by Scott, staff writer of japan-guide.com
This journal is a log of my travels within Japan. Here you'll find my personal opinions on the places I've been and the things I've seen. Also expect to see the occasional review and editorial. Thanks for reading.
2009/10/05 - Nikko
Today we checked out the Okunikko area of Nikko National Park in Tochigi Prefecture. While most people are familiar with the temples and shrines of Nikko, the national park which they are a part of is really quite a large area. The Okunikko, or Inner Nikko, area makes up the mountainous areas farther into the park, and are at a significantly higher elevation than the city below. This wide range of elevation means that Nikko has one of the longest leaf viewing seasons in Japan, with at least some part of park showing autumn colors from October through mid November.
The route through Okunikko is part of the Japan Romatic Road, and begins with Irohazaka Road at the entrance to Okunikko. The trees along the winding mountain road turn brilliant colors when in season and the road itself becomes incredibly crowded with cars. Today, however, the trees have yet to turn and the road remains clear. The highest point of Irohazaka Road passes the Akechidaira Ropeway Station from where you can catch a gondola up to the Akechidaira Plateau for views of the surrounding area. The trees along the gondola also have yet to show any significant color change.
Dropping down into Lake Chuzenji gives the first signs of autumn. The trees around the lake are beginning to change and the forest is dotted with spots of red, orange, and yellow. Kegon Falls, the outlet of the lake, however, is just beginning to change, and while the trees opposite the falls are more advanced in color, the ones immediatly surrounding the waterfalls are still mostly green.
Passing Lake Chuzenji will take you to Ryuzu Falls, whose name means "dragon head waterfall". The falls are sort of an anomaly, and tend to reach their peak earlier than the surrounding areas. This was evident today as Ryuzu Falls are currently at their peak of autumn color, with the rest of the area a little bit behind. If you enjoy walking, a trail leads up past the falls and along the river, flanked on both sides by more spectacular colors.
Farther into Okunikko brings you to Senjogahara Marsh, which has a network of trails leading through the marsh and the surrounding forests. Many of the broad leaf trees in the forest have changed color and are currently yellow, with shades of brown quickly coming in. The larch trees, a type of conifer that changes colors, is only just beginning to show signs of yellow. The marsh, on the other hand, has few trees and instead displays its color in its grasses, which were various shades of orange and red today.
The farthest into Okunikko that you can get by bus is the small hot spring town of Yumoto Onsen located on the shore of Lake Yunoko. This area, along with the mountains higher up, are currently around their peak and displaying brilliant autumn colors. If you are heading into Okunikko soon, make sure you go all the way into the back and check out this area. Also check out the Yudaki Falls at the outlet of the lake.
Finally, the Okunikko area, and this portion of the Japan Romantic Road, ends at Konsei Pass. From here you can get a view of Lake Yunoko below, as well as the rest of Okunikko off in the distance. Unfortunately, it is not easy to get this far without a car, and the road gets closed for the winter once it begins to snow.