Looking to do some annual leaf peeping in fall? With a pile of leafy spots vying for attention, Takase Valley with its postcard-perfect photos is up there with Nagano’s best.
In a last attempt to catch the leftover of the year’s fall foliage, I drove to Nanakura Dam in Omachi, the gateway to Takase Valley, Takase Dam, and Mt. Kitakuzudake (2,551m). Omachi is two hours west of Nagano city and sits 700m above sea level against the Hida Mountains with peaks rising to 3000m.
I parked my car at the free parking lot, zipped up my down jacket and laced up my waterproof boots. Walking past the dozens of taxis queuing, I entered Nanakura Hot Springs where avid hikers were getting their last minute snacks and coffee before heading up to Takase Dam, the base point of two trails.
Hoping to carpool a taxi – the only vehicles permitted to go up to the valley – with other hikers and share the ¥2,200 for the one-way ride, I hung around for several minutes at the taxi stand but to no avail.
“People can walk up to the dam but it usually takes an hour but with a taxi, only 15 minutes,” said the female taxi driver / tour guide as we leisurely snaked our way up via narrow roads and tunnels while listening to her anecdotes about the area. Just before zigzagging to the top, I was treated to the magnificent sight of the 125m-high rock-filled dam.
My chatty taxi driver and I arrived at the base where two hiking trails begin. Before parting ways, she said to me, “The last taxi is at 4:40pm so don’t miss it!”
The commonly taken Nigorisawa trail is via Fudo Tunnel, a 30-minute hike (3km) through the forest filled with red leaves, and after crossing Fudosawa suspension bridge, you’ll reach the base of Nigorisawa waterfalls. Not wanting to do the usual touristy route, I opted for the Yumata Onsen (hot spring) course which begins at the opposite end of Fudo Tunnel.
After emerging from the one kilometre unlit tunnel, the sunlight rewarded me with a view that was equally breath-taking and surreal, as not a single hiker could be seen. Perfect. My own private planet in a season when many people head to the forest to “hunt” for autumn leaves. I’ve been to many, more than I could count with fingers and toes, but a handful deserve a worthy mention like Takase Valley.
Some daring hikers dig up a small hole along the bank and create a makeshift outdoor hot spring! But beware of the scalding water. If you get injured, it would be a three-hour hike back to the base!
Yumata Onsen is the final spot for hikers doing a day trip and for those wishing to continue on, it serves as a climbing base for the Uraginza route connecting to the Japan Alps and Mt. Yari.
After witnessing the sights and sounds of Yumata Onsen, I made the long hike back to the starting point via the same route – double the trip, double the fun. At the taxi stand, I spotted the silhouette of a lone hiker emerging from the tunnel. Sharing a taxi is easier to do when going back to Nanakura dam rather than leaving.
The magnificent autumn spectacle closed for the season on Sunday November 4th and will re-open in April, ready to welcome once again energetic hikers. The best time to view the luscious greenery is around May and June and for the autumn foliage, around mid October.
The Last taxi departs at 4:40pm so plan your hiking well. If you miss it, you can ring Alps Daiichi Kotsu on +81 261-22-2121 or Alpico Taxi on +81 261-23-2323. Click here for access information.
A tour for ¥4800 is available which will showcase the best views of Takase and the surrounding area. Apply by phone 050-3775-4727 (Opening Hours 10am – 6pm).
For more info, visit Takase Gorge – Omachi Tourism Guide