The Best Kumano Kodo Swimming Spots (Swimming Holes)

Tristan Balme The Best Kumano Kodo Swimming Spots best Swimming Holes

Kumano Kodo is a network of ancient pilgrimage trails that crisscross the Kii Peninsula of Japan. These trails are known for their picturesque landscapes, historic shrines, and giant cedar forests.

While the Kumano is popular among hikers for it’s culture and history, there is another beautiful side to the trek – the kumano kodo’s swimming holes.

These crystal-clear oasis’ are refreshingly cold, surrounded by lush greenery and are perfect for a refreshing dip after a long hike

Especially in the middle of summer!

In this article, I’ll share my favorite of the Kumano Kodo swimming holes, how to get there, safety guidelines, and local customs and etiquette.

Key Takeaways

  • Kumano Kodo is a network of ancient pilgrimage trails in Japan that is known for its picturesque landscapes, historic shrines, and giant cedar forests.
  • Swimming holes are natural pools of water formed by streams and rivers that flow through the mountains of Kumano Kodo, and they offer a refreshing dip after a long hike.
  • In this article, we will explore the history of Kumano Kodo swimming holes, popular spots to take a dip, how to get there, safety guidelines, and local customs and etiquette.

Read More: You can read my complete guide to the Kumano Kodo here or checkout some of my other detailed guides below.

Tristan Balme The Best Kumano Kodo Swimming Spots best Swimming Holes

History of Kumano Kodo Swimming Holes

Kumano Kodo, a network of pilgrimage trails through the southern Kansai region of Japan, has a rich history that dates back over 1,000 years. These trails have been used for the purpose of Kumano worship, which flourished as the largest sacred site in Japan during the Middle Ages.

The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes lead to Kumano Sanzan, which comprises three grand shrines: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha, and Kumano Nachi Taisha. These shrines are considered to be the spiritual heart of Japan, and many pilgrims still visit them today.

But Kumano Kodo is not just about shrines and temples. It is also about the natural beauty of the region, which includes numerous swimming holes that have been used for centuries by locals and pilgrims alike. These swimming holes are fed by crystal-clear streams and are surrounded by lush forests, making them the perfect place to cool off after a long day of hiking.

The history of Kumano Kodo swimming holes is closely tied to the history of the region itself. For centuries, locals have used these swimming holes for everything from washing clothes to bathing. And during the Edo period (1603-1868), they became popular among pilgrims who were looking for a place to rest and rejuvenate after a long day of walking.

In terms of your pilgrimage. The walk is meant to be spent achievign purifiction. And part of that process is in fact cleanisng and purification.

Today, many of these swimming holes are still in use, and they continue to be an important part of the Kumano Kodo experience. Whether you are a pilgrim or a tourist, taking a dip in one of these natural pools is a great way to connect with the history and culture of the region.

Geographical Overview

Kumano Kodo is a series of ancient pilgrimage routes that crisscross the Kii Peninsula, the largest peninsula of Japan. The peninsula is located on the island of Honshu, which is the largest island in Japan. The Kumano Kodo routes are located in the southern part of the Kii Peninsula, in Wakayama Prefecture. The area is known for its rugged terrain, dense forests, and numerous rivers and streams.

The Kii Peninsula is a mountainous region with peaks over 1900 meters high. The highest peak is Mount Koya, which is 1915 meters high. The area is also known for its deep valleys, steep cliffs, and rushing rivers. The rivers and streams in the area have created numerous swimming holes that are popular with locals and tourists alike. These swimming holes are a great way to cool off after a long hike on the Kumano Kodo routes.

The Kii Peninsula is also home to several hot springs, which are known as onsen in Japan. These hot springs are a popular attraction for visitors to the area. The hot springs are located throughout the Kii Peninsula, including along the Kumano Kodo routes. The hot springs are a great way to relax and rejuvenate after a long day of hiking or swimming in the area’s many swimming holes.

The 8 Best Swimming Spots On The Kumano Kodo

If you’re looking for a refreshing way to cool off during your Kumano Kodo hike, then you’re in luck! There are several popular swimming holes along the trail that are perfect for taking a dip and enjoying the beautiful scenery. Here are a few of the most popular Kumano Kodo swimming holes:

1. Koguchi Campsite

favorite swimming spot on the kumano kodo

2. Nachi Falls

Nachi Falls is one of the most famous waterfalls in Japan, and it also happens to be a great place to swim. The waterfall is located near the Nachi Taisha shrine, and there is a large pool at the base of the falls that is perfect for swimming. The water is crystal clear and cool, and the view of the waterfall from the pool is breathtaking. Just be careful not to get too close to the falls themselves, as the water can be quite powerful.

