20 Best Places To See Autumn Leaves In & Around Nagano
Nagano and the surrounding areas making-up Central Japan boasts most of the country’s tallest mountains. Heavily forested and largely undeveloped, Nagano is blessed with some of Japan’s best autumn leaves that appear earlier than many other parts of the country, thanks to the higher elevation and cooler climate of the region. On this page you will find the following information:
When listing the best places to enjoy the leaves in Nagano, it’s impossible to list all possible destinations. There are just too many. The list below introduces some of the most popular and celebrated spots in the region while also suggesting some smaller, lesser-known places. We have tried to favour destinations that are easy to reach by public transport but as you will note, there are a couple best-suited to visitors driving themselves.
BEST AUTUMN LEAVES IN & AROUND NAGANO
Nagano and the surrounding region of Central Japan boast most of Japan’s tallest mountains. As such, the autumn leaves occur earlier than in other popular destinations such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka thanks to the higher elevation of the region – which ascends to well-over 3000 metres. In higher areas such as Shiga Kogen, Hakuba, Kamikochi, Tateyama-Kurobe and other spots rising over 2500 metres, the leaves can turn as early as mid-September while lower areas will be at their best as late as mid-November. This allows plenty of time and options when seeking-out the best autumn leaves in Nagano. We have provided a typical ‘best time’ of year to see the leaves in each location but please note, this can vary between years and is only intended as a guide. Now let’s jump in with our suggestion of the twenty best spots to enjoy the autumn leaves:
1 / SHIGA KOGEN / best time: early Oct. to mid-Nov.
Nestled within the Joshinetsu National Park, Shiga Kogen is accessible from Nagano Station and the nearby Jigokudani Monkey Park by express bus – along with local buses from Yudanaka Station – and a fantastic option when in search of the leaves. Home to mountain peaks ascending to around 2500 meters, 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 directions to Shiga, see our ‘How To Get To Shiga Kogen’ page.
2 / KANBAYASHI ONSEN / best time: November
The Jigokudani Monkey Park is one of Nagano’s most popular outdoor destinations. Located in the hot spring village of Kanbayashi Onsen, the monkey park itself doesn’t have many trees that turn colour however Kanbayashi does, boasting some truly beautiful trees. This small hot spring village offers several excellent guesthouses and beautiful autumn leaves, making the journey to the park worthwhile. 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 multi-course) meal service, Senjukaku is within walking distance of the monkey park and nearby Shiga Kogen. Day-trippers to the park can also enjoy a drink, snack or meal at Enza Cafe – best enjoyed on its outdoor deck under the autumn umbrella of a large ‘momiji’ (Japanese maple). For directions to Kanbayashi and the park, see our ‘How To Get To The Jigokudani Monkey Park’ page.
3 / TOGAKSUHI / best time: late Sept. to mid-Oct.
Located just outside of Nagano City and easily accessible using local buses – a journey of around 45-minutes from Nagano Station, 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 or overnight 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. Part of the larger Myoko-Togakushi Renzan National Park, this is one of the best and most easily accessible destinations for visitors seeking some truly beautiful autumn colours. For directions, see our ‘How To Get To Togakushi’ page.
4 / NOZAWA ONSEN / best time: mid-Oct. to Nov.
Lying around an hour to the northeast to Nagano Station, Nozawa Onsen is a historic hot spring town and home to one of Japan’s best ski resorts. Before the snow arrives in early winter, Nozawa is another of the best spots in the region to enjoy the autumn leaves. You can do so by simply wandering through the town, which boasts some beautiful trees, or by riding the Nagasaka Gondola – a 15-minute ride covering 3.5km – to the Uenotaira top station and walking the leisurely trails high above the village. For visitors who choose to do so, Nozawa is an ideal location to book a traditional guesthouse and enjoy a relaxing ‘onsen’ (hot spring) after enjoying your ‘momijigari’ (autumn leaf hunting) in the forest. See our ‘How To Get To Nozawa Onsen’ page for directions to the area.
