In feudal times people travelling between Kyoto and Tokyo would use the Nakasendo Trail – the road linking the two major cities through the central mountains. This trip will take you walking along forested paths, travelling between historic Juku post towns and getting a glimpse of what life was like in times gone by. You’ll then travel into the Oku-HIda mountains to explore the biodiversity of Kamikochi before arriving into iconic Takayama.
- Bathe in thermal waters at hot-spring Ryokan on every evening
- Village to village walking on the loveliest parts of the old Nakasendo Trail
- Visit the exquisitely-preserved villages of Magome, Tsumago and Narai
- Walk in the picturesque Kiso Valley, biodiverse Kamikochi and secluded Oku-Hida
- Visit the the engaging castle towns of Matsumoto and Takayama
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Day 1: Magome to Tsumago and Nagiso | 8.5 km
We supply train tickets for your journey from Kyoto or from Tokyo to Nakatsugawa, including a ride on the world-famous Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Nagoya. At Nakatsugawa, you board a local bus for the short journey to Magome. Walk over Magome Pass to Tsumago, one of the best-preserved and most evocative of the Nakasendo post towns. In the afternoon, you will be picked up and transferred to your Onsen inn for the evening, a short drive from the main village of Tsumago.
- Accommodation: Onsen Ryokan (Hot-spring Travellers Inn) in Nagiso or Onsen Hotel close to Tsumago
- Walking for the day: 8.5 km, 3 hours ↑325 m ↓430 m
Day 2: Nagiso to Nojiri | 18.5 km
The longest day on the trail is a beautiful and varied hike from Tsumago or Nagiso to Nojiri. The trail travels through small valleys and past forests of bamboo and Japanese cedar, through some of the most beautiful scenery on the tour. Continue by train to Kiso-Fukushima. Stay at a lovely hot-spring Ryokan set in a peaceful valley above the town. The Ryokan provides complimentary transfer from the station. The Ryokan has lovely indoor and outdoor hot-spring baths.
- Accommodation: Onsen Ryokan (Hot-spring Travellers Inn) in Kiso-Fukushima
- Walking for the day: 18.5 km, 6-7 hours ↑725 m ↓645 m
Day 3: Kiso-Fukushima | 7 km
A day to relax and explore the historic Kiso-Fukushima. Our optional walk today goes through a quiet scenic forest before taking in key areas of the town. Stay at another lovely hot spring Ryokan in the town.
- Accommodation: Onsen Ryokan (Hot-spring Travellers Inn) in Kiso-Fukushima
- Walking for the day (optional): 7 km, 2-3 hours ↑635m ↓635 m
Day 4: Yabuhara to Narai and Hirasawa | 9 km
Today, you will travel by train for the short journey from Kiso-Fukushima to Yabuhara, the starting point for the hike over the Torii pass to Narai. Explore this evocative village before a short walk to Kiso-Hirasawa, a historic lacquerware town. From here, head on by train and bus to your inn for the evening; another charming Onsen Ryokan.
- Accommodation: Asama Onsen Ryokan (Hot-spring Travellers Inn) close to Matsumoto
- Walking for the day: 9 km, 4 hours ↑345m ↓270 m (shorter option: 6 km, 2-3 hours)
Day 5: Kamikochi Wetlands | 10 km
Travel by bus to the biodiverse wetlands of Kamikochi; a popular site for nature hiking, featuring dramatic mountain and lake scenery. Head onwards to a secluded Onsen Ryokan village in Oku-Hida for the evening.
- Accommodation: Onsen Ryokan (Hot-spring Travellers Inn) in Oku Hida
- Walking for the day: 10 km, 4 hours, mostly flat ( (shorter option: 3 km, 1-2 hours)
Day 6: Oku-Hida and Takayama. Departure | 6 km
One final hike in the mountains of Oku-Hida, providing stunning views out over the local range. Explore this charming town before heading onwards by bus to Takayama, which is well-known for its crafts, particularly yew-wood carving, Shunkei lacquerware, pottery and furniture. You may also wish to explore the ruins of Takayama castle and walk along the east-side temples. Book an extra night on your own or continue your journey in Japan.
- Accommodation: no overnight included
- Walking for the day (optional): 6 km, 3-4 hours
What to Expect
The following types of accommodation are used on this tour:
- Ryokan (Nagiso, Kiso-Fukushima, Asama Onsen, Oku-Hida)
Ryokan is a traditional Japanese-style inn. They may be in modern concrete or older wooden buildings, but the rooms are always in the Japanese style with tatami (straw) matting and futons laid out in the evening by the ryokan staff. Evening meals are served together usually in the dining room and are exquisitely prepared multi-course meals. Many ryokans have both en suite bathrooms (except for some older buildings) and communal hot spring style baths (segregated by gender). They are the classic Japanese experience.
*Accommodations are subject to availability. In case a particular ryokan is fully booked for your desired dates, we will replace it with one of equal value and quality level. We will give you the exact accommodation details upon booking confirmation.
Five breakfasts and dinners 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 who do regular walking or hiking and are comfortable walking for up to a full day with some climbing and descending. (read more about difficulty grades). Some 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 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 from the beginning of April till late November. 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.
Click to view travel options
Our recommended airport for this tour is Tokyo.
By train or bus
- Individual arrival train tickets from Kyoto or Tokyo to the Nakasendo Trail are included in your package. You have to make your own transfer arrangements to Kyoto/Tokyo and from Takayama.
- Accommodation for 5 nights in Japanese style inns. Japanese-style accommodation will usually be in tatami-mat rooms
- Meals as indicated in the Itinerary above (5 breakfasts and 5 dinners)
- Individual arrival train tickets from Kyoto or Tokyo to the trail and intermediate train journeys as described in the itinerary
- Topographical maps and walking Instructions
- 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative
- 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.
- Local bus journeys on Days 1, 4, 5 and 6
- 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)
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 JPY 2,000 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 offer 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.