Top Autumn Hotspots: Northern Tohoku

There’s no better way to enjoy the changing of summer to autumn than to go on a scenic hike or cruise and take in the colored leaves. Japan—and Tohoku in particular—has some of the best autumn leaves anywhere to be found.

The Tohoku region, in northern Japan, is something of a hidden discovery for many travellers to Japan. It’s in the opposite direction of the well-travelled path connecting Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka – but it possesses some of the best sightseeing spots that Japan has to offer.

Here are the top places to see the beautiful autumn leaves in northern Tohoku – don’t miss our companion pieces covering other spots in northern Tohoku and southern Tohoku too.

Oirase Stream, Aomori

One of Japan’s most famous and popular destinations for autumn colours, Oirase Stream in Aomori prefecture is sure to impress. Let the sound of water carry you away as you enjoy the vibrant colours of the autumn foliage. More than one dozen waterfalls dot the stream and create some superb photographs of the occasion. For nature lovers, there may not be a better escape.

The gorge in its entirety is 14-kilometers long and leaves the calm surface of Lake Towada, its source. Visitors to the area can expect all the colours of autumn along with the cool, crisp air it brings—but also lush green mossy rocks and lichen-covered tree trunks—adding some amazing contrast to photos of the experience. Electric bicycles are also available for rent from Oirase Stream Museum, Ishigedo Rest Area, or JR Bus Nenokuchi.

Directions: From JR Aomori Station, take the bus bound for Lake Towada and disembark at Yakeyama. Buses do not run from November to April.

Hakkoda Mountains, Aomori

The Hakkoda mountain range actually includes over 20 mountains in Aomori prefecture. The mountains offer some of Japan’s best autumn scenery—not to mention plenty of traditional onsen. If you love hiking in secluded nature, this is the destination for you. Mount Odake is the most popular mountain to climb in the range. With views of the Pacific Ocean, Sea of Japan, and Mount Iwaki from Odake’s lookout, it’s easy to see why.

For a truly spectacular vista, take the ropeway up Mount Hakkoda during the peak of autumn—just be sure to get a window seat. From 9am to 4:20pm (or 3:40pm between mid-Nov and February), the Hakkoda Ropeway offers roundtrip visits to the peak of Mount Hakkoda. A roundtrip ticket will cost 2,000 yen (full fare info here) but the views you’ll get are priceless.

Directions: From Aomori Station take a bus for Mount Hakkoda; the trip will take about 55 minutes to arrive at the Hakkoda Ropeway.

Nakano Momijiyama, Aomori

During autumn, the Nakano Momijiyama Illumination lights up the mountainside with spectacular vibrant colours against the dark of night. The blazing red leaves, along with Fudo Waterfall and the stream, create a magical atmosphere. An autumn-leaf dining platform is even set up just for guests to enjoy their lunches while looking out over the falls and leaves. During your visit, be sure to try to koyo lunch at the viewing platform for a locally grown lunch full of autumn flavours.

Nakano Shrine is also a noteworthy place to visit while visiting the area. The ancient trees here have seen hundreds of autumns and offer their own mystical charm to the season. The most famous leafy residents are a 200-year old Japanese maple, a 600-year old great cedar, and a 200-year old fir tree. Each one is a natural monument of Kuroishi City so why not visit these majestic trees on a hike through the forest?

Directions: Take the train to Kuroishi Station (about 30 mins from Hirosaki Station), before taking a connecting bus and disembarking at Nakano Jinja Mae Stop; from here it’s a 10-minute walk.

Hirosaki Castle, Aomori

When the sun sets, during Hirosaki Castle's renowned annual Chrysanthemum and Autumn Foliage Festival, the whole area is lit up to showcase the wealth of nature and vibrancy of the thousands of trees which encompass the castle area. It's already a beautiful and peaceful spot but the lights add something special and make it a real reason for visiting Hirosaki Castle in Autumn.

  • Oirase Stream, Aomori
  • Hakkoda Mountains, Aomori
  • Nakano Momijiyama, Aomori
  • Hirosaki Castle, Aomori

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