5 / AKIYAMAGO / best time: October to November
Bordering Nagano and Niigata prefectures – around 30 minutes drive to the north of Nozawa Onsen – 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 Akiyamago requires a car. With plenty of accommodation options in the area, it is a great overnight experience.
6 / NAENA FALLS / best time: mid-Oct. to Nov.
Myoko Kogen is home to more of the region’s best ski resorts and north-eastern areas of Myoko-Togakushi Renzan National Park. Boasting multiple peaks over 2000 metres, the park is blessed early and beautiful autumn leaves enticing visitors to head deep into the park along its many hiking trails. For visitors looking for an easy to access location where you can enjoy spectacular leaves, head to Naena Falls. Only 20-minutes drive from Akakura Onsen village and 50-minutes to the north of Nagano City, the 55-metre waterfall is a spectacular sight in autumn. For directions to the area, see our ‘How To Get To Myoko’ page.
7 / HAKUBA / best time: October to November
Also around an hour drive to the west of central Nagano City, Hakuba is home to ten ski resorts and Nagano’s best adventure sports activities. Lying at the base of the North Alps, several gondolas and ropeways – that service the ski resorts in winter – operate through summer and autumn and in doing so provide access to some fantastic trails and autumn leaves. Operating from Hakuba Goryu Snow Resort, Hakuba Goryu Alpine Botanical Garden is accessible using the main gondola. Taking 10 minutes to climb to around 1500 metres above sea level, visitors can enjoy the alpine garden of more than 300 varieties of plants, leisurely walking trails and the ‘ALPS 360’ restaurant.
Happo Pond can be accessed using the ‘Adam’ gondola at Hakuba Happo One. Located around 2000 metres above sea level, the pond is around 90-minutes walk from the upper gondola station and blessed with one of Hakuba’s most iconic vistas and autumn colours. Trails lead onto the pond further into the mountains – more serious undertakings that require appropriate experience, preparation and gear – however, for anyone of reasonable fitness, Happo Pond is a beautiful and rewarding destination. Accessible using the Tsuigake ‘Eve’ Gondola followed by the shorter ropeway, the Tsugaike Nature Park sits at around 1900 metres above sea level and offers a series of leisurely yet beautiful alpine trails. Courses ranging from 1km to 5.5km / 1 to 4 hours walk provide access over 100 hectares of alpine landscape, known for its beauty, variety of mountain plants and flowers, and panoramic views of the North Alps rising another 1000 metres above. For directions to the area from Nagano and beyond, see our ‘How To Get To Hakuba’ page.
8 / HAISENJIKI TRAIL / best time: mid-Oct. to mid-Nov.
Located to the west of Nagano City, 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.
9 / KAMIKOCHI / best time: October
Moving further west from Nagano and Azumino, Kamikochi is an alpine valley located between 1500 to 1600 meters above sea level. With the mountains above ascending to over 3000 meters – including Mt Hotaka, Japan’s third tallest mountain – 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! For directions to Kamikochi, see our ‘How To Get To Kamikochi’ page.
10 / TATEYAMA-KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE / best time: mid-Sept.to late Oct.
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. For further details, see our ‘How To Get To The Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route’ page.
11 / SHOMYO FALLS / best time: October
For visitors heading to or from the Alpine Route via Tateyama Station, Shomyo Falls is accessible using buses running from the station. Only a 15-minute ride followed by 30-minute walk, Shomyo Falls is the tallest waterfall in Japan at 350 metres in height and at its most impressive in autumn. A great destination to combine with your adventure along the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route.
12 / KUROBE GORGE / best time: late Oct. to mid-Nov.
