Take a walk through time on this 10-day self-guided tour of the Nakasendo Trail, part of feudal Japan's original network of highways. Travelers on the mountain path between Kyoto and Tokyo took several days to travel the distance, staying overnight in Juku post towns. You'll retrace their footsteps as you travel through serene forests, stay in historically preserved local inns by night, and explore the vibrant cities of Kyoto and Tokyo.

Highlights

    • Visit the exquisitely preserved villages of Magome, Tsumago, and Narai
    • Bathe in the thermal waters at a hot spring
    • Visit the splendid Matsumoto castle 
    • Spend 3 nights in Kyoto exploring Japan's cultural capital
    • Wander through the picturesque Kiso Valley

Overview 

The Nakasendo is a historic walking route that connects 69 jukus (post station villages) through the mountains between Kyoto and Tokyo. It is well maintained, however, there are moderate elevation changes as you trek through the mountains and valleys. 

This trek is ideal for anyone who regularly walks or hikes, and is comfortable with walking for up to a full day with some climbing and descending. Don't let this scare you away - the hospitality of the ryokan (traditional family-owned inns) and the enticing warmth of the hot springs at the end of a full day of trekking will soothe even the weariest travelers. 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Kyoto Kyoto
Day 2 Sightseeing in Kyoto Kyoto
Day 3 Sightseeing in Kyoto Kyoto
Day 4 Hike from Magome to Tsumago Tsumago
Day 5 Hike from Tsumago to Nojiri Kiso-Fukushima
Day 6 Hike from Yabuhara to Narai Narai
Day 7 Hike from Narai to Hirasawa Karuizawa or Koromo
Day 8 Karuizawa to Yokokawa and transfer to Tokyo Tokyo
Day 9 Tokyo Tokyo
Day 10 Tour ends  
 

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Arrive in Kyoto

Explore the old town district of historic Kyoto
Explore the old town district of historic Kyoto

Your tour begins with your arrival at your hotel or Ryokan in Kyoto. You can choose to stay in a modern, western style hotel with private en-suite facilities, or opt for the informal, Japanese-style ryokan where you will sleep on futons in tatami-mat (rush flooring) rooms. Grab your favorite guidebook and begin your discovery of the city of Kyoto – Japan’s cultural and historical capital.

Day 2: Sightseeing in Kyoto

Take time to relax in the serene gardens
Take time to relax in the serene gardens 

Today is your day to explore Kyoto with your own personal guide. After breakfast, meet your tour guide and travel by bus, subway, or by taxi to see the city. There are several different itineraries for you to choose from, including some of the most famous sights and some lesser-known spots. Your guides are all local, so they are excellent sources of information and immensely proud of their city. At the end of the day, your guide will accompany you to your accommodations, or another location of your choosing. 

Day 3: Sightseeing in Kyoto & nearby Nara

Old wooden architecture lends Nara a historic feel
Old wooden architecture lends Nara a historic feel

Another day in Kyoto to explore the city’s riches. Alternately, travel by convenient train to the older capital city of Nara – there are regular Japan Railways departures connecting the two cities. The journey takes under an hour, and you can purchase tickets from the self-service tickets machines at Kyoto station.

Day 4: Hike from Magome to Tsumago

Historical preservation efforts in the Kiso valley have led to well-maintained villages along the trail
Historical preservation efforts in the Kiso valley have led to well-maintained villages along the trail

Today your journey includes a train ride from Kyoto to Nakatsugawa, including a ride on the world-famous Shinkansen bullet train to Nagoya. At Nakatsugawa, you will board a local bus for the short journey to Magome. Walk 5.2 miles (8.3 km) over Magome Pass to Tsumago, one of the best-preserved and most evocative of the Nakasendo post-towns. This hike will require approximately 1,000 ft (330 m) of elevation gain and will take about 3 hours. Spend the night at a family-run minshuku (bed-and-breakfast) in Tsumago or the nearby hamlet of O-Tsumago, with a delicious home-cooked Japanese dinner and breakfast included. After dinner, enjoy a stroll through the village streets in the magical quiet of the evening, wearing a kimono-like yukata gown supplied by your inn.

