Japan Hiking Highlights: The Kumano Kodo and the Nakasendo Trail

From Ancient Pilgrimage to Samurai Trails: Walk both the Kumano Kodo and Nakasendo Trail

Japan Hiking Highlights: The Kumano Kodo and the Nakasendo Trail

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Tour details

Japan Hiking Highlights: The Kumano Kodo and the Nakasendo Trail
x1 traveller
Single room additional charge
USD 865

Solo supplements guarantee solo rooms at the hotels on your tour. At inns, you will share with another member of your departure of the same gender.


If you would like to do multiple tours in one trip or have a question about any of our tours, do not hesitate to contact us with the button below.

  • Duration: 11 days
  • Trip level:
  • Availability: Late March through November
  • Type:Guided tour with an expert bilingual guide
  • Price: USD 6,090(Price per person, based on 2 travellers sharing a room)

Please choose your preferred month to see available departures.

  • Walk and discover historic Kyoto, visiting Zen temples, strolling bamboo groves, and walking the atmospheric Gion district
  • Visit all three Grand Shrines of pilgrimage on the Kumano Kodo: Hongu, Shingu, and Nachi with 3 days of hiking on this UNESCO World Heritage route
  • Enjoy a lunch with a maiko apprentice geisha
  • Walk from post-town to post-town over 2 days on the storied Nakasendo
  • Stay in traditional Japanese inns, enjoying hot springs bathing and exquisitely prepared Japanese food showcasing local produce
  • Travel by flat bottomed boat along the Kumano River to Hayatama Taisha – following a route travelled by Emperors a millennium ago
  • Visit an artisanal Miso producer and enjoy a lunch featuring this traditionally aged seasoning
  • Leap forward in time with a visit to modern Tokyo with a visit to a historic garden, a cruise on the Sumida river, a visit to Senso-ji Temple, and then in stylish Omotesando – before walking to Shibuya Scramble crossing

It’s the tour you’ve asked us for – a combination of the must-see cities of Kyoto and Tokyo, with highlights of Japan’s best loved trails – the Kumano Kodo and the Nakasendo! Enjoy a combination of more relaxed hiking with cultural discovery, more included meals, and special experiences, as you walk the trail with one of our expert local guides.

Your adventure also offers a deeper discovery of the unique culture that surrounds each. We’ve selected routes suitable for fit and active travellers, with none over 4 hours in duration, and, aside from one strenuous day to sample more advanced hiking, the route is accessible with moderate ascent and descent.

Sample the best of Japan's most famous hikes on an itinerary that combines the highlights of both routes with the must-visit cities of Kyoto and Tokyo, with special features including:

  • Dining on an ekiben, or train station bento lunch, as you travel through the mountains
  • Learning about the locally powerful governors of the Kiso Valley and visit one of the great checkpoints of the Nakasendo

In Kyoto we walk along a delightful gorge and through the back lanes of the picturesque district of Arashiyama, famous for its bamboo grove, before the special treat of a lunch with a maiko, or apprentice geisha. The world of the geisha is notoriously difficult to enter. We’ll learn about the artistic training that the maiko undergo and their strict regime as a geisha-in-training. We’ll then enjoy a walk in the Gion district – home to many teahouses and ochaya where the geisha and maiko perform and live. Next, we travel south to the Kumano region, where we discover Kumano Kodo as we travel from coast to coast on the Kii peninsula.

This pilgrimage route over a millennium old was followed first by Emperors, and later by Shinto and Buddhist pilgrims. Vermilion shrines and natural wooden temples, as well as stone jizo and torii are scattered through the green of the forest like so many gems that call to you from the centuries. It’s little wonder that the route is one of just two UNESCO designated World Heritage routes of pilgrimage. If you’ve hiked the other, the Camino de Santiago, you might wish to explore its Japanese counterpart. We will dine on the freshest local ingredients in inns and onsen (hot springs ryokan), and enjoy the most civilized way to end a hike of great hiking – a natural hot spring bath!

