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Nakasendo Trail Guide: 1 to 3-Day Itinerary for Hiking Nakasendo Trail On Your Own

Nakasendo Trail is a 540km ancient samurai route between Kyoto and Tokyo during the Edo Period (1603-1868). Part of the trail passes through the mountainous region of Gifu and Nagano Prefectures. This 85km stretch of mountainous inland road is called the Kiso Road and is home to eleven post towns in Kiso Valley.

The most popular parts of the Nakasendo Trail is the 6km trail between Magome Juku and Tsumago Juku and the 3km trail from Yabuhara Juku to Nagiso Juku in the Kiso Valley. (Juku means post town and is at the end of the post town’s name).

In order to maximize your time in the Kiso Valley and see all the best attractions along the ancient route, I highly recommend spending three days on the Nakasendo Route. It is also possible to see the most of the highlights as a day trip from Nagoya or two days on the trail.

Keep reading and find out how you can spend three (or less) days on the Nakasendo Trail on your own. I included all the attractions what you will see, how you will get to each post town and other tips for hiking by yourself.

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Before you start your hiking solo on the Nakasendo Walk

Before you plan your solo trip to hike the Nakasendo Trail, take a look at my post on everything you need to know before going to Japan. I included a lot of tips on how to get around Japan and other travel tips.

And before I dived into my Nakasendo itinerary, I want to share a few quick tips about planning a trip for the Nakasendo trail:

  • Hiking the Nakasendo Trail is not super difficult. But if you are carrying your own backpack and not sending your luggage through courier service, make sure to pack light.
  • Only guesthouses or minshuku (Japanese bed and breakfast) are available along the Nakasendo Trail. Typically, it is a tatami room with bedding and a small table. Bathroom facilities are shared. Meals (dinner and breakfast) can be arranged ahead of time.
  • Book your accommodations in advance. You don’t want to be stranded in a post town with nowhere to stay.
  • Highly recommend staying within the post town so you can see the town at night and take nighttime photography. These accommodations are highly sought after so book it as soon as you know you are hiking Nakasendo Trail.
  • Restaurants in the post towns like Magome, Tsumago and Narai are only open for lunch. If you are staying overnight, either arrange dinner with your guesthouse or bring your own.
  • Cannot use IC Card for many train rides around the Nakasendo Trail. Other than the train from Nagoya to Nakatsugawa, all other train rides will require cash.
  • Bring enough cash for 3 days. Will need cash for train, food, shopping, museums and (some) accommodations.

Best time to walk Nakasendo Trail in Japan

The best time for hiking to Nakasendo Trail is between April to November. Spring can be beautiful with all the cherry blossoms. Summer is hot but many of the shops and museums are fully open. And Autumn is an excellent time if you want to hike in mild weather and enjoy the fall foliage.

You could hike in the winter season. Although it wouldn’t be as busy and accommodations would be easier to book, it would be extra cold in the moutains and many stores may not open.

If possible, plan your Nakasendo trip around one of these festivals and events:

  • Ice Candle Festival (January & February) – Narai
  • Snow and Ice Festival of Light (February) – Magome
  • Wachino Shrine Festival (July 23-24) – Tsumago
  • Tsumago Post Town Fire Festival (4th Saturday of August) – Tsumago
  • Magome-juku Festival (November) – Magome
  • Bunka-Bunsei Customs Parade (November 23) – Tsumago

What to bring for 3 Days on Nakasendo Trail

Hiking the Nakasendo Trail is not super hard, so you don’t need a lot of technical equipment. So, to keep your backpack relatively light, I suggest bringing as little as possible.

What to bring

Here’s what I would bring for a 3 day trip on the Nakasendo Trail:

  • A set of hiking clothes that you can wear all three days
  • Extra top (short or long sleeve) depending on the season
  • No need for pyjamas because the Japanese guesthouses provide indoor clothing
  • Rain gear like a poncho and/or umbrella
  • Comfortable shoes like sneakers or light hiking boots
  • Water bottle for the trail but you can fill up in each post town
  • Rechargeable IC card for taking the train to and back
  • Cash for other train fares, food, and maybe accommodation
  • Bear bell to scare off black bears (buy one at the shops in Magome or put a deposit of ¥1,500 at Magome tourist office and get it back at Tsumago tourist office)

What not to bring

If you have a big luggage or backpack you don’t want to carry, leave it in a storage locker at Nakatsugawa Station, at your hotel in Nagoya, or send it between post towns via a luggage courier.

