourist areas. Instead, we decided we would head out of the city and maybe do a little hiking.
On doing a little research, we discovered that there is a nice hiking trail through Mt. Takao (高雄山), which takes you along a gorgeous crystal-clear river to beautiful shrines and even a waterfall, all just a 45-minute bus ride from the city center. That, we knew, would be right up our alley.
It’s an easy hike suitable for beginners, with mostly flat trails and few inclines. Can be completed in less than 2 hours.
Take a JR bus from the JR3 stop at Kyoto Station, bound for Toganoo (栂ノ尾) or Shuzan (周山). Busses bound for Ritsumeikan Daigaku (立命館大学) do not go all the way to Takao. Be sure to have some coins or 1000-yen notes with you, as the change machine on board will not accept anything larger. Note that the 1-Day City Bus Pass is also not accepted on JR buses. You will be taken outside of the city center, past Ritsumeikan University, and into the mountains. Get off at the Yamashirotakao (山城高雄) stop (which was only announced as Takao [高雄] on the bus), which will let you out at a little rest area at the beginning of the trail. There are some vending machines selling drinks, and at least one small eatery selling soba and udon noodles, just in case you want to eat something before setting off on your hike. Toilet facilities are located along the trail, about a 5 to 10 minutes’ walk from the start.
The Trail to Kūya-no-Taki Falls
There is a sign pointing out the start of the trail, which will lead you downward into a forested valley to the Kiyotaki-gawa River. You’ll pass by some eerily cool abandoned buildings, before heading across a bright red bridge on your left leading over the beautiful clear waters of the river you will be following most of the way. Just beyond the bridge, there is a hotel and rest area right where the trail splits. We took the trail to the left, following along the river, but if you have time for a little sightseeing detour, you can head to the right, following the trail up the stairs to see Jingo-ji Temple (神護寺).
Following the trail on the left along the river with the hotel on your right, you will find the toilets just past the hotel building. The trail continues on, crossing left over the river again just past a small dam. You will follow along the river for a while, before coming to a junction, where a smaller trail leads off towards Arashiyama. Keep to the main trail, following the sign pointing to Kiyotaki (清滝).
After a while, the trail will lead you down to a narrow bridge over the river. This is a great area to take a short break, whether you head down to the gravel bank to dip your hands or feet in the cool water, or have a sit at the picnic tables just on the other side of the bridge. Continue following the trail with the river on your left now. There are some stony areas you’ll have to tread over, so be careful of your footing. You’ll cross another bridge at a point where another river flows into the Kiyotaki. You will then follow the trail up a slight incline into the mountain, until you reach the top where you will find an asphalt road. To get to Kūya-no-Taki Falls, you will want to take the trail to the right, indicated by a sign pointing towards Tsukinowa Temple (月輪寺).
Follow the trail through the cedar forest. This is a relatively quiet, peaceful part of the hike, as you no longer hear the rushing of the river beside you. The trail continues for a while at a slight incline, and at one point you will reach another junction where a rough, narrow path leads off to the left up the mountain and a path to the right leads past a gated area down to the river. Continue straight, following the paved path. Eventually you will come to a small parking area and a shed of sorts made of corrugated metal on your left, indicating the trail to Tsukinowa Temple. To get to the falls, follow the path to the left along the creek and up the stone steps. You will see a little stone marker at the start of the steps indicating Kūya-no-Taki (空也滝).
The stairs continue onward and upward for a while, leading you through a serene forest with the creek rushing along to your left. As you near the falls, you will pass under a plain stone torii gate (Shinto shrine entrance) and through some old, seemingly abandoned buildings. You will then climb one final stone staircase. At the top is a red torii gate, just beyond which is the scenic Kūya-no-Taki. Congratulations, you’ve made it!
The falls are named after the priest Kūya, who lived in early tenth-century Japan. It is said he performed asceticisms here, and even today monks continue to practice meditation under the falls. Even during Golden Week, other hikers were sparse. We made it to the falls just as another couple were leaving, and were able to enjoy the surroundings uninterrupted for a good 15 minutes before another couple of hikers made it up the trail. This particular hiking trail is most popular in the fall, when all of the maple leaves are turning a fiery red. It is a gorgeous hike no matter the season, but if you’re looking to avoid the crowds you may want to keep that in mind.
Follow the path back the way you came. If you’d like to make the trek up to Tsukinowa Temple that is an option, or you can continue along the trail back through the cedar forest and to the asphalt road. Follow the road to the right and down the mountain until it leads you back to the Kiyotaki River. You will come to a bridge on your left, which leads to a parking lot, vending machines, and toilets. This is a good chance to refresh before heading to the bus that will take you back to the city.
The bus stop is about a 10-minute walk past the parking lot, following the road up the mountain. You will see a house on the right, selling drinks and udon noodles, next to which is the bus stop. Busses all the way to Kyoto Station run only a couple of times per day, in the morning only, so you will want to take the bus to Arashiyama (嵐山) and transfer there to wherever you need. When you get off the bus in Arashiyama, there are a number of delicious restaurants in the area, as well as a hot foot bath connected to a small café which you can enter for just a couple hundred yen – a great way to finish up your hike and treat your tired feet!
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