Hiking The Koyasan Choishi Michi Pilgrimage Trail

Hiking The Koyasan Choishi Michi Pilgrimage Trail

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 my friend Liz from Lizzie meets World 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…

Koyasan chōishi-michi pilgrimage trailChoishi Michi Pilgrimage trail Koyasan

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.

Koyasan Choishi Michi Pilgrimage Trail

Start early

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…

Koyasan Choishi Michi Trail

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.

Koyasan Choishi Michi Trail

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.

Koyasan Choishi Michi hike

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…

Bears at Koyasan Choishi Michi Trail

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

Toiletries

  • Hair brush
  • Deodorant
  • Contacts and glasses
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Plasters/Band-Aids
  • 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)

Documents

  • Passport
  • Debit card
  • Credit card
  • Enough cash (you can’t pay with cards at Koyasan Guesthouse)

Miscellaneous

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.

Lowa Lady Light GTX hiking shoes

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.

Guesthouse Mount Koya backpacker budget accommodation Koyasan

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.

At Koyasan

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.

Hiking The Koyasan Choishi Michi Pilgrimage Trail

How much does a trip to Koyasan cost?

Transport

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.

Accommodation

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.Hiking the 24 km Koyasan Choishi Michi pilgrimage trail in Japan was an amazing experience, fog was drifting through the forest, damping the sound of our footsteps and creating a mysterious atmosphere… Read about important things to know about the hike (don’t forget to bring a bear bell), transportation, what to pack, where to stay at Mt. Koya and how much it costs! Hiking the 24 km Koyasan Choishi Michi pilgrimage trail in Japan was an amazing experience, fog was drifting through the forest, damping the sound of our footsteps and creating a mysterious atmosphere… Read about important things to know about the hike (don’t forget to bring a bear bell), transportation, what to pack, where to stay at Mt. Koya and how much it costs!

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30 Comments

  1. December 5, 2016 / 12:13 pm

    The cost seems really low. This is amazing. I know accommodation here is crazy expensive usually. We want to go but aren’t too sure yet.

    • Lotte
      Author
      December 5, 2016 / 2:58 pm

      Hiking is one of the cheapest activities when traveling (and one of the best;-). I did a lot of research to find an affordable place to stay on Mount Koya and Koyasan Guesthouse is the only one I found, the prices for the temple accommodations are absolutely crazy…

  2. Ella
    March 21, 2017 / 11:51 pm

    Thank you for such DETAILED information, I cannot wait to try this in the summer!

    • Lotte
      Author
      March 22, 2017 / 9:19 am

      You are very welcome! Enjoy the hike, it’s a really special experience…

  3. Walailuck Borrell
    April 17, 2017 / 6:51 am

    It sounds fantastic. We plan to visit during Olympic 2020 with 2 teenagers. Your travel plan is great with mixture of city and nature. I’m aware of costs during that time so we’re saving madly. If you have any suggestion, please do.

    • Lotte
      Author
      April 17, 2017 / 7:31 am

      Thanks Walailuck, glad you like my culture-nature itinerary:-). Your plans sound awesome, how cool to visit the Olympics! What kind of suggestion are you looking for? How to cut the costs or about the travel itinerary? Enjoy your trip!

  4. Sueli Tame
    September 3, 2017 / 7:57 pm

    Very good information. Saved me a lot of research. Many thanks!

    • Lotte
      Author
      September 3, 2017 / 11:03 pm

      You are most welcome! Enjoy the hike:-)

  5. Tim Jolly
    September 4, 2017 / 12:09 am

    Hey there. Amazing post, planning to now do this walk on October. Thank you.

    I have a couple of questions:

    – It is not clear to me how to get back from daimon to a station to return – how would you recommend doing this?

    – if we plan to travel from Kyoto and complete the walk in a day, do you thin this is achievable? – I am fit and enjoy walking.

    Thanks !

    • Lotte
      Author
      September 4, 2017 / 5:31 pm

      Hi Tim,

      Thank you for reading the post and for your questions. Once you reached the Daimon Gate in Koyasan Village you can take a bus to the cable car station. The buses don’t run that often (you can find more info here: http://www.rinkan.co.jp/global/en/timetable/) and stop early in the day. Which brings me to your next question, yes you could probably travel from Kyoto and complete the hike on the same day However, I highly doubt if you could make it back to Kyoto the same day. Do you intent to stay the night at Koyasan? I recommend to do so, that way you’ll be able to do the hike on day 1 and explore the village and temples on day 2.

      Hope this helps, let me know if you have any further questions!
      Lotte

  6. Tim Jolly
    September 5, 2017 / 10:03 pm

    Great thank you!

    I think we will travel into the walk from Kyoto, complete the walk, get the bus from Daimon back to Koya San. To be clear the would you recommend doing the bus back to Koya San after the walk, or is it worth sticking for a night in Daimon?

    Thank you so much again for the advice!

    Tim

    • Lotte
      Author
      September 5, 2017 / 10:09 pm

      Hi Tim,

      You are welcome:-). I’m not sure what you mean, do you mean the Daimon Gate? Because that gate is already in Koyasan, it’s not a separate village. I would do the Koyasan trail and spend the night in Koyasan, do some sightseeing in the morning and travel back to Kyoto in the afternoon. Have a great trip!