The tourist offices of Magome and Tsumago has a luggage carrier service between the two towns. It costs¥1,000 for each bag. Drop off your bag in the Magome tourist office between 8:30-11:30am and retrieve your bag at the tourist office in Tsumago between 1-5pm.

There are other private courier services like Nakasendo Luggage Transfer Service, that provide same day luggage transport. Fees can be higher than the tourist office but it might be an option if you are continuing on your hike to Narai.

Nakasendo Trail: How to get there & How to get around

Train & Bus: from Nagoya to Ochiai or Magome

Most travellers will start the Nakasendo journey from Nagoya, the closest big city with an international airport.

From Nagoya, take the train on the JR Chuo Line to Nakatsugawa Station, then the Nakatsugawa-Magome Bus from Nakatsugawa to Ochiai or Magome. The bus is at the third track and operate at the scheduled time.

Option: Nagiso-Tsumago-Magome Bus

My Nakasendo itinerary is a hiking itinerary for those of you who want to hike the entire trail from beginning to end.

But if you do not want to hike between the post towns, there is an option to take a Ontake Bus that runs between Nagiso to Tsumago to Magome. The bus operates from Nagiso to Tsumago (¥300), Tsumago to Magome (¥600) and Nagiso to Magome (¥800). Tickets can be purchased at the tourist offices.

3-Day Nakasendo Trail Itinerary Summary

Depending on your timing, physicality and how much you want to see on the Nakasendo Trail, you could see the prettiest parts of the trail between one to three days.

Personally, I prefer to do the three day trek because well, you’re already there so you might as well see everything! Here’s what I would do for a 3-day itinerary:

3-Day Nakasendo Itinerary (total hiking distance: 25km)

  • Day 1: take train from Nagoya to Nakatsugawa, take bus to Ochiai, hike from Ochiai to Magome, explore Magome, stay overnight in Magome (5km; 2 hours)
  • Day 2: hike from Magome to Tsumago, explore Tsumago, stay overnight in Tsumago (8km; 2.5 hours)
  • Day 3: hike from Tsumago to Nagiso, take train from Nagiso to Yabuhara, explore Yabuhara, hike to Narai, explore Narai, take train to Nagoya or Matsumoto (12km; 4 hours)

3-Day Nakasendo Trail Itinerary for hiking by yourself

Day one of the three-day Nakasendo walk itinerary starts in either Nagoya or Nakatsugawa. From Nakatsugawa, take the bus to Ochiai and start hiking towards Magome. Spend the rest of the day exploring the hilly post town and stay overnight in a guesthouse.

Day 1 on Nakasendo Walk

Take train to Nakatsugawa and bus to Ochiai

If you are starting in Nagoya, take the 9:24am rapid train on JR Chuo Line to Nakatsugawa (1hr 13min, ¥1,340). There is a convenience store at the train station if you want to pick up some food (especially if you didn’t arrange dinner at the guesthouse and restaurants in Magome are not open at night).

Then look for Nakatsugawa-Magome Kitaena Bus on Track 3 outside of Nakatsugawa Station. The bus departs at 10:45am and the bus journey to Ochiai takes 10 minutes and costs ¥260 (cash only). Alight at Ochiai bus stop.

Hike from Ochiai to Magome

Ochiai Juku is the 44th post town and is located between Nakatsugawa and Magome. It is a small post town with honjin (official inn for dignitaries) and parts of the original Nakasendo path.

Many day trippers will skip Ochiai because of time constraint (and I skipped this part because of heavy rain). But if you are hiking the trail for more than one day, you can see the beautiful preserved Ochiai Cobblestone Path that winds up the lush forest. Also, there is a spot called Ochiai Sunset Lookout Point which is excellent for watching sunset if you are staying overnight in Magome.

From Ochiai bus stop, the hike to Magome is about 4km and will take an hour.

