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Kumano Kodo Trail, japan walking holidays

Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Trail

Overview

The Kii Peninsula points south away from Kyoto and Osaka and is one of the most remote and mystical areas of Japan, despite its proximity to these great cities. On the Kii Peninsula are the three Grand Shrines of Kumano, pilgrimage destinations for successive emperors and their families from Kyoto since the 11th century. There were several pilgrimage trails, including the Nakahechi-do, Kohechi-do and Ohechi-do, collectively known as the Kumano Kodo (‘Old Road of Kumano’).

Our itinerary focuses on parts of the Nakahechi-do, weaving through forested mountains and small villages towards the Grand Shrine of Hongu.

  • The mystical Kii Peninsula
  • Grand Shrines of Kumano
  • The staple of Japanese culture – the hot springs (onsen)
  • Explore Kii-Katsuura’s lively fishing port
  • Pilgrims’ lodgings

Click to view map

Itinerary

Day 1: Travel to the Kii Peninsula, Hike Takijiri to Takahara | 4.5 km

Our tour includes train tickets for your journey from Kyoto or Osaka to the small town of Kii-Tanabe on the mystical Kii Peninsula, the gateway to the historic Kumano Kodo Trail. The railway line runs close to the ocean for the latter part of the journey and offers fine views out over the sea. The journey from Osaka to Kii-Tanabe is around two and a half hours; from Kyoto, it is around three hours and usually requires a change of trains at Shin-Osaka station.

Board a local bus outside Kii-Tanabe station and travel forty minutes to Takijiri. This is where your walk on the Nakahechi portion of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route begins. From Takijiri, the path climbs steadily to the ridge-top village of Takahara and takes around two hours. Stay tonight in a small, Japanese-style hotel in the tiny village of Takahara, or a Japanese Minshuku in the nearby village of Kurisugawa. Both options serve good, home-cooked dinners featuring local seasonal ingredients. The small Japanese-style hotel in Takahara has both Japanese and western-style rooms, all with beautiful views over the valley and mountains.

  • Accommodation: Minshuku in Kurisugawa or Japanese style lodge in Takahara
  • Walking for the day: 4.5 km, 2 hours ↑370 m (those who do not want to walk can be picked up by car)

Day 2: Takahara to Chikatsuyu | 10 km

After your Japanese breakfast, you leave your inn and follow the trail as it winds through small settlements and peaceful countryside. You pass several Oji shrines before finally descending to the village of Chikatsuyu. The paths are clearly defined, and flagstones have been laid in some places to make the climbs easier. Arrive in Chikatsuyu in time to relax before dinner at a family-run Minshuku guesthouse.

  • Accommodation: Minshuku in Chikatsuyu or Nonaka
  • Walking for the day: 10 km, 4-5 hours ↑480 m ↓520 m (those who do not want to walk can easily transfer by local bus – 30 min)

Day 3: Chikatsuyu to the Grand Shrine at Hongu | 24 km

From Chikatsuyu, the trail continues through the mountains to Hongu. The trail passes through small villages and forest trails over the Kii Mountains to the Kumano shrine at Hongu, one of the three ‘Grand Shrines of Kumano’. At the heart of these sacred mountains, Kumano was said to be the entrance to the land of Yomi, the ‘other world’ which spirits travelled to in Japanese mythology. From the Kumano shrine at Hongu, a short bus ride brings you to Yunomine Onsen, one of the oldest natural hot-spring villages in Japan, or Kawayu Onsen famous for the thermal water bubbling to the surface of the crystal clear river. Enjoy a relaxing soak in a Japanese bath before or after your delicious, multi-course dinner.

  • Accommodation: Ryokan in Yunomine Onsen or Kawayu Onsen
  • Walking for the day: 24 km, 8-9 hours ↑820 m ↓1140 m (we offer two shorter alternatives of 7 hours (15 km) or 2 hours (7 km), using a local bus from Chikatsuyu to shorten the walk; you can choose which option you prefer on the day – no need to decide in advance)

Day 4: Dainichigoe and Akagigoe | 9 km

Spend a leisurely second night in the picturesque hot-spring village of Yunomine Onsen or Kawayu Onsen part-way along the trail. On this day, we offer two different optional walks on new sections of the trail, which can be combined if you wish. Today’s shorter optional walk is 2 hours on the Dainichigoe trail between Yunomine Onsen and Hongu. You can walk both ways or ride one way by bus. Or combine the Dainichigoe trail with the Akagigoe trail for a satisfying full-day hike. We also offer unique cultural experiences, such as travelling by boat along the Kumano River, making your own traditional Japanese Washi paper or undertaking a spiritual meditation session.

