Solo Hiking the Nakasendo Trail: Complete Guide and Itinerary

Nakasendo Trail History

The Nakasendo Trail (中山道)is an old walking route that connected Edo (modern-day Tokyo) with Kyoto during the Edo period. The trail is 540 km (340 mi) long, and back in the day, 69 post towns were dotted along the way for travelers to rest and recover.

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Tsumago post town along the Nakasendo route

Hiking this trail is the perfect activity for those who are looking for a unique Japanese experience outside of the touristy Kyoto/Tokyo scene. Outdoor enthusiasts will revel in the lush and tranquil scenery, while history buffs will enjoy seeing the preserved post towns (think wooden buildings, no power lines, no cars…).

nakasendo wildlife
Tiny frogs on the Nakasendo

While you can certainly hike the entire length of the trail, for a nice, bite-sized trip, I recommend the section along Kiso Road from Nagiso Station to Nakatsugawa Station. This hilly path ventures through waterfalls, forests, seasonal flowers, and creeks. Along the way, you will stop by Tsumago and Magome, two of the most well-preserved post towns on the trail. This route is the perfect length for a one-night, two-day trip, and can even be solo-hiked!

Magome post town on the Nakasendo Trail

Table of Contents

Best Time to Hike the Nakasendo Trail

I hiked the trail in July 2021. Though the weather was less than optimal, (ie. it rained A LOT), the scenery was still breathtaking. The best time to hike the Nakasendo is during the spring months of April and May, or in the fall around November. Outside of these times, the summer months are hot and humid with a high likelihood of typhoons, and the winter requires extra gear to ward off the cold.

It was a rainy trip, but I survived!

Nakasendo Itinerary

Before heading out I spent a few nights in Nagoya. From Nagoya my itinerary was as follows:

Preparation Before You Hike

Because the trail is hilly and has several cobblestone sections, you won’t want to lug around suitcases and bulky bags. I recommend sending your luggage through takuhaibin (宅配便) to your next destination. Takuhaibin is a very popular and convenient service for sending parcels, luggage, and other goods door to door nationwide. Delivery is usually the next day, and the cost is reasonable. Ask your accommodations if this is available! I sent one of my bags to Kyoto from Nagoya for ¥1050 and just brought my backpack and a change of clothes on the trip.

Since Magome and Tsumago are quiet towns that close early, make sure to have your lodging plans squared away before heading out.

The trail is extremely well marked, but for good measure, bring a backup map (Google Maps worked for me).

Hopefully you have better weather luck than I did, but in any case, make sure you check the weather! Mosquito repellant (in the summer), good walking/ hiking shoes, and water are also a must! For the solo photo enthusiasts, don’t forget a tripod too!

Nagiso Station to Tsumago

3.5km | Bus or Walk

For a two-day, one-night trip, I recommend starting at Nagiso station. From Nagiso Station you can take a bus to Tsumago, but it is extremely infrequent and has you skip out on a nice part of the walking experience.

Instead of the bus, I recommend walking the 3.5km route to Tsumago.

A little more than halfway to Tsumago you can take a detour to see the Tsumago Castle Ruins. While it goes through a small bamboo forest and gives you a nice view of Tsumago, I think it’s okay to skip.

Detour to Tsumago Castle Ruins

Tsumago Post Town

When you first enter Tsumago, a large water wheel will greet you. The town is so beautiful with its wooden structures and quiet road.

Tsumago on the Nakasendo Trail

Stop by the Tourist Information building for recommendations where to eat and to learn a little more about the town and Nakasendo Trail. The employees are extremely friendly and share lots of great information!

I had lunch at a cafe and ate a massive galette. It was huge, but I was starving and devoured it all.

galette
Galette for lunch

After lunch, you can walk around and explore the town. Some places to check out are the History Museum, Honjin (historical inn for government officials), and Kotoku Temple.

Tsumago’s history museum
Kotaku Temple

Additionally, make note of the masugata or right-angled roads. Post towns like Tsumago were responsible for providing security for travelers (daimyos and aristocrats), so special right-angled roads inside the town were created to thwart attacks from potential burglars and rebels. Only a few of these special roads still exist today.

Masugata right-angled streets

Side note: The bathrooms in Tsumago are so nice! They smell wonderfully of wood and are clean and spacious. Make sure to go before hitting the road!

Restrooms in Tsumago

Tsumago to Magome

7.7km | Walk

After leaving Tsumago, there is a long uphill section followed by a gradual downhill to Magome.

Leaving Tsumago for Magome

Odaki / Medaki (Male Waterfall and Female Waterfall)

Odaki Medaki Waterfalls

One of the highlights during this section of the journey is the Male (Odaki) and Woman (Medaki) waterfalls which sit almost side by side. It is said that the Japanese swordsman, philosopher, and writer, Miyamoto Musashi, practiced his skills at these waterfalls in the 17th-century.

medaki waterfall on nakasendo
Medaki Waterfall on the Nakasendo Trail

Magome is a quaint town that is built on an incline. Water wheels and small shops line the cobblestone street. The town closes early so make sure you arrive with lodging and food plans prearranged!

magome nakasendo post town
Magome Post Town

Where to Stay in Magome: Guest House Motomiya

I stayed overnight at an amazing place called Guest House Motomiya. If you are looking for a place with delicious food (dinner and breakfast) and traditional Japanese-style rooms that are nice and spacious, I can’t recommend this place more!

Guest House Motomiya

I made this reservation on Booking.com! It was super straightforward to book and the host was very responsive. One of my favorite booking platforms for travel stays, I highly recommend checking it out!

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The Guest House is right on the Nakasendo Trail so it is very convenient.

The provided dinner was a feast that included sushi, tempura, meat, veggies, potato, eggplant, sashimi, octopus, pickled veggies, and umeshu.

motomiya guest house dinner
Dinner at Guest House Motomiya (not everything is featured in this picture)

Breakfast was delicious too!

guest house motomiya breakfast
Breakfast at Guest House Motomiya

Magome to Nakatsugawa Station

8.1 km | walk

The last leg of the journey is from Magome to Nakatsugawa Station.

Rice fields and houses in Magome

Cobblestone Path of Ochiai
The cobblestone path of Ochiai is super neat and runs through a canopy of trees. When it rains the cobblestones become SUPER slippery, so be careful!

Cobblestone Path of Ochiai

Ochiai Town

The trail passes through Ochiai, another of the original post towns. Unlike Magome and Tsumago however, Ochiai is much less preserved and feels more like a modern-day town.

The last bit of the walk to Nakatsugawa Station runs alongside the highway.

Final Thoughts

I am super happy to have hiked on such a historical trail and see the preserved post towns of Tsumago and Magome. Though the weather was a bit of a hassle at times, the beauty of the landscape never ceased. Since this Nakasendo course contains wonderful nature and history all wrapped up in one and is relatively easy to do, I recommend it to all adventure and outdoor enthusiasts!

Nakasendo Vlog

Want to follow me on the journey? Enjoy this vlog – Solo Hiking on the Nakasendo Trail! And don’t forget to subscribe on Youtube!


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