How to Best Enjoy The Nakasendo Trail

How to Best Enjoy The Nakasendo Trail

In Kiso Valley, there are two sections of the Nakasendo Trail that offer rewarding hikes where you can explore the history, cultural, and nature of the area: the Magome—Tsumago Trail and the Yabuhara—Narai Trail over Torii Pass. This article includes tips on the best ways you can enjoy these hikes!Also, we recommend checking out the official guide maps and pamphlets from the Kiso’s tourism website.

Magome–Tsumago Trail

This is the most popular section of the ancient Nakasendo trail and it’s easy to see why—the path takes you through two of the most well-preserved historic post towns and lets you stroll through stretches of the Japanese countryside and a peaceful forest along the way.

Best season: April through November.

Distance: about 7.5 kilometers (4.7miles). Rest areas and toilets are located in a couple of places along the way.

Time required: the entire hike takes around 2.5 to 3 hours (not including time spent exploring the post towns).

Recommended starting point: we recommend going from Magome to Tsumago, as most of the trail is a gentle downhill with a few uphills here and there. Going the other way will require going uphill most of the way.

How to get to the trailhead:

See our article on Access to the Kiso Valley for detailed information on how to get to Magome, which involves taking a bus from the nearest station to Magome. Once you get off the bus, simply take the cobblestone road uphill through the center of the town. This road leads you straight to the rest of the Nakasendo trail that will take you to Tsumago (the trail is well marked with signs, as well).

Tsumago-Magome Nakasendo Trail sign

Things to look for on the trail

The historic post towns of Magome and Tsumago on either end of the trail are well worth spending time to explore. Magome has a beautiful old watermill that still functions to this day and few museums where you can learn about the town’s history and see the inside of some of the old buildings.

Magome, Nakasendo Trail

In Tsumago, you can see old inns and residences that are 100 to 300 years old, some of which have been turned into museums. One building was once a horse stall. The Wakihonjin Okuya, which was used to house government officials, is an especially impressive example of a traditional dwelling complete with an indoor fire pit. At one end of the town, you will find a large wooden notice board that informed travelers of the local laws and tariffs as well as a small watermill.


Both towns have their share of cafes, small eateries, and souvenir and craft shops. Be sure to stop in at the tourist information centers in each town to get pamphlets and detailed information on sightseeing spots.

Along the trail between Magome and Tsumago, you will be walking through a pleasant forest along a gentle stream for much of the way. Keep an eye out for the Otaki and Metaki Waterfalls around the halfway point and the small stone Buddha statues (jizo) scattered about the trail. You may see some wild monkeys and other wildlife too!

tsumago-magome nakasendo trail

Getting closer to Tsumago, you will run into the Tateba Chaya (tea house), which is thought to have been built before the 1600s and served as a resting place for travelers. Here, you can take a break and enjoy a cup of green tea offered by the maintainer. If you walk the trail around May, the weeping cherry blossom in front of the tea house will be blooming with beautiful pink flowers.

Tateba Chaya Tea House Magome-Tsumago Nakasendo Trail

If you have some energy left after reaching Tsumago, you may want to check out the Tsumago Castle Ruins located just outside of the town. Though there are hardly any visible ruins remaining, the location offers a great top-down view of the area.

Yabuhara–Narai Trail

This section of the Nakasendo Trail takes you over the Torii Pass, which was once considered the most difficult section of the trail by travelers long ago. Though you do need to make the ascent to the top of the pass, the uphill portion is not overly rigorous and the trail makes for a relaxing hike overall.

Narai Post Town

Best season:  April through November.

Distance:  around 6 kilometers.

Time required: about 3 hours.

Recommended starting point: we recommend starting from Yabuhara and finishing at Narai, as Narai’s picturesque historic townscape will be waiting for you at the end—the perfect way to finish a long hike!

How to get to the trailhead:

Take the train to Yabuhara Station. In the parking lot near the station, look for the big sign that tells you about the Nakasendo Trail where you can also check the details about the Yabuhara–Narai stretch. Follow the signs uphill through the town that point you in the direction of the “Torii Pass.” Once you get to the trailhead, it’s a straight shot to Narai.


Things to look for on the trail

Most of the trail is within the forest, so keep an eye out for wildlife like monkeys and Japanese serows. There are also many impressive trees that are several centuries old.

There is a Shinto shrine (Ontake Shrine) and large stone torii gate near the top of the Torii Pass. You will also have a great view of the Kiso Valley and the town of Narai below. Around the shrine, there are several old statues that date back many centuries and commemorate Buddhist monks, warriors, and other historical figures. There is a rest area with toilets and running spring water, as well. From there, it’s downhill until you reach Narai!

Once you reach Narai, there is plenty to explore. The old post town is a one-kilometer stretch lined with historic inns dating back hundreds of years. The buildings are meticulously preserved and reflect the townscape as it was during the prospering Edo period. Nowadays, the buildings home to craft and souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, and more.

Narai Nakasendo

Also, pay a visit to the shrines and temples scattered about the town. On the northern end, you will find a group of 200 unique jizo (small stone Buddhist statues). If you are a history lover, you will want to visit the Nakamura Residence, which is the preserved house of a wealthy comb seller from the Edo period, and the Narakawa Museum of History and Folklore, which exhibits artifacts and crafts from the area.

Kiso Ohashi Narai

There is a beautiful wooden bridge that arches over the Narai River near the post town. Constructed from a 300-year old hinoki cypress tree, it is a beautiful work of Japanese craftsmanship.

Kiso Valley & Nakasendo