The Best Time to Walk The Kumano Kodo (And When NOT To Go!)

Tristan Balme the best time to do kumano kodo hike japan

The Kumano Kodo is an ancient pilgrimage route in Japan, which has increasingly gained popularity among hikers and travelers from around the world. It’s a sprawling network of trails covering the Kii Mountain range, the Kumano Kodo offers an incredible blend of natural beauty, culture, and spiritual experiences.

If you tackle the most popular Nakahetchi route like I did, you’ll need 4/5 days and will walk around 70km.

The best time to walk the Kumano Kodo is during the Japanese spring (March to early June) and autumn (September to November). These periods provide more mellow temperatures, and you get to experience the famous spring blossoms or vibrant fall colors (depending on the season). Aim to miss the wet season of June, and the scorching heat of July/August.

I hiked the Nakahetchi route of the Kumano Kodo in July 2023 and it was unbearably hot (I’ve never sweat so much in my life). Humid, 35-degree days make even climbing a flight of stairs a challenge – let alone a mountain range.

In this blog post, I’ll share what the pros and cons of hiking the kumano kodo in each season are, and some tips if you plan on tackling this in summer like I did!

Key Takeaways

  • Spring and autumn offer the best hiking conditions for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes
  • Summer is crazy hot, and you’ll risk typhoons and heavy rain in certain months
  • Winter, there’s a chance of snow and ice. You’lll need poles or specialized equipment to walk safely in these conditions
  • Booking accommodations early is essential to ensure a smooth journey
  • Consider guided and self-guided tours to take the hassle out of booking (or at least talk to them about when is best to go).

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

Tristan Balme best season for kumano kodo

The Best Time To Walk The Kumano Kodo

When I booked my trek along the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route in Japan, I didn’t give much thought to the best time to go.

But in hindsight I wished I had booked different dates to try coincide with better weather.

Summer Season (June – August)

The summer season, while full of lush greenery, can be seriously hot and humid. Fortunatly, the heat in the Kii Peninsula (where the Kumano Kodo is located) is often not as intense as it is in the cities.. and there are plenty of swimming holes along the trail – so good!

If you don’t mind the humidity, summer can still be a fantastic time to follow the pilgrimage route. Just also be aware that August and September are the peak months for typhoon season in Japan, which could potentially disrupt your trek as there’s little shelter on the trail, and fog and cloud can spoil the views.

Summer weather conditions:

  • Temperature: 24°C + (75°F)
  • Rainfall: 182mm
  • Humidity: 84%
  • Notes: Wet, hot and humid

Recommendation: I hiked the Kumano in peak summer: it was 33 – 35 degrees every day and humid. The heat made hiking a lot harder than it probably should have been, and while I enjoyed the challenge, I probably wouldn’t recommend people attempt the Kumano Kodo at this time of year.

Japanese Spring (March to early June)

Japanese spring (March to early June) is the preferred time to complete the pilgrimage. Then, the weather is more temperate and the scenery is at its best. Spring offers mind-blowing blooms (think cherry blossom season) but also everyone else will be wanting to do it at this time.

nb: Be aware spring is abosult peak season, and booking will sell out 3 months in advance. At the time of making this edit, the Kumano Travel booking authority have closed bookings because the trail completely booked.

Spring weather conditions:

  • Temperature: 15°C (56°F)
  • Rainfall: 136mm
  • Humidity: 73%
  • Notes: Generally mild and low rainfall

Tip: remember to bring your camera to capture the colorful blossoms! [source].

Autumn (September – November)

Autumn (September to November) is another favorite time of year to hike the Kumano Kodo andautumn brings bursts of fall colors that will give Canada a run for it’s money..

The weather is typically more temperate again, and the autumn colors create an awe-inspiring backdrop for your trek. The fall foliage, especially in October, is a sight to behold and provides the perfect opportunity for photography enthusiasts. Don’t miss out on the stunning reds, oranges, and yellows that cover the landscape! Check out this source for more details.

Autumn weather conditions:

  • Temperature: 18°C (64°F)
  • Rainfall: 159mm
  • Humidity: 68%
  • Notes: Generally mild

Winter (December – February)

Lastly, hiking the Kumano Kodo during winter months (December to February) can be a bit challenging due to the cold temperatures. Snowfall may add a picturesque touch, but it can also make certain parts of the trail more difficult to navigate.

If you’re a seasoned hiker (and don’t mind the cold), a winter trek might be a fun option for you. Just make sure you’re well-equipped with warm clothing and appropriate gear. You can find more information on winter hiking in Kumano Kodo here.

