Naruko Gorge (Āq¬, Narukokyō) is one of the Tohoku Region's most scenic gorges. It is located in north-western Miyagi Prefecture, about 70 kilometers from Sendai and two kilometers from the small hot spring town of Naruko Onsen. Every year around late October to early November, the gorge transforms into one of the region's most popular autumn color spots.
The gorge stretches about two kilometers east-west. The best area for autumn leaf viewing is around the Narukokyo Resthouse towards the western end of the gorge. The famous views of the Ofukazawa Bridge can be enjoyed from the observation deck next to the resthouse.
Along the main road there are several free parking areas and a large paid one close to the Narukokyo Resthouse. A few steep paths lead from the road to the bottom of the gorge, where the breathtaking Naruko Gorge Walking Trail runs the length of the ravine. Unfortunately, an earthquake in 2008 led to the closure of most of the trail, and today only short sections of it are open to tourists at each end between 9:00 and 16:00. The trail gets closed when weather conditions are bad.
The less dramatic Ofukazawa Walking Trail makes a loop west of the main road, starting around the Ofukazawa Bridge and ending at the Narukokyo Resthouse. This nature trail leads into a forested side valley and remains less crowded during the fall season. It takes about 45 minutes to complete the loop.
Towards the eastern end of the gorge stands the Japan Kokeshi Museum, which exhibits a large number of kokeshi dolls from the various prefectures of the Tohoku Region and highlights the regional differences in the dolls' shapes and designs. Museum visitors can also watch an artisan make the dolls or purchase them at the museum shop. For a small fee, they can also try painting their own dolls.
The closest train stations to the Naruko Gorge are Nakayamadaira Onsen and Naruko Onsen Stations on the JR Rikuu-to Line. Nakayamadaira Onsen Station is about two kilometers from the gorge's western end while Naruko Onsen Station is about two kilometers from its eastern end.
It takes about 30 minutes to walk to Naruko Gorge from either Nakayamadaira Onsen or Naruko Onsen Station, although stopping at the former is recommended because it is closer to the main observation points. Taxis are an alternative (5-10 minutes, 1000-1500 yen). Buses operate between the stations only during the autumn leaf season from early October to mid November, stopping at the Narukokyo Resthouse and the Japan Kokeshi Museum along the way (about 10 minutes, around 230-310 yen, 6-7 departures per day in each direction).
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Furukawa and change to a local train on the JR Rikuu-to Line to Naruko Onsen. The entire trip takes approximately 90 minutes and costs about 3000 yen one way. Alternatively, take a local train on the JR Tohoku Line to Kogota and transfer to the JR Rikuu-to Line there (140 minutes, 1660 yen). Travelers from Tokyo can use the Tohoku Shinkansen directly to Furukawa without stopping at Sendai. (How to get to Sendai)
The trip from Shinjo to Naruko Onsen takes about one hour and costs 840 yen to reach Nakayamadaira Onsen Station or 970 yen to reach Naruko Onsen Station. Trains on the JR Rikuu-to Line depart only once in one to three hours, so be sure to check train timings in advance.