Over three days we explored different sights in the the Hakkoda mountains in the peak of the autumn colours. Are you interested in finding out where are the best places in Aomori to see autumn foliage? Here are some of our favourite sites.
Tsutanuma forest walk
We arrived at Tsutanuma mid-afternoon on an extremely busy Sunday and there were queues of cars and coaches trailing out of the car park. The car park attendant initially told us that there would be a 2 hour wait to find a parking space – so be warned this is a popular place! However, taking pity on us and our lack of Japanese fluency, he found us a ‘secret’ parking space in what looking like a staff car park. How amazing! This saved our afternoon and meant we still had enough daylight left to catch the sunset and tree reflections in the Tsutanuma pond. The view reminded us very much of some of the paintings by the artist Kaii Higashiyama whose gallery we recently saw in Shikoku. After visiting the pond, you have the option of a longer forest walk which takes you on an hour long circular route to a series of smaller and much quieter ponds, including Naganuma and Suganuma. We highly recommend this route to you! Putting our slight fears of bears aside (though there was no indication that any live in the area), it was a fabulous route through old forest and was an amazing place to see all shades of autumn leaves.
Another popular spot, our first attempt to take the Hakkoda ropeway was thwarted by a 2 hour queue, arriving at around 10:45 on a Sunday. You have to first queue for a ticket and then join the line for the actual car. The following day, a Monday, arriving at just before 9:30, we had more success and narrowly joined the queue before an invasion of retiree travellers arriving by coach. We have now been on many ropeways in Japan, but seeing the spectacular autumn colours from above and the view down the mountainside to Aomori was truly breathtaking. On reaching the freezing summit, we embarked upon the longer loop walk, which didn’t take us anywhere near as long as the advertised 60 minutes. It was incredibly calm and peaceful up there, with less tall vegetation and marshland, in my imagination, almost like a kind of lunar landscape.
Perhaps the busiest spot of all, as we had anticipated, this is a path immediately next to a very busy road. Despite nearly abandoning our walk after feeling put off by the amount of tourists, we did find a spot in a layby and got out to explore. The clear river, with leaves tumbling downstream and the surroundings of tall trees reflected in the water surpassed our expectations. Worth knowing is that there are lots of different (and less official) places you can park along the road and our favourite spot was next to a convenient port-a-loo towards the southern end of the gorge near Lake Towada. We saw people cycling up the gorge and this looked like a good option. Alternatively you could walk up it from Lake Towada.
This is a nice spot to stop on the way to other places and is the longest bridge in Japan, situated high over a beautiful forested valley and river. There are car parks at either end and pavements to walk across the bridge. The views are fantastic. Be careful with the weather, we got caught up in a small hailstorm and gale that happened extremely quickly whilst standing on the bridge and we were glad to escape back to the car.
Jigokunuma & Suiren Numa Ponds
We were initially slightly disappointed with these volcanic ponds as they are very small and managing to park to see them around lunchtime on a Sunday was a bit too much of a mission. However, we came back past here just before sunset and were rewarded with incredible views of the Hakkoda mountains surrounding by vivid red orange leaf trees. It almost looked like the mountain was on fire.
While there are many onsen (Japanese hot bath) around the Hakkoda mountains, we chose to visit Motoyu Sarukura Onsen, as it was slightly off the beaten track. A small traditional onsen with cloudy volcanic water deep in the forest. It is a no frills affair and no English is spoken, but the outdoor pools are set in stunning surroundings and the air is clear and fresh here. I really did feel rejuvenated after coming here! Note that they don’t provide soap and you don’t get a proper shower, so it is a bit of a rough and ready experience (but totally worth it).
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