We then continue on to the Nakasendo Trail where we enjoy village to village hiking along a historic route. The Nakasendo trail linked Kyoto to Tokyo during Japan’s feudal period. It was the ‘road through the mountains’ travelled by feudal lords and their retinues, samurai, merchants, and travelers. Along the route were 69 ‘post towns’, where weary travelers could rest before continuing on the next leg. We hike between the most picturesque of these.

When we aren’t on the trail, we learn more about the local culture with visits to historical sights, and learn the stories of those that travelled these routes. We travel as the locals do, on foot, and by local transportation, allowing us to meet local people and learn about their lives. With no more than 13 travellers on each departure, you enjoy an intimate discovery of Japan, and stay in inns that would not be possible with a larger group.

After our hike on the Nakasendo, we travel onward to the castle town of Matsumoto. Here we explore this imposing delight before we enjoy a lunch with an artisanal miso producer. We then dive head-first into modernity, taking one of Japan’s Limited Express trains to Tokyo and in doing so, leap from historic to modern Japan.

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What is included


Full-time services of an English-speaking tour guide
10 nights in hotels and Japanese-style inns
Daily breakfast, 4 lunches, and 8 dinners
All transportation between tour locations
Entrance to museums, temples, and other sights on the group's itinerary
Forwarding of 1 item of luggage on 3 occasions
Special lunch with a geisha or apprentice geisha and accompanying performance
Traditional boat ride on the Kumano River
Visit to a traditional miso-maker





What is not included


Airport transfers
Drinks and meals not included in itinerary
Entrance fees to museums, temples, etc. not mentioned in the itinerary
Single room supplement for solo travellers at hotels









Meet at the tour hotel in central Kyoto in the evening. There will be a welcome dinner at a local restaurant.


Accommodation: Western-style hotel

Meals: Welcome dinner

Enjoy a day exploring one of Kyoto’s most beautiful areas on foot. Today, travel with your guide to the Kiyotaki area into the northern precincts of Arashiyama, replete with temples and shrines. We visit one of these, Adashino Nenbutsu-ji Temple along our way, with its hundreds of statues of disciples of Buddha. Our walk also takes us past gorges, small local craft shops, temple precincts, and through Arashiyama’s famed bamboo grove, and eventually brings us to Tenryu-ji Temple, Arashiyama’s most significant Zen Buddhist temple. We enjoy time to explore the beautiful gardens of the temple as well as its prayer halls.

Don’t leave it to chance to see a maiko apprentice geisha in Kyoto. In the afternoon, we return to Kyoto by private vehicle for a special treat – lunch with a geiko or maiko (the terms for geisha or apprentice geisha in Kyoto). You’ll enjoy a dance performance and a chance to ask questions about their lives of training in traditional Japanese arts, and the dedication demanded from a young age for those entering into this valued profession.


Following our special lunch, we enjoy a walking tour of the Gion district, home to beautiful wooden machiya and traditional buildings, a number of which are tea houses where maiko and geisha entertain their patrons with skilfully executed traditional Japanese dances and music. The remainder of the day is at leisure for you to make your own discoveries of Kyoto. Tonight, dinner is on your own for you to make your own choices. Your guide will be happy to assist with recommendations.


Walking distance: 6.6 km / 4.1 mi
Elevation gain: 130 m / 427 ft of ascent and 130 m / 427 ft of descent
Time required: 2.5 hours


Accommodation: Western-style hotel

Meals: Breakfast, lunch

We travel south along the coast by train along the beautiful coastline and then local bus inland to the trailhead for the Nakahechi, one of the most beautiful of the network of ancient pilgrimage trails known as the Kumano Kodo, or Kumano Ancient Trail. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Kumano Kodo became popular from the 11th century as a place of pilgrimage from Kyoto by emperors.


In centuries past, emperors walked this sacred route to pray for the well-being of the country in troubled times. The Kii Peninsula, where the trail is located, has been viewed as sacred in Japan, as the spiritual place where one entered the mythical afterworld of the Yomi. This spiritual tradition continues and the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano are found on the Kii Peninsula. The pilgrimage that was once the preserve of emperors can now be walked by us mere mortals. The power and majesty of the route remains unchanged, with trees stretching to the heavens, and at times, an otherworldly mist across the land.


