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Route 292: Starting to Change

The annual autumn color spectacular has started in the higher altitudes in Japan with Daisetsuzan in Hokkaido showing off splendid colors when Schauwecker was there last week.

Today, I headed to check out the colors along the national route 292 in the section between Yamanouchi not far from the popular Jigokudani Monkey Park all the way to the onsen town of Kusatsu. The route stretches across the prefectures of Nagano and Gunma, passing through an elevation of around 2000 meters, winding round mountains, marshlands and Mount Shirane, an active volcano.

I found the colors to have just started in the lower elevations, while the higher elevations had developed more color. Temperatures are expected to get cooler this coming weekend and it should encourage more color progression.

Winding roads on Route 292

My first stop comes about 15 minutes from Yudanaka Onsen at Ichinuma Pond. I found the leaves here to have just started taking on color while the trees at the nearby Biwa Lake were still completely green. The nearby Hasuike Pond also had a smattering of color but it is still early days to see an intense autumn colors here.

Ichinuma Pond
If you had any doubts that Pacman ever existed
Kissed by fire
Let me go on like I blister in the sun
Autumn hasn't reached Biwa Lake yet

From there, I headed into the Tanohara Marshland at 1610 meters above sea level. Slightly higher in altitude compared to the Ozegahara Marshland, I found the colors here to be slightly better compared to Ichinuma Pond. There were patches of gold and red, and I expect the colors to improve over the coming days.

Looking down Tanohara Marshland
Photographer in action

From there, I headed up to the Yokoteyama area, not far from where the highest point on a national route is located. There are a number of lookout points in the area, each providing sweeping panoramic views of the karamatsu larch trees that dot the mountainside. Many of the trees were either still green or had turned a dark shade of red, and I heard a number of worried rumours that the colors may not be too impressive this year.

Looking down the mountains from the Yokoteyama area
Escalator going up and down
Feeling a bit unsure about the colors here
This is the highest point on any national routes in the entire country
Looking down and that's the town of Kusatsu in the back

After taking in the dramatic landscape from the top, I ventured on towards a small hill across from the Yugama Crater Lake on Mount Shirane. The nanakamado bushes on the hill were almost at their peak, making it easier to spot the reddish-gold clusters.

Road leading to Yugama Crater Lake
Reddish hues everywhere on this small hill

Moving on to Mount Shirane, I took the opportunity to see the Yugama Crater Lake. The area was previously closed off due to volcanic activity which produced poisonous gases. I took a walk up to see the crater lake for the first time and was amazed by the intense colouring of the lake. Since mid June, the area around the crater lake was re-opened to the public, meaning that visitors could stop and take a look. Sam went there a week after it reopened and you can read his detailed report here.

Colors at Yugama Crater Lake
The walk up takes about 20 to 30 minutes
Free-to-borrow hiking sticks make it easier to walk up the steep slope
Shirane resthouse and Yumiike Pond flanking Route 292
More winding roads
Out of this world

Below the crater lake is the lower station of the Shirane Ropeway and where the Mononuguno Pond is located. I took a walk around the pond and found the colors there to be the best of my entire trip.

Ropeway in operation
Wild photographer taking some pictures
Ezo-rindo flower
Scenery around the Mononugumo Pond

To round of my trip, I visited Sainokawara Park in Kusatsu. The leaves here are just barely touched by color and it would still be a while before they look attractive. Autumn colors aside, taking a bath in one of the many onsen was the perfect way to end a long trip.

Footbaths in Sainokawara Park
Not much color happening here
The men's bath can be see from the path
Looking down the park