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– Consider this 5-Day Osaka-Kumano-Wakayama area JR pass or this 7-day pass which covers a larger area.
– If you are planning to hike one or several trails of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage, Japan’s Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage is an indispensable guidebook with detailed maps, altitude charts, and tips.
– See here for some of the best Japan tours available.
– You can also find some great deals on Japan activities, transportation, and more on Klook. Sign up here to get a 350-yen credit!
I didn’t actually do the entire Kumano Kodo walk, but instead based myself in the area, staying at J-Hoppers Kumano Yunomine (see reviews / check prices), one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in, and busing or hiking to various spots to take in the temples and hot springs.
Where are you headed after the Kumano Kodo? You may find some ideas in my articles on cherry blossoms in Osaka, planning your Kyoto itinerary, or doing a day trip to Mt. Fuji.
If you’re in Tokyo, make sure to take a day trip to Kamakura, famous for its temples and the Great Buddha of Kamakura.
Different Routes of the Kumano Kodo Trek
When most people talk about the Kumano Kodo walk, they are referring to the Nakahechi route, which starts on the west coast of the peninsula near Tanabe and finishes at the Kumano Sanzan, three extremely important temples located in Hongu, Shingu, and Nachi. Hikers usually spend 2-4 days on this route, depending on exactly where they begin and end. East of Hongu, the trail splits and heads to the coast, terminating at either Shingu or Nachi.
The four-day, north-to-south Kohechi route is a more difficult Kumano Kodo trek that connects Koyasan to the Kumano Sanzan. The Ohechi route runs along the coast from Tanabe to Fudarakusan-ji Temple, and finally, the Iseji route heads north along the coast from the Kumano Sanzan to the Ise grand Shrine.
See this page for full kumano kodo route descriptions and links to route maps.
If you plan on visiting or hiking the Kumano Kodo in winter, you will be rewarded with trails nearly devoid of people, and those hot springs at the end of the Nakahechi Route (or the temple-stay onsens in Koyasan) will feel that much more soothing.
The places you are most likely to see snow, if any, are Koyasan, and some higher-altitude sections of various routes. During my trip, there was a cold spell and record snows across Japan. In Koyasan, the skies were dumping snow when I visited (see photo above), which made the whole landscape look like a surreal Buddhist wonderland. See this page for lots of snowy pics and my full write-up on visiting Koyasan in winter.
However, when I visited the Kumano Sanzan and did a small part of the Kumano Kodo from Yunomine to Hongu (see below), the trails were mostly snow free, with just a bit of frost on the ground in the upper portions.
The lowest temperature I experienced was at Koyasan, which was -9° early in the morning. This was bloody cold, especially considering most temple accommodations there are barely heated (and I come from Canada, where it gets much colder in winter!) You need proper, full winter gear for visiting Koyasan in winter, no matter where you come from.
When I stayed in tiny Yunomine onsen for three days (more details below), the lowest temperature was just below zero. My experience doing short hikes in the area was that you need to wear quite a bit when you start off in the morning, but when you continue hiking and your core heats up, you end up getting sweaty and shedding layers.
Gloves, winter hat, and several layers beneath a good winter jacket are still essential for doing any part of the Kumano Kodo in winter.
Love trekking? Also check out my articles on hiking to a temple with cliff carvings in Busan, Korea, and hiking to the temples of Lion’s Head Mountain in Taiwan.
How to Get a Taste of the Kumano Kodo Walk
If you don’t want to hike the full Kumano Kodo, then I would suggest you do as I did: I bussed from Koyasan to the area and stayed at J-Hoppers Kumano Yunomine (see on Agoda / TripAdvisor / Booking) in tiny Yunomine Onsen for three nights.
I don’t usually like hostels, but this one has incredible capsule-like dorm beds, great staff, and even onsens that you can use privately! This was easily one of my best hostel experiences ever, and I’ve stayed in many!
From Yunomine, I could walk to several awesome Wakayama onsens and also do a small portion of the Kumano Kodo called the Dainichi-goe route, which goes over a small mountain from Yunomine to Hongu (1.5 hours).
You can then return the same way or take a 10-minute bus ride.
For me, this was the perfect amount of hiking to get a good taste of the Kumano Kodo without spending multiple days slogging up and down the mountain trails. I can understand the appeal of doing the whole thing, but some of the hikers I talked to did confirm my suspicions that some of those days on the mountains did get a little tiresome and repetitive.
The Dainichi-goe route connects two of the most interesting spots on the Kumano Kodo: the hot spring village of Yunomine, and the Kumano Kongu Taisha shrine and enormous Torii gate at Hongu. The trail is quite lovely, and I loved the beautiful red Hinoki trees.
I had a very relaxing three days in Yunomine, doing the Dainichi-goe route and other day walks, then soaking in my hostel onsen at night. Next, I caught a bus to Shingu and Naichi to see the other two grand shrines. If you catch the early (6:30am) bus, you can easily see those two shrines and the Nachi waterfall in one morning, then either spend the night at Katsuura and enjoy more hot springs as I did, or catch the train to your next destination.
Getting to the Kumano Kodo Area
Kansai (Osaka) airport to Koyasan:
Koyasan to Kumano Kodo Area:
Hongu/Yunomine to Shingu and Nachi:
Getting to/from Ise
If you are planning to do the Kumano Kodo walk, I would urge you to consider doing it in winter! Trekkers on the Kumano Kodo in winter are rewarded with empty trails, soothing hot springs, and (if you are lucky) the chance to see it all under a blanket of snow!
I never travel without a guidebook! I recommend these: