Hiking Distance: ~34km
Time: 3-4 days
Elevation gain: ~2300m
The Kumano Kodo
Camping & Guesthouses
The Kumano Kodo trail is a famous and ancient pilgrimage route in the mountains of the Kii Peninsula, located south of Kyoto and Osaka. The trail is over 1000 years old and is said to have been used by all levels of society including Emperors and Warlords. The Nakahechi route is the most popular among pilgrims and features many beautiful shrines and temples, most notably the Kumano Hongu Taisha and the Nachi Grand Shrine. It also features an ancient onsen town and many accomodation options in between the hiking trails, with regular busses connecting all the routes.
The entire Nakahechi route runs from Tanabe city and ends in Nachikatsuura, it takes roughly 7 days, but this page will only focus on half of the route as it's the most popular section, has the most attractions, and is where these photos are from. I'll refer you to the Kumano tourism website for more info on the other sections and also extra details for this itinerary.
Beginning at Yunomine onsen, you'll pass through Kumano Hongu Taisha, and end at the Nachi Grand Shrine. It can be completed in 3-4 days or busses can be taken to shorten the trip further.
Maps provided by the Kumano Tourism Bureau
Car: If using a car you'll likely be completing these trails as out-and-back hikes or catching the bus back to your car. In this case I recommend basing yourself in the town of Hongu, here you can complete a nice easy hike to Yunomine Onsen and also another small hike in Hongu town that takes you to a viewpoint where you can see the largest torii gate in the world surrounded by the mountains.
Kyoto/Osaka: The cheapest option to Tanabe, the highway bus, is now only possible from Osaka. There used to be a direct bus from Kyoto, but that recently changed, however, this might change again so you should have quick search to double check before planning your trip. The bus from Osaka takes about 3.5 hours and costs ¥3000 one-way or ¥6300 return. You can view all the details and make reservations here.
Trains take about 2 hours and cost around ¥5000 to ¥6500, the tickets are covered by the Japan Rail Pass and JR Kansai Wide Area Pass. It's best to use google maps for the train timetables.
Once you arrive: a seperate bus will take you to the various places along the Kumano Kodo, you can view more info here. The many busses may seem complicated but it becomes more simple once you arrive.
Days 1 - 3
Yunomine Onsen to Nachi Falls
The vast amount of information already available online can be a bit overwhelming, I'll provide a general overview of your options for this section of the trail and include the necessary maps here. Feel free to leave a comment if you want more specific advice. And refer to the tourism website for more detailed information and accommodation options.
Between Yunomine Onsen and Nachi Falls, you have about 3-4 days of hiking options to choose from, and busses available if you want to skip some sections.
Your first day gives you the option to stay at either Yunomine Onsen or Hongu. From Yunomine Onsen, a nice 1-2 hour hike will bring you over the mountain and into the town of Hongu. Hongu is where you'll find the largest torii gate in the world, the Oyunohara torii, and the beautiful Kumano Hongu Grand Shrine. If you hike another 50 minutes above the shrine you will reach a magnificent viewpoint where you can see the Oyunohara torii surrounded by the mountains. After exploring Hongu, catch a short bus to Ukegawa and hike your way to Koguchi, this will take about 4-6 hours. Koguchi is where your final hike begins, so if you're short on time and want to skip a section, then I recommend catching a bus straight to Koguchi.
Day 4 - The Final Hike
Koguchi to Nachi Falls
GPS Hiking Map: outdooractive.com
Time: 8 hrs
Elevation change: ➚ 1260m gain ➘ 930m loss
The hike from Koguchi to Nachi Falls is very rewarding and the most difficult hike on the Nakahechi trail. It begins by ascending the Echizen-Toge Pass, the steepest and highest point on the trail, and then gradually descends into the forest before arriving at the amazingly beautiful Nachi Falls and Nachi Grand Shrine. Spend a night here and enjoy some well earned rest. If you have some time I highly recommend exploring this area more before catching the bus and train home.
Weather and Seasons
The Kumano Kodo can be hiked year round, popular times are during early April for the cherry blossoms and early November for the autumn leaves. The rainy season is in June but the rain creates a beautiful misty scenery on the trail and is relatively warm. Advanced bookings are recommended for accomodation.
Bears (very rare)
Hiking Distance: 34km
Time: 3-4 days
Elevation gain: 2300m