Explore Magome and stay overnight in Magome

Magome Juku is the 43rd post town on the Nakasendo Trail and is located in the south end of Kiso Valley. It is one of the most beautiful historic post towns and is a must-see for any Nakasendo itinerary.

The hilly post town has many preserved old houses from the Edo period lining both sides of the main road. Many of these houses are converted to guesthouses, souvenir shops, restaurants and museums. Make sure to see the waterwheels as they are considered as a the symbol of the city.

Below is a summary of all the attractions, places to eat and shop and a place to stay overnight in Magome. I included the hours of operation so you can gauge how much time you have for meals and shopping.

  • See: Amidado, waterwheels, Shimizuya Museum (8:30am-4:30pm; ¥200), Toson Memorial Museum (9am-5pm; ¥500), Magome Waki Honjin Museum (10am-4:30pm; ¥500), Magome Lookout point, view of Mt Ena
  • Eat: Magome-Ya (11am-2pm), Magomekan Food Stands (11am-3pm), HillBilly Coffee Company (8am-5pm), Tsuchimaya (10am-5pm), Yomogiya (10:30am-4:30pm), Nakaizutsuya (11:30am-3pm), Keiseian (11:30am-2:30pm)
  • Shop: Magomekan Annex (9am-5pm), Magomekan Souvenirs (9am-5pm), Omiyage Hanaya (?), Shimo-ogiya (9:30am-4:30pm), Yamashiroya (10am-3:30pm), Kamiogiya Shoten (9:30am-7pm)
  • Stay: Magome Chaya – book dinner and breakfast directly after confirming your stay

Day 2 on Nakasendo Hiking Trail

Day two of the three-day Nakasendo trail itinerary starts with seeing Magome in the morning light. Go out and take photos before all the tours arrive. Then hike from Magome to Tsumago while seeing many sites along the way. And when you arrive in Tsumago, check in at your guesthouse (and drop off your bag) and spend a few hours exploring the Tsumago.

Hike from Magome to Tsumago

The hike from Magome to Tsumago is 6km and will take about 1.5 hour but longer if you are stopping to see different sites and resting along the way.

After the Magome lookout point, the trail gently climbs uphill, passing Owaki’s Garden and Kumanojinja Shrine. As soon as you reach Magome Pass, the highest point at 790m, the trail descend all the way to Tsumago. Nearby you can find the Nakasendo Lucky Point at 777m. There is a bell to scare of any black bears so ring it as hard as you can.

Take a break and have a cup of hot tea at Tateba Tea House, a 300 year old house with many cherry blossom trees. The tea is free (but you can donate) and is a good place to meet other hikers.

Continue forward and look for the Odaki & Medaki Waterfalls. First you will see Medaki (female) on the right and then on the left is Odaki (male). In the summertime, you can take a dip in the pool of water if the weather is hot.

As you approach Tsumago, you will descend the mountain via the beautiful cobblestone path. This also where you can find a small stone monument called Gyutou-Kannon.

Explore Tsumago and stay overnight in Tsumago

Soon after the cobblestone path, you will arrive in Tsumago Juku, the 42nd post town. It is perhaps one of the best preserved post town in the Kiso Valley. Houses in Tsumago are from the Edo and Meiji period and many of them all well preserved.

Drop off your bag at the guesthouse and explore all the highlights around Tsumago. This post town has many honjin (official inn for dignitaries) and waki honjin (backup accommodation). These houses have since been converted to museums so you can see the Hinoki (cypress) interior.

Below is a summary of all the Tsumago attractions, places to eat and shop and a place to stay overnight.

  • See: Kotokuji Temple, Wachino Shrine, Waki Honjin Okuya (9am-5pm; ¥600), Historical Museum (9am-5pm; included in Waki Honjin Okuya), Carp Stone
  • Eat: Kongoya (11:30am-2:30pm), Otokichi (11am-2:30pm), Kojitsu Coffee (8:30am-4pm), Omote (9am-3pm), Enbiya (8:30am-5pm), Rikyu (9am-3:30pm), Yamagiri Shokudo (9am-5pm)
  • Shop: Gohara Liquor Store (10am-5pm), Aburaya (9am-5pm), Sawadaya (8:30am-5pm), 寺下 丁子屋 (9am-5pm), Tamaruya (8am-6pm)
  • Stay: Tsumago Hanaya (choose 英文 (English) and fill out reservation form) – option to include dinner and breakfast. (This is where I stayed but there are other minshuku and ryokan within the post town).