Our hike today is a steep, steady ascent of 2 hours to the hilltop village of Takahara. We enjoy the views over the valleys below before our first tranquil evening on the trail.


Walking distance: 4.5 km / 2.8 mi

Elevation gain: 370 m / 1,200 ft of ascent and 175 m / 575 ft of descent

Time required: about 2 hours


Accommodation: Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn)

Meals: Breakfast, dinner

Today we will hike scenic sections of the Kumano Kodo trail, passing ridge-top villages and oji shrines. Nobles would rest at these sub-shrines to refresh themselves and compose poems. We travel to Hosshinmon-oji by local bus and descend to Hongu Grand Shrine. The symbol of the shrine is the mythological three-legged raven, representing Hongu, Nachi, and Hayatama Shrines – the same motif as the one used by the Japan Football Association. In mythology, the three-legged crow was sent to guide Emperor Jimmu on his journey from Kumano to the Yamato Plain.


After visiting the shrine and Hongu World Heritage Museum, we transfer by local bus to Yunomine Hot Spring, one of the oldest in Japan. We stay overnight in a comfortable ryokan with its own rock-built outdoor hot spring bath called a rotenburo. Traditionally, the hot spring waters were considered to have miraculous healing powers. After a hike, we can certainly enjoy some of their soothing warmth.


Walking distance: 7 km / 4 mi
Elevation gain: 120 m / 395 ft of ascent and 360 m / 1,180 ft of descent
Time required: 3 hours

Accommodation: Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn)
Meals: Breakfast, dinner

We transfer by local bus to the Kumano River. We board a traditional wooden flat-bottomed boat to take us on a gentle one-and-a-half-hour ride along the Kumano River to Hayatama Grand Shrine, just as Imperial pilgrims did in olden times. Afterwards, we will travel on to walk the Daimonzaka approach to Nachi Shrine. This approach is one of the most sacred, leading to both the towering Nachi Falls, the stunning pagoda of Seiganto-ji Temple, and ultimately, the third of the Kumano shrines of Pilgrimage, Nachi Grand Shrine.


We then continue on to our accommodation, an inn near the sea. This morning, we send our luggage ahead to meet us once more in Agematsu.


Walking distance: 4.3 km / 2.7 mi
Elevation Gain: 232 m / 760 ft of ascent and 202 m / 660 ft of descent
Time required: 2 hours


Accommodation: Onsen ryokan (hot spring inn)
Meals: Breakfast, dinner

This morning, we follow the coast by train before making our way inland to the Japanese Alps to begin our hike of the Nakasendo. En route, we dine on an ekiben (駅弁/train station bento box). Ekiben are highly prized by Japanese people as they provide an opportunity to try local specialties while on the move. We arrive at our starting point for the Nakasendo Trail. This ancient pathway in the Kiso Valley became a major transport route in the Edo period of the 17th to 19th centuries, and was travelled by lords, their retinues, and samurai. Those of high rank stayed in specially designated inns along the trail and the passage of people on the route was tightly controlled. With the rise of modern locomotives and the development of rail travel in Japan, the world bypassed these beautiful mountain villages, and until a concerted conservation effort began, the towns were at risk of fading away into obscurity. Local residents have a fierce pride in their rich and fascinating culture and history.


Following our arrival in the post town of Nakatsugawa in the mid-afternoon, we have a chance to stretch our legs, visiting the old town, and walking along a paved portion with traditional ishidatami (石畳/paving stones) en route to Ochiai. We spend the evening at an inn in the Nakatsugawa area.


Accommodation: Onsen ryokan (hot spring inn)
Meals: Breakfast, lunch, dinner

Today we spend some time in the morning to visit Magome. As we ascend through the town we can appreciate the beautiful inns, residences, and woodworkers’ shops that line the stone-paved streets. This juku post town is known as the birthplace of Japanese author Shimazaki Toson. As we leave the village, we see the old rule board for those entering the town from Tsumago and can look out at the viewpoint at the valley below before we start our ascent from hamlet to hamlet and past shrines to reach the Magome Pass. Once we reach the pass, we enjoy a gentle descent through the trees, along rivers and waterfalls, and through stands of bamboo before arriving in the post town of Tsumago.


