Get off the beaten path and onto the Kumano Kodo, a network of ancient pilgrimage trails in the remote Kii Peninsula. Trek to grand shrines, thermal hot springs, and the sacred Mount Koya, one of the most important sites in Buddhism. This self-guided trip is great for those looking to challenge themselves with full-day hikes through hilly terrain. You'll be rewarded, however, with unforgettable experiences as you follow in the footsteps of emperors.

Highlights

  • Trek through the mystical Kii Mountains
  • Bathe in natural hot springs, or onsens
  • Visit two Kumano grand shrines
  • Spend a night in a peaceful Buddhist temple

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Takijiri to Takahara Takahara or Kurisugawa
Day 2 Takahara to Chikatsuyu Chikatsuyu
Day 3 Chikatsuyu to Hongu Taisha shrine Yunomine Onsen or Kawayu Onsen
Day 4 The Akagigoe and Dainichigoe trails Yunomine Onsen or Kawayu Onsen
Day 5 Ukegawa to Koguchi Koguchi
Day 6 Koguchi to Nachi Taisha shrine Nachi-san or Kii-Katsuura
Day 7 Yagio to Totsukawa Onsen Totsukawa Onsen
Day 8 Nishinaka to Miuraguchi Miuraguchi
Day 9 Miuraguchi to Nosegawa Onsen Nosegawa Onsen
Day 10 Nosegawa Onsen to Mount Koya Mount Koya
Day 11 Choishi Michi trail, travel to Osaka or Kyoto  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Walk from Takijiri to Takahara

The Kii Mountains

Your tour starts with a train ride from Kyoto or Osaka to the small coastal town of Kii-Tanabe on the Kii Peninsula. Enjoy beautiful ocean views on your journey as you near Kii-Tanabe, the gateway to the Kumano Kodo trails. There you'll board a bus to Takijiri, where the Nakahechi Route of the Kumano Kodo begins. This imperial route is the one used by Japan's royal families from the 11th century onward. 

Walk the path for 2.8 miles (4.5km) from Takijiri to the village of Takahara, climbing steadily up the mountain ridge for about two hours. Spend the night in a small hotel in Takahara with wonderful mountain views, or at a minshuku (a traditional family run bed and breakfast) in the nearby village of Kurisugawa. You'll enjoy a delicious home-cooked meal featuring local seasonal ingredients at either establishment.

Day 2: Hike from Takahara to Chikatsuyu

Winding mountain paths of the Kumano Kodo

After breakfast, leave your lodgings and follow a winding trail through small villages in the tranquil countryside. You'll pass by several Oji shrines before reaching the village of Chikatsuyu nestled in the valley below. The 6.5-mile (10km) path is clearly defined and marked by flagstones along the way. You'll arrive in Chikatsuyu in time to rest your feet before dinner at a minshuku guesthouse, where you'll stay the night.

Day 3: Trek from Chikatsuyu to Hongu Taisha Shrine

Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine
The Hongu Taisha Shrine, one of Kumano's three grand shrines

Wake up early this morning for a long 8 to 9-hour hike through the mountain trails to Hongu Taisha, one of the three main shrines of the Kumano Kodo. This 14.9-mile (24km) trek is the longest of the trip, but can be modified to 9 miles or 4 miles by taking a bus part of the way. Along the trail, you'll pass through the small villages and forests of the Kii Mountains. These sacred mountains are said to be the entrance to the land of Yomi, the underworld in Shinto mythology. After exploring the massive shrine, take a short bus ride to the natural hot springs at Yunomine Onsen or Kawayu Onsen. Enjoy a relaxing soak in a Japanese bath and a decadent multi-course meal at your ryokan (traditional inn).

Day 4: The Akagi-goe and Dainichi-goe Trails

The Kumano River

Today you'll do a loop walk beginning in Yunomine Onsen. Start on the rolling 5.4-mile (8.8km) Akagi-goe trail that connects the onsen to the gateway shrine at Hosshinmon-oji. Continue another 4 miles (7km) from there to the town of Hongu. Then the short but steep 1.7-mile (2.8km) Dainichi-goe trail will bring you from Hongu back to Yunomine Onsen.

You have the option of choosing just one of the trails or combining them for a satisfying full day hike. Along the way, you'll be treated to unique cultural experiences, like walking with a Yamabushi ascetic monk, making your own traditional Japanese washi paper, or participating in a spiritual meditation. Spend a second relaxing night in one of the hot spring villages.

