With its beautiful mountains, forested valleys, and vast highlands, there couldn’t be a better place to see the fall colors than in Nagano. There are fantastic spots all over the prefecture, but if you are having trouble deciding where to go, here are our top suggestions!
Togakushi is a mountainous area located west of the city of Nagano and easily accessible by bus from Nagano Station. Not only is Togakushi rich in natural beauty but as the location of the centuries-old Togakushi Shrine and former Ninja school, it is also imbued with a spiritual and mystic aura.
The forests of Togakushi are threaded with gentle hiking trails that burst into color during the fall. You can use these trails to visit the five different shrines that make up the Togakushi Shrine complex as well as the Togakure Ninpo Museum, the former ninja training center.
Be sure to visit Kagami-ike, or Mirror Pond, which, as its name suggests, reflects the kaleidoscopic autumn leaves and surrounding mountains across its surface. Learn more about the Togakushi trails in our Togakshi: A Beautiful and Easy Day-trip from Nagano City and Recommended Trails in Nagano in Nagano: Historical Trails blog articles.
Shiga Kogen / Joshinetsu Kogen National Park
Nestled in the expansive Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, Shiga Kogen is one of the best places to see autumn leaves in Nagano. Although it is most well-known for its excellent ski resorts, this area is covered in pristine natural ecosystems including diverse primeval forests.
The highlands are dotted with almost 70 lakes, ponds, and marshes that were formed by volcanic activity long ago which makes for some truly breathtaking sites, especially in autumn when the fall colors are reflected across the mirror-like surfaces of these bodies of water.
Shiga Kogen is located near the Snow Monkey Park and makes the perfect day trip before or after seeing the hot-spring-bathing monkeys. Due to the highlands higher elevation, the leaves begin to change color in early October, which is earlier than some of the other areas in Nagano.
With miles of trails to explore, countless picture-perfect views, and some of the most vibrant fall colors in the country, you will not be disappointed!
Snow Monkey Park / Kanbayashi Onsen
While the bathing monkeys are certainly the main attraction of the Jigokudani Monkey Park, the nearby village of Kanbayashi Onsen and the forest trail that leads there make a wonderful destination for seeing the fall leaves. Kanbayashi Onsen has a number of cultural attractions such as small museums, shrines, and temples which are a delight to explore among the reds, yellows, and oranges of the changing foliage.
The village also has several hot spring ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) like Senjukaku where you can take in the autumn scenery in one of the most enjoyable ways possible—while soaking in a relaxing open-air bath!
Why not combine a visit to the Snow Monkey Park with a stay in Kanbayashi Onsen and a day trip to Shiga Kogen or another one of the destinations below?
Yamada Onsen / Matsukawa Valley
Yamada Onsen in the Matsukawa Valley to the east of Nagano is another must-see fall color spot not far from the city. This area is known for its striking beauty, especially within the Matsukawa Gorge where clear streams run over boulders and form gorgeous waterfalls.
In the autumn, either side of the valley is painted in the warm hues of the season, which you can see on the trails that run through the area.
One of the best views, which is accessible on foot from Yamada Onsen, is the vibrant red bridge that stretches across the gorge and into the trees. You can also find a number of hotels and traditional inns with views of the autumn forests directly from your room and the open-air hot spring baths. See access information here.
The stunning alpine valley of Kamikochi offers a unique variation to the typical autumn views—instead of reds, oranges, yellows, and browns, the birch forests which dominate the main area around Kappa Bridge turn a vibrant golden hue during October. When seen on a clear day, the contrast of the blue sky and the golden birches creates a stunning outlook.
Kamikochi also boasts one of the most famous autumn scenes in all of Japan, the Karasawa Valley. Getting to Karasawa does require a long hike and an overnight stay in a tent or lodge, so some planning is required, but it will be well worth it!
The Haisenjiki Trail traces the former Shinonoi Train Line that used to connect Matsumoto and Nagano by steam locomotive from 1902 to 1988 and is now a popular hiking destination. This gentle trail takes you through Nagano’s beautiful landscape as you walk through abandoned, brickwork train tunnels surrounded by forests, mountains, and the rural countryside.
Along the way, you will find all sorts of historic artifacts left over from the path’s railway days such as old railway signals. The Haisenjiki Trail is especially wonderful in the fall when the trees have turned into a rainbow of autumn colors. The trail starts near Akashina Station in Azumino and is a 6 km one-way. A roundtrip walk takes around two and a half hours.
The Nakasendo Trail / Kiso Valley
For the best combination of nature and history, you will definitely want to head to the historic Nakasendo Trail in Kiso Valley. In autumn, the valley is blanketed by the prismatic colors of the turning leaves, making this a truly special season to walk the trail.
Of course, seeing the old post towns like Magome and Tsumago with a kaleidoscopic backdrop of fall leaves makes them all the more beautiful as well!
You may also bright orange persimmons being dried on lines hung from the walls and eves of the traditional inns in each town (dried persimmons are a seasonal delicacy in Japan. Try one if you get a chance!). Learn more about the Nakasendo Trail in our Recommended Trails in Nagano in Nagano: Historical Trails article.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Thanks to the variations in elevation across the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route, the fall foliage season here is especially long, lasting from late September to late October.
In fact, you may even be able to see the first snow at the peaks of the Tateyama Mountains at the same time the trees are in full color below—a rare and remarkable sight!
One of the most breathtaking experiences you can have is seeing the brilliant autumn colors from the sky on the ropeway. Other great spots include the Kurobe Dam, Shomyo Falls, Murodo, Daikando, Bijodaira, and more.