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Nikko: Peak Colors

This year's autumn color season is well underway, as the "front" of changing leaves is slowly moving its way down from Japan's highest peaks to middle elevations around north Honshu's Tohoku Region.

After checking last week on the mountain colors of Mount Nasu, I made my way to today to another fantastic autumn color highland hot spot in Tochigi Prefecture: the lovely Nikko National Park. Boasting mountainous landscapes splashed with fall colors that last almost the entire month of October thanks to its huge range of elevations, Nikko makes a great autumn color destination for travelers coming from nearby Tokyo.

After Sam's first early-season report from Nikko two weeks ago, I prepared myself for lots of peaking colors today in the mid-to-high elevations of the park's breathtaking Okunikko area. Happily, I wasn't disappointed.

Yumoto Onsen

Peak Color

My first stop of the day was to Nikko's famous onsen area, the Yumoto Onsen, located at the furtherst, highest end of Okunikko. At around 1500 meters above sea level, the Yumoto area is always the first park of Nikko to see its leaves changing color, usually in early October.

When I arrived in the area this morning, the leaves in the Yumoto area had clearly hit their stride, showing peak colors today, especially around Lake Yunoko. Despite concerns that last month's heavier-than-usual typhoon rains would dull the colors (as it may have in some areas), the foliage here was seemed relatively vibrant and on schedule.

Senjogahara Marsh

Peak Color

Moving down in elevation from the Yumoto, my next stop was the Senjogahara Marsh. The wetland's grasses and karamatsu (Japanese larch) were definitely showing their signature autumnal deep yellows today, though some of the lighter silvery color from the susuki seemed to be less prominent than in the past. Nonetheless, the flatland was looking good.

Ryuzu Waterfall

Peak Color

Just below Senjogahara, the iconic double-pronged Ryuzu Waterfall, which cascades it way down a steep slope twisting over itself for 300 meters, was surrounded by some near-peak color today. The foliage around the falls today seemed, interestly, slightly past peak at the top of the falls while just ahead of peak at the bottom.

Lake Chuzenji

Approaching Peak

My next stop was at several spots along the beautiful Lake Chuzenji, at 1269 meters above sea level. After being greeted by some lovely morning lake mist, I trundled along to several stops along the shore. A lot of foliage along the lake had definitely started changing color, and from what I could tell, was close to starting its approach to peak color in most places.

While green still tinged a lot of the lakeside area, it will likely be quickly giving way to plenty of yellow and reds in the next week or so.

No trip to Lake Chuzenji would be complete without seeing the spectacular Kegon Falls, the sole, nearly 100-meter-tall exit for the mountain lake's water. Like much of the lake area, the falls' foliage was also getting close to peak color today, with maybe another week or so to go.

On my way down from Okunikko, I drove along the hairpin-curve-riddled Irohazaka slope on my way to the central Nikko area. Similar to the nearby Chuzenji Lake area, reds and yellows were popping up all along the road and surrounding mountainsides, and look likely to shed their remaining green maybe even next week.

Nikko Town

Starting to Change

My last stop of the day was a quick visit to one of the most famous of the Nikko town area's celebrated shrines and temples: Rinnoji Temple. While the main temple building remains (as it's been for over 5 years) under construction until March 2019, directly across the path from the main hall lies Shoyoen, a lovely Japanese style garden, which was my destination. The small garden happens to spot some beautiful autumn colors which usually peak considerably later (normally around early November) than the highlands of Okunikko.

Today, the scattered momiji (Japanese maple) trees around the garden were just started to show color, making for a peaceful way to finish a busy morning.