Walking Japan's Kumano Kodo Trails
The sacred paths through the Kii Mountains, known as the Kumano Kodo trails, are as beautiful as they are ancient. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004, these winding mountain pathways have been hiked by Shinto and Buddhist pilgrims for over 1,200 years. Wander along the well-worn tracks leading to the Kumano Sanzan shrines, through established forest and along rugged coastline, soaking up the atmosphere and admiring the natural beauty.
What to expect on the Kumano Kodo trails...
Out on the trails, the depth of the forest enfolds you and the urgency of modern life fades away. Treading in the footsteps of pilgrims from centuries before, you feel part of something timeless as you breathe in the earthy scent and listen to the subtle sounds within the stillness.
There are several trails to choose from, so you can take a gentle path or opt for a more challenging trek depending on how you feel. A local guide will talk you through your chosen route, and chat about the area and its history, before you travel on to your starting point at Tanabe or Yunomine Onsen.
As soon as you set out, the path meanders into a forest of tall, slender trees. Weathered structures appear through the sun-dappled leaves; small shrines and monuments, partially reclaimed by the undergrowth, marking the legacy of these ancient walkways.
Passing by quiet villages, you catch a glimpse of modern, rural life that brings you into the present. A spiritual significance hangs in the air, and in the wildflowers and new growth surrounding each ancient marker; pause, breathe deep and enjoy the tranquillity. At the climax of your trek, you’ll reach the shrines.
The main temple, Hongu Taisha, has the aura of something robust and venerated. Though its weathered stone walls and mossy roof blend in with the trees, the world’s largest torii gate stands proud in the landscape, marking the shrine’s importance as the origin of the Kumano kami.
Whether walking for a few hours each day or taking a longer route, you can ease the aches of the trail by ending each day at a welcoming ryokan inn. Enjoy traditional hospitality in Yunomine or Kawayu Onsen with a sublime soak in a hot-spring; close your eyes, let the warm mineral waters soothe aching muscles, and daydream about your wanders through Japan’s magical landscape.
Location: Southern Kansai region of Japan
Duration: 2-4 days
Accommodation: Traditional Japanese-style accommodation
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Louise and Annie say...
"We felt like pilgrims as we witnessed the stunning mountain scenery whilst walking the Kumano Kodo. It’s a fantastic alternative to the Nakasendo Trail."
Good to know
Your route can be tailored to be gentler or more challenging as you wish, but all require a lot of walking so prioritise your needs and fitness level when booking. Though the weather is mild in this region all year round, it can also be pretty damp (hence the stunning greenery!) so bring waterproofs and warm clothes.