Matsumoto Castle (松本城)
During the autumn season, you can enjoy fiery leaves here and there in the Matsumoto downtown area. Our recommended spots are around the Matsumoto castle, Nawate street, and Yohashira shrine. The temperature during the daytime is between 10 to 20, making it a perfect day for a city walk.
Autumn leaves: Early to Mid-November
How to get there: From JR Matsumoto. It takes only 20 minutes to the castle. But if you don’t want to walk, you can opt to ride the “Town Sneaker Bus”, a city sightseeing bus (North course), as well. It departs every 30 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes on weekends.
We rarely see any maple trees in Kamikochi, but don’t worry, because autumn’s main attraction is the Karamatsu trees along the Azusa river that turn golden yellow. The leaves changing color starts in the middle of October and peaks around the third to fourth week. The latter half of October tends to have more sunny days, as well. The deep blue sky, golden leaves, and crystal-clear river, together with the Hotaka mountain range, make it a perfect autumn destination for you!
Autumn leaves: Mid-October to Early November
How to get there: From JR Matsumoto, take ALPICO’s Kamikochi line train to Shin-Shimashima station. Then change to a bus bound for Kamikochi. There are also two direct buses, called National Park Liner, from Matsumoto to Kamikochi,
Mt. Norikura (乗鞍岳)
Mt. Norikura (3026m) is the easiest three-thousanders to climb in the Japanese Alps. It is on the border between Nagano and Gifu prefectures, thus accessible from both prefectures. Speaking of autumn leaves viewing, it seems like the “Norikura Echoline” road from Nagano side is the more popular one. You can enjoy the green, orange, yellow, and red leaves every time the bus turns.
Autumn leaves: Late September to Early-October
How to get there: From JR Matsumoto, take Alpico’s Kamikochi line train to Shin-Shimashima station and change to the bus for Norikura Kogen. From N-29 Norikura Tourist Information Center, change to the bus for Mt. Norikura (Tatamidaira) again. This bus will take you through the autumn leaves along the Norikura Echoline road.
For those traveling from Takayama (Gifu side), please get off the bus at Hirayu onsen or Honoki-daira parking, then change a bus to Mt. Norikura.
Iwatake Mountain Resort (岩岳マウンテンリゾート)
Iwatake Mountain Harbor has become a hot spot in Hakuba, especially among young people. The highlight is the majestic view which can be seen from the terrace viewpoint. There are various outdoor activities to do. You can enjoy a short walk or hike in “Nezuko no Mori” forest, which takes only 20 minutes to 1.5 hours (500m – 1.2km), up to you.
Autumn leaves: Early to Mid-October
How to get there: The most convenient way is to start from JR Nagano station. Take the Nagano – Hakuba bus for about 1.5 hours and get off at “Hakuba Iwatake Mountain Resort” bus stop. For those starting from JR Hakuba station or Happo Bus Terminal, you can take the Hakuba – Tsugaike bus for about 20 minutes to the same bus stop. Taxi is another possible option.
Seisui-ji Temple (清水寺)
Seisui-ji Temple is a little old temple on the outskirts of Nagano city, which is famous for its colorful autumn leaves. There are about 200 maple trees planted within the temple area. The 300-meter stairway to the main hall is exceptionally beautiful with maple trees planted on both sides. In summer, this temple is also well known for its lovely peonies.
Autumn leaves: Around November 20
How to get there: Seisui-ji temple is quite far from downtown and not very accessible. However, you still can travel by public transport. From JR Nagano station, take Nagaden bus no. 45 (bound for Hoshina onsen), get off at Seisui-ji Daimon bus stop (approx. 50 minutes). The temple is about 5 minute’s walk from there. Be careful with the timetable, there aren’t any restaurants or convenience stores around.
Tsugaike Nature Garden (栂池自然園)
Tsugaike Nature Garden is one of our all-time favorite hiking places in Hakuba village. You can ride a ropeway all the way to an altitude of about 1,900 meters and start your hike from there. The highlight of this hiking course is the snow valley, Hakuba Daisekkei, which is one of the three largest snow valleys in Japan. Tsugaike Nature Garden (or I would rather call it a park) is about 1 square kilometer in the area and takes about 3.5 hrs. to finish one round of walking. More than 80% of the trail is well-maintained with wooden paths, easy for everyone from children to the healthy elderly.
Autumn leaves: Late September – Mid-October
How to get there: Similar to how to get to Iwatake Mountain Resort, you can get on Nagano – Hakuba bus from JR Nagano station and get off at Tsugaike Kogen bus stop (about 1.5hrs). From JR Hakuba station and Happo Bus Terminal, you can board the Hakuba – Tsugaike bus and get off at Tsugaike Kogen, the same bus stop.
Kumoba Pond (雲場池)
Kumoba Pond is probably one of the most visited places in Karuizawa town during the leaves changing season. The red, orange, yellow, and green leaves reflected on the pond is just so beautiful that you really should not miss. The pond is only about a 10-20 minute walk in size.
Autumn leaves: Mid-October – Early-November
How to get there: Kumoba pond is about 20 minutes walk from JR Karuizawa station. There are many rental bicycle shops around the station.
Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
Shirahone onsen is a tiny hot spring town in a remote valley of Nagano prefecture. If you are looking for an authentic hot spring town in a serene nature setting to fully enjoy yourself without disturbance. This is the place for you! Prepare yourself before coming because there isn’t any convenience store in town! The name of the town which means “White bones hot spring”, comes from the characteristic blueish milky hot spring.
Autumn leaves: Mid-late October
How to get there: From JR Matsumoto station, take Alpico’s Kamikochi line train to Shin-Shimashima to Shin-Shimashima station. From there, transfer to a bus and get off at Sawando Bus Terminal to change a bus again. However, during the winter season, you don’t need to change the bus at Sawando, the bus departing from Shin-Shimashima goes to Shirahone onsen directly.
Norikura Kogen (乗鞍高原)
Norikura Kogen is a place recommended for slow-life travelers who love to be surrounded by nature and meet new people. Most of the accommodations in the area are family-owned guesthouses, pensions, and mountain lodges, where it is easier for you to start a conversation with other guests. Some of these lodges have a natural hot spring bath for you, too! We recommend you go hiking for the beautiful autumn leaves, and reserve a romantic dinner inside a clear dome, exclusively available for guests staying in the Norikura Kogen area, only.
Autumn leaves: Mid-late October
How to get there: From JR Matsumoto station, take Alpico’s Kamikochi line train to Shin-Shimashima to Shin-Shimashima station. From there, transfer to a bus bound for Norikura Kogen.