While the Yamadera temple is very popular, just a few knows about the trail that starts close to the next train station Omoshiroyama. This hike will give you a different approach and it will bring you through a narrow valley far from the crowds. Following a small stream surrounded by waterfalls and a thick forest, prepare yourself for a long but compelling hike before the final ascent of the sacred mountain.
Once you get off at Omoshiroyama station, cross the bridge over the tracks and follow the steep path that goes down to the river. You will soon find a metal staircase and a first small overpass to the opposite bank. This will be just the first of several bridges you will run into during your hike. Narrow sections with steps carved into the rock alternate to wide and easy going ones. In the hardest parts a rope runs aside the path to help you keep your balance. The surrounding nature and the constant sound of flowing water creates a peaceful atmosphere. Bugs buzz around and the gently wind blows through the valley. Furthermore, if you go in autumn, you will find warm red and orange hues too.
The path comes to an end in about 4 km when it intersects a small country road surrounded by a thick forest. Despite not being an actual trail the walk is still really pleasant as you likely won't meet any car on your way. It will be only the sounds of your steps, the birds chirping and the wind blowing through the trees. Reaching the town will take you roughly another 45 minutes. Once arrived grant yourself a deserved break and get ready for conquering the Risshakuji Temple.
This popular destination deserves its fame, the whole complex is impressive. An incredibly long stairway connects more than twenty different buildings and climbs up till the highest one. During the weekend expect the place to be pretty crowded, even though the atmosphere is still undoubtedly magical. Ancient trees tower over the path for almost its whole length. Several statues guide you along the way, some hidden to the distracted visitor other bigger and right aside the steps. The more you get into the forest the more nature seems trying to regain its own territory. Moss covers the worn out sculptures and the trees roots spread on everything.
Take your time to appreciate the small details; don't rush up to the top. Observe the diversity of plants and flowers that naturally decorates the surroundings. The thousands inscriptions carved into the rocks and the coins left into the cracks. Look straight up and admire the complex pattern formed by the huge trees protecting this sacred place since a long time.
Getting close to the summit the forest thins out leaving space to smaller trees and bare stone. The climb symbolically comes to an end at the terrace of the Godai Do. The panoramic view over the below town and forest is the perfect conclusion for this amazing hike.
Tip: be prepared for the hike, although not difficult, in case of heavy rainfall the water level can rise over the trail and make it impossible to walk. In going on a hot day remember to get something to drink.
The Omoshiroyama Kogen station is easily reachable from Yamagata main station in about 30 minutes on the Senzan Line. As the temple closes the access to the long stairway at 5 PM, you should plan to arrive in Yamadera early enough to climb up to the summit.