Each season of the year presents new and exciting challenges for camping, and fall is certainly no exception. The leaves are changing, the weather is getting colder, and it takes more effort and gear than camping in the summer. It can also be extremely rewarding. The days are still warm even as the nighttime temperatures are dropping, the weather is more consistent, and the fall colors are honestly a joy to behold. We like to take full advantage of this time every year by heading up into the mountains somewhere to enjoy a few days of peace among nature, and this year decided on a campground nestled among the mountains in Yamanashi Prefecture.
We timed our arrival almost perfectly with check-in time, and headed down the road pointed out by the sign to the Minami Alps Sankeien Auto Camping Ground. I was the tiniest disappointed that the trees weren't further along in their annual change to brilliant yellows and oranges before falling, but we were just a bit too early for the most intense colors. However, the green with the occasional pop of color was still quite pretty, and I loved being shaded by the trees this time around.
At check-in we were given our assigned spot for our stay, which was one of the spots right along the river. We could hear a waterfall in the distance, and see a bit of the river through the trees. Each spot was packed sand and gravel, and very flat, and in addition our spot had a little cabin in between it and the one on the other side, which was nice as it added some extra privacy. Our first order of business was to set up the campsite as usual, and the tent always goes first! Since we had done some camping through the summer, it was a pretty quick setup since we had the hang of it, and we had plenty of time before sunset when we finished getting everything set up to our liking.
As the sun started to set, we went about making dinner. The roar of the waterfall as I cooked was relaxing, and as it started to get dark, we ate then set up the campfire. We sat around the warm fire talking as the temperature started to dip, then headed into the tent for the night once it started to get a bit late. After the rush of setting everything up before it got dark, it was nice to get to relax and take it easy without any tasks or obligations. The noise of the waterfall was a nice background noise, and we got good sleep that night without any worry about what time to wake up the next morning.
There may be no alarm for the adults, but children don't seem to ever need one! The morning was cold as expected, and we adults didn't really want to get out of the warm blankets, but we did eventually, and were rewarded with a beautiful view of the morning sunlight brightening the mountains. It was also pretty cloudy, and while during the day the sun peaked through the clouds a number of times, it was hidden just about as often as we saw it. We made some breakfast tacos, then the owner of the campground came by to tell us about a local bakery within walking distance that was only open a short time in the mornings, so we made the walk there quickly and got some delicious bread and baked goodies to have as a snack a bit later before they closed.
Another tip from the owner got us on the road to a local waterfall said to be very nice, especially in this season. After some trouble finding the place, we did indeed see Shoji Falls, from a long way off. Turns out it would be a good 40 minutes to an hour hike to get there, and with young kids, especially one who has just learned to walk, that wasn't really doable for us. We decided to just hike a little while anyway, taking our time and enjoying the day, and breathing in the sweet air and walking under the beautiful trees was a wonderful and relaxing experience that really made the trip. We didn't get the see the waterfall up close, but it certainly wasn't time wasted! And the views as we drove back toward the campsite were very nice, too.
We arrived back to the campsite as the sun came out behind the clouds, and had the chance to leisurely explore a bit more. A number of other groups had left, and while there were a few day campers, it seemed like we mostly had the campsite to ourselves as it began to get later and later. Fine with us! After a filling chili dinner, clouds rolled in and it started to sprinkle, then rain. We were happy that we had the little shelter to use next to the campsite, which fit a few things we didn't want to get wet. Everything else went under the tent or in the car, and we had another early night as the rain began to pound harder for a good soaking rainstorm that lulled us to sleep.
Between the waterfall and the rain, it was probably the best night of sleep I'd gotten in who knows how long. Even our slowly leaking air mattress couldn't dampen my great mood after such a good sleep night, and waking up in the morning feeling so refreshed, then coming out and seeing the morning sun glinting off the mountains, with the moon so up close and big... well. It was as good as it gets. Although it was time to leave, I briefly entertained the notion of just staying there forever. Maybe after we get our mattress fixed, anyway!
The checkout rush always comes up upon us a bit sooner than we expect, every single time. We had the added struggle of drying out a lot of our things before we could pack it. Luckily, we had been the only ones to stay the night, so the owner let us know that there was no rush to leave, and we could take all the time we needed. We only ended up being an hour late, which usually would be troublesome for the campsite since they might have someone else checking in for that spot that day, but this time it thankfully wasn't a problem! We had some time to take it slow and pack well, and the kids enjoyed playtime with some toys the owner brought out for them. We got it done, and waved goodbye to the owner as we headed down the road to head home, feeling a little bittersweet about it.
Fall is probably my favorite season to camp. The colors are beautiful, the air crisp and cool, and the campsites much less crowded than summer time. I wish we had hit the peak of the fall colors at this campsite instead of the beginning, because I can imagine just how beautiful it would be, but it was still very nice, and we had a great time here. We hope to be back again soon!