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.
The remnants of autumn mixed with the coming winter chill filled the air in Takase Valley, making it the perfect place to hike in October.
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 3000m-high peaks of Hida Mountains.
I parked 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 of two trails.
Nanakura Hot Springs (left) is the spot to soothe muscles especially after a hike. It is open from 8am to 7:30pm and costs 650 yen for adults, 300 yen for children. It is closed in winter, December to April. Photo Courtesy of Kahori Doi.
Hoping to carpool a taxi – the only vehicles allowed to go up to the valley – and split the ¥2,200 for the one-way ride, I hung around at the taxi stand for several minutes but to no avail.
“It takes an hour to reach the dam on foot 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 I listened to her anecdotes about the area. Just before zigzagging to the top, I was treated to the magnificent sight of the 125m-high rockfill dam.
If you hike on a clear day, walk up the side stairs of the Fudo Tunnel entrance to see the peak of Mt. Yari, the 5th highest mountain in Japan.
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 usual route, 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 touristy route, I opted for the Yumata Onsen (hot spring) trail which starts at the opposite end of Fudo Tunnel.
Passing clouds over the peaks create a stage for light to dance on the river’s surface. Silent as the leaves, wide as the space, Takase is a hiker’s dream valley.
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.
Put the boots away as the trainers will do the job on the flat paths covered with crisp golden leaves.
After one and a half hour, I took a breather here at my favourite part of the trail. The therapeutic effect of sitting still with nature can’t be overstated enough.
Bid farewell to this panoramic scenery before you venture to the next chapter filled with more tunnels and bridges. Note, going off trail here is not permitted. Photo Courtesy of Kahori Doi..
Don’t lose your grip nor balance when you cross the bridge as the two wires had snapped from the recent storm (#25). Photo Courtesy of Kahori Doi.
After 30 minutes from the bridge, walk along the river bank and look out for the mound designated as a natural monument, Funtokyu, which was formed by the rich mineral deposit of the surrounding hot springs. Photo Courtesy of Kahori Doi.
I finally reached Yumata Onsen after three hours. Due to the underground pockets of hot springs mixing with the cold water, the temperature fluctuates so you can’t cross the river. Photo Courtesy of Kahori Doi.
Some daring hikers dig up a small hole along the riverbank and create a makeshift outdoor hot spring! But beware of the scalding water. If you get injured, it’s a three-hour hike back to the base!
A careful inspection of the moss along the bank suggests high sulfur content. Photo Courtesy of Kahori Doi.
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.
If you miss the last taxi at 4:40p.m. you can still walk back but as the taxi driver said, it’ll take 90 minutes. The moon, I hear, has guided many hikers back. Photo Courtesy of Kahori Doi.
After witnessing the sights and sounds of Yumata Onsen, I made the long hike back to the base 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.
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.
On the way to Takase Valley, stop by at Omachi Dam to catch the fall foliage sprawled against the emerald green waters of Lake Ryujin, “Dragon God Lake”. Japan’s second highest dam was built after a flood in August 1969.
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