One of the coolest things of my 1 month trip to Japan was hiking the Koyasan Choishi Michi pilgrimage trail. I learned about this trail via a friend who lived in Japan and gave me some awesome insider advice.
I love hiking and being outdoor and thus it was a no-brainer: we would hike the Choishi Michi trail. But… it wasn’t so easy to find information about the trail. Well, perhaps in Japanese there is lots of info, but unfortunately I don’t speak Japanese.
I spent many evenings trying to figure out if it was possible to hike the trail in May, if we could store our big backpacks in lockers at a train station, how long the hike would take, etc. The most useful resource I found was this map, but other than that information was scarce.
That didn’t deter me and my husband from hiking the trail anyway and it was so worth it! Hiking the trail was magical, we were the only ones on the track and fog was drifting through the forest, damping the sound of our footsteps and creating a mysterious atmosphere…
Hiking Koyasan Choishi Michi pilgrimage trail: important things to know
Duration of the hike
We completed the entire trail within 6 hours, starting at Kudoyama station and finishing our hike at Okunoin cemetery. It took 5 hours to get to the Daimon gate, which is already part of Koyasan town. The map says the duration of the hike is 7 hours and 10 minutes; however, even if you take more breaks than we did, you’ll probably be able to finish the trail in less than 7 hours.
It’s not a difficult hike, the total elevation is 800 meters but most of the climbing is in the first 5 kilometers.
That being said, I do recommend to start your hike early. We took the 8.22 train from Shin-Imamiya Station in Osaka and would have been able to start the hike before 10am, had we departed the train at the correct train station. Which we did not…
Starting point of the hike
This leads me to my next point: exit the train at Kudoyama station! This is the starting point of the Choishi Michi track, not Gokuraku-bashi station. We rode the train all the way to Gokuraku-bashi, which is the final station.
At Gokuraku-bashi you can take the cable car to the top of Mount Koya if you don’t want to hike. If you prefer a shorter hike, according to the friendly Japanese railway employee you can hike to Koyasan from Gokuraku-bashi station, he said it would take about an hour.
Finding the way
I downloaded a copy of this map on my phone but it’s not really necessary to have a map. One of the coolest things about the Koyasan Choishi Michi pilgrimage trail: it’s marked by 180 stone signposts (or chôishi) set at 109-meter intervals.
Take a bear bell!
Take a bear with you! I didn’t know this but there are bears in the Koyasan area. We had bought a bear bell before our trip to Japan, but mostly for our time on Hokkaido. I had no idea there are bears on Honshu as well! When we were at approximately 2/3rd of the hike, signs at the side of the trail appeared with warnings that many bears had been spotted in the area recently…
We spent the rest of the trail chatting a little more and a little louder than we usually do (basically, we tried to be as noisy as possible?).
Hiking Koyasan Choishi Michi pilgrimage trail: what to wear and pack
My packing list
We both only carried our day pack on the hike. I always take my Nomad Topaz 20liter bag because it’s the perfect size for a day or weekend trip. Or hiking Mount Koya. Here’s what I wore/what was in my pack:
Clothes and shoes
- Lowa Lady Light GTX (read my review here)
- 1 pair of hiking pants
- Hiking top
- Thin lightweight jacket
- Rain poncho (we walked in the rain the first 30 minutes and hiking when you’re cold and wet is no fun. Make sure you also have a waterproof cover for your daypack, having wet back-up clothes is even less fun?).
- Zipper hoodie
- Short-sleeved t-shirt
- 1 pair of shorts
- Flip-flops (not necessary, provided at Koyasan Guesthouse)
- 2 pair of hiking socks
- Underwear and something to sleep in
- Hair brush
- Contacts and glasses
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Betadine antiseptic
- Lush solid shampoo bar (not necessary, provided at Koyasan Guesthouse)
- Ear plugs and eye mask (not necessary, it was very quiet at Koyasan Guesthouse)
- Debit card
- Credit card
- Enough cash (you can’t pay with cards at Koyasan Guesthouse)
- Travel sheet (not necessary, Koyasan Guesthouse is very clean)
- Travel adapter
- iPhone 6s
- Kobo Glo e-reader
- 1 packing cube containing all my clothes and toiletries
- Add a bear bell to this list!
You’ll notice there isn’t a towel on the list, we paid ¥100 per person to use a freshly washed towel at Koyasan Guesthouse.
Where to store your other stuff
We spent the night before hiking the Koyasan Choishi Michi trail at Osaka, in Backpackers Hotel Toyo and left our big backpacks there for the night we spend at Koyasan. The next day we traveled back from Koyasan to Osaka, picked up our bags at the hostel and continued to our next destination: Kyoto. As there are no lockers at Kudoyama station, I feel this is a good option if your hostel allows it.
Koyasan: spending the night and finding food
Where to stay
We stayed at Koyasan Guesthouse and I absolutely loved this place. The owners, Ryochi and Yuri, want Koyasan to be affordable for every traveler, which is why they started Koyasan Guesthouse. Read more about their philosophy on the website.
Koyasan Guesthouse is a lovely place to stay. The design of the hostel is beautiful, clean and white with artsy items. The 1 person capsules are clean and spacious, each one has its own socket and the beds are very comfortable. We paid ¥3500 per capsule.
What about food?
On the track
It’s important to bring enough food with you as you cannot buy anything along the track (it goes through the forest, no shops there). There are some vending machines in Yadate (there are vending machines everywhere in Japan, apparently the country has the highest rate of vending machines per capita in the world) but these only contain drinks. We bought food and plenty of water at the 7-11 in Osaka before boarding the train.
We had both dinner and breakfast at Koyasan Guesthouse, all the food was delicious… For dinner we had an amazing Thai curry and breakfast included freshly baked bread. We paid ¥900 per person for dinner and ¥600 per person for breakfast.
How much does a trip to Koyasan cost?
We bought a 2-day Koyasan Heritage ticket, which costs ¥2860 per person (¥5720 in total). This included the train ride from Osaka to Kudoyama (or Gokuraku-bashi if you don’t want to hike), the cable car up to Mount Koya and all the buses in Koyasan and vice versa for the return journey. Read more about the Koyasan Heritage ticket here. Check Hyperdia for the train time table and prices, I used this website all the time in Japan.
Our stay at Koyasan Guesthouse (plus towels) was ¥3600 per person (¥7200 in total).
Food & drinks
Total costs for food was ¥5747 for the two of us together:
- Breakfast and food for the hike bought at 7-11 ⇒ ¥2417 in total
- Coffee at Koyasan Family Mart ⇒ ¥330 in total
- Dinner at Koyasan Guesthouse ⇒ ¥1800 in total
- Breakfast at Koyasan Guesthouse ⇒ ¥1200 in total
The total costs of our 2-day trip to Koyasan for us as a couple came down to ¥18667/€149/$170.
I hope I’ve convinced you to hike the Koyasan Choishi Michi pilgrimage trail, it really is a unique experience! Check out my other posts about Japan here.