Seasons of the Nakasendo
While the Nakasendo Trail can be walked any time of year, it is important to plan ahead and know what to expect. The trail is well-maintained and can be attempted by anyone of reasonable fitness. It is not wheelchair accessible and visitors with limited mobility or concerns over their level of fitness should consider walking shorter sections of the trail they do not include steep ascents or descents.
Weather conditions are the biggest consideration when planning your visit. Depending on the time of year you will walk the trail, conditions vary from the deep cold and snow of winter, to high heat and humidity in summer, to torrential downpours in late-spring and typhoons in mid to late-summer.
When walking the Nakasendo Trail, good quality walking shoes or boots are a must. Make sure you also carry a small daypack with water – there are opportunities to top-up at springs along the way – snacks, sunscreen and other basic items for extended outdoor walking
We hope the following information helps you get the most out of your time on the Nakasendo:
From late-March until mid-May, Nagano emerges from its long cold winter and early spring brings welcome warmth to the region. This is a great time of year to walk the trail as the daytime is typically warm, perhaps with a light breeze, and lovely blue skies. The higher mountains including Ontake are likely to still be snow-capped allowing for fantastic vistas and photography.
Moving from May into June, late spring brings heavy rain. Most likely to occur from mid-June to mid-July, this is Japan’s wet season and a quiet time on the Nakasendo with visitors staying away. But if you can tolerate the rain, it is also a great time to walk the trail. Accommodation and restaurants are notably quieter and the landscape lends itself to rainy days, with fog and mist imbuing the forest and gorges with an otherworldly beauty.
Ensure you wear good quality walking shoes or boots, reasonably light clothing, and always carry a waterproof jacket and/or waterproof clothing and umbrella.
Mid-July onward heralds the beginning of summer. The weather is very hot – with temperatures as high as 35-40°C – with high humidity. Heavy rain is less common in summer but can still occur and with little warning. If you are choosing to walk at this time of year, please ensure to factor in the heat, go slow and stay out of the sun as much as possible.
From late-August or September onward, the humidity should dissipate while the days remain hot. The falling humidity makes late summer a more pleasant time to walk the trail. Moving into late-September and October, typhoons reach Japan with regularity and need to be monitored. Check ahead and if necessary, change your itinerary to avoid walking during typhoons. Much of the trail is through forest and the risk of fallen trees or falling debris needs to be considered. Guesthouses in Magome, Tsumago, and Narai can provide information about the condition of the trail. We recommend that you do not walk during a typhoon. If necessary, sit tight at your accommodation for an extra day and wait for it to pass.
Ensure you wear good quality walking shoes or boots, very light clothing and carry a waterproof jacket and/or waterproof clothing and umbrella. A hat is essential in the heat of the day and we recommend using sunscreen. Remember to hydrate regularly and go slow.
By mid-October, those pesky typhoons should have blustered and blown themselves out of the way, and days of spectacular weather take over. The changing autumn leaves make this the most popular time of year on the trail. Restaurants and accommodation will book-out in advance so make you plan ahead and lock-in your chosen guesthouse.
As October transitions into November, the farmlands are busy with the harvest, filling the valleys with activity and gorgeous smells in the hazy warmth of the autumn sun. Though the weather is typically warm during the day – between 10-20°C – the nights will be cold and from mid-November there is always a possibility of snow.
Ensure you wear good quality walking shoes or boots, heavier clothing including a sweater and/or jacket suitable for overnight temperatures of 0-10°C. The difference between day and night time temperatures can feel sharp, so layering clothing that you can take off and on as required is always a good idea.
While snow can occur any time from mid-November onward, you can expect regular and heavy snowfall from mid to late-December onward. The trail is at its quietest during winter and many guesthouses and restaurants will close until sometime in March. So again, check in advance to avoid being disappointed.
The trail is beautiful in the snow but should not be walked without proper winter gear including snowshoes and poles and (we recommend) finding a local guide to accompany you. The post towns of Magome, Tsumago and Narai will be notably quieter but still accessible in winter. So even if you don’t walk , all three are accessible using the train, local buses or private taxi.
Ensure you wear good quality walking shoes, boots or snowboots, warm winter clothing suitable for overnight temperatures of -0°C and below. A warm hat, gloves, and scarf should be worn to avoid being exposed to the brisk winter wind.
If visiting in early February, make sure you get along to the beautiful Narai Ice Candle Festival.
Want to experience the Nakasendo on a private tour or charter? Feel free to contact us and let’s get planning together!