Western Japan and warmer urban centers like Tokyo and Kyoto will be right behind as their seasons kick off in just another week or so. But for those hoping to catch the last of the season north of Tokyo, northern autumn color hot spots like Nikko, Yamadera, and Shiobara Onsen are around their peak now—but likely not for long, so best to go sooner than later!
Among Tohoku's best-loved fall color hot spots, the Naruko Gorge is a nice choice for a late October–early November visit. Just a 2-hour local train ride from Sendai in the mountainous interior of Miyagi Prefecture, the forested gorge usually reaches peak color around this time. Followed by a quick dip in the nearby hot spring town of Naruko Onsen, which is also famous for traditionally-crafted kokeshi dolls, the area makes for a pleasant day trip from Sendai or Yamagata.
And hoping to see the gorge at its best timing, I caught an early train there this morning myself to find out.
After getting off at Nakayamadaira Station, located just one stop beyond Naruko Onsen Station on the JR Rikuu East Line, the gorge was just a 20-minute walk (hourly buses stopping at the gorge run between both stations, too).
Looking out over the gorge, I was greeted by a fantastic display of colors everywhere I looked. The foliage covering the valley walls were at their peak today. Judging by the progress, I estimate the colors will be vibrant here through the upcoming weekend.
Just next to the Ofukazawa Bridge is the Narukokyo Resthouse, a road station serving food and selling souvenirs. The resthouse boasts the best views of the gorge from above, looking out on the bridge and all the glorious surrounding foliage.
From the resthouse, there is also a short walking trail that leads to the bottom of the gorge, stopping directly under the bridge itself. The trail used to continue over a kilometer alongside the Oya River, but after sustaining continuous earthquake damage over that last decade, it has unfortunately been closed indefinitely.
Still, the views that were accessible today were still rather nice.
After enjoying the colors around the Naruko Gorge, I caught a bus and headed over to Naruko Onsen proper. The small onsen town is quite famous for kokeshi dolls: a traditional hand-crafted wooden doll, often painted with a child's face in simple colors. The craft is native to the Tohoku Region, with several towns claiming their own unique variations.
The town is also, of course, famous for its hot springs, including a some old (and some new) public bath houses. The most famous is the charming Taki no Yu, which features some wonderful milky-colored sulfuric water (150 yen).