Yatsubuchi no Taki - A Spectacular Day Hike from Kyoto
Yatsubuchi no Taki to Bunagatake Hike
As a country that is 70%+ mountains, getting off the beaten track and onto a single mountain trail is a must for lovers of the outdoors. The most famous hike you can do is, of course, Mt Fuji. However for those looking for something a little more ‘serenity’ and a little less ‘conga line’, the Yatsubuchi no Taki hike, a thrilling climb alongside (and sometimes up) stunning waterfalls to a peak overlooking Lake Biwa and doable as a day trip from Kyoto could be the one for you.
We did the Yatsubuchi no Taki hike as an out and back 12.5 km loop also taking in the peak of Mt Bunagatake.
How to get there
Make your way from Kyoto on the JR Kosei line to Omi Takashima. From there, during the climbing season from April to November, there is a bus that runs to the Gulliver Youth Holiday Village (ガリバー青少年旅行村). It runs on weekends and public holidays departing Omi Takashima at 9:04, 9:29 and 10:28. There is a weekday bus also however, the bus stop on this route is 3km from Gullivers.
Once you reach Gulliver’s the fun is about to begin. Head out from the reception building and take the path to the left of the yellow box. After about 500m you will find the start of the real trail, marked by a route map ominously dotted with warning signs and skull and crossbones. Seriously, though, due to the nature of the hike with chains, ladders and wet slippery rocks accidents have happened here and some have been fatal. However, with a decent pair of shoes, a healthy respect for hazards and the water levels, and a keen set of eyes to spot the pink ribbon trail markers (or a much better map than we had), all should be well.
About 20m into the trail, is the first turn off to a waterfall. If you head down this trail, you will come to the Shoji Falls (障子ヶ滝), a sign warning beginner hikers to turn back and the trail that follows the waterfalls up the gorge. We didn’t know this and our map (a strava print out!) didn’t show this route so we skipped the turn off and continued up hill along some very skinny trails and past landslide sites until we reached the first river crossing. Here you have another choice of following the trail up the waterfalls or heading away onto the mountain trail. Again, following our map, we took the mountain path, this was certainly the more obvious route! Then the climbing started for real. I knew from a quick look at the map that we were in for some pretty steep sections but I was still not prepared for the next two kilometres of almost relentless climbing, with gradients as steep as 49% at times. The forest maples in their summer greenery were worth it though and parts of the track were perfumed by a sweet smelling hydrangea variety.
At 3.5 km, we reached a plateau, Hirotani (広谷), and paused in a shady area by a stream which looked perfect for camping. I know above, I suggested this track was peaceful, and it was, but my goodness, between the birds, cicadas and flowing streams I was surprised by just how deafening nature can be! Here there was a choice of two paths one to Yakumogahara (八雲が原) and the other to Bunagatake (武奈ヶ岳) both directions will get you to the peak of Bunagatake eventually, given our map situation, we chose the one with the Bunagatake symbols just to be sure. This path follows the plateau for about a kilometre before the final 1.5 kilometre climb along a ridge to the peak of bunagatake. As we came closer to the top, the trees thinned out and we shared the walk with hundreds, no, thousands of dragonflies. Here the with views started spreading out before us and we realised just how far we had climbed.
We shared the peak with about a dozen other hikers over the hour we sat in one of the best lunch spots you could ask for and enjoyed the view. Due to the many trails in the area, we came across only half a dozen people on the trails themselves.
On the way down, we set off down the south side of the peak and made our way out to Yakumogahara before following the crystal clear streams and waterfalls of all shapes and sizes down the gorge. There were sections with ropes and chains here as well as couple of questionable log bridges. I would suggest you check the anchoring of some of these ropes before relying on them too heavily. We found one anchoring post that was broken and merely balancing between rocks at the other side of a bridge!
Finally, nearly back to the beginning we took the turn off we had skipped in the morning to visit one last set of falls and reflect on the day. Despite being exhausted with legs that felt like lead, this was truly a highlight of my many trips to Japan (and a tick off my Japan bucket list) for both the natural beauty and the physical challenge.
Things to note
- The hike took us about 7 hours in total, which included lots and lots of photo stops and around an hour on the peak. This is a challenging hike. Where it is not slippery and wet, it is often loose and rocky and it is steep so wear a sturdy set of shoes.
- Carry sufficient water for the hike.
- Speaking of water, if there has recently been significant rainfall in the area, seek proper information and don’t attempt the hike until water levels are safe.
- Take extra care on the log bridges, ropes and chains, they may not be as secure as they appear.
- There are warning signs for snakes (of which we saw one, though not the dreaded mamushi) so tread carefully. While there were not warning signs for bears, some hikers did have bells.
- Keep you eyes open for trail markers, there are times when the trail seems to disappear, we wandered off course a few times before spotting a pink ribbon and re-routing.
- Take a decent map or trail description, this hike as a one way route is in a Lonely Planet hiking in Japan guidebook, this might be a good place to start, I didn’t find a good map online despite searching in Japanese. As you can see above, some of the trail signs are broken and have fallen on the ground so it is good to have a map just to be sure they have been placed pointing in the correct direction!
- If taking public transport, check the bus times and routes before departing, while the information above is current as of July 2017, it may change.
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