In Japan, the cherry blossoms are highly anticipated by visitors and locals alike; however, they are not the only flowers that magnify the beauty of the scenery. I invite you to discover Mount Katsuragi’s Azaleas, in the south of the Nara prefecture.
History fans might want to visit the south of Nara prefecture to visit Asuka and nearby districts for artefacts relating to the era when it was the capital, but here you can also find Mount Katsuragi, whose attractions would please hikers and flower lovers alike.
Mount Katsuragi is located in the city of Gose. You can reach the mountain by bus from the Kintestu Gose or JR Gose station. During the azaleas blooming peak season, some people recommend an early arrival at the train station around 7 am and then take a taxi to the mountain to avoid the ropeway queues that can be over an hour wait if you take the first bus at 8:40 am. Other people prefer to walk the 4 km to the mountain to avoid the same queue for the bus. It is a similar story if you decide to go by car as parking can be hard to find, even on week-days.
The hiking trail is well marked and in a reasonable shape. While some sections are damaged, it does not represent a danger for the hikers. There are also other parts that are narrow or steep and you might have to wait for people coming the other way to pass before you could go. The trail named "Kujira-no-taki" is relatively easy and do not require special equipment. However, I would give one advice: wear shoes that are comfortable enough to walk for a long time on an uneven terrain. For experienced hikers with proper gear, there is also a harder trail called the North Ridge route.
From time to time, you will be able to steal a glimpse of the city between the trees, giving a nice preview of the panorama from the top, and from its 959 m summit, the mountain does indeed offer an impressive view on the region, with the city on one side and the mountains on the other.
Unfortunately for me, on the day of my visit the azalea were just starting to bloom, as the first week of May was way too early. Despite the lack of flowers, there was a lot of people on the mountain for a Friday, so I recommend that you take some food for the hike, as the small restaurant on top of the mountain was packed and it will most likely be the same when the flowers are blooming. If you want to enjoy the flowers at their peak, you should plan to go from the middle to the end of May.