Dramatic lake views, old churches, towering pine groves and dense Shola forests—there is much to experience in Kodaikanal, and walking is a great way to absorb the region’s wild landscapes and laidback charm.
This list is a combination of easy trails and longer hikes, recommended by locals. Some are well-trodden routes that showcase Kodai’s architectural beauty, others are less frequented and invite connection with the stillness of this ancient habitat. All walks are open to the public and do not require the company of guides. Comfortable shoes and a bottle of water at the ready!
The Sacred and the Divine
Where: CSI Christ the King Church—St Peter’s Church—La Saleth Church
Duration: 50 minutes
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
From graceful architectural details to the liturgy of worship, each church has its own tale to tell. Remember to keep an eye out for mischievous monkeys who care neither for history nor religion and are only focused on stealing the fruit or junk food from your hands!
→ Start at CSI Christ the King Church, built by the American Madura Mission in 1895. The interior is simple but distinctive, with wooden pews that have stood obediently for over 100 years and lovely stained-glass rose windows that catch the light.
→ Then follow the road past Van Allen Hospital until you reach the gate of St Peter’s Church. From here, you’ll have a spectacular wide-angle view of the plains, and on a clear day, you can see as far as Madurai.
→ Back on the road, make your way up St Mary’s Hill, past the thick pine trees and the old TV tower, until you reach La Saleth Church, the oldest church in Kodai. This quaint Roman Catholic church, painted white and blue, is one of only two in the world dedicated to the Lady of Saleth; the other is in France. Inside, you can light a small candle and offer a prayer. Outside, the church is overrun by a copse of eucalyptus trees, and standing on its rear balcony, you can hear the wind rushing through the leaves.
Blast from the Past
Route: CSI Christ the King Church—American Missionary Cemetery—Red Lynch—Lake View Tea Stall
Duration: 30 minutes
‘This walk is perfect for people interested in discovering Kodai’s history,’ says resident Resham George. ‘It gives a sense of what the old times might have looked like, and it’s part of the reserve forest area, so expect to find a bison or ten!’
→ Beginning at CSI Church, walk past Van Allen Hospital, which has provided medical treatment for locals since 1913, until you reach a fork in the road. Choose the path on the right and continue walking until you see the Claverack compound.
→ Take the old forest road—lined with trees and carpeted with yellow-and-red leaves—down to its left, and keep your eyes peeled for a charming little stone cottage with a red roof. This is Shelton, the first missionary house in Kodaikanal, established in 1845.
→ A few minutes later, you’ll reach the American Mission Cemetery, tucked away behind an old fence. Quiet and weathered, the graves possess a wild beauty and tell the stories of Kodai’s earliest inhabitants.
→ Past the cemetery, you’ll encounter another fork in the road. Go right and follow the path past Red Lynch (a heritage home owned by the legendary Tamil actor Gemini Ganesan) and down to the Lake View Tea Stall, where you can reward yourself with a hot tumbler of tea.
Cloud Number Nine
Where: Coaker’s Walk
Duration: 20 minutes
Coaker’s Walk is one of Kodai’s most beloved trails, and with good reason. The 1km promenade is cut into the mountain slope, bordered by an iron railing, and offers staggering views of the Palani Hills, extending all the way to Madurai on a clear day. ‘The view of the plains is beautiful to behold,’ says resident and The Kodai Chronicle writer Reena Raghavamoorthy. ‘And on cloudy days, it looks like a fluffy white carpet I can walk over.’ Coaker’s Walk is ideal for older travellers, as the path is flat, free of vehicles (pedestrians only) and has plenty of places to stop. It is also a beautiful spot to watch the sunrise.
→ Enter Coaker’s Walk from the gate near CSI Church, arriving early to avoid the crowds. Sunset is also lovely.
→ One side of the walkway is lined with stalls selling bric-a-brac ranging from roasted corn and cheap sunglasses to earrings and ice-cream. The later you visit, the noisier it is likely to be.
→ Open daily, 7am to 7pm; entry fee Rs 35.
Where: Coaker’s Walk to the Tamara
Duration: 30 minutes
Looking to connect with nature? ‘This stretch leads you through an old-growth forest,’ says Peter Paul, who grew up hiking in Kodai, ‘so you see birds going about their busy days, and in the evenings, the air fills up with the sound of cicadas.’ The tree-lined path has a presence so strong, it’s easy to believe that hobbits or fae are hiding just out of sight.
→ Starting from Coaker’s Walk (the entry gate near CSI Church), walk towards Van Allen Hospital. Take the road that veers to the right and bask in the enormous eucalyptus trees that are older than your great-grandfather.
