One of the activities I had my heart set on last autumn was to hike the trail from Takao to Kiyotaki. The trail winds through a gorge known for its autumn colors, promising some nice views to shoot. Cathy loved the idea, and had high hopes that we could get some drone shots there.
Since the area is up in the mountains, we knew colors here would peak much earlier than in the rest of Kyoto so we planned to do it early in our trip; in fact, the day after we arrived. We caught Bus #8 for Takao at Sogaoka bus stop, from which it was only about 15 minutes to Takao.
We were already familiar with the start of the route, since we’d been to Jingoji before, but Typhoon Jebi threw us a curve ball. Instead of descending from the long stair just opposite Takao bus stop, we had to walk further up the road, around half a kilometer, to go down by another route as the long stair was under repair. We made our way down to the bottom by the bridge with the red posts, where the trail forks to Saimyoji and to Jingoji. We crossed the bridge and turned to take the hiking path (indicated by signs) instead of ascending to Jingoji, since for this trip we were determined to get our shots of the gorge while the morning light was still good. Doing Jingoji, or Jingoji and Saimyoji, would take time and the weather was predicted to turn that afternoon, so hiking in the afternoon was not an option.
The trail started easy, with a gentle slope and well-made path that led past tall cedars on the left and the laughing Kiyotaki River on our right. A little way down we found a little ceramic plate on the path that told me we were below Jingoji; the plate was a kawarake, a lightweight ceramic piece that you throw from Jingoji’s terrace to take your bad karma away. Soon we started finding all the color we’d been dreaming of; the maples here were indeed fantastic! They were beautifully set off by the rugged textures of the river’s rocks and water.
We looked for a way down to the river, as the path was running quite a ways above it, but we didn’t find a way to the water’s edge until some way further down. If I remember right this was the first time we had to scramble over a big rock that jutted into the trail. Not a difficult feat, but as I’m the exact opposite of a mountain goat it was a bit challenging! I’d recommend doing this trail only in good weather, as I wouldn’t climb that rock again if it was slick with rainwater. However, the river was indeed all that we wanted. Great rocks and reflections, and a nice sandbar to stand on and set up our tripods.
It was here that we attempted to fly the drone, but alas! It had a bug and was a no go. Very frustrating!
We instead spent the rest of the morning shooting after a little snack, then continued on the trail. We were able to get down to the riverside at another point, but here instead of the autumn leaves what caught our eye was the incredible blue color of the boulders across the water. I missed the road to Kuya no Taki falls, as I got confused and thought it should be on a trail a little further down instead of a road.
We ended up at Kiyotaki village at last, and spent another hour or so there taking photos below the bridge. The maples here were splendid. Cat and I debated whether or not to go back up and try to find Kuya no Taki falls or head for Arashiyama. Our growling stomachs decided the issue though, so we took the next bus to roll by for a very late lunch in Arashiyama.
I highly recommend this trail to anyone who loves nature, and specially to photographers. On an ideal day you could do the temples of Takao in the morning, have lunch in Takao where there are several restos with scenic seating by the river, then hike the trail so you can hit Kiyotaki, or if you’re a fast hiker, go as far down as the Hozukyo gorge, by golden hour.
You can reach Takao by Kyoto City Bus #8 from Shijo Karasuma, or the JR bus for Toganoo or Shuzan from Kyoto Station. The City Bus drops you off at Takao bus stop, and the JR Bus stops at the nearby Yamashirotakao bus stop. It’s about 50 minutes away from Kyoto Station.
Wear good walking or hiking shoes, and pack water and some snacks. I’d also recommend keeping a plastic bag for your trash, as there are no trash cans until you reach Kiyotaki. Let’s keep this wonderful nature trail as clean as we found it, please.
Do check the weather forecasts before going. You don’t want to be caught in this gorge by heavy rain or snow. Dress warmly if you’re going in autumn or spring.
The natural exit points for this hike are Kiyotaki or Hozukyo; from either, you can easily hop a bus or train to Arashiyama. You could even soak your tired legs after in one of Arashiyama’s onsen baths!
If you have allergies and you’re doing this in spring, you may want to bring a mask and meds; the entire gorge is lined with cedars, and Japanese cedar is notorious for its allergenic pollen.
My recommended loadout for this hike would include: an ultra-wide lens, a short telephoto, tripod, cable release or remote, CPL (cuts glare from the leaves and improves their color), and maybe a GoPro for video.
The colors along the trail are best within the first three weeks of November.