Step back in time and immerse yourself in nature on this five-day hiking trip along the historic Nakasendo Trail. Feudal lords and samurai once walked this mountain path connecting Kyoto and Tokyo, stopping at some of the historic 69 post stations to rest for the night. You'll follow in their footsteps as you trek through picturesque valleys, stay in idyllic villages, and relax in the thermal waters of hot springs along the way.

Highlights

  • Explore well-preserved jukus, or post station villages
  • Bathe in a hot spring at your traditional inn
  • Enjoy peaceful nature trails and mountain views
  • Visit the splendid Matsumoto Castle

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Walk from Magome to Tsumago Tsumago
Day 2 Hike from Tsumago to Nojiri Kiso-Fukushima
Day 3 Traverse the Torii Pass to Narai Narai
Day 4 Visit Matsumoto Castle Karuizawa or Komoro
Day 5 Hike the Usui-toge Pass, return to Tokyo  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Walk from Magome to Tsumago

The gently rolling path of the Nakasendo Trail

Start your journey by traveling from Kyoto or Tokyo to the town of Nakatsugawa by bullet train, and then take a short bus ride to the village of Magome. From there you'll walk 5.2 miles (8.3km) over the Magome Pass to the exquisitely preserved post town of Tsumago. Go back in time to the Edo Period (1603-1868) as you stroll through the village streets - cars aren't allowed on the main drag and electrical wires are carefully concealed. You'll spend the night at a family-run bed and breakfast, or minshuku, where you'll feast on a delicious home-cooked meal. After dinner, stroll around town wearing the kimono-like yukata gown supplied by your hosts.

Day 2: Trek from Tsumago to Nojiri

Nakasendo Trail bamboo forest
A bamboo forest on the trail from Tsumago

Today will be the longest hike of the trip along a beautiful section of trail from Tsumago to the post station of Nojiri. The 11.5-mile (18.4km) path snakes through valleys, past bamboo and cedar forests, and offers some of the most unspoiled scenery of the trip. The walk should take around 6 hours. Alternatively, choose a shorter, one-hour walk to the village of Nasigo. Then hop on the train to Kiso-Fukushima (not to be confused with the site of the Fukushima disaster), where you'll stay at a traditional inn, or ryokan, for the night. The ryokan is set in a tranquil valley and features both indoor and outdoor hot spring baths for you to relax in.

Day 3: Walk over the Torii Pass to Narai

The post town village of Narai, the mid-way point of the Nakasendo Trail

This morning you have the option of challenging yourself to a somewhat steep, circular hike to a serene local waterfall. This 2 to 3-hour walk is 4.3 miles long (7km) with an ascent of 2,075 feet (632m). Otherwise take the train from Kiso-Fukushima to Yabuhara, a short distance away. From here you'll traverse the Torii Pass on a 3-hour hike through the forest to get to the village of Narai. This post station marks the center of the Nakasendo Trail. Explore the village before checking into your minshuku, where you'll enjoy another home-cooked dinner.

Day 4: Hirasawa and Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle
The late 16th-century Matsumoto Castle

After breakfast, walk to the nearby town of Kiso-Hirasawa. Wander around the small shops selling beautifully-crafted lacquer furniture and tableware. Then board the train to the towns of Karuizawa or Komoro for your final night of the trip. You'll find lovely a historical inn with traditional Japanese baths at either location. On the way, stop at the fascinating Matsumoto Castle, which dates back to the late 1500s. You'll arrive at your ryokan in time for a dinner lovingly prepared with locally-grown ingredients.

Day 5: Usui-toge Pass, Return to Tokyo

View from the Usui-toge Pass

Your final stretch of the Nakasendo Trail will take you from Karuizawa to Yokokawa. Hike over the high plateaus of the Usui-toge Pass to a gentle descent along one of the most pristine parts of the trail. Take in the gorgeous mountain views on this 10-mile (16.7km), 6-hour long trek. If this is too strenuous, you can choose to take a taxi for part of the way. In Yokokawa you'll board the train and make your way back to Tokyo, arriving in the early evening.