→ When you see the gate to Claverack compound, turn on to the main road to the left. Soon, the eucalyptus gives way to patches of Shola forest on either side: a dense green canvas of gnarled trunks and ropy vines that bend and intertwine in impossible ways.
→ Continue onward until you see the green gates of the Tamara on your left. You can keep walking for more sun-dappled Shola goodness or pop into the hotel’s cafe for a coffee in the sunshine.
Spirit of the Shola
Where: Kodai to Vattakanal
Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes
The walk from Kodai to Vattakanal is long, but it’s a relatively easy trail that winds past waterfalls, towering eucalyptus and dense (and critically endangered) patches of Shola forest. The kind of walk that inspires awe, stills the monkey mind and gives the walker a chance to bask in the simple pleasures of being amidst nature. Best of all, it sticks to the road, so there’s no need for a guide, even if you’re a first-time visitor.
→ Begin with a hearty breakfast at Astoria Hotel. Then set your GPS to Altaf’s Cafe in Vattakanal, and begin your walk, pausing frequently to admire the delicate ferns along the road and the ever-changing nature of the clouds, sometimes fluffy, sometimes merely wisps of smoke.
→ At the waterfall, pause for a snack of corn on the cob and fresh passion fruit, both available at roadside stalls. Just be mindful not to leave any trash behind.
→ The air gets cooler as you approach Vattakanal and the tree cover becomes denser, until the canopy opens up to stunning views of the hills. Soak in the vista over cups of ginger-honey-lemon at Altaf’s Cafe, rounding off your excursion with falafels from the restaurant’s kitchen. There are taxis available for the ride back (Rs 250–300), but it’s a beautiful walk too, as you will know by then.
Where: Mercy Home—La Saleth Church
Duration: 20 minutes
Kodai is home to a variety of birdlife, from commonly seen bulbuls and hill mynas to the rare Malabar whistling thrush and crested hawk-eagle. This trail winds past Sholas and quiet residential areas, where common yard birds, white-eyes and tits pass through. ‘In Shola areas, birdwatchers require luck and patience,’ says Barbara Block, a resident and avid hiker. ‘Birds move in flocks called bird waves, so you may see lots of them or almost none at all!’
When birdwatching, observe from a distance, avoid intrusion and remember that you are the visitor in their habitat. Early mornings and the hours around dusk are ideal.
→ Begin at Corsock’s Mercy Home and head south on Upper Lake Road, where you’ll have lovely views of the lake, framed by tall trees, and the hills beyond.
→ Take a slight left at the park on to Upper Shola Road, pass by the Holy Cross Convent on the way and take a right. On this quieter road, you might spy mynas, hoopoes and bulbuls—beautiful, underrated birds—going about their day.
→ Continue walking uphill on to St Mary’s Road, all the way to La Saleth Church, soaking in the symphony of tweets, chirps and honks. Stand quietly for a moment along this stretch and you’re sure to spot small birds flit between trees, calling to each other at full volume.
Vatta to Vellagavi
Where: Vattakanal to Vellagavi
Duration: 4 hours one way
This trail, best for seasoned trekkers, from Vattakanal to Vellagavi connects two very different worlds. Vatta, as it is fondly known to travellers, is famed for its hippy vibe and casual atmosphere. Vellagavi, on the other hand, is a temple village surrounded by forest and accessible only through this rocky walking path. The locals here are deeply respectful of ancestral traditions, so wearing footwear is prohibited in the village as it is believed to be a holy place.
‘The trail takes you along a picturesque ridge through plantations of fruits and spices,’ says local Kevin J P, who has hiked this trail plenty of times. ‘Enjoy the granite hills and get a bird’s-eye view of the plains below. Don’t forget to stop by the special temple and ask the villagers the story behind it.’
→ From Vattakanal, walk down the eucalyptus-lined trail to Dolphin’s Nose, which should take about 30 minutes.
→ At Dolphin’s Nose, you’ll find a small and narrow path zigzagging down the mountainside, all the way to Vellagavi. Remember to give way to villagers and ponies carrying goods.
→ As you descend, the eucalyptus and Shola patches give way to planted forests of lemon and gooseberry trees, cardamom and orange. Soak in the view but stay on the path, as this is private property.
→ On entering the village, remove your shoes, fortify yourself with a cup of tea and biscuits from the village shop, and visit the local temple if it interests you.
→ Rest under one of the many trees, and when you’re suitably recharged, begin your walk back to Vattakanal.
An earlier version of this article stated that the oldest church in Kodaikanal is St Peter’s Church (1887); La Saleth Church (1866) is, in fact, the town’s oldest church which is still in use. The piece was corrected to reflect this on June 30th, 2022.