  • Accommodation: Ryokan in Yunomine Onsen or Kawayu Onsen
  • Walking for the day: 9 km, 3-4 hours ↑610 m ↓585 m (longer option: 16 km, 5-6 hours)

Day 5: Ukegawa to Koguchi | 12.5 km

Before or after breakfast, take time to explore the atmospheric village where you spent the night. Today’s journey begins with a short bus ride to Ukegawa on the banks of the Kumano River. From Ukegawa, you start on the Kogumotorigoe path, which heads up to the Kogumotorigoe Pass before descending to the remote village of Koguchi. The trail is not difficult and today’s hike should take you about 4 hours. A warm welcome and good food await you at an engaging lodge created from a former school building. Explore along the river and have a swim if the weather is warm.

  • Accommodation: Japanese Lodge
  • Walking for the day: 12.5 km, 4-5 hours ↑520 m ↓500 m

Day 6: Nachi Grand Shrine and Waterfall | 15 km

The final section of the trail takes you from Koguchi up to the Ogumotorigoe Pass with a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. It then descends to Nachi-san, the location of Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine, one of the three Grand Shrines of Kumano and Nachi-taki waterfall. Stay overnight either in the small village of Nachi-san close to the shrine, or take a local bus for the twenty-minute ride to the port town of Kii-Katsuura with wonderful views over the island-studded bay. Enjoy dinner and breakfast served by your hosts at your accommodation.

  • Accommodation: Minshuku (family-run guesthouse) in Miuraguchi. This evening, we also offer an optional upgrade to an Onsen hotel, located on its own secluded island in Kii-Katsuura bay. This extension also enables you to join the tuna auction at the port on your final morning.
  • Walking for the day: 15 km, 6-7 hours ↑980 m ↓920 m

Day 7: Kii-Katsuura. Departure to Osaka or Kyoto | 14 km

Kii-Katsuura is an active fishing port and has a lively early morning fish market. Enjoy the views out over the island studded bay. There are intriguing backstreets and a traditionally covered shopping arcade to explore, too. We provide train tickets for you to board a train at lunchtime, travelling back around the Kii Peninsula and arriving in Osaka or Kyoto mid to late afternoon.

What to Expect

Accommodation

The following types of accommodation are used on this tour:

  • Hotel (Kyoto, Kii-Katsuura): A modern western-style hotel is used in Kyoto. The rooms are generally smaller than equivalent hotels in the West. Our city hotels have en-suite facilities, air-conditioning and TV; most have fridges in rooms. The hotel in Kii-Katsuura is a wonderful blend of Japanese and western styles; all rooms have Tatami mats and Futons laid out in the evening for sleeping. There are terrific indoor and outdoor communal thermal baths.
  • Ryokan and Minshuku (Takijiri, Yunomine or Kawayu, Chikatsuyu): Ryokan and Minshuku are traditional Japanese-style inns. They may be in modern concrete or older wooden buildings, but the rooms are always in the Japanese style with Tatami (straw) matting and Futon bedding. At Ryokan, the futons are laid out for you in the evening. In minshuku, you may need to arrange your own futon with the provided bedding. The Japanese style lodges also feature Japanese style rooms and are similar to a minshuku. Dinners are served together, usually in the dining room, and are exquisitely prepared multi-course meals. Some Ryokan have en-suite bathrooms, though older buildings generally offer shared facilities. Smaller inns offer domestic-scale bathing tubs used privately in turn by guests; larger inns offer communal spa-style baths, segregated by gender. They are the classic Japanese experience.