Here we have free time to enjoy the town, and perhaps to try the local snack, gohei mochi, a pounded rice cake that is covered in a sweet and savoury nutty sauce and grilled. We then walk a short distance further to Nagiso. Here we are picked up by our inn for the evening located in the post town of Kiso-Fukushima, or in Agematsu, which was once a trading centre for the prized Kiso Hinoki cypress.


Walking distance: 8.3 km / 5.2 mi
Elevation Gain: 326 m / 1,069 ft of ascent and 430 m / 1,410 ft of descent
Time required: 3 hours


Accommodation: Onsen ryokan (hot spring inn) or ryokan (traditional Japanese inn)
Meals: Breakfast, dinner

This morning, we take a shuttle to the regional hub of Kiso-Fukushima. Here we have some time in Kiso-Fukushima to visit the checkpoint here in the town. In the Edo period, the Nakasendo was one of the routes travelled by lords known as daimyo from the new capital of Edo. Some had to leave family members in Edo as hostages, such as wives of heirs. The checkpoints played an important role in controlling the passage of people and goods through this area. We also learn about the powerful Yamamura family – local governors who ruled over this area.


Then, we travel onward by train the short distance from Kiso-Fukushima to Yabuhara, where we begin our hike of the Torii Pass to Narai. The Torii Pass takes its name from that for a Shinto shrine gate. It is said that a local samurai prayed for a victory in battle in the 15th century here, hoping to seek the favour of the guides at Mount Ontake. After his success, he built a torii gate and Ontake Shrine with gratitude to the spirit of the mountain. We hike into the town of Narai, which was one of the most prosperous of the post towns on the trail.


Walking distance: 6.2 km / 3.9 mi
Elevation Gain: 344 m / 1,128 ft of ascent and 270 m / 885 ft descent
Time required: 3 hours


Accommodation: Minshuku (family-run guesthouse)
Meals: Breakfast, dinner

Today we leave behind the Edo period. We first travel by train to Matsumoto. Here we have an opportunity to visit Matsumoto Castle, which is known as the ‘crow’ castle due to its dark, imposing feel. We explore the inside of the castle – its keep and donjon, and learn its importance in defending the area.


We also visit a miso maker and learn about this important component of Japanese food. The miso producer is the 6th generation producer and creates small-batch artisanal miso that is made the traditional way – aged three years for a mellow smoothness. As a fermented food, miso is not only healthy but tasty!


Then, we board the train once more and head to Tokyo, crossing not just distance, but leaping from the Edo Period to this hyper-modern city.


Tonight, dinner is on your own, so you can try one of the many restaurants available in the city. If you need a recommendation, your guide will be happy to help.


Walking distance: 8 km / 5 mi of city walking
Elevation Gain: Negligible ascent and descent
Time required: 2 hours


Accommodation: Western-style hotel
Meals: Breakfast, lunch

Today, we discover two sides of the capital – old Edo and modern Tokyo. We begin by exploring Hama-Rikyu Gardens, traditional gardens located on Tokyo Bay that were once duck-hunting grounds for local lords. Asakusa is home to Senso-ji Temple and the traditional shops and arcades of Nakamise Dori and the surrounding shopping arcades. The shops here make a magnificent place to purchase a last-minute souvenir or snack.


We then catapult forward to the modern age with a visit to Omotesando and Harajuku, source of many cutting-edge fashion trends as well as cutting-edge architecture. We finish with a walk to the bright lights of Shibuya, and see the famed Shibuya Scramble before our farewell dinner this evening.


Walking distance: 8 km / 5 mi of city walking
Elevation Gain: Negligible ascent and descent


Accommodation: Western-style hotel
Meals: Breakfast, farewell dinner

Our journey through Japan ends in Tokyo this morning. If you are departing today, your guide can advise transfer options to your departure airport, or which of the nearby subway or rail stations would best for you to continue your onward travels.


Meals: Breakfast

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