How to get there:

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Tristan Balme river swimming hole along the kumano kodo

4. Kumano River

The Kumano River is another great spot for swimming along the Kumano Kodo trail. There are several places along the river where you can jump in and cool off, and the water is generally calm and shallow. One popular spot is near the town of Yunomine Onsen, where there is a small beach area by the river. This is a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery, and the water is perfect for swimming.

5. Dorokyo Gorge

The Dorokyo Gorge is a stunning natural wonder that is located along the Kumano Kodo trail. The gorge is known for its towering cliffs and crystal-clear water, and it is a popular spot for swimming. There are several places along the gorge where you can jump in and enjoy the water, and the scenery is truly breathtaking. Just be aware that the water can be quite cold, even in the summer months.

Overall, there are plenty of great swimming holes along the Kumano Kodo trail that are perfect for cooling off and enjoying the beautiful scenery. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing spot to soak in the sun, or an adventurous place to jump in and swim, there’s something for everyone along the trail.

6. Yunomine Onsen

7. Shirihama Beach

8. Tanabe Beach

9. Katsuura Onsen

How to Get There

Getting to Kumano Kodo Swimming Holes can be a bit challenging, but the journey is well worth it. Here are some tips to help you reach these beautiful destinations.

By Train

The closest train station to the Kumano Kodo Swimming Holes is Kii-Tanabe Station. From there, you can take a bus to your desired swimming hole. The bus ride can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on which swimming hole you want to visit.

By Car

If you have access to a car, driving to the Kumano Kodo Swimming Holes can be a convenient option. However, keep in mind that the roads leading to these swimming holes are narrow and winding, so be sure to drive cautiously. There are several parking lots near each swimming hole, but they can fill up quickly during peak season, so arrive early if possible.

By Tour

Another option is to take a guided tour to the Kumano Kodo Swimming Holes. This can be a great way to explore the area if you’re short on time or prefer to have a local guide show you around. There are several tour companies that offer guided tours of the Kumano Kodo region, so be sure to do your research and choose a reputable company.

Other Tips

No matter how you choose to get to the Kumano Kodo Swimming Holes, be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water and snacks. The trails leading to the swimming holes can be steep and rocky, so be prepared for a bit of a workout. Additionally, be sure to check the weather forecast before you go and be prepared for changes in weather conditions.

Safety Guidelines

At Kumano Kodo, swimming holes are a popular attraction for visitors. However, it is important to follow safety guidelines to ensure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience.

1. Check Water Conditions

Before entering a swimming hole, it is important to check the water conditions. Strong currents, deep pools, and underwater obstructions can be dangerous. If th6e water is murky or discolored, it may be contaminated or have poor visibility, making it difficult to see underwater obstacles.

2. Wear Appropriate Gear

Wearing appropriate gear can help prevent injuries and accidents. Swimwear is recommended for swimming holes, and water shoes or sandals can provide traction on slippery rocks and protect feet from sharp objects. Wearing a life jacket is also recommended, especially for those who are not strong swimmers.

3. Avoid Jumping or Diving

Jumping or diving into a swimming hole can be dangerous, even if the water appears deep enough. Rocks and other underwater obstacles may be present and not visible from the surface. It is also important to avoid jumping or diving from high elevations, such as cliffs or waterfalls, as this can result in serious injury or death.

4. Supervise Children

Children should always be supervised when swimming in a swimming hole. Even if they are strong swimmers, they can still be at risk for accidents or injuries. Children should also be instructed to stay away from underwater obstructions and not to jump or dive into the water.

5. Respect Wildlife

Kumano Kodo is home to a variety of wildlife, including fish, turtles, and birds. Visitors should respect their habitat and avoid disturbing them. Fishing and hunting are not allowed in swimming holes, and visitors should not feed or touch the wildlife.

By following these safety guidelines, we can ensure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience at Kumano Kodo swimming holes.

Best Time to Visit

When planning a trip to Kumano Kodo to explore the swimming holes, it is essential to consider the best time to visit. The weather in Kumano Kodo varies throughout the year, and it is crucial to plan your trip accordingly to ensure that you can enjoy the swimming holes to the fullest.

The best time to visit Kumano Kodo for swimming is during the summer months of July, August, and September. The water is warm, and the weather is perfect for swimming. However, it is also the busiest time of the year, and the swimming holes can get crowded.

If you prefer to avoid the crowds, visiting Kumano Kodo in the shoulder seasons of late spring (May and June) and early autumn (October and November) can be a great option. The weather is still pleasant, and the swimming holes are less crowded.

If you are planning to hike the Kumano Kodo trail, the best time to visit is during the autumn months of October and November. The weather is cooler, and the fall foliage makes for a stunning backdrop. However, it is essential to note that the swimming holes may be too cold for swimming during this time.

