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 Kumano Kodo Trail itinerary takes in the complete path, focusing on both the Nakahechi-do and Kohechi-do, weaving through forested mountains and small villages first towards the Grand Shrine of Hongu and then onwards to the mountain-top temple complex of Mount Koya.
Day 1: Travel to the Kii Peninsula, Hike Takijiri to Takahara
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 ↑370m
Day 2: Takahara to Chikatsuyu
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
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
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: Yagio to Totsukawa Onsen
From Yunomine, travel by bus to the start of the Kohechi trail. Your first walk on this ancient route begins at Yagio, following a beautiful forested trail over Hatenashi-toge Pass, with excellent valley views, fascinating cultural monuments (including a miniature Kannon statue pilgrimage) and picturesque villages. A brief bus ride avoids a short final stretch on a busier road at the very end of the walk. Finish the day with a relaxing thermal bath at your inn for tonight in Totsukawa Onsen.
- Accommodation: Onsen Ryokan (Hot-spring Travellers Inn) in Totsukawa Onsen
- Walking for the day: 9 km, 4-5 hours ↑985 m ↓930 m
Day 6: Nishinaka to Miuraguchi
Heading onwards from Totsukawa Onsen to Nishinaka by local bus, the section of the Kohechi trail to Miuraguchi offers some of the best views of the Kumano valley over the Miura-toge Pass and continues to the scenic, peaceful village of Miuraguchi or ‘Gateway to Miura’ where you stay tonight in an intimate Minshuku family-run guesthouse on a small farm.
- Accommodation: Minshuku (family-run guesthouse) in Miuraguchi
- Walking for the day: 11 km, 5-6 hours ↑855 m ↓755 m
Day 7: Miuraguchi to Nosegawa Onsen
After breakfast, you leave Miuraguchi. The trail continues north along one of the most rural and challenging hikes in the Kumano region over the Obako-toge Pass to another scenic rural village called Omata. The hot-spring village of Nosegawa Onsen is your destination for tonight and is a short scenic riverside walk onwards from Omata.
- Accommodation: Onsen Ryokan (Hot-spring Travellers Inn) in Nosegawa Onsen
- Walking for the day: 14 km, 6-7 hours ↑1150 m ↓850 m (you can also arrange with your hosts to pick you up from Omata if you prefer not to walk the last section to Nosegawa Onsen)
Day 8: Nosegawa Onsen to Mount Koya
Leave Nosegawa Onsen this morning and begin today’s hike from the boundary between Nosegawa and Koya – it is also possible to walk the full distance from Nosegawa Onsen if you prefer a longer hike with some strenuous paved sections. On the final leg of the Kohechi trail to Mount Koya, there are magical valley views as you traverse the peak of Mizu-ga-mine. Arriving at the mountain-top temple town at the end of the walk delivers a great sense of achievement. Spiritual Mount Koya is a fitting reward for completing the pilgrimage route.
- Accommodation: Shukubo (Pilgrims’ lodging) in Koyasan
- Walking for the day: 7 km, 3 hours ↑325 m ↓460m (with an optional additional paved section of 9.2 km / 3-4 hours)
Day 9: Choishi Michi Trail. Departure to Osaka or Kyoto
On your final day, you have the chance to explore more of Mount Koya, visiting the atmospheric Okunoin cemetery with thousands of graves and memorials to feudal lords and other monuments. Or undertake our optional, challenging hike on the Choishi Michi trail, the original atmospheric approach to Mount Koya lined with stone markers. Finally, board the scenic Nankai railway line towards Osaka and Kyoto.
The following types of accommodation are used on this tour:
- Ryokan and Minshuku (Takijiri, Yunomine or Kawayu, Chikatsuyu, Totsukawa Onsen, Miuraguchi, Nosegawa Onsen)
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.
- Shukubo (Mount Koya)
These are lodgings in Buddhist temples originally meant for pilgrims, but now open to anyone. The rooms are similar to Ryokan or Minshuku, though with fewer facilities. The food is excellent vegetarian Buddhist ‘Shojin- Ryori’ cuisine. It is a wonderful experience to stay in a Shukubo, and there is often the opportunity to join the early morning religious service.
*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.
All breakfasts (8) and 7 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.
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.
Flight information can change rapidly, and not all flights run daily. Please do check directly with the airlines’ websites or Skyscanner before finalising any booking with us. Please do not book your flights before we have confirmed your booking.
Daily luggage transfer is not available for this itinerary (but you can book it as a supplement). 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.
Send your main luggage from the hotel you stay at before the trail to an inn part-way along the trail. For this itinerary, that suggested location is Yunomine Onsen or Kawayu Onsen. You then send it from there to Totsukawa Onsen, and then from Totsukawa Onsen to wherever you stay after the trail. 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.
A comprehensive and reputable travel insurance policy is essential to your enjoyment and peace of mind while on an active holiday. It is highly recommended when booking with us that all group members have a valid travel insurance which includes cover for all activities included in your trip. We have teamed up with to offer you adequate cover at a great value from a reputable insurer, and it takes only a few minutes to buy online.
Difficulty Grade: Moderate
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.
What to Bring
Bringing good hiking shoes and a waterproof jacket is essential. If you bring walking poles, they should have rubber tips to protect the trails. Below is a non-exclusive list of what you should bring to this trip. We will include more detailed info in your holiday information pack. If you need further advice, please contact a reputable outdoor retailer or us.
- Good hiking boots;
- Hiking socks;
- Several t-shirts (cotton or preferably breathable/fast drying);
- Packable waterproof and windproof jacket with hood;
- Synthetic mid layer or warm fleece;
- Trainers and/or sandals – to relax and wear inside accommodation;
- Sunglasses, sunscreen and lip salve;
- Hat/Baseball cap;
- Personal First Aid kit (wet wipes, flu remedies, stomach remedies).
- Accommodation for 8 nights in Japanese style inns. Japanese-style accommodation will usually be in tatami-mat rooms
- Meals as indicated in the Itinerary above (8 breakfasts and 7 dinners)
- 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
- Where individual members of a group require a single room, a single room supplement is applicable
- This holiday is available for solo travellers. As costs are not shared, a supplement is payable on the standard trip cost
- Luggage transfer on walking days (possible only as far as Yunomine Onsen or Kawayu Onsen; after Day 5 you will have to bring your luggage with you or use the Takkyubin service)
- 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.
- Flights to and from Japan
- Airport transfers
- Drinks with meals, snacks or lunches
- Entrance fees to museums, temples etc.
- Please pay locally for bus journeys on days 1, 3, 5, 6, and 9
- Luggage transfer
- Single supplement(s) if required
- Travel Insurance
- Any items not explicitly mentioned in the programme