I hiked the Kumano Kodo in the summer of 2023 and quickly realized that not all Kumano Kodo experiences are equal. You can choose from different routes, and different sections of the trail, and even opt to bus parts – all of which affect the length of your hike.
The most popular route of the Kumano Kodo is the Nakahetchi route which is approximately 74km if walked in its entirety. Alternative trails include the 65km Kohehi Route and the 170km Iseji route.
In this article, I’ll explain the distances involved in walking each of these Kumano Kodo routes, and give an idea of what a typical day of walking entails.
Read More: You can read my complete guide to the Kumano Kodo here or checkout some of my other detailed guides below.
Table of Contents
Overview of The Kumano Kodo Trail Length
The Kumano Kodo Trail is an ancient pilgrimage route that takes visitors through the picturesque mountains of Wakayama in Japan. As a brilliant way to experience Japan’s rural side and ancient religious traditions, the trail has become popular among trekkers and history enthusiasts alike.
We can divide the trail into several different routes, each providing a unique experience with varying difficulty levels and lengths. Although the trail isn’t situated in high mountains, most of the hiking takes place between 100 and 800 meters above sea level. It allows hikers to enjoy the beautiful Japanese countryside and the enchanting views of the Kii Peninsula.
As we traverse the trail, we’ll pass through ancient cedar forests, small villages, and historic shrines, making the journey spiritually and culturally enriching. The Kumano Kodo Trail is mainly known for three grand shrines:
- Kumano Hongu Taisha: A central shrine that leads over three thousand other shrines across Japan, accessed by climbing 580 stone steps.
- Kumano Hayatama Taisha: A sacred place where three deities of Shintoism are believed to have descended to Earth on a rock near the shrine.
- Kumano Nachi Taisha: A visually stunning shrine that offers a breathtaking view of the Nachi waterfall, the tallest waterfall in Japan.
Along the way, we’ll also encounter guesthouses (ryokan) and local cuisine, allowing us to immerse ourselves in the Japanese way of life while resting after a day’s hike. One of the fundamental appeals of the Kumano Kodo is its balance of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and warm hospitality, which makes the journey accessible and enjoyable for hikers of all levels.
Main Routes of The Kumano Kodo Trail
The Kumano Kodo Trail isn’t just one path. Its a network of ancient pilgrimage routes that span across the Kii Mountain range in Japan.
Each of these Kumano Kodo Trail Routes varies in terms of distance, difficulty, and terrain. However, they all share rich cultural and historical value, which makes them a popular pilgrimage for countless travelers every year. No matter which route you choose, the Kumano Kodo Trail is guaranteed to offer a fulfilling and unforgettable experience.
Option 1: The Nakahetchi Route (75km)
The most popular and accessible route among these trails is the Nakahechi, which starts at Takijiri Oji, approximately 15 km west of Tanabe. Tanabe, located on the west coast of Wakayama, serves as the main entry point for the Kumano Kodo and is easily accessible by express trains from Kyoto and Osaka.
Note: This route is the one I walked!
- Total Leght: 75km
- Total Elevation Gain:
- Total Elevation Loss:
- Typicial Days Taken 4/5
Option 2: The Kohechi Route (65km)
In addition to the Nakahechi, other significant routes of the Kumano Kodo Trail include the Kohechi, Iseji, and Ohechi. The Kohechi route connects the sacred sites of Koyasan, Yoshino, and Kumano Sanzan. This trail is known for its steep sections, providing a more challenging experience for hikers.
Option 3: The Iseji Route (170km)
Meanwhile, the Iseji route runs along the eastern coast of the Kii Peninsula, connecting Ise Jingu, the most sacred Shinto shrine in Japan, with the Kumano Sanzan.
Option 4: The Ohechi Route (92km)
Lastly, the Ohechi, which is a coastal route, connects Kumano with the sacred sites of Mount Koya.
Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Trail Length (Day By Day Explained)
The Kumano Kodo Nakahechi route is the most popular and historic pilgrimage trail. It’s the route I walked and it is the one you’ll probably choose if it’s your first time walking the Kumano Kodo
In this section, I’ ‘ll discuss the lengths of the various sub-sections of the Nakahechi route, including Takijiri to Chikatsuyu, Chikatsuyu to Hongu, and Hongu to Koguchi, and Koguchi to Nachi Falls.
Day 1: Takijiri to Chikatsuyu
The trek from Takijiri to Chikatsuyu covers a distance of approximately 18 kilometers. Starting at Takijiri-oji, the initial point of entry for pilgrims, we can expect to encounter both uphill and downhill sections. With an elevation gain of 1,180 meters and a maximum elevation of 790 meters, this leg of the journey takes about 5 to 6 hours to complete for most walkers.
Along the way, you’ll pass through dense forests, peaceful villages, and encounter ancient Oji shrines.
Chikatsuyu to Hongu
The next sub-section, from Chikatsuyu to Hongu, spans around 26 kilometers and includes a stop at the iconic Kumano Hongu Taisha grand shrine. The journey will take us through a diverse landscape consisting of cedar forests, bamboo groves, and terraced rice fields. With an elevation gain of 800 meters and a maximum elevation of 820 meters, this part of the trail usually requires 8 to 10 hours to complete.
