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Norikura: Peak Colors

Mount Norikura's slopes covered in peak autumn colors

The autumn color season is just getting warmed up as temperatures slowly begin to drop around Japan. As the fall color "front" moves its way southward from Hokkaido's tallest mountains, the main island of Honshu is now seeing its tallest peaks reach their peak autumn colors.

In particular, the highest elevations of the Japanese Alps are where much of the best autumn color action is happening this week.

In hopes of catching some high elevation autumn colors at their best, I made my way today to Mount Norikura, a 3026-meter-tall volcano at the very southern tip of the Northern Japan Alps. The mountain is famous for its impressive colors that start high up in early October and creep down its slopes by late October, making it a good leaf-watching destination throughout most of the month.

Today, I took a bus from the Norikura Kanko Center at the base of the mountain and got off just a few stops before the Tatamidaira () bus terminal at the Hotokureijin (󓿗_) bus stop located at about 2500 meters above sea level. The colors around this elevation were at their peak today and stunning today.

Peak colors near the Hotokureijin bus stop on the Nagano side of the mountain
Colors were at their peak between the 2000-2700 meter elevation range today
Many people simply got off the bus where the best colors were along the road to the summit and just hiked the rest of the way up
Colors to die for along the road winding up the mountain

My strategy today was simple. Though my bus from Norikura Kogen was bound for the top bus terminal, I simply got off the bus where the colors looked their best and hiked the rest of the way up from there.

It turns out this worked quite well: the trail from the Hotokureijin stop was beautiful and lined with plant life at peak color, and in total it took only about 50 minutes to ascend to the Kata-no-koya mountain hut, which was a nice place to take a short break before tackling the summit.

Going up
Stunning views from the trail from Hotokureijin
Taking it in
The summit towering overhead
Bright red nanakamado bush leaves provide a lot of the mountain's colors
Plantlife becoming sparser as the elevation climbs
Norikura's Daisekkei, a perennial snow patch still going strong even in October

From the Kata-no-koya lodge, the hike to Norikura's highest point, the Kengamine peak, takes about 50 minutes. And today, starting from exactly that point, the trail was covered in a fresh coat of frost. For hikers planning to head to the summit in October, be sure to bring warm clothes as the temperatures at this elevation can easily drop below freezing!

The frosty climb to the Kengamine peak
The mind-blowing view from just above the Kata-no-koya lodge (bottom left), featuring Mt. Okuhotaka-dake, Japan's 3rd tallest mountain, piercing the clouds
Looking down on the winding road up from above
Bring it on, summit
The otherworldly Gongen-ike pond in the crater of Mt. Norikura
Out of this world
Standing on the summit of the Kengamine peak

And after enjoying taking in the unforgettable views (and enjoying some fun conversations), I headed back down to the Tatamidaira bus terminal (about a 30-minute walk from Kata-no-koya) to catch the bus back to Norikura Kogen.

If the weather remains relatively stable, the autumn colors should continue to be impressive at their current high elevation (2000-2700 meters) through the rest of this week. Starting next week, though, the colors will most likely be moving down the slopes, eventually reaching the lower Norikura Kogen area in a couple weeks.

Gorgeous fall scenery looking down the mountain
Hiking together
The Tatamidaira bus terminal in the shadow of Mt. Ebisu-dake