Day 3 on Nakasendo Walk

On your last day of the 3-day Nakasendo walk, hike up to a viewpoint at Tsumago Castle Ruins to start the day. Then continue hiking to Nagiso where you will take a train from Nagiso Station to Yabuhara Station.

Explore a bit of Yabuhara before trekking up to the Torii Pass. Then descend the mountain and arrive in Narai. Here is another chance to explore another post town for a few hours before getting on the train back to Nagoya or moving forward to Matsumoto.

Hike from Tsumago to Nagiso and take train to Yabuhara

When you leave Tsumago via the Old Nakasendo Trail, the path will take you around the ruins of Tsumago Castle. I highly recommend taking a short 30-minute detour from the main trail and hike up the hill on the left. The castle was demolished hundreds of years ago and there aren’t many ruins left but you can see an exceptional view of Tsumago from above.

Then get back on the main trail and continue forward to Nagiso, a small town connected by Japan Railway. FYI – there isn’t much to see in Nagiso and the distance between Nagiso and Yabuhara is quite far, so taking the train is the most logical option.

At Nagiso Station, take the 10:19am train on JR Chuo Line (for Matsumoto) to Yabuhara Station (1hr, ¥860). Buy a ticket with cash at the station.

Explore Yabuhara and hike to Narai

If you are keen to see the Kiso Village Folk Museum (9am-4pm), it is located just north of Yabuhara Station. Otherwise, walk north through the town and find the trailhead in Maruyama Park at the north end of Yabuhara.

And if you zoom in and follow “Old Nakasendo” trail on Google Maps, a light line continues from “Old Nakasendo” trail and it cut across the mountain. In Maps.Me app, the trail shows some switchbacks and crosses Toriitoge Ontake Shrine while on the way to the Torii Pass.

Maps.Me indicated this trail is 3.1km long and will take 2 hours. As expected, the hike ascends up the mountain via a series of switchbacks to Torii Pass, then the path descend towards Narai.

I skipped this part of the hike because it rained all night, which means muddy and slippery trail, and I didn’t want to hike the hardest part of the trek with unfavourable conditions. You can also skip this part if you are not a strong hiker. If so, then take the train from Nagiso Station to Narai Station.

Otherwise, consider trekking this part of the Nakasendo Trail because the view from up top is beautiful (from what I researched). And if you are visiting during the Fall, the fall foliage is absolutely gorgeous!

Explore Narai

At the end of the descent is the 34th post town, Narai Juku. This is the last historic post town on this itinerary and is the most picturesque place to end the 3-day journey (plus the town is connected to the railway).

As the half way point between Kyoto and Tokyo along the Nakasendo Route, Narai is one of the wealthier post towns in the Kiso Valley. There are more preserved houses here than any other post towns. In fact, there is 1km of preserved houses along the main street.

There is a few hours to grab lunch, buy souvenirs, see the interiors of former residences and take photos of the old Edo Period houses. Drop off your bag at the luggage storage at Narai Station (¥300) before exploring these places:

  • See: Narakawa History and Folklore Museum (10am-4pm), Shizume-jinja Shrine, Wakamiya Shrine, Nakamura Residence (9am-5pm; ¥300), Joryuji, Kamidonya Shiryokan (10am-5pm; ¥300), Shinmeigu, Kiso Bridge, Nihyaku Jizoson
  • Eat: そば処山なか soba noodle (11am-5pm), Izumiya Cafe (?), こころ音 soba noodle (11am-2pm), 食事処松波 tonkatsu (?), 喫茶たなかや snacks (10am-4:30pm), 相模屋そば処 soba noodle (11am-3pm)
  • Shop: 奈良井宿民芸会館 chinaware (9am-5pm), 会津屋 confectionary (9am-4pm), 斉藤漆器店 gift (9am-4:30pm), 花野屋 宿場店 lacquerware (10am-4pm)

Take train to Nagoya or Matsumoto

To finish the itinerary, either return to Nagoya or continue forward to Matsumoto. For either journey, buy a ticket with cash at the Narai train station. I also included the suggestion departure time to leave Narai since most shops, cafes and restaurants are closed between 2 to 4pm.

