Nara is a hiker's dream. From the World Heritage Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route to some of Japan’s most beautiful and challenging mountains, there’s plenty to get your heart racing.
There are also many ancient routes and trails for novice hikers and casual walkers. You don’t even need to leave Nara City to journey back to discover an ancient forest. The 11.5km course that runs through Mt. Kasuga Primeval Forest takes in ancient cedars, colourful maples and offers vistas out over Nara Park and the city below.
Mt. Kasuga Primeval Forest
The World Heritage Mt. Kasuga Primeval Forest, which is behind Kasugataisha Shrine, has remained virtually untouched since hunting and logging were prohibited in AD 841. The forest was off-limits to the public until after WWII, which has helped preserve its rare flora and fauna. Now, anyone can hike the the nature trail running through the forest.
Beginnning the Kasugayama Mountain Trail at the south entrance behind Kasugataisha Shrine allows you to loop up through the forest and finish at a quaint, thatched teahouse near the north entrance, in the central part of the park. The whole hike can be completed in a little over two hours.
There are around 800 species of plants that you can see walking through the forest. If you’re lucky, you might catch sight of white-cheeked flying squirrels or the rare Loomis butterfly with its vivid blue wings.
Among the species of plants, you will notice an abundance of cedars. In the 16th century, ruling warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi ordered around 10,000 cedar trees to be planted in the forest.
Beautiful maple trees abound in the forest. In autumn, they blaze red along the path. A short distance from the start of the trail, Myokengu Shrine is a particularly beautiful spot to take in the autumn foliage.
The trail through the sacred forest is dotted with shrines and small Buddhist statues such as Jizo statues, often seen decorated with red hats and bibs. This Buddhist deity is known as the protector of children and of travellers. Always carved from stone, they watch over us as we endure dangerous journeys, marking the boundary between the physical and spiritual worlds.
Smaller trails branch off of the main trail, giving you the option to explore waterfalls and connect to the the old Yagyu Road, which leads to the former village of the Yagyu sword makers. Many samurai trod this road seeking superior blades. Following the main trail will bring you out at the top of Mt. Wakakusa, with its sweeping views over Nara.
From Mt. Wakakusa, double back a little to take the path down to the north entrance. There you will find Mizuyachaya, a small cafe serving refreshments and light meals: perfect after working up an appetite from walking.