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Autumn Color Report 2015
Official autumn color reports by

Where to see autumn leaves? - When do trees turn colors? - What trees turn colors?
Schedule of upcoming reports - Post your own report

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2015/10/22 - Northern Alps Report
by joe

The colorful mountainsides of Shinhotaka

Sometimes a little trip off of the beaten path can be the most rewarding. Continuing my autumn color reporting in Japan's Northern Alps this week, today I found myself exploring the winding roads and river gorges of two of the deepest areas of this mountainous region. While the Northern Alps are famous for vast swathes of autumn colors covering the slopes, most travelers only go as far as the most well-known spots (not without good reason, of course!). But with deciduous trees, shrubs and grasses covering almost every inch of the mountainsides in this region, breathtaking views can be just as rewarding in its less-known corners.

After a great day in nearby Kamikochi yesterday, I started my morning early in the Okuhida area of the Northern Alps, after a night at a lovely local ryokan. Okuhida is not only famous for its scenery, but also for its abundance of onsen, many of which also sport awesome outdoor baths with mountain views of their own (here's a list of some of the best onsen in this area!). Today the entire valley was splashed with great autumn color on the lower slopes, making for a pleasant drive to my first destination of the day: the Shinhotaka Ropeway.

Morning light pouring into the Kabatagawa River valley of Okuhida
The drive to Shinhotaka
In the elevation range around 1000 meters, the hillside foliage was amazing
The Shinhotaka Ropeway car on its way up

The Shinhotaka Ropeway is a popular destination for travelers looking for great mountain views, conveying passengers up to the its 2155-meter-high top station, and offering fantastic views of the Hotakadake mountains. Though it is perhaps most popular in the summer, as the top station also connects to a major trailhead for hiking along the Northern Alps ridge lines, if you time it well, it can also be a great place to see some autumn color. At this point in the season, the trees near the ridge line have long-since lost their leaves, but right around the base station, up to an elevation around 1600 meters or so, the trees were pretty spectacular.

The view from the Shinhotaka Ropeway
Yellow karamatsu (Japanese larch) dominating the palette around the base of the mountains
Golden cones up on the foothills
Further up (in the 1800-meter range and above) the trees were mostly sans leaves
The top station of the ropeway was bustling today
The trailhead of the ridgeline path to Mount Nishi-hotakadake (in the distance) and beyond
Nishi-hotakadake (2909m) and the Hotakadake massif extending into the distance
Mount Karasagatake (2897.5m), Gifu Prefecture's highest peak
A footbath at the bottom of the ropeway
Bright red momiji (Japanese maple) around Shin-Hotaka

After coming down from the ropeway, I enjoyed a great drive through Okuhida and countless valleys and river gorges along my way south to my next destination for the day. The views along these mountain roads are wonderful, and in contrast to the higher areas which were beyond their peak color, the gorge bottoms were absolutely at their peak today.

Nonohana Sanso, one of many onsen ryokan (hot spring resort/inns) in the area
Beautiful color in the lower areas of Shinhotaka and Okuhida
Sacred ropes hanging from the torii gate of a local shrine
Gorge after gorge with peak autumn colors as I wound along the mountain rivers

After about an hour drive, I found myself on the Norikura Kogen Highlands. Located in the shadow of Mount Norikuradake, the highlands consist of forested slopes packed with hiking trails, ski resorts and lifts, onsen (check out Shirahone Onsen), waterfalls, and wildlife. While Mount Norikuradake itself is a popular early-in-the-season koyo (autumn color) destination, its peak color comes and goes quickly in the high alpine areas. Mid-season, however, the highland forests below the mountain offer some very nice colors, too.

While the foliage in the Norikura Kogen was a bit beyond its peak color today, there was still much to enjoy. I did a few small hikes to some of the famous waterfalls in the area, most of which are pretty gentle if you're in normal fitness. I even ran into a family of tanuki--my first time seeing them live (and not as roadkill victims) in the wild! All in all, it was a wonderful day of mountain koyo hunting.

Norikura Kogen, the highlands at the foot of Mount Norikuradake
Like much of the Northern Alps area this week, the deciduous karamatsu pine trees were the king of autumn colors around Norikura Kogen
Susuki (pampas grass) in place of the meters of snow that surround the many chair lifts in the winter
Two of the three Sanbontaki Falls
Stacked stones before the falls
Sanbontaki Falls
These guys were sniffing around near the Sanbontaki rest house
He wants to be your friend. Or steal your bento.
Found this mind-blowing elephant-trunk-tree-trunk tree along a path
Ushidomeike Pond
The lovely Zengoron Falls
Sasa and shirakaba (alpine bamboo and white birch) lining the hiking trails
Leafy forest floor

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List of Posts:
2015/12/09 - Tokyo Report
2015/12/04 - Kyoto Report
2015/12/03 - Tokyo Report
2015/12/01 - Kamakura Report
2015/11/27 - Tokyo Report
2015/11/27 - Kyoto Report
2015/11/27 - Nara Report
2015/11/26 - Osaka Report
2015/11/25 - Miyajima Report
2015/11/24 - Kyoto Report
2015/11/20 - Kyoto Report
2015/11/19 - Tokyo Report
2015/11/19 - Kankakei Report
2015/11/18 - Mount Mitake Report
2015/11/18 - Korankei Report
2015/11/17 - Fujigoko Report
2015/11/17 - Kyoto Report
2015/11/16 - Mount Takao Report
2015/11/13 - Kyoto Report
2015/11/12 - Tokyo Report
2015/11/11 - Hakone Report
2015/11/11 - Fukuroda Falls Report
2015/11/10 - Kyoto Report
2015/11/09 - Koyasan Report
2015/11/08 - Miyajima Report
2015/11/07 - Dazaifu Report
2015/11/06 - Fujigoko Report
2015/11/04 - Tokyo Report
2015/10/30 - Kyoto Report
2015/10/28 - Nikko Report
2015/10/26 - Bandai Report
2015/10/22 - Northern Alps Report
2015/10/21 - Northern Alps Report
2015/10/20 - Mount Fuji Report
2015/10/15 - Hachimantai Report
2015/10/15 - Nikko Report
2015/10/14 - Alpine Route Report
2015/10/14 - Towada Report
2015/10/13 - Hakkoda Report
2015/10/08 - Nasu Report
2015/10/06 - Nikko Report
2015/10/05 - Route 292 Report
2015/09/28 - Oze Report
2015/09/24 - Alpine Route Report
2015/09/17 - Daisetsuzan Report
2015/09/16 - Daisetsuzan Report