Day 5: Walk the Kogumotori-goe Trail from Ukegawa to Koguchi

The forest trail of Kogumotori-goe

Take a short bus ride this morning to Ukegawa on the banks of the Kumano River. From there you'll set out on the Kogumotori-goe path, which will lead you over the river and through the forest to the remote village of Koguchi on the small Akagi-gawa River. Today's 7.7-mile (12.4km) trek is fairly easy and should take about four hours. You'll be greeted with a warm welcome and a hearty meal at your hotel for the night. Choose between a charming minshuku or a lodge located in a former school building. Later, explore the river banks and feel free to take a dip if the weather is nice!

Day 6: Hike from Koguchi to Nachi-san

Seiganto-ji Temple and Nachi Falls

Today you'll visit another one of the three grand Kumano shrines, Nachi Taisa. Start the morning with a challenging up-and-down hike from Koguchi along the Ogumotori-goe path, where you'll catch a stunning glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. The trail then descends to Nachi-san, where you'll find the shrine, along with the splendid orange Seiganto-ji Temple against a backdrop of the Nachi Falls. The hike will take about 6 to 7 hours and cover 9.3 miles (15.1km) of terrain. You can stay in Nachi-san overnight, or opt to take a short bus ride to the port town of Kii-Katsuura, where you'll enjoy dinner amid breathtaking views of the bay.

Day 7: Hike from Yagio to Totsukawa Onsen

A traditional Japanese bath

Kii-Katsuura is a vibrant fishing port and has a lively early-morning fish market. Spend the morning exploring the town, roaming the quaint backstreets and strolling through the traditionally covered shopping arcade. Then travel by bus back to the Hongu Taisha shrine, where all the Kumano Kodo trails intersect. From there you'll start down the rugged Kohechi trail.

Your first hike on this mountainous route begins at Yagio, where you'll traverse the Hatenashi-toge Pass on a leafy forest trail. Along the way you'll be treated to lovely valley views, picturesque villages, and religious statues and monuments. You'll clock 4 to 5 hours of walking and complete 5.5 miles (8.8km) today. Take a brief bus ride on the final stretch and end the day with a luxurious thermal bath at your ryokan in Totsukawa Onsen.

Day 8: Hike from Nishinaka to Miuraguchi

Steps leading up a hilly trail on the Kumano Kodo

This morning you'll take the bus from Totsukawa Onsen to Nishinaka. This section of the Kohechi trail offers some of the most stunning views of the Kumano valley over the Miura-toge Pass. Hike a total of 6.8 miles (11km) to the idyllic village of Miuraguchi, where you'll spend the night in an intimate minshuku on a small farm.

Day 9: Trek from Miuraguchi to Nosegawa Onsen

View of mountains on the way to Mt. Koya
View of the mountains on the Kohechi trail

Get ready to tackle one of the most challenging and rural sections of the Kumano Kodo today! You'll leave Miuraguchi after breakfast and follow the trail north for 8.5 miles (13.7km) over the Obako-toge Pass to the rural village of Omata. Stay the night at a ryokan in the nearby hot spring village of Nosegawa Onsen.

Day 10: Climb Mount Koya

Danjo Garan Temple, Mt. Koya
The Danjo Garan temple complex on Mount Koya

The final leg of the Kohechi trail offers sweeping views of the valleys below. Choose between a shorter, 4.5-mile (7.3km) trek starting on the border between Nosegawa and Koya, or walking the full distance from Nosegawa Onsen. This longer option includes a more strenuous paved section of the trail for an additional 5.7 miles (9.2km) and a total walking time of 6-7 hours.

Revel in a sense of pride and achievement as you reach the temple complex at the top of the sacred Mount Koya. You'll spend the night in a shukubo, or temple lodgings for monks and pilgrims. Get to know the Buddhist monks who run the shukubo, and join them in meditation or morning prayer, if you like.

Day 11: Walk the Choishi Michi Trail, Return to Osaka or Kyoto

The beautiful Okunoin Cemetery on Mount Koya

On the final day of the trip, take time to explore more of Mount Koya. Wander around the atmospheric Okunoin Cemetery with its thousands of graves and memorials to ancient rulers and gentry. Or challenge yourself to one last optional hike on the 10-mile-long (15.5km) Choishi Michi trail, the original path to Mount Koya. Finally, board the Nankai train for a scenic ride back towards Osaka and Kyoto.

Map

Map of Hiking Japan's Kumano Kodo - 11 Days
Map of Hiking Japan's Kumano Kodo - 11 Days