*Accommodations are subject to availability. In case a particular hotel is fully booked for your desired dates, we will replace it with a hotel of equal value and quality level. We will give you the exact accommodation details upon booking confirmation.

Meals

All breakfasts (6) and 6 dinners on walking days are included. Most meals will be Japanese cuisine. Vegetarian options are available, but limited. Strict vegetarian diets, vegan diets, or gluten free diets will be difficult to accommodate due to the pervasiveness of the fish-based stock dashi and the use of soy sauce and miso in Japanese cuisine. Tips are not required in Japan.

Difficulty & terrain

This holiday is suitable for walkers of good fitness (read more about difficulty grades). Many of the walks can be optionally shortened (or completely skipped) using the excellent local public transportation system. Routes are well signposted in most parts. We strongly advise you to follow only marked trails and never try to shorten the path through the unknown and unmarked terrain. We will provide you with detailed road notes and maps, and you can call our 24/7 local assistance phone number anytime. More detailed info on route navigation will be included in your holiday information pack.

When to go

We can organise this walking tour all year round, but the best months for hiking are from April to October. The flexibility of self guided holidays means that there are no fixed dates, and you can start your holiday on any date in the season – so please indicate desired beginning date when booking.

Please note that travel during Golden Week, O-Bon, or the End of Year holidays may incur supplements of up to 20%. We will only pass along to you the actual supplement charged to us by the accommodation, and we do not mark these up.

Getting there

FCO up-to-date travel advice

Click to view travel options

By plane

Our recommended airport for this tour is Tokyo.

By train or bus
  • Individual train tickets from Kyoto or Osaka to the Kumano Kodo trail, and from the Kumano Kodo trail to Kyoto or Osaka are included in your package. You have to make your own airport transfer arrangements.

Inclusions

Included

  • Accommodation for 6 nights in Japanese style inns. Japanese-style accommodation will usually be in tatami-mat rooms
  • Breakfast and dinner as indicated in the Itinerary above
  • Individual train tickets from Kyoto or Osaka to the Kumano Kodo trail, and from the Kumano Kodo trail to Kyoto or Osaka
  • Topographical maps and walking Instructions
  • 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative

Excluded

  • Airfare to and from Japan
  • Airport transfers
  • Lunches, drinks and snacks
  • Luggage transfers
  • Travel insurance (required – get a quote online)
  • Entrance fees to museums, temples etc.
  • Please pay locally for the bus journeys
  • Personal expenses
  • Local tourist taxes and entry fees (payable on-site)
  • Any items not explicitly listed as included

Options, extras & supplements

  • A supplement applies to members of a group who require a single room
  • This holiday is available for solo travellers; a supplement will be charged as accommodation and luggage transfer costs are not shared (we never mix and match – solo travellers will be accommodated in single rooms)

Baggage Transfers

Daily luggage transfer is not available for this itinerary. For most clients on our self-guided walking tours in Japan, the best way to deal with your main luggage is to send it ahead by the wonderful Takkyubin Courier service. Takkyubin is the brand name of the best-known service provider. These services are secure, efficient and economical, typically around JPY2,000 per bag per transfer. The sent luggage does not re-join you each night; it is waiting for you at the accommodation where you stay at a night or two later on. You carry overnight essentials in your daypack for the intervening nights.

Takkyubin does not need to be arranged in advance. You arrange and pay for the service yourself in Japan, usually with help from the concierge of your hotel or inn. Some smaller local hotels and inns may not offer the service, but they will direct you to the nearest location where the service is available – a local convenience store, for example.

Travelling light on the trails is easy. All inns provide cotton yukata gowns and slippers for you to wear after arrival for dining, relaxing in your room, exploring outside and sleeping. They also provide small towels, soap, shampoo and hairdryers. You don’t need a complete change of clothing for the evening, so it is possible to manage with just a medium daypack to carry overnight essentials. Takkyubin may be a novel experience for clients who have walked self-guided in other parts of the world, but it works wonderfully well in Japan.

Takkyubin allows you to travel throughout Japan without having to handle your main luggage. You can avoid carrying your bags on trains and buses, where luggage space is often limited, or through busy railway stations. The only disadvantage is that you are without your main bag for one or more nights while it is in transit.

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