While this five-day trek presents a significant physical challenge, completion of the full Nakahechi stage of the Pilgrimage Route—also known as the Imperial Route—is the closest modern pilgrims can come to a state of full enlightenment. Navigate uneven rocky paths, twisting mountain ridges and stamina sapping steep slopes to be rewarded with relaxing soaks in hot baths, sweeping panoramic views and encounters with fellow pilgrims, friendly locals, and even the gods themselves.
Be realistic about your physical capabilities
Small settlements nestled in the mountains
Clamber rocky roads and stone stairways
Metaphysical meetups with gods and spirits
Sweeping vistas from mountain passes
Tips: Fly to Nanki-Shirahama airport to begin your exploration of Wakayama. Japan Airlines offers affordable domestic fares with the JAL Japan Explorer Pass. The easy-to-use English website makes booking flights very easy.
Take the bus from Kii-Tanabe Station to the trailhead of Takijiri—the start point for your trek. The bus journey takes around 40 minutes. Grab an early lunch to fuel up before boarding the bus as there are no places to stop off and eat once you set foot on the cobblestone paths. Aim to arrive at Takijiri by early afternoon. Once you step foot off the bus, check into the information center to find out about the history of the ancient pilgrimage routes.
3 Overnight in Takahara
After breakfast, head back out into the forest and continue your trek on the mountain paths heading for the Gyuba-doji Statue. The path climbs and falls as you wander through the remains of an ancient teahouse and breaks in the forest that give you great views of the mountainscape. The Michi-no-Eki—roadside stop—is located near the end of this stage of your trek presenting an opportunity for a lunch break.
4 Gyuba-doji Statue
5 Chikatsuyu Village
7 Nonaka-no-Shimizu Spring
8 Ryokan Stay
After breakfast, pick up the same local bus that brought you to your onsen destination and take the 15-20 minute journey to the Ukegawa Bus Stop. The trailhead is located a short walk south of the bus stop. Pick up some drinks and snacks from the store (closed Wednesdays) before starting your trek. The first section is a gradual climb through forests of cedar and cypress taking you up along some mountain ridges.
17 Sakura-jaya Teahouse Remains
18 Into the Valley
19 Overnight in Koguchi
Whether you are planning to explore other areas of Wakayama Prefecture or move on to destinations further afield, the Kuroshio Express train stops at Kii-Katsuura, and travels onto to Kii-Tanabe, and Shirahama Airport—the airport has daily flights to Tokyo. You can take this train north to Osaka and Kyoto.