I was all prepared to write about seeing the autumn leaves in Shiga Kogen and then noticed that Zeno beat me to it a week earlier and came back with some beautiful photos! So rather than try to steal the spotlight, I will tell of the wonderful drive I took my family on today — a drive up to Shiga Kogen, heading into Gunma and back into Nagano at Karuizawa.
As has been the trend in my family lately, we packed up the hiking boots, the day packs and the kids and headed to the mountains for some short hikes with beautiful views. We drove up from Nakano on Route 292 and continued on that road past the junction of Route 471. There are a number of marshes with boardwalks built over them in this area, as well as some nice little trails heading off into the autumn foliage. We took a stroll along a small trail near an onsen that you can clearly see belching steam on the right side of the road as you head in the direction of Gunma Prefecture. You’ll see lots of reds, oranges and yellows here, as well as the white birch trees and the green pines scattered throughout.
Back in the car, we head further uphill. And before long, we found ourselves in Gunma Prefecture, but not before reaching the highest point of the trip, on the slope of Yokote-yama, where the view down toward the rest of Shiga-Kogen, Nakano and Nagano City is absolutely spectacular!
Continuing on, we arrived at Shirane-san in Gunma (yeah, I know, this is a Nagano blog, but Shirane-san is in Shiga-Kogen and really is most easily accessible from Nagano, so let’s leave it be). Shirane-san is an active volcano that has a rather unique feature: a poisonous, acid pond in its crater. The sulfur and other gases in the area turn the water in the crater a light, pastel blue and it is great to see.
However, due to recent volcanic activity(yikes!) it is no longer safe to take the nearer course up to the crater. We walked up the, slightly farther away route available, but still got to enjoy the view. Our five-year-old was afraid the mountain would start erupting fire, and she was anxious to get off the mountain as soon as possible, but other than that, it was a great hike up. Our almost-three-year-old daughter was able to walk all the way up on her own, but as always, she wanted to be carried back down. Whatever course you take, it is steep in places, but paved, either with concrete or with round stones, as was the route we took today.
Later, we headed down to Kusatsu, an onsen village well-known to people in Japan and one that always seems to be jammed with traffic whenever we go. Kusatsu has a very large, yet delightful public rotenburo (or, outdoor bath) in a park you can visit. Its town center features a large area devoted to gathering sulfer and other minerals found in the water there (more info on Kusatsu here). Aside from picking up some onsen manju, we didn’t stop in Kusatsu on this trip, and instead headed on, passing through lots of rolling forest land and back into Nagano along the Shiraito Toll Road to Karuizawa. There was a lot of wonderful autumn colors along the Shiraito Toll Road, and it looked as if that area has yet to reach its peak as of this posting.
It was a great day trip, and I recommend it, even if you are too late for the autumn colors. Our course was the Nagano Expressway to Shinshu Nakano Interchange. Then Route 292 all the way through Shiga Kogen and beyond Kusatsu Onsen. After that, we took Route 146 back into Nagano Prefecture and then turned left onto the Shiraito Toll Road, which took us straight into the center of Karuizawa.
Only one word of warning: Be sure to dress warmly! It is cold up there, and the one word I heard most that day was “Samui!”