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Kyoto is rightfully famous for its beautiful temples and shrines. But, are you like us and get a little tired of seeing temple after temple? Thankfully, Kyoto is also a great place to go hiking with your family! Surrounded by lush, green mountains on all sides, Kyoto has many fun outdoor options to keep you and your kids sane between all the temple visits.
The timing of our trip was fortunate as our little guy was 14 months old and was quite content to be carried in a backpack carrier. Our daughter, who was 3 years old, enjoyed hiking but at times wanted to be carried so we brought a second backpack carrier to make it more comfortable for everyone when she got tired of hiking.
So, with two kids in backpack carriers and no stroller, here are the hikes we enjoyed during our week in Kyoto:
Fushimi Inari Shrine
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Always open and with no admission fee, Fushimi Inari is not only the most important shrine in Kyoto but it is also one of the top sites to visit in Kyoto. With thousands of brilliant orange and black torii gates lining the trail up Mount Inari, this will be an experience you and your family will not forget.
We arrived shortly after 8 am and we were surprised that the crowds were starting to arrive. After passing the main temple buildings, we started our journey through the torii gates. The trail started with stairs… oh so many stairs. The stairs are well maintained and flat, making it easy for younger kids with energy to walk up them.
It took us approximately 35 minutes to reach the Yotsutsuji intersection. Here, you can stop and treat the kids to a matcha ice cream (green tea flavor) while taking in the sweeping views of the city below. If you need to stop and feed the kids, this is an excellent place to stop as most of the small shrines along the way have signs that say no sitting on steps or curbs. This is the point where most people turn around, but we kept going and recommend you do as well.
At this stage, the crowds start to clear out and the torii gates become less frequent. The rest of the hike is a loop through the trees and is worth the effort. There aren’t any views at the top and the torii gates become less frequent, but you’ll enjoy a peaceful, beautiful forest hike. We took the kids out of the backpack carriers near the top so they could enjoy a bit of the hike without worrying about them getting in the way of the crowds.
As usual, getting out of a city allows the locals to relax and be themselves a bit more. The Japanese showcased their fondness for children on this hike. One sweet older lady stopped our daughter and gave her a fold-up fan, which she absolutely loved. And, our little guy decided to throw a tantrum near the very top, but a nice shopkeeper from a nearby teashop invited us in, which put a huge smile on his face!
When we arrived back down at the main shrine, thus completing our hike, we couldn’t believe how busy it was!! This can be one advantage of travelling with small kids, given that you can typically get to attractions ahead of the crowds. If you want any chance of getting your picture with the torii gates with no one else in the picture, get here as early as you can.
Fun activity for the kids: See how many fox statues your kids can find along the way. Foxes were thought to be Inari's messengers and many of the shrines have fox statues as a result.
Hike Stats: Starting and ending at the Fushimi-Inari subway station, it took us 2.5 hours to complete the 3.4m / 5.4km hike and our total elevation gain was 1017 ft / 310m.
Kurama to Kibune
Kurama and Kibune are small towns north of Kyoto which are separated by a densely forested mountain ridge. For the kids, taking the train to Kurama will be half the fun. Taking the Eizan Railway from the Demachiyanagi subway station to the Kurama Station is a stunning, above ground train ride which winds through the northern suburbs of Kyoto before entering a well-treed mountain valley.
Once at the Kurama station, you pass a series of souvenir stands on your way to the Kankiin Buddhist Temple. Here you have a choice of starting to hike or to take a cable-car part of the way up. The cable-car takes you to a short, reasonably flat pathway to the main temple complex. We skipped the cable-car and entered the Buddhist Temple complex to begin the hike.
The hike to Kurama-dera (the main temple) took us about 40 minutes and was very steep upwards with many stairs. It was too steep for our small kids, so we were grateful we could carry them in our backpack carriers! The hike winds through a beautiful dense, old growth forest which provides a lot of shade (very welcome on a hot, sunny day!). Thankfully, there are many small temple buildings, shrines and benches along the way which give you an excuse to stop and rest or to feed the kids.
Once up at the Kurama-dera temple, there are many good spots to stop for lunch or a snack (bring your own). Be sure to soak in the beauty of the complex and the views of the city below. When you are ready to continue hiking, follow the hiking path along to the left and follow the signs for Kibune. Watch for an English/Japanese sign for Kibune – when you see it, take a picture (or save this blog post) as all the signs beyond this point will be Japanese only.
When you reach the very top of the ridge, you have the option of continuing along the loop, which takes you back down to Kurama, or you can take an alternate path to Kibune. This trail is steep downwards and alternates between steps and a natural dirt pathway with lots and lots of tree roots. If they are capable, your kids will have fun walking over the cool looking roots.
Kibune is a charming little mountain town with a Buddhist Temple. From here you have the option of hiking back to the Kurama train station or you can take a short bus ride to Kibuneguchi Station, where you hop back on the Eizan Railway back to Kyoto (which is what we did). The bus stop is a 4 minute walk downhill from where the hiking path ends. Don’t forget to bring some pocket change for the bus.
Fun for kids: This one will be pretty easy, but see if the kids can spot Tengu – a “heavenly dog” found in Japanese folk religion and are considered a type of Shinto god. (They should see them in the souvenir stands in Kurama, very shortly after getting off the train.)
