With this year's autumn colors hitting their peak in Japan's mountains and northern Tohoku and Hokkaido regions, I made my way today to just such a place: one of Japan's most famous mountains in the heart of Tohoku: Mount Bandai.
Bandai, which is located in the middle of Fukushima Prefecture, is a dormant volcano well-loved for its spectacular autumn colors. And nestled between the three peaks that comprise the volcano system (Bandai, Adatara and Azuma), the Urabandai area is where most of the colors are concentrated.
Thanks to the large range of elevations that the mountainous Urabandai area covers, the koyo (autumn color) season here usually lasts for the entire duration of October, starting around the peaks and finishing at lower elevations by the end of the month. And today, I caught the action right in the middle.
Mount Azuma: Peak Color
I started my day today driving first to Mount Azuma, the highest and northernmost of the three volcanic siblings. Azuma itself is actually a collection of several consituent peaks, and winding amongst them is the lovely Bandai-Azuma Skyline road, which was featuring some spectacular autumn color at its peak today.
While taking in the colors, I followed the Skyline up to its highest point: the Jododaira Marshlands. Located at about 1580 meters above sea level, this area was still showing some nice color, but was running toward the end of its peak. Nonetheless, the views from atop the beautiful Azuma-Kofuji crater were excellent.
From Mount Azuma, I made my way down both the Skyline as well as the Azuma-Bandai Lake Line which twists around several of Urabandai's picturesque lakes. Again, the Skyline's colors were definitely at their peak today, and will likey remain colorful through the coming weekend.
Further down into Urabandai around Lakes Akimoto and Onogawa, however, the colors have only just started. Expect these to be at their best maybe next week.
Nakatsugawa Gorge: Starting to Change
I made a brief stop along the Lake Line to the Nakatsugawa Gorge, a small but steep gorge carved out by a beautiful mountain stream. Today I was a little surprised to find the colors here still pretty early, with green still being more dominant than yellow or orange. Likely sometime next week the foliage all around the gorge will be stunning.
Goshikinuma: Approaching Peak
After the gorge, I made a stop at the very popular Goshikinuma ponds. The ponds are said to have been created and given their unusually bright hues after a deadly, massive eruption of Mount Bandai in 1888. Besides the ponds, though, the foliage around them becomes quite colorful in autumn.
Today, the autumn color around Goshikinuma was still a little early, but a few trees were definitely on their way to their best color. Next week would probably be an ideal time to catch the colors here at their best.
To finish my report, from Goshikinuma, I drove down one more of the area's scenic roads: the Bandaisan Gold Line. Still rather high up, the road passes by the trailhead of the hiking trail that leads to the summit of Bandai as well as several excellent ski resorts before leading out to the plain surrounding Lake Inawashiro.
Today the autumn colors here actually pretty nice, especially on the high slopes of Mount Bandai itself. In a few more days the lower slopes will likely be even more colorful.