Regarded as one of the three most beautiful gorges in Japan and at its most spectacular during autumn, Kurobe is best experienced riding the Kurobe Gorge Railway which covers a meandering and winding 20km span in approximately 80 minutes. The open-air carriages allow visitors an intimate experience of the surrounding landscape with stations along the route allowing access to walk trails, onsen, restaurants and accommodation.The rail line includes several spectacular bridges and truly beautiful hot springs including Kuronagi Onsen and the riverside Kanetsuri Kawara Onsen. Highly recommended. For further details, see our ‘How To Get To The Kurobe Gorge’ page.
13 / TENRYUKYO / best time: mid. to late November
Starting from Nagano Station, Tenryukyo is located approximately 2.5 hours drive to the south. A little tricky to reach by public transport, Tenryukyo and the surrounding area remains somewhat undiscovered by international visitors and for that reason, is a hidden autumn gem. For Japanese the area is known for the beautiful Tenryu River, that descends from the mountains above and then makes its way to the Pacific Coast, along the way carving out one of Japan’s most beautiful waterways. Traditional river boats can be enjoyed any time of year but are perhaps most enjoyable in autumn, as the forested banks of the river and gorge turn on a spectacular show of colour. A great destination for visitors wanting to enjoy the best of autumn in combination with some traditional adventure.
14 / SENJOJIKI CIRQUE / best time: late September
Formed by a glacier around 20,000 years ago, Senjojiki Cirque is a vast semi-circular natural feature sitting around 2500 metres above sea level. With the mountains above ascending to just under 3000 metres, the area boasts some of the most spectacular colours in southern Nagano. The Komagatake Ropeway transports visitors to the highest terminal station in Japan at 2612 metres above sea level, from where you can hike the mountain trails or take a leisurely wander and enjoy the beautiful sight of Senjojiki Cirque in autumn. The base station is located around 2-hours drive to the south of Nagano City.
15 / NAKASENDO TRAIL / best time: mid-Oct. to mid-Nov.
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. To access the Nakasendo from Nagano, take the Limited Express Shinano to Nakatsugawa Station – if walking from Magome to Tsumago – or to Kiso-Fukushima Station and switch to a local service to Narai Station – if visiting Narai.
16 / KARUIZAWA / best time: mid-Oct. to early Nov.
The popular mountain resort town of Karuizawa is one of the best spots in Central Japan to enjoy the leaves, which thanks to the town’s higher elevation at around 1000 metres above sea level, come earlier than most other areas. Karuizawa boasts some great spots to enjoy the leaves including Shiraito Falls, Kumoda Pond and by walking the Usui Toge Trail. The town is well-known for its range of high-end accommodation, restaurants and shopping making it an ideal autumn destination within easy reach of Nagano – only 30 minutes – and Tokyo using the Hokuriku Shinkansen.
17 / SHIRAKAWA-GO & GOKAYAMA / best time: October to November
The World Heritage-listed villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama draw visitors from around the world and throughout the year. No matter the time of year you’ll be in Japan, the villages are worth visiting but perhaps at their most enjoyable during autumn. Located high in the North Alps, the area is blessed with natural beauty and some fantastic autumn colours. The always picturesque villages look even better surrounded by the red, yellow and orange of the surrounding forests with the first dustings of snow likely to be on the mountain peaks above. The villages are somewhat remote and located at some distance from central Nagano but thanks to Japan’s fantastic public transport network can be reached from nearby Takayama, Toyama or Kanazawa in around one hour. For details, see our ‘How To Get To Shirakawa-go’ page.
18 / HAKUSAN NATIONAL PARK / best time: late Sept. to mid-Oct.
Hakusan is an expansive national park lying to the south of Kanazawa, west of Takayama and within easy reach of Shirakawa-go. The park covers around 47,000 hectares centred around Mount Haku – one of Japan’s three sacred mountains and in autumn, is blessed with more beautiful leaves. Open to the public from June until mid-November, the ‘White Road’ is a winding alpine route through the beautiful park – a great way to enjoy the leaves and atmosphere of autumn. Taking around 60-minutes to drive without stopping, it’s best to allow 3 to 4 hours for the journey so that you can go slow, stop, walk and take it all in. Tollgates are positioned at either end of the road and charge JPY1700 one-way or JPY2600 for a round-trip.