Hiking Stats: Starting from the Kurama rail station to the town of Kibune, it took us 2 hours and 6 minutes to hike the 2m3 / 3.3km trail. Our total elevation gain was 954ft / 291m.
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Monkey Park Iwatayama
Home to over 100 macaque monkeys, this hike is one of Kyoto’s most unusual attractions. This hike is short, but don’t be fooled – it’s hard work.
After crossing the Togetsukyō Bridge, we found the signage for the monkey park to be a bit confusing. Simply turn right after crossing the bridge and you will find the entrance to the park...
The pathway for this steep 20 minute climb is partly paved, but large sections were over dirt. The walk is well treed and we found it to be quite enjoyable. Near the top of this hike is a playground – keep this in mind when you need to bribe your kids to leave the monkeys on top…
At the top, you will find lots of people and monkeys standing around looking at each other. There is also a building with chicken-wire fence windows so you can "safely" feed the monkeys
A note on safety – watch your little ones closely as some of these monkeys are quite aggressive. Shortly after we got to the top, our daughter was standing a few feet from a monkey and a staff member came to chase it away, telling us it was aggressive. Later, we went inside and bought a small bag of peanuts for her so she could feed them from inside the building. She loved feeding the monkeys, who would reach in and grab a peanut out of her hand. One of the monkeys was visibly irritated and took a swipe at her face after grabbing the peanut. It missed, thankfully, but I was a lot more careful with how close she got from that point onwards.
Note: if you make this hike part of a larger outing to the Arashiyama district and you wish to bring a stroller with you, please note that strollers are not allowed on this hike. There is a a place to park your stroller within the park close to the ticket window.
Fun for the kids: See if they can hear or see a macaque monkey in the trees on the hike up to the top.
Stats: Starting from the entrance gate it took us about 20 minutes to climb the 0.6mi / 1km walk to the top. Total elevation gain was 446ft / 136m.
Every August, the Obon Festival is celebrated in Kyoto to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. The culmination of this festival is a series of five giant bonfires lit on the hillsides which surround the city. The fire lit on Mt. Diamonji-yama is one of the most popular as it is widely seen throughout the city. Lucky for us, Mt. Diamonji-yama is available throughout the rest of the year as a fun, short hike with great views of Kyoto.
To find the trailhead stand in front of the entrance of the Silver Pavilion. There will be a road on your left (going north). Simply follow this road…
One great thing about this short hike is its close proximity to Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion. This enables you to visit a beautiful temple and get some exercise in the same outing. The hike was, as we have found throughout Kyoto, really great with dense trees and the sounds of birds the whole way. The hiking trail was a combination of paved, natural path, concrete and wooden steps. It can be pretty steep in spots, but this hike was short enough that our 3yr old daughter nearly hiked the whole way up herself.
Depending on the day, you can get some pretty incredible views from the top and it’s a lot of fun to see the fire pits they use to create the Obon festival bonfires.
Hiking Stats: Each leg of this hike took us approximately 40 minutes to complete (1h20m round trip). We measured the hike to be 1.9mi / 3.1km and our total elevation gain was 1033 ft / 315m.
Fun for the kids: Our kids found some cool snails on this hike. See how many your kids can find!
This is the longest and highest hike of the bunch, but your efforts will be rewarded with a beautiful temple complex at the top with great views of the city.
The Daigoji Buddist temple is split into two parts: a lower temple (Shimo-Daigo) and an upper temple (Kami-Daigoji). This hike takes you up the mountain to the upper complex. To find the trailhead, stand in front of the main entrance to the lower temple and follow the road to your right. Take your first left and follow this path alongside the perimeter of the temple (watch for the famous 5 story pagoda between the trees!). Shortly after beginning the hike, you will come across the ticket office where you have to pay to enter the complex.
The hike was definitely a workout. It starts out with a modest incline, but then then it turns into mostly steps and then switchbacks. At this stage it’s an uphill grind to get to the top, but at least there were plenty of small temples, benches and/or fallen over trees to stop at along the way for a rest.
The upper temple complex was fun to explore and we found some benches in front of the main building to stop for a snack and enjoy the view and our surroundings. There was a great view from the highest temple and we were fortunate to see so many maple trees just starting to turn.
Hiking Stats: Starting from the trailhead near the Daigoji Buddist temple, the 4mi / 6.5km round-trip took us approximately 3 hours to complete. Our total elevation gain was 2,109ft / 643m.
Fun for kids: We found an extremely well camouflaged brown frog along the side of the trail. See if your kids can find one too!
PRACTICALITIES for hiking with kids in Kyoto
• None of these hikes are stroller friendly, even for strollers with big sports wheels. Bring a carrier of some sort instead. We use the Deuter Kid Comfort 3 (good for kids up to 40 lbs). If your child is still a baby, another good option is an Ergo baby carrier, which we used often when our kids were smaller.
• If you must use a stroller, check out our blog post on family friendly walks in Kyoto.
• Dress in layers. The temperature can be reasonably chilly in the mornings or in the deep shade of the forest, so you will want to bring jackets for everyone. But you will want to start shedding layers as the hikes start getting steep or the hot midday sun comes out.
• Bring enough water for the family, especially if the kids are going to join in and do some hiking. These hikes can get hard and it's easy to get thirsty in the hot Japan sun. We recommend bringing a few large water bladders such as a CamelBak or Platypus tucked away in your backpack or carrier.
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What was your favorite part of your family's Kyoto trip?
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