The Best Places to See Autumn Leaves in Nagano
Nagano is blessed with some of the best spots for viewing autumn leaves in Japan. Here are just a few recommendations of the best places to see the leaves in and around Nagano, including when to visit*:
Togakushi: best time to visit – late-September to mid-October
Located just outside of Nagano City and easily accessible using public transport, Togakushi is one of the best known ‘koyo’ (autumn leaves) destinations in Japan.
Home to some of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan, Togakushi is ideal for a day-trip to enjoy the stunning autumn leaves in a place of deep history and spiritual importance.
Also famous for its local ‘soba” (buckwheat noodles), bamboo craft and the Togakure school of ninja, Togakushi is best enjoyed in autumn.
Kamikochi: best time to visit – October
Considered the jewel of the Chubu-Sangaku National Park, Kamikochi is a stunning alpine valley located between 1500 to 1600 meters above sea level.
With the mountains above ascending to over 3000 meters – including Mt Hotaka, one of Japan’s three sacred mountains – Kamikochi offers some of the most stunning leaves in Japan. Extensive walking trails along the valley and more intensive hiking and mountaineering course in the mountains, avail some truly remarkable autumn vistas.
Indeed, the drive to Kamikochi through the Hida Mountains or North Japan Alps, is in itself truly beautiful. We love Kamikochi and you will too!
Shiga Kogen & Kita-Shiga Kogen: best time to visit – early-Oct. to mid-Nov.
Nestled within the Joshinetsu National Park, Shiga Kogen is accessible from the Jigokudani Monkey Park by public bus and a fantastic option when in search of the leaves.
Home to mountain peaks ascending to around 2500 meters, verdant alpine forests, and numerous lakes, ponds and marshes, Joshinetsu National Park is an important ecosystem supporting unique flora and fauna – declared a UNESCO Biosphere Conservation Area in 1981.
Shiga Kogen’s varied elevation between 900 and 2500 meters means that the leaves will be at their best in different pockets of the park from early-October and into November. Two ropeways – at Higashidateyama and Yokoteyama – transport visitors to some of the higher regions of the national park, from where the leaves can be enjoyed along leisurely walking trails.
Nearby Shiga Kogen but not directly connected, Kita-Shiga Kogen is another great area to enjoy the autumn leaves. The Skyland Express Ropeway transport visitors high above the valley, from where they can enjoy the views from the observation deck and adjoining cafe.
Walking trails span-out across the area, allowing you to wander and breathe in the beauty of Nagano in winter.
For full details about how and where to enjoy the leaves in Shiga Kogen and Kita-Shiga Kogen, please see our ‘Explore Yamanouchi – Home of the Snow Monkeys’ page.
Jigokudani Monkey Park / Kanbayashi Onsen: best time to visit – November
While the monkey park itself doesn’t have many trees that turn colour in however visiting in autumn brings you through Kanbayashi Onsen. This small hot spring village offers several excellent guesthouses and beautiful autumn leaves, making the journey to the park worthwhile.
Visitors to Kanbayashi Onsen can enjoy a couple of great restaurants and cafes. Located only moments from the trail leading to the monkey park, Enza Café is open all-year round and serves a mixed menu of Japanese staples and Western favourites.
Enza’s open-plan including outdoor seating allow guests to savour the surrounding forest. Through autumn, a large ‘momoji’ trees turns a stunning shade of red above Enza’s terrace – the perfect spot to go slow and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of Kanbayashi.
For visitors in autumn, we recommend combining your visit to the park with an overnight stay at one of Nagano’s best traditional guesthouses, Hotel Senjukaku. Known for its indulgent hot springs and autumn ‘kaiseki’ (traditional multicourse) meal service, Senjukaku is within walking distance of the monkey park and nearby Shiga Kogen.
Matsukawa Valley / Yamada Onsen: best time to visit – mid to late-October
Sitting quietly to the south of the Jigokudani Monkey Park – less than 60 minutes drive – Matsukawa Valley remains one of Nagano’s best kept secrets and blessed with some of the region’s most stunning autumn leaves. Easily accessible from Nagano Station, visitors heading to Matsukawa Valley should consider staying overnight at one it’s many fine ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses).
The hot spring town of Yamada Onsen offers the greatest number of guesthouses and easy access to the leaves, apple farms and secret hot springs that make Matsukawa Nagano’s best kept secret.
Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route: best time to visit – mid-September to late-October
One of the highlights of Central Japan, the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route straddles the Hida Mountains – the highest mountain range in the country. Rising to over 3000 meters, Mt Tateyama and the surrounding alpine landscape is blessed with stunning autumn colours, which transform not just the leaves but low-lying alpine shrubbery.
Accessible via Ogizawa Station in Nagano or Tateyama Station in Toyama, venturing high above to the ‘Roof of Japan’ in autumn will reveal a heavenly domain.
It is worth noting that given the altitude of the route, weather through October and November will be notably cooler and visitors should prepare for cold temperatures with the possibility of inclement weather.
The Historic Nakasendo Trail: best time to visit: mid-October to mid-November
Walking the Nakasendo Trail is always a memorable experience but one perhaps best enjoyed in autumn.Passing through a mixed landscape of forests, active farmlands and historic post towns, the ancient trail is coloured by the changing leaves of autumn while the weather is ideal for walking.
Understandably, this is the busiest time of year on the Nakasendo so make sure to book your accommodation well in advance.
The Haisenjiki Trail: best time to visit – mid-October to mid-November
The Haisenjiki Trail follows the now disused Shinonoi Train Line that once connected Matsumoto and Nagano City. Situated in the beautiful rural enclave of Azumino, the trail passes through abandoned brickwork train tunnels surrounded by the autumn leaves of the forest and rural landscape. Known mostly to locals, the trail is quiet and easy to walk. Accessible from Akashina Station, the trail takes approximately 2.5 hours to walk.
Akiyamago: best time to visit – October to November
Bordering Nagano and Niigata prefectures, Akiyamago refers to a collection of villages spread along the Nakatsugawa River. Blessed with beautiful natural landscapes and relative remoteness, the region has retained much of its traditional charm and lifestyle.
Heavily forested and dotted with natural hot springs, Akiyamago remains something of an undiscovered gem for international visitors, best experienced in autumn when the region turns a stunning mix of red, amber and gold.
Regarded as one of the best spots in Nagano and Niigata to enjoy the autumn leaves, exploring Akiyamgo requires a car. With plenty of accommodation options in the area, it is a great overnight experience.
*the timing of the leaves varies from year-to-year. The ‘best time to visit’ listed for each location reflects the usual timing of the leaves but please note, it cannot be guaranteed. To ensure you aren’t disappointed, please check online information closer to the time and if necessary, amend your plans to visit the best locations. There is no shortage of them in Nagano!
Want to experience the autumn leaves on a private tour or charter? free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get planning together!