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Nikko: Peak Colors

View from Akechidaira of peak colors across Okunikko

After Typhoon No. 21 blasted the country this weekend and into Monday, the skies have calmed and the autumn color season continues making its way down from Japan's highest elevations.

While western Japan and cities like Kyoto and Tokyo are still a few weeks away from seeing their leaves changing color, mountainous areas in the north and center of the country are now hitting the peak of their season. Lower elevations around places like Mt. Fuji and Lake Towada are great places to catch the colors this week.

Today I headed straight to the season's front line to Nikko National Park, one of Japan's most famous autumn color spots, where I was greeted with some stunning fall displays.

Akechidaira Plateau

Peak Color

My first stop today was the plateau overlook Akechidaira, located right at the top of the ascending half of the Irohazaka Road that leads into the natural wonderland of Okunikko. The views from lookout at the top of the Akechidaira Ropeway were breathtaking today, showing off autumn colors around Mt. Nantai and a typhoon-swelled Kegon Falls.

The colors around this area seemed to just reach their peak recently and will likely stay attractive through this week.

Fantastic colors from the top of Akechidaira
Leaf watchers enjoying the view of Kegon Falls (left) and Mt. Nantai (right)
Post-typhoon Kegon Falls surrounded by beautiful foliage
The Akechidaira Ropeway
Lots of colors on the mountains around Akechidaira

Yumoto Onsen

Beyond Peak

From Akechidaira, I made my way up to the Nikko Yumoto. Sitting over 100 meters above Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji, the Yumoto area finishes its season about a week earlier than the lower parts of Okunikko, and today the leaves around the area had already mostly fallen.

The Nikko Yumoto area was definitely past its peak, but some nice colors were still lingering here and there
Lake Yumoto and Yumoto Onsen
Snow(!) already gathering on the high mountain tops
Enjoying the last colors on Lake Yunoko

Senjogahara Marsh

Beyond Peak

From the Yumoto, I made a quick stop at the Senjogahara Marshland, just a few minutes down the road. The golden grasses covering the ground here were a bit past their best color today, but the karamatsu pine trees lining the edges of the marsh still had enough remaining pines to provide nice yellow hues to the area.

Scoping the views of the marsh
The bright yellow grasses have already faded, but the deciduous yellow karamatsu pines are still sharing some of their color
An autumn walk in the woods
Shake it
Still lovely even late in the season
Pretty spiky

Next to Senjogahara, the popular Ryuzu Waterfall area, which was at peak color when Raina was their just last week, was almost leafless today.

The top of Ryuzu Falls, sans leaves
Dressed for the occasion
Some brilliant orangey momiji

Lake Chuzenji

Peak Color

After confirming the season status in the upper reaches of Okunikko, I headed back down to the Lake Chuzenji area next. The area around the lake—again, just 100-200 meters lower in elevation—had reached peak color.

Starting at an observation point near Hangetsuyama, I circled around much of the lake to find the spots with at-peak foliage. The closer the trees were to the lake itself, it seemed, the better the colors were today.

Barring another surpirse typhoon, I expect the colors around the lake will remain nice through the end of this week.

Lake Chuzenji and a snow-capped Mt. Shirane towering above
Colors around Lake Chuzenji were definitely at peak today
Dressed to impress along the lake shore
Cozy restaurant across the street from lake with some primo foliage
Nantai and the lake (the further up the mountain, the fewer leaves the trees had left)
I hope those swan boats are equipped with teru teru bozu...

Irohazaka Road

Peak Color

On my way back down from Okunikko, I made sure to take in the colors along the Irohazaka Road as well. The slopes which the road snakes down were covered in fantastic autumn colors, very close to their absolute peak today.

This area will likely remain quite nice through this week and maybe into early next week as different tree types change colors.

The colors around the Irohazaka Road were at their best
The long and winding road
Switchback paradise
Much colors, so autumn
A surprise around every bend

Shoyoen Garden

Peak Color

My final stop of the day was back down in the Nikko town area, not far from the celebrated Toshogu Shrine. Located just a few dozen meters away from Toshogu's main entrance is Rinnoji, a massive Bhuddist temple founded over 1000 years ago.

While the temple remains under construction until March 2019 (though still open to visitors), just opposite the main temple building stands the Shoyoen Garden, a lovely small Japanese style garden that boasts some picturesque autumn colors.

Today, several of Shoyoen's maple trees were showing some good color. You can likely catch nice colors here until next week.

Shoyoen Garden
The garden's scattered momiji and color-changing trees were looking great today
Yep, still (under construction till March 2019—but should make for a lovely view once it's done!)