Winter weather conditions:

  • Temperature: 6°C (44°F)
  • Rainfall: 93mm
  • Humidity: 68%
  • Notes: Chances of snow and ice in the mornings

Tip: If you do choose to take on this walk in winter then one of your biggest enemies will be daylights. Some days demand 8-9 hours of hiking to get to your next destination, which is about all the daylight you have. You’ll want to leave early and walk fast to make sure you don’t end up on the trail in the dark.

Tristan Balme when to hike the kumano kodo

Kumano Kodo Seasons Comparison

Tristan Balme the best time of year for the kumano kodo

I like tables.

Below is a bit of a rule of thumb for what months to do the Kumano Kodo, and what type of weather you’ll encounter.

MonthRainfall (mm)Temperature (°C)Temperature (°F)Humidity (%)Typical Weather
January915.4 °C(41.8) °F68%Possible Snow
February976.1 °C(43) °F68%Too Cold
March1289 °C(48.3) °F68%Good
April12813.6 °C(56.6) °F71%Best
May15317.9 °C(64.2) °F77%Good
June23921.4 °C(70.6) °F84%Too Wet
July18525.2 °C(77.3) °F86%Too Hot
August12326.4 °C(79.5) °F81%Too Wet
September19223.4 °C(74.1) °F78%Good
October17818.2 °C(64.8) °F74%Best
November10712.8 °C(55.1) °F72%Cooler
December927.8 °C(46) °F69%Too Cold
Source: climate-data.org

Weather and Trail Conditions On The Kumano Kodo

Tristan Balme hiking the kumano kodo in summer 2

When planning a trip to the Kumano Kodo, it’s essential to consider the weather and trail conditions. In my experience, the best time to hike the Kumano Kodo is during the Japanese spring (March to early June) or autumn (September to November). During these seasons, you can expect temperate conditions and beautiful scenery with either mind-blowing blooms or bursts of fall colors.

Temperatures:

Temperature plays a significant role in how enjoyable the trek is. In spring and autumn, it’s usually warm, but not too hot. This makes for pleasant hiking conditions. If you choose to hike during the summer, be prepared for higher temperatures and humidity, especially on the trail. It’s still doable, but I would advise being cautious with the heat and staying well-hydrated.

Rainfall:

Another factor to consider is rainfall. While the June rainy season can be wet, it usually doesn’t rain every day. However, hiking in rain can be an adventure on its own. Personally, I think the spring and autumn seasons are more ideal to avoid heavy rainfall and still enjoy the beautiful landscapes.

As for typhoon season, August and September pose a potential risk of disruption to travel plans. Typhoon season can sometimes lead to travel disruptions and would advise avoiding these months for trekking the Kumano Kodo if possible. Heavy rainfall and high humidity can make the trail conditions more challenging and less enjoyable.

Snow:

Snowfall is not a significant concern for most of the year when trekking the Kumano Kodo. However, winter can be cold and snowy in certain areas. If you’re not comfortable hiking in colder temperatures, I’d recommend sticking to the spring and autumn seasons.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What’s the best month to hike the Kumano Kodo?

A. The best months to hike the Kumano Kodo are from April to June and from September to November. During these months, the rainfall is relatively low, and the temperatures are mild, making for comfortable hiking conditions.

Q. What’s the worst month to hike the Kumano Kodo?

A. The worst month to hike the Kumano Kodo is August, which can be the wettest month of the year. The high temperatures and high humidity can make hiking uncomfortable, and the heavy rainfall can make the trails muddy and hard going.

Q. Does it snow on the kumano kodo ?

A. Yes, it can snow on the Kumano Kodo, particularly in the higher elevations. However, snow is relatively rare, and it usually only lasts for a few days before melting.

Q. How hot does it get on the Kumano Kodo?

A. The average high temperature on the Kumano Kodo during the hottest months of July and August is around 29°C (84°F). However, temperatures can sometimes reach as high as 35°C (95°F) during these months. It was 34-36 degrees every day I hiked the Kumano Kodo.. ouch!

So When Is The Best Time To Walk The Kumano Kodo?

Tristan Balme hiking the kumano kodo in summer

While there’s no right or wrong time to book the trail, some times of the year will provide a more enjoyable experience than others.

The best time of year to hike the Kumano Kodo is in mid-spring or mid-autumn (fall). That way you’ll get milder temperatures and more consistent weather. In spring you’ll also be able to enjoy the cherry blossoms, while in autumn the fall leaves make for some stunning photography.

That being said, I hiked the Kumano in July, and whist it was incredibly hot, we had a brilliant time, enjoying the multiple rivers and swimming holes along the way. We also didn’t get a drop of rain and barely had anyone else on the trail.

What’s your take?

Have you hiked the Kumano Kodo? Let me know in the comments below what time of year you chose and what that experience was like for you!

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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