For those going back to Nagoya, take the 3:35pm, 4:46pm or 5:30pm train on JR Chuo Line (for Nakatsugawa) to Nagoya Station (2hr 49min, ¥2,640). Transfer at Nakatsugawa is required.

To continue forward to Matsumoto, take the 3:57pm or 4:57pm train on JR Chuo Line (for Matsumoto) to Matsumoto Station (42min, ¥590).

Suggestions for hiking 1 or 2 days on Nakasendo Trail

Depending on your timing and physicality, you can shorten the 3-day itinerary to either a day trip from Nagoya or Nakatsugawa or a two-day itinerary.

Using the 3-day itinerary as a template, I’ve condensed it to both a day trip itinerary and a two-day itinerary below:

Day Trip from Nagoya or Nakatsugawa (total hiking distance: 12km)

Here is the summary of the day trip itinerary:

  • Day 1: take train from Nagoya to Nakatsugawa, take bus to Magome, explore Magome, hike from Magome to Tsumago, explore Tsumago, hike to Nagiso and train to Nagoya or Matsumoto (12km; 4 hours)

The 1-day itinerary is similar to the 3-day itinerary except:

  • Instead of taking the bus to Ochiai, take it to Magome. The bus fare costs ¥570 cash.
  • Last train from Nagiso to Nagoya is 8:31pm and costs ¥1,690
  • Last train from Nagiso to Matsumoto is 9:49pm and costs ¥1,520

2-Day Nakasendo Itinerary (total hiking distance: 17km)

Here is the summary of the 2-day itinerary:

  • Day 1: take train from Nagoya to Nakatsugawa, take bus to Ochiai, hike from Ochiai to Magome, explore Magome, stay overnight in Magome (5km; 2 hours)
  • Day 2: hike from Magome to Tsumago, explore Tsumago, hike to Nagiso, take train to Narai, explore Narai, take train to Nagoya or Matsumoto (12km; 4 hours)

The 2-day itinerary is similar to the 3-day itinerary except:

  • On day 2, continue hiking to Nagiso and take the train from Nagiso to Narai. Explore Narai and then take the train back to Nagoya or Matsumoto.
  • Last train from Narai to Nagoya is 7:13pm and costs ¥2,640
  • Last train from Narai to Matsumoto is 10:51pm and costs ¥590

What to eat on the Nakasendo Trail

Each post town on the Nakasendo Trail offers similar food that is typical to the region. As mentioned, restaurants are open only during lunch and some cafes and food outlets may have longer hours.

However, if you are staying overnight, make sure to either arrange with your guesthouse for dinner and/or breakfast or bring your own. Restaurants are not open for dinner service.

While on the Nakasendo trail, look for these yummy treats:

  • Oyaki – savoury and sweet dumpling found in Gifu and Nagano Prefectures. Try one in Magome or Tsumago
  • Goheimochi – grilled rice ball (either one big one or small round-shaped ones) with soy sauce
  • Soba Noodles – hot or cold buckwheat soba noodles by itself or with other toppings
  • Chestnut desserts – soft serve ice cream, snacks, etc.
  • Sake – made from pure alpine water

How many days are you spending on the Nakasendo Trail?

I highly recommend staying at least one day in Nagoya first, then start bright and early the next day and spending three days hiking the Nakasendo Trail on your own.

It might seem daunting to figure out all the logistics, carrying your backpack and hiking across the valley, etc. But honestly, it is not that difficult. I have detailed all the things you need to know in order to have a successful hiking trip.

And it is possible to spend one or two days walking the Nakasendo trail and see all the best attractions. The highlights can be condensed into a one or two day itinerary.

So how many days will you spend on the Nakasendo Trail? Let me know in the comments below or if you followed my Nakasendo trail guide and if you found it useful.

Thank you for reading my solo guide on Nakasendo Trail

You might also like these other posts on solo travel in Japan:

Introduction to Japan

Chubu region

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About Author

Hi, my name is Queenie, and I've been a solo traveller for 20+ years and currently based in Hong Kong. Follow me on my adventures through Instagram and my blog!

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