      Lotte

  7. Liz
    September 15, 2017 / 8:40 am

    Hello,
    I am travelling to Japan for the first time next year during May and am torn between doing this or a hike within the Kumano Kodo.
    With your hike above can you please confirm you started from Osaka, did the walk and stayed the night in Mount Koyasan. The next day you travelled back to Osaka?
    Thanks!
    Liz

    • Lotte
      Author
      September 15, 2017 / 11:05 pm

      Hi Liz,

      Very cool you’re going to Japan, I’m sure you’ll love it… I haven’t done the Kumano Kodo trail (or parts of it) but can only tell you the Koyasan trail is very worthwhile. You are correct, I took an early train from Osaka, did the hike and spent the night in Koyasan. The next day I explored the village in the morning and traveled back to Osaka in the afternoon.

      Good luck choosing between the trails (or do both;-).
      Lotte

  8. September 30, 2017 / 10:38 am

    Thank you for the information, it’s really helping me organizing the trip! Well done! 🙂 J.

    • Lotte
      Author
      September 30, 2017 / 8:20 pm

      Very welcome! I hope you have a nice trip and hike:-)

  9. melanie
    November 25, 2017 / 10:57 pm

    Hi, Thanks for al the great info! I am wondering if you know if this hike would be possible in the middle of april?
    Melanie

    • Lotte
      Author
      November 25, 2017 / 11:45 pm

      Hi Melanie,

      Very welcome:-). We did the hike at the start of May so I don’t think mid-April would be a problem. Perhaps you’ll need a long-sleeve but if you take layers you should be fine. Enjoy the hike!

      Lotte

      • melanie
        December 2, 2017 / 7:01 pm

        Awesome thanks so much for your help

        • Lotte
          Author
          December 2, 2017 / 10:41 pm

          Very welcome Melanie! Enjoy the trail:-)

  10. Ellie
    February 26, 2018 / 12:00 pm

    Hi! Thank you for this article! I visited Koya-san a few years back and has ever since dreamt of coming back via the hiking trails. Your article saved me lots of researched and quite frankly, all that I have found is really discouraging! So thank you for telling me this can be done. I have a question about shoes: do you feel that the trail demanded as sturdy boots as you were having or would a pair of even more light weight boots suffice? How was the maintainance of the track, was it stoneladden/gravel/earthen? Did much water/mud accumulate on it during the rain?

    • Lotte
      Author
      February 27, 2018 / 9:12 pm

      Hi Ellie,

      Glad you like the post:-) Koya-san truly is a magical place… Awesome you are planning to return there! About your questions:

      – Shoes: I was wearing my hiking shoes but I do feel you can do the trail on lightweight shoes as well. However, that does depend on the condition of the trail, if it has been raining heavily I definitely recommend proper hiking boots.
      – Track maintenance: the trail is well maintained and easy to follow because of the beautiful stone signposts (or chôishi) set at 109-meter intervals. Mostly earthen track, some parts are a bit stony and several parts were a bit muddy and slippery but nothing too bad.

      Hope this helps! Enjoy the trail and Koya-san:-)
      Lotte

      • Ellie
        February 28, 2018 / 6:52 am

        That helps alot. Thank you!

        • Lotte
          Author
          February 28, 2018 / 8:29 am

          Awesome:-) Have a great hike!

  11. Benita
    April 16, 2018 / 11:34 am

    Hey there!

    Amazing tips for this hike. My partner and I are going to follow in your foot steps mid May this year! Did you need to book ahead for this guest house?
    And is it easy to get back to Oaska from Koyasan?

    Cheers for the info!

    • Lotte
      Author
      April 25, 2018 / 3:19 pm

      Hi Benita,

      Thanks for reading and great you’ll be hiking this trail:-). Yes, you need to book ahead for the guest house, since it’s pretty much the only budget option (and a very nice place to stay) in Koyasan its often fully booked.

      Yes, it’s easy to get back to Osaka from Koyasan, you can take the cable car from Koyasan to Gokuraku-bashi station and hop aboard the train to Osaka.
      Enjoy your hike!

      Lotte

  12. Tess
    April 19, 2018 / 10:29 am

    Thanks for the great article! It was super helpful 🙂

    I have a slightly odd question — do you know if there is any rule against doing it backwards, given it is a pilgrimage trail? We have booked a night at Koyasan guesthouse (it’s all booked full now) but there is heavy rain forecast for the day we would arrive. I’m wondering if we could keep the booking at Koyasan but hike out toward Kudoyama station (and then get the train back to Osaka in the evening) the next day instead. Any thoughts?

    Thanks!!

    • Lotte
      Author
      April 25, 2018 / 3:16 pm

      Hi Tess,

      Thanks, happy to hear you found the post helpful:-). About your question, I’m not aware of any rules prohibiting the hike in reverse. But perhaps you can ask in your accommodation in Osaka or the hotel/hostel you have booked in Koyasan, they may be able to advice you?

      In any case, enjoy your hike and stay at Koyasan, it’s a magical place…
      Lotte

  13. Facundo Rife
    June 18, 2018 / 11:16 pm

    Hello!

    This a great post, really useful I’m travelling with my brother this December to Japan and we really want to enjoy some natural attractions. We don’t want just a city-tourist travel and we thought that the Koyasan Pilmigrage trail is perfect for us as we are not experts hikers. My question is: do you think it’s possible to make it on winter with the correct gear? We saw that it’s not a snowy area.

    Thanks a lot!
    Greetings from Argentina.

    • Lotte
      Author
      June 21, 2018 / 8:16 am

      Hi Facundo,

      Thanks for reading, I’m happy to hear you like the post:-) About your question, I think it would be okay to do the track in winter if you have proper hiking gear and clothing… Nevertheless, you may want to check with your guest house/hotel when booking accommodation in Koyasan and ask about the condition of the trail. Enjoy your trip to Japan!

      Lotte

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