Just twenty minutes on a train from Yamagata City sits the tiny town of Yamadera, nestled into a river valley and surrounded by rolling mountains. Meander from the train station across the river to arrive at the path to Yamadera’s mountain top temple. Climbing up a thousand steps that twist through cedar trees up the slope of the mountain, you will finally arrive at the summit. At the top you can visit several different halls and religious buildings and enjoy sweeping views over the town and surrounding hillsides.
If you go: Yamadera is accessible to rail travelers via the Yamadera Station, a 7 minute walk from the entrance to the mountain path. Entrance fee is ¥300. For those lucky roadtrippers, stay in nearby Murayama at this incredible guest house (they now have a private cabin as well) that is part hostel part rice shop. The family that owns it are some real characters and very welcoming; they even invited us to share a pot of nabe on our first night. The guest house promotes an instant sense of community, thanks in large part to the communal kitchen and outdoor showers! Nearby you can visit this flower garden and take a boat out on the nearby Higashizawatame Pond. This was our favorite part of a ten day roadtrip through northern Japan. We arrived right at golden hour and the spontaneous boat ride was an hour of pure magic. When the sun set we were on the western edge of the lake, so as we paddled back east to boat house we magically saw the sun set a second time! No wrong turns in Japan, even in a boat.