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Bandai: Peak Colors

Peak colors along the Bandai-Azuma Skyline

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.

The colors along the upper reaches of the Bandai Azuma Skyline road were fantastic today
Autumnal pastoral
No mountain road trip in autumn is complete without photographers at every bend
The leaves in the areas roughly 1300-1500 meters above sea level were at peak today
Whole slopes drenched in colors
Painted valley

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.

The short hike to the Azuma Kofuji crater ridge
View back down to Jododaira from Kofuji
Mt. Higashi-Azuma letting off steam
The Azuma-Kofuji crater up close
Lovely day for a stroll on a volcano
The lovely, colorful Jododaira marshes from the cratertop
The susuki (pampas grass) and other grasses were the main source of color around Jododaira

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.

Awesome views along the Bandai Azuma Skyline
The colors around the Bandai Azuma Skyline should be at peak for another week or so
Catch 'em while they're hot
Lake Akimoto from the Azuma-Bandai Lake Line: still a ways off from peak color here

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.

The Nakatsugawa Gorge (located several hundred meters below the Bandai Azuma Skyline) was just barely starting to change color
Some say the gorge is pretty... gorgeous
Everyone was having a good time
It's apple season!


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.

The autumn colors around Goshikinuma were appraoching, but not quite at peak today
Mount Bandai looming over Lake Bishamon
Greens, blues and yellows allow around the ponds
Lots of great color starting to appear
Still lots of improvement, though: some trees will be changing over the next couple weeks
So shiny

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.

Nice colors around the Bandaisan Gold Line on the lower part of the mountains
Fall colors visibly making their way down Mount Bandai's slopes
Coming to the end of the Bandaisan Gold Line, with a sweeping view of Lake Inawashiro below
Bandai looming over ready-to-harvest rice around Lake Inawashiro