It is not recommended to visit Kumano Kodo during the winter months of December to February as the weather can be harsh, and many of the swimming holes may be inaccessible due to snow and ice.

Overall, the best time to visit Kumano Kodo for swimming is during the summer months of July, August, and September. However, visiting during the shoulder seasons or autumn can also be a great option to avoid the crowds and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Local Customs and Etiquette

When visiting Kumano Kodo’s swimming holes, it’s important to be aware of local customs and etiquette. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Respect the environment: Kumano Kodo’s swimming holes are a natural wonder, and it’s important to treat them with respect. Avoid littering, and don’t damage any plants or wildlife.
  • Respect other visitors: Kumano Kodo’s swimming holes can get crowded, especially during peak season. Be mindful of others, and don’t take up too much space.
  • Be modest: When swimming, it’s best to wear modest swimwear. Bikinis and other revealing clothing may offend some visitors, especially older ones.
  • Be mindful of noise: Kumano Kodo’s swimming holes are a place of tranquility, so it’s important to keep noise levels to a minimum. Loud music or shouting can disrupt the peaceful atmosphere.
  • Respect local customs: Kumano Kodo is a place of great spiritual significance, and many visitors come here on a pilgrimage. Be respectful of local customs and traditions, and don’t do anything that could be considered disrespectful or offensive.

By following these simple guidelines, we can ensure that everyone has an enjoyable and respectful experience when visiting Kumano Kodo’s swimming holes.

Nearby Attractions

When visiting the Kumano Kodo Swimming Holes, there are plenty of nearby attractions to see and experience. Here are a few of our top picks:

Nachi Falls

Located just a short distance from the Kumano Kodo Swimming Holes, Nachi Falls is one of Japan’s most famous waterfalls. Standing at over 130 meters tall, this impressive waterfall is surrounded by lush greenery and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Be sure to visit the nearby Nachi Taisha Shrine, which is one of the three grand shrines of Kumano.

Yunomine Onsen

After a long day of hiking and exploring, there’s no better way to relax than with a soak in a traditional Japanese hot spring. Yunomine Onsen is one of the oldest hot springs in Japan and is located on the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route. With its rustic charm and healing waters, Yunomine Onsen is the perfect place to unwind and rejuvenate.

Tanabe City

If you’re looking to experience modern Japanese culture, Tanabe City is a great place to start. This vibrant city offers a variety of shops, restaurants, and attractions, including the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Museum of Art, which showcases the work of local artists. Be sure to also check out the Tanabe City Museum of History, which offers a fascinating look into the city’s past.

Whether you’re interested in history, nature, or modern culture, there’s something for everyone near the Kumano Kodo Swimming Holes.

Final Thoughts and Conclusion

In conclusion, Kumano Kodo is a paradise for nature lovers, adventure enthusiasts, and those seeking spiritual enlightenment. The swimming holes are an excellent way to cool off and relax after a long hike. The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail is a unique experience that offers a glimpse into Japan’s rich cultural heritage and stunning natural beauty.

We highly recommend visiting Kumano Kodo and exploring the various swimming holes. Each swimming hole has its own charm and beauty, and you will not be disappointed. Remember to respect nature and leave no trace behind when you visit these places.

Before embarking on your journey, make sure to do your research and plan accordingly. The Kumano Kodo trail can be challenging, so it is essential to be prepared physically and mentally. Bring plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen, and wear comfortable shoes and clothing.

Overall, Kumano Kodo is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves adventure, nature, and culture. We hope this guide has been helpful in planning your trip to Kumano Kodo’s swimming holes. Happy exploring!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the best section of Kumano Kodo?

The best section of Kumano Kodo depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re interested in the spiritual aspect of the pilgrimage, the Nakahechi route is the most popular and takes you through the three grand shrines of Kumano. If you want a more challenging hike with stunning views, the Kohechi route is the way to go. The Iseji route is also a great option if you want to explore the coast and visit smaller shrines.

Q. How difficult is the Kumano Kodo?

The difficulty of the Kumano Kodo depends on the route you choose and your fitness level. The Nakahechi route is the most popular and is considered moderate, with some steep climbs and descents. The Kohechi route is more challenging, with longer and steeper climbs. The Iseji route is the easiest, with mostly flat terrain. It’s important to be prepared with proper gear and training before attempting any of the routes.

Q. Is the Kumano Kodo worth it?

Absolutely! The Kumano Kodo is a unique and unforgettable experience that combines stunning natural beauty with spiritual significance. The pilgrimage has been a tradition for over a thousand years and is a great way to connect with Japanese culture and history. Whether you’re interested in hiking, spirituality, or just want to explore a different side of Japan, the Kumano Kodo is definitely worth it.

