Hyakkenzan Gorge in the south of the Kii Peninsula is your ideal summer hiking course. The trail is short and water and shade are never far away. There are thirty waterfalls in this valley and ten of them even have names! There are also many deep water pools and water slides with fast-flowing waters. The trail follows a stream and around each bend of the trail there is another water feature. Wakayama Prefecture is dubbed the “Land of Water” and coming here you understand why.
Refreshing summer scenery
A virgin forest grows in this valley and there are many uniquely shaped boulders. The green vista and the big rocks provide a dramatic background to set the waterfalls into scene. The falls have plunge pools of varying sizes and there are even large pools of water without a waterfall above. Why is that you might ask.
Once upon a time there were falls in these places and their waters cascaded down on the rocks below. The surface eroded and gradually flattened. The deep pools made from the erosion of the stone base underneath the fall are a lasting witness of the power of water.
These pools look so inviting that one wants to jump in but the locals tell visitors to keep out. Waterfalls are considered sacred in Japan and they are places where many spirits dwell. You don’t want to disturb them frolicking around in the wet element. Who knows what their retaliation would be.
Summer is the indeed the best season to go on this trek. After the raining season in June and July and the typhoon season in August and September the falls have a lot of water, the pools are full to the prim and vegetation around is verdant, much to the delight of visitors.
The trekking courses
There are two courses to follow: the regular course (ippan) and the advanced course (kenkyaku).
On the ippan course there is one waterfall and plunge pool after another. You walk only a few hundred meters each time before you reach the next scenic spot. This part of the trail is recommended, as you are visually bombarded with waterfall highlights.
The regular course takes you from the parking lot for 1.7 km uphill into the valley to reach Inuochi Fall. It takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes, provided you don’t stop much to take more photos. This is a difficult thing to do because there is so much beauty around that you cannot keep your i-phone and camera in the pocket.
Before you reach Inuochi there is a shelter with benches. From here a forest trail runs down to the trail head. This alternative return route is also 1.7 km long but it is easier to walk and hence it takes only 30 minutes to reach the parking lot.
If you would like to walk more, and you have more strength, then you can continue from Inuochi Fall and walk further uphill to Sentaibutsu, a collection of stones said to represent Buddhas. From there you make your way back to Inuochi Falls.
This trail is 4 km each way and it will take 3 hours to walk up to Sentaibutsu and 2 hours to come down. This trail continues to follow the valley but the scenery becomes less and less dramatic.
As for the elevation, the parking lot is located at about 320 meters altitude. You walk uphill to Inuochi Fall at about 500 meters above sea level. The Sentaibutsu are located at an elevation of about 700 meters.
Mount Hyakken is close to 1,000 meters in height and it is possible to hike to the top. The ascent is not particularly scenic after all the stunning scenery that you just walked through and there is no view on top either. It takes 1 hour from the valley trail to reach the top of Hyakkenzan.
Our guide recommendation
While it is possible to hike this course by yourself, we recommend to hire a local guide who will explain the flora and fauna of his home turf in great detail. In a couple of hours listening to his explanations you will get to know this area so much better than walking it solo. He also watches out for your safety when crossing slippery parts of the trail.
Please be warned that there is no mobile phone reception in this valley!
We recommend Mr. Akagi Kazuya from Kumano Satoyama Club. He can be contacted via Facebook and email: www.kumanosatoyama-club.jp/