Dakigaeri Gorge, Akita
Low shores and cascading hills make this soft gorge a beautiful place to see the autumn leaves. The blue-green mountain river and surrounding forest become a magical place with the splashes of red and yellows painting the trees. Waterfalls cut across the river here and there, adding serene sounds of nature as guests take in the natural scenery.
The bright colours of the water against the dappled colours of autumn are sure to move you as you enjoy a hike from Kami no Iwashi suspension bridge. View the dramatic landscapes from up high on the suspension bridge or hike down to the shoreline for an up-close vista. No matter where you view Dakigaeri Gorge from though, you won’t be disappointed.
Directions: A free shuttle bus runs from Kakunodate Station and a paid shuttle bus from Tazawako Station during the autumn-leaf viewing season.
Welcome to the little Kyoto of Tohoku, in Akita prefecture. Although equally famous for its spring cherry blossom trees, Kakunodate in autumn has much to offer. Witness the Kakunodate Festival—dating back more than 350 years—where seven-ton floats are pulled through town. This sight against a backdrop of crimson cherry trees makes for a sublime vista.
Hike your way to the place where Kakunodate Castle once stood and gain a commanding view of the autumn leaves scattered through the city. Munch on the locally made sweet of red adzuki beans (morokoshi) while you enjoy strolling along the historic streets and taking in the crisp autumn air and leaves. Even visit an authentic samurai house and marvel at their well-kept autumnal gardens.
Directions: A short taxi ride or 20-minute walk from Kakunodate Station.
Hachimantai Aspite Line, Iwate
If driving is your course of travel, be sure to go through this 27-kilometer mountain sightseeing road. This road—straddling Iwate and Akita—offers a colorful vista of beech and maple trees during autumn. Stretch your legs nearby at Fudo-taki Waterfall. The cave behind this 15-meter high waterfall is said to enshrine the god of fire; certainly fitting with the blazing red leaves of autumn. Toshichi Onsen is another great destination along the route.
Geibiki Gorge, Iwate
This rugged gorge outside of Hiraizumi in Iwate prefecture is often confused with the similarly named Genbikei Gorge. The two gorges, however, have little in common other than gorgeous autumnal beauty. Lush trees have planted themselves along the grey cliff sides of this 2-km-long gorge carved out by the Satetsu River. The name “geibi” means “lion’s nose” and is taken from one of the unusual rock formations that visitors can see along a riverboat cruise.
That’s right. Enjoy a slow 90-minute cruise down the river where the cliff walls will tower above and the autumn leaves create a canopy of colours. Tours of the river depart once an hour and seat a dozen passengers. At the end of the river you’ll see the “lion’s nose” rock formation and even have a chance to throw a lucky stone through an opening on the opposite side of the cliff to make a wish!
Directions: A 5-minute walk to the boat launch from Geibikei Station on the Ofunato Line.
Genbikei Gorge, Iwate
Iwate’s Genbikei Gorge might not be as popular as other spots but it is no less beautiful. The view of a turquoise river cutting through rocky cliffs topped with autumn leaves is breathtaking. Located in Ichinoseki in southern Iwate, visitors can relax along the walking paths and admire the leaves or climb rocks for some choice photograph spots. A walk along the 2-kilometre-long canyon will take about 30 minutes to finish.
After you’ve enjoyed gazing at the gorge, why not enjoy some unusual dango service. Dango are sweet, sticky balls of mochi. These ones, however, are a little less conventional in their delivery. Look for a rope across the gorge at the most popular viewpoint along the path and place 400 yen in the basket. Ring the bell and away the basket goes, wait just a few minutes and then chewy dango—with tea—are yours to enjoy. The shop, Kakkoya, can also be reached by foot.
Directions: Bus #9 for Genbikei/Mizuyama from Ichinoseki Station.
Former Matsurube Ohashi Bridge, Iwate
Although the Matsurube Ohashi Bridge was damaged beyond use in a 2008 earthquake, the remains provide a striking contrast of the beauty of nature alongside the dangers. The folded asphalt serves as a reminder of the power of nature while the mountain trees, and view of the cobalt blue waters of the Iwai River beyond, provide a sense of serenity that only nature can give. The autumn leaves here are especially striking against the backdrop of disaster, but a reminder of the beauty that Tohoku has to offer.
A small observation deck besides Route 342 provides a great vantage point and rest area, as well as information about the 2008 disaster – it’s about 20 min drive west of Genbikei Gorge (in the direction of Sukawa Kougen Onsen).