Hidden in the evergreen forests and deep valleys of the Kii Peninsula is an exciting new canyoning experience. Crystal clear streams and gushing waterfalls beckon active travelers and adventure seekers to Kiho, home of Kansai’s best canyoning experience.
Travelers and outdoor enthusiasts have long been coming to the southern part of the Kii Peninsula to explore the sacred Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails and the three Kumano Grand Shrines. The outdoor and adventure experiences within the vast area of what is referred to as kii-no-kuni (land of trees) are still a fairly well-kept secret
Mike Harris, founder and owner of Canyons, who has pioneered many of Japan’s canyoning courses, has spent more than 20 years scouring the peninsula’s canyons with his team and literally testing the waters of countless streams and stunning waterfalls. After many exploratory missions they settled on Kiho, in the most southern part of Mie Prefecture, and opened the first canyoning operation in the area.
Canyons Kiho, which opened in July, is Canyon’s fourth base in Japan, adding an exciting new location to their portfolio of world-class canyoning bases that include Minakami and Kusatsu in Gunma as well as Okutama in the far West of Tokyo. The Kiho team has settled in well. The local community has been welcoming and instrumental in setting up the base at the Osato Water Park, which is popular with locals during summer for its great river pool. One friendly local even made the Canyons signboard and stickers for the base.
The Charms of Kiho
The lush native evergreen forest in the Kiho area perfectly sets the scene for nature lovers where beautifully carved bedrock and deep pools beckon for exploration. Float, swim and dive for relaxation in one of the pools or try some daring jumps from the steep cliffs in the canyons.
Kiho is located at the edge of the Yoshino-Kumano National Park and special permits were necessary to be able to set safety anchors along the stone faces of the canyons. The team spent thrilling hours and a lot of rope work in order to bring canyoning to the area. Kiho is a small town of 10,000 souls who mostly live in picturesque villages surrounded by terraced rice paddies dotted across 80-square-kilometers. A chilled “inaka” vibe permeates through the area and makes stressed city-dwellers feel relaxed immediately.
With mild temperatures year-round, and little or no snow fall in winter, the water temperature in Kiho is great even at the beginning and end of canyoning season when waters are quite chilly elsewhere.
Canyoning and Camping
Canyons Kiho currently offers two half-day courses that can be combined to create a combo full-day adventure of awesome jumps and slides. These course are level 2 to 3, but can be tailored to cater to total beginners as well as experienced adventurers from age 13 to those over 60, as long as you are fit and not afraid of water and heights.
The Hisetsu Course is named after the grand waterfall, Hisetsu Taki, a 30-meter drop that is the end-point and highlight of this two to three-hour easily accessible introductory level course. The Hisetsu Campsite just below the fall is one of the best campsites in Japan. Rental tents and cottages, BBQ equipment and different choices of BBQ and hotpot sets are available to cater to all tastes. There are several sauna tents and a range of activities making it a perfect place to stay near the Canyons Kiho base. Canyoning and camp packages are also available.
The three to four-hour Kiri Canyon Course, named after nearby Kirihara Village, features slides up to 20 meters with 45-degree angles and waterfalls of up to 15 meters in height, making it a bit more challenging. Journeying through this awesome canyon gets your adrenaline pumping and will test your limits.
Each experience starts with a warm welcome and check-in at the reception area, followed by a tour briefing and safety talk. Experienced guides carefully monitor participants and ensure a safe experience throughout. Groups have a maximum of 12 participants but experiences for families or group of friends can be customized by request.
Canyons guides are excited about the potential for canyoning in Kiho and throughout the Kii Peninsula. They are already scouting out new courses of varying levels for the 2023 season, so be sure to follow them to hear about new tours, some Level 4+ for the experienced canyoning aficionados out there.
Adventures Further Afield
Kiho borders on Shingu, a larger city and transport hub in Wakayama Prefecture, located just across the Kumano River where it flows into the Pacific Ocean. If you head toward the coast north of Kiho, you’ll find the 22-kilometer stretch that is Shichiri Mihama Beach—Japan’s longest. The Kiho Coastline, which is part of the Nanki Kumano Geo Park, is the breeding ground of sea turtles who return each year to lay eggs.
The Iseji Route of the Kumano Kodo follows the coast and cuts through Kiho offering great day hikes. A drive along mountain lanes takes you to the famous Maruyama Senmaida Rice Terraces, while around the Kiho base you’ll find equally scenic mini versions of these terraced fields.
With the golden season upon us, an autumn escape to Kodo, Kiho’s canyons and some hiking along the Kumano or a visit to the Nachi Grand Waterfall, is a perfect way to combine adventure, nature and refreshment in the Kii Peninsula.
When to Go
Canyons Kiho operates from mid-April to mid-October. Bear in mind that the Kii Peninsula receives high amounts of rainfall, this ensures the canyons and waterfalls boast high water levels for exciting canyoning experiences, however during typhoon season operations can be temporarily suspended to ensure safety.
Kiho is three hours by car from Osaka or Nagoya. By train, take the JR train from Nagoya or Osaka to Shingu. The nearest airport is Nanki-Shirahama with direct flights from Haneda twice a day and a rent-a-car service by the airport, a great option that allows you to drive at your own pace across the scenic peninsula. There is also an overnight bus that runs daily between Shinjuku and Shingu. Canyons Kiho offers a pick-up service from Shingu Station or from hotel in the area.
Reservations for a canyoning experience at Canyons Kiho and further details about the canyoning courses and nearby attractions can be found at canyons.jp/en/areas/kiho/canyons-kiho.