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 temperate conditions, allowing hikers to experience captivating blossoms or vibrant fall colors, depending on the season, while also missing 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!

Key Takeaways

  • Spring and autumn offer the best hiking conditions for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes
  • Summer is too hot, and you’ll risk typhoons and heavy rain in certain months
  • Winter, you’ll encounter snow and ice and may require crampons/poles to walk safely.
  • 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.

I learned that the summer season, while full of lush greenery, can be quite hot and humid. Nonetheless, the heat in the Kii Peninsula, where the Kumano Kodo is located, is often not as intense as it is in the cities. If you don’t mind the humidity, summer can still be a fantastic time to follow the pilgrimage route. Just be aware that August and September are the peak months for typhoon season in Japan, which could potentially disrupt your travel plans.

I found that the optimal periods to undertake this journey are during the Japanese spring (March to early June) and autumn (September to November). During these seasons, the weather is more temperate and the natural scenery is a sight to behold. Spring offers mind-blowing blooms, while autumn brings bursts of fall colors that enhance the experience.

Alternatively, winter might appeal to those who prefer a quieter and more serene experience without the crowds. The advantages of winter include cooler temperatures and greater solitude. However, do keep in mind that the days are shorter and the weather can be cold, so proper preparation and gear are essential.

Ultimately, the choice of the best time to embark on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage depends on personal preferences and the type of weather and scenery that resonate with you. Just remember to remain flexible and prepare accordingly as you embark on this magnificent journey in Japan.

Tristan Balme when to hike the kumano kodo

Kumano Kodo Seasons Comparison

I like tables. Below is my 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 Hot
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
Tristan Balme the best time of year for the kumano kodo

Spring (March to early June)

Spring is one of the best times to hike the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes because of the temperate conditions and beautiful scenery. The cherry blossoms and other blooms create a interesting atmosphere for walking. Additionally, the weather tends to be more stable, which is good news for hikers.

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].

Summer (June – August)

Summer is full of flowers and lush greenery, but it may not be the most comfortable time for hiking Kumano Kodo due to the hot and humid weather. June and July are particularly wet, with coastal monsoonal weather occasionally causing disruptions. July through to August is hot, in the mid 30’s

For those who don’t mind the heat and humidity, August may offer a more enjoyable experience, but remember to stay hydrated.

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.

Autumn (September – November)

Autumn (September to November) is another favorite time of year to hike the Kumano Kodo. 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 an adventurous 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.

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 June, which is the wettest month of the year. The high temperatures and high humidity can make hiking uncomfortable, and the heavy rainfall can make the trails slippery and dangerous.

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.

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

🚑 Should I buy travel insurance for Japan?

100% YES! — Japan has “free” healthcare but it’s only for citizens! Foreigners visiting need travel insurance in case anything happens on their visit. Also be aware many policies won't cover hiking as it's a high risk activity! I recommend World Nomads – starting at just $5 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.

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.

🚙 Do you need to rent a car in Japan?

I'd reccommend it — Renting a car isn't a necessity to get around in NZ with plenty of domestical flights and intercity busses. But, If you want to go on road trips or adventures outside of the major cities, you’ll need to rent a car. (Read more)

📲 Will my phone work in Japan and on the Trail?

Maybe — Some American companies work in Canada, but many will not. If your phone doesn’t work in Canada, I recommend getting a Canadian SIM card so you can get around and stay in contact with loved ones. We don’t have a lot of free WIFI in Canada, so you’ll need your phone for maps.

 

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

For finding cheap flights, I recommend Skyscanner. Once here, domestic flights can be found on the Air New Zealand and Jetstar website.

You can read my full guide on flying to NZ in this article.

💧Can you drink the water on the Kumano Kodo?

Yes — In all major cities in Canada, you can drink the tap water. There are very few, rural areas that you can’t. However, you should never drink river or lake water anywhere in the country! I recommend a Brita Water Bottle for long hikes and backcountry camping to stay safe and hydrated.

🎫 Do I need a visa for Japan?

Likely Not — US, UK, and EU passport holders don’t need New Zealand visas. However, some other countries do (check here!). And if you plan to stay for more than 4 weeks (an average tourist visa length), you will need to look into visas to live in New Zealand.

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