Q. What time of year is best for Kumano Kodo?

The best time to hike the Kumano Kodo is from April to November. The weather is mild and pleasant during these months, with the most popular time being autumn when the leaves change color. However, it’s important to note that the trails can be crowded during peak season, so if you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting in the shoulder seasons.

Q. How many days should I plan for Kumano Kodo?

The number of days you should plan for the Kumano Kodo depends on the route you choose and your pace. The Nakahechi route takes about 4-5 days, while the Kohechi route takes about 5-7 days. The Iseji route can be completed in 2-3 days. Keep in mind that you’ll need to factor in travel time to and from the trailhead, as well as rest days and time to explore the shrines and surrounding areas.

Q. What are some good accommodation options for Kumano Kodo?

There are a variety of accommodation options along the Kumano Kodo, ranging from traditional ryokans to modern hotels. Some popular options include Minshuku (family-run guesthouses), Shukubo (temple lodgings), and Onsens (hot spring resorts). It’s recommended to book in advance, especially during peak season, to ensure availability.

Kumano Kodo Travel Planning Cheatsheet

(This list contains affiliate links which may earn me a small comission if you decide to puchase something - thank you!)

🚑 Should I buy travel insurance for Japan?

100% YES! — Japan has “free” healthcare but it’s only for citizens! Tourists need travel insurance in case anything happens on your visit. Also be aware many policies won't cover hiking as it's a high risk activity! (that's right, check the t&c's on your complimentary credit card insurance

I highly recommend World Nomads as you can get specific add-ons for the crazy activities you're doing – and starts at just $7 a day!

🏩 What’s the best way to book my Kumano Kodo accommodation?

Your only realy two options here are Kumano Travel and Booking.com. Its a complicated process so I wrote this guide here on the best kumano kodo accomodation options

If you don't want to figure it all out (it's meant to be a holiday after all) you can book a package tour. Here are my recommendations for both guided and self-guided.

💸How do you pay for things in Japan?

Japan may have flying robots.. but they also still use cash! So you'll want to get some folding tender out from an ATM when you land. EFTPOS / Debit / Credit Card and Paywave (contactless payments) is common at bigger businesses but small bars, and street vendors want cash.

I personally use a Wise debit card for all my international money needs as they only convert the funds when you make payment, plus they offer a much better spread (margin on the true exhange rate) than the banks do. They work in all Japanese ATMs I tried. 

🚙 Do you need to rent a car in Japan?

I wouldn't reccommend it — Transport in Japan is expensive whatever mode you chose, but fortunalty the publc transport system is out of this world in terms of both freqency and coverage. If you are heading to a lot of off the beaten track places, then you may want a rental. I use Discover Cars to find the cheapest rates on rentals cars and remember you can save money if you avoid picking up at the airport.

🚆 What about the JR Rail Pass?

We didn't - but it depends on the length and itenirary of your trip. The JR Pass is expensive (and just went up in price again!) and if you're walking the Kumano Kodo you wont need it for probably 6 days straight anyway. 

Do the math, but in most cases buying the train fares you need, when you need it will work out more afforably overall - and give you more flexibility (as the JR Pass doesn't cover all lines)

📲 How do I get internet/data/wifi in Japan and on the trail?

This one needs a whole nother article, but the short version is local SIM cards are cheaper but generally require a fixed term contract. Tourist 'short stay' SIMs are a bit more expensive but will give you plenty of data while your visiting and are best for solo travelllers or purchase a international SIM before you leave (I reccommend Airalo for Japan) . If you're travelling as 2 or more people, renting a pocket WIFI unit from the airport is the most economical option.

✈️ What’s the best site to buy flights to Japan?

For finding cheap flights, I recommend Skyscanner. Once you find the flight you're looking for, I'd then suggest booking directly with the carrier (even if it costs a few $$ more than with one of the agreggators/agencies).

💧Can you drink the water on the Kumano Kodo?

Yes — Japan is very clean. In all townships you'll pass through and stay along the Kumano Kodo the tap water is drinkable. If you want to drink water from the rivers and streams you generally can but should do so at your own risk. ALWAYS follow best practice and drink from fast flowing water as far up stream as possible. I drank the water and was fine.. but i'd generally recommend a Brita Water Bottle for rehydrating on the trail safely. 

🎫 Do I need a visa for Japan?

Likely Not — Japan now recognises 70 countries as 'visa exempt' for short term stay. So if you're a US, UK, NZ, AU and EU passport holder you don’t need a Japansese visas. However, some other countries do (check here!). And if you plan to stay for more than 90 days (an average tourist visa length), you will need to look into the Japanese working holiday visa scheme, or the new Digital Nomad visa scheme. 

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