19 / KENROKUEN GARDEN / best time: late Oct. to mid-Nov.
As the terminus of the Hokuriku Shinkansen line running from Tokyo via Nagano, Kanazawa is easy to reach. One of Japan’s most historic and rewarding city’s, it is a great place to enjoy the autumn leaves later than Nagano. Within walking distance of Kanazawa Station, Kenrokuen Garden was opened to the public in 1871 and to this day is regularly cited as one of Japan’s three most beautiful gardens. The name ‘Kenrokuen’ translates as ‘Garden of the Six Sublimities’ and reflects a design underpinned Chinese landscape theory, and the six essential attributes needed to create an ideal garden. The garden boasts some beautiful autumn leaves, drawing visitors from all over the world. Open daily from 07:00 to 18:00 – March to mid-October – and from 08:00 to 17:00 – mid-October until the end of February. Admission is JPY320.
20 / KORANKEI / best time: November
Though located quite some distance from Nagano City, Korankei or the ‘Koran Valley’ is regarded as one of the Central Japan’s best locations to enjoy the beauty of Japan’s autumn leaves, and for that reason, needs to be on this list. Located around 2 hours from Nagoya Station, the valley follows the Tomoe River around the base of Mount Iimori. Legend has it that in the 17th century, the head abbot of the local Kojakuji Temple planted many of the maple trees that today, attract visitors from all over the region each autumn. During that time, trees around the Taigetsu-kyo Bridge are illuminated in the evening – from sunset until 21:00 – creating a beautiful environment through which to wander. The leaves are typically at their best along the river through November.
AUTUMN LEAVES IN JAPAN: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
Occurring anytime between mid-September and mid-December depending on the region of the country, the autumn leaves are eagerly anticipated every year in Japan. Our ‘Autumn Leaves’ main page has everything you need to know including this year’s autumn leaves forecast, where to find them and our range of group and private tours in Nagano and Central Japan.
40 THINGS TO DO AROUND NAGANO & WHERE TO STAY
Host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano is known best for its long winter, world-class snow, and of course, the hot spring-loving monkeys of Jigokudani! Boasting the most ski resorts of any region of Japan, there is no doubt that when it comes to skiing and snowboarding, Nagano is one the best destinations in Asia. The mountains are just as big outside of winter and offer just as many reasons to visit in spring, summer and autumn. Our ’40 Things To Do Around Nagano & Where To Stay’ page has lots of great tips and suggestions of what to do while here and the best places to stay, both in the city and nearby.
HOW TO GET TO NAGANO
As a stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line running from Tokyo to Kanazawa, Nagano is easy to reach from the capital and beyond with other express train lines connecting Nagano City to Matsumoto, the Kiso Valley and Nagoya. Our ‘How To Get To Nagano City’ page has everything you need to know about how to get here.
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Based in Nagano and operating all year round, we are a registered travel agent and the region’s No.1 tour and charter operator. We have the expertise and experience to help you get the most out of your time in the region including hunting down the best autumn leaves in Central Japan. We can package your trip to Nagano and Central Japan including group and private tours, ski packages, accommodation, private charters, restaurants, ticketing and more!
Our drivers and vehicles are fully certified, allowing us to transport you to and from your preferred destinations, in combination with any activity that suits your interests and schedule. All vehicles are fitted with a protective screen – separating the driver from passenger and luggage area – and our drivers wear protective masks, allowing you to move between your destinations in comfort and safety.
For guests wanting to access the resorts in the comfort of their own transport, we can arrange a private tour or charter customised to fit your needs, starting and ending at any destination. We can arrange both private tours with an English-speaking guide or a private charter, including a private vehicle and driver but without a guide – whichever works best for you!
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