Day 5: Hike from Tsumago to Nojiri

Unwind at the end of the day in peaceful hot spring
Unwind at the end of the day in a peaceful Onsen, a lovely hot spring bath

Today is your longest day on the trail- 6 hours along a beautiful and varied 11.4 miles (18.4 km) hike from Tsumago to Nojiri, with an elevation gain of 2,400 ft (720 m). In the morning, you will have the option to choose the shorter alternative to Nagiso instead- only 2.3 miles (3.7 km) covered in about one hour of trekking. The trail will take you through small valleys and forests of bamboo and Japanese cedar, through some of the least-developed natural scenery on the tour. In the afternoon, you will continue by train to Kiso-Fukushima (not to be confused with the site of the nuclear disaster). Stay at a lovely family-run Ryokan set in a peaceful valley above the town and enjoy the lovely indoor and outdoor hot spring baths. Complimentary transfer from the station is provided by the Ryokan. 

Day 6: Hike from Yabuhara to Narai

The village of Narai, the midway point of your tour. 
The village of Narai, the midway point of your tour

The Ryokan will drive you back to Kiso-Fukushima after breakfast. Enjoy the scenery during the short train journey from Kiso-Fukushima to Yabuhara, the starting point for the 3 hour, 3.9-mile (6.2 km) hike over the Torii pass (1,100 ft/ 344 m elevation gain) to Narai. Explore the winding streets of this historic village and let the preserved wooden architecture transport you to a past era. Later, check in at your family-run inn in the heart of the village, but don't worry about finding dinner: your hosts will serve a home-cooked Japanese meal, and breakfast the following morning

In Kiso-Fukushima there is an optional, fairly strenuous, circular walk to a local waterfall. The circular walk is 4.3 miles (7 km) with 2,100 ft (632 m) of elevation gain and takes 2-3 hours. You can take this walk in the morning, before heading onwards to Yabuhara. 

Day 7: Hike from Narai to Hirasawa

The traditional family operated Ryokans are often run by the same family for multiple generations
The traditional family operated Ryokans are often run by the same family for multiple generations

After breakfast, walk the short 1.6 mile (2.5 km) distance to the small town of Kiso-Hirasawa, famous for its lacquerware. There are many small shops selling beautifully-crafted tableware and furniture. From there, board a train at Kiso-Hirasawa station for your onward journey to Karuizawa or Komoro for your final overnight stay. Both locations have lovely inns with a real sense of history and fine Japanese baths. Ride first to Matsumoto where you can visit the famous castle before connecting onwards to your final stop – the total travel time by train is around three hours, not including the optional break to visit Matsumoto. Arrive at your accommodation in time for a wonderful dinner made with local produce.

Day 8: Hike from Karuizawa to Yokokawa, transfer to Tokyo

Your walk along Japan's historic trail network will take you through bamboo and cedar forests
Your walk along Japan's historic trail network will take you through bamboo and cedar forests

After breakfast, your final walk from Karuizawa to Yokokawa will take you about 5-6 hours. Leaving Karuizawa, the 10.4 mile (16.7 km) trail takes you over the Usui-toge Pass and down a gentle 2,800 feet (860 m) descent along one of the most beautiful sections of the Nakasendo, and certainly the least-developed. From Yokokawa, board the local train to Takasaki and change there for your ride on the Shinkansen to Tokyo. The train journey takes around two hours and you will arrive in Tokyo in the late afternoon or early evening.

To make today's walk shorter, take a taxi ride for the first 2 miles (3.3 km) at the start of the day.

Day 9: Tokyo

At night, Tokyo's downtown transforms into a glowing night-scape
At night, Tokyo's downtown transforms into a glowing night-scape 

You have a full day in Tokyo to explore this vibrant city. Stay in the center of the city - just minutes on foot from Hamamatsucho station on the Yamanote loop line, and ideally located to reach any part of Tokyo. Visit the glittering Ginza area with elegant department stores and food halls crammed with all kinds of delicacies. To get a feel of the city's energy, spend time among the skyscrapers of Shinjuku and pass through Shinjuku station, the busiest transport hub in the world. Eat and drink in one of the myriad small bars and restaurants which cluster around most railway stations, or dine on an elegant meal in an upscale restaurant.

Day 10: Tour ends

On a clear day, the impressive Mt. Fuji towers behind the Tokyo skyline
On a clear day, the impressive Mt. Fuji towers behind the Tokyo skyline

Your tour ends today after breakfast at your hotel. If you are flying home, there are direct scheduled bus services from centrally located hotels to Narita Airport and Monorail services from nearby Hamamatsucho station to Haneda Airport. Your hotel concierge will help you book a seat on the appropriate Narita Airport bus and sell you a ticket for the journey. Alternatively, you may choose to spend a few days longer in Tokyo or continue your travels elsewhere in Japan.

Map

Map of Self-Guided Walking Tour on the Nakasendo Trail - 10 Days
Map of Self-Guided Walking Tour on the Nakasendo Trail - 10 Days