Japan Hiking Highlights: The Kumano Kodo and the Nakasendo Trail

enquire now 11 Days From NZD $9,545 pp twinshare
Small group
Terms & Conditions apply

A special small-group guided walking and cultural tour with five hikes of 2-4 hours

Late March through November


  • 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

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
  • – Enjoying more personal attention with an assistant guide joining groups with 9 or more participants

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.


Day 1: Meet your fellow tour participants in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan

Day 2: Sightseeing in Kyoto: bamboo groves, Zen gardens, temples and dine with a geisha in Kyoto

Day 3: Begin hiking the Nakahechi route of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage

Day 4: Hike to the UNESCO Hongu Grand Shrine and soak in hot mineral waters

Day 5: Boat ride on the Kumano River and hike to Nachi Falls

Day 6: Travel to the Japanese Alps, and then stretch your legs with a hike in an Edo-era post town

Day 7: Hike through the villages, hamlets, and forests of the Nakasendo Trail

Day 8: Explore Kiso Fukushima and hike the Torii Toge pass to Narai

Day 9: Visit Matsumoto Castle and a local miso maker and leap forward in time to Tokyo

Day 10: From Edo to Tokyo – the modern Capital From Edo to Tokyo – the modern Capital

Day 11: Tour ends

What’s Included

  • Full-time services of an English-speaking tour guide, additional assistant guide with groups larger than 9 travelers
  • 10 nights in hotels and Japanese-style inns (Ryokan and Minshuku)
  • Daily breakfast, 4 lunches & 8 dinners
  • All transportation between tour locations
  • Entrance to museums, temples and other sights on the group’s itinerary
  • Forwarding of one item of luggage

What’s Not Included

  • Flights
  • Airport transfers
  • Pay locally for drinks with meals and meals not included
  • Entrance fees to museums, temples etc. not mentioned in the itinerary



Images courtesy of Oku Japan