- Notable attractions along the way:
- Hosshinmon-oji, one of the most important Oji shrines
- Fushiogami-oji, offering picturesque views of Kumano Hongu Taisha and the surrounding mountains
Hongu to Koguchi
The 3rd day of the Nakahechi route, covering the distance between Hongu and Nachi, measures approximately 14.5 kilometers. The trail itself is around 13.5km and then there’s 1km along the road (but still on trail) at the end to get into koguchi village.
This was definitely the easiest day of hiking, with the shortest distance, quickest time, and least elevation gain.
Koguchi to Nachi
The final sub-section of the Nakahechi route, covering the distance between Hongu and Nachi, measures approximately 30 kilometers. This leg is highlighted by memorable visits to the Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine and Nachi Waterfall. The Hongu to Nachi trail features an elevation gain of 1,530 meters and a maximum elevation of 895 meters. Allow about 9 to 12 hours for completion.
- Points of interest include:
- Daimonzaka, a steep stone-paved slope lined with giant Japanese cypress trees
- Nachi Taisha Seiganto-ji Temple, a beautiful temple complex designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site
By splitting our journey along the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Route into these four sub-sections, we can enjoy the scenery and attractions at a comfortable pace. As we walk the trail, we will be following in the footsteps of emperors and pilgrims alike, experiencing the rich history and spiritual significance of this ancient pilgrimage route.
Kumano Kodo Kohechi Route Length: 65km
Koya to Hongu
The Kohechi route is an integral part of the renowned Kumano Kodo trail. This specific route measures approximately 65 km (40 mi) in length1, making it an ideal challenge for hikers wanting a moderately difficult journey. It zigzags over steep peaks and crosses three mountain passes, reaching over 1,000 meters in elevation1.
Originating at the legendary Koyasan (Mount Koya) in Wakayama Prefecture, the Kohechi route holds significant historical and cultural importance. Revered for over a thousand years, Mount Koya represents one of Japan’s most sacred sites1. From there, the trail leads south and concludes at Hongu, home to the magnificent Kumano Sanzan2.
The Kohechi route offers hikers an opportunity to experience a variety of landscapes, as it traverses through deep forests, open ridges, and quaint village communities. Along the path, ancient Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines become benchmarks for the spiritual journey1.
We must note that due to its steep inclines and high elevation, the Kohechi route can prove challenging for inexperienced hikers. If you’re considering this adventure, make sure to come prepared and allocate sufficient time for a safe and enjoyable experience. Accurate estimations recommend approximately 4-7 days for the entire hike2.
- https://travel.gaijinpot.com/kumano-kodo-kohechi-route/ ↩ ↩2 ↩3 ↩4
- https://www.tb-kumano.jp/en/kumano-kodo/ ↩ ↩2
Kumano Kodo Iseji Route Length
Ise to Kumano
The Kumano Kodo Iseji Route stretches over an impressive 170 kilometers, connecting the sacred site of Ise Jingu with the equally cherished Kumano Sanzan. As we traverse this ancient pilgrimage trail, we’ll pass through a variety of landscapes, including coastal areas, forested mountains, and quaint small villages. The well-trodden path guides us through the rich history and cultural heritage of Japan while offering a serene and spiritual hiking experience.
Throughout our journey on the Iseji Route, we will encounter 10 towns and cities, as well as 20 mountain passes. Each section presents its own unique challenges, with varying levels of difficulty. For example, some sections like the Meki-toge Pass and Misesaka-toge Pass are suitable for beginners, while others such as the Tsuzurato-toge Pass are better suited for regular hikers.
Breaking down the journey into smaller parts allows us to better understand the overall length and time required to complete the pilgrimage:
- Section 1: Meki-toge Pass – Walking time: 45 minutes
- Section 2: Misesaka-toge Pass – Walking time: 1 hour
- Section 3: Nisaka-toge Pass – Walking time: 2 hours 30 minutes
- Section 4: Tsuzurato-toge Pass – Walking time: About 4 hours
These are just a few examples of the sections we’ll cover along the way, each with its own distinct characteristics and terrain. As we progress through the Kumano Kodo Iseji Route, we’ll gain firsthand experience of this extraordinary pilgrimage path, absorbing its historical and spiritual significance along the way.
Final Thoughts And Recommendations
I absolutely loved hiking the Kumano Kodo.
I did the Nakahetchi route which was 75km in total split across 4 days.
You can do it in 5 or 6 days too. You can also split the walking by catching local busses, or detour to other notable side trails along the way
The good, but also intimidating thing here is there are almost unlimited options.
Personally, i think doing the prescribed ‘imperail route’ and walking the whole thing took away a lot of decision fatigue.
Booking through the Kumano travel website meant the accommodation was all sorted ahead of time and in close proximity to the trail.
BUT – having now done it I have a million ideas of other trails and sites to see next time i go back.
So what’s the answer?
Maybe you can’t do the Kumano Kodo in just one go. Maybe it’s something to do different bits of each time you get the chance. The choice is yours!
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 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.
🚙 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.
🚆 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. 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.