Autumn colors on Mt. Akita Komagatake

Continuing our autumn color reporting from Japan's northerly Tohoku Region, I made my way today to Akita Prefecture. While the season is still early and mostly green at lower elevations (as I discovered yesterday at Geibikei Gorge in Iwate Prefecture), higher mountains areas are now at their peak in many places.

My main destination today was Mt. Akita Komagatake which boasts the highest mountain peak in Akita Prefecture. Located next to the picturesque Lake Tazawako, this volcano's slopes and surrounding landscape become draped in autumn colors around mid October every year, making it a wonderful place to enjoy the season while hiking.

In addition to catching the colors, we also wanted to visit a spot made relatively more accessible using JR East's new JR East Welcome Rail Pass. Available to non-Japanese passport holders until February 28, 2021, this 12,000 yen pass allows for unlimited travel on the entire JR East service area for three consecutive days. Conveniently, Lake Tazawako's well-located shinkansen station falls within this area. Komagatake's 8th station trailhead is just a short bus ride away (on weekends and holidays; note buses do not run to Komagatake on weekdays or during the winter).

Mt. Akita Komagatake

As today was a Wednesday, I opted to rent a car to get from Tazawako Station to the trailhead, and was greeted with vibrant peak autumn colors on the drive up the mountain. As I drove higher, however, Tohoku's colder temperatures beat me to the colors as I found them past their peak today high up on the mountain. Nonetheless, the views were still beautifully autumnal and appealing.

Mt. Akita Komagatake seen from the bottom of Tazawako Ski Resort
The colors on the lower parts of the mountain were at their peak today
The 8th station of Akita Komagatake, where I started my hike. The autumn colors were finished up here
Hikers zigzagging their way up
The colors below the treeline were still intensely beautiful
The colors carpeting the mountains arond Komagatake were still impressive
A sea of red seen from above
Lake Tazawako, Japan's deepest lake
Komagatake might have the best view of Tazawako
Entering the plateau nestled between the mountain's tallest peaks
Amida Pond on top of the mountain
Going up
At the top of Omedake, the highest mountain peak in Akita Prefecture
The summit of Odake and the distant Chogatake
Otherworldly views up here
Medake and Odake: literally Woman Mountain and Man Mountain, side by side
Geothermal steam rising from vents on the volcanic Medake Peak
Another of Komagatake's many volcanic cones
Hard to believe this place is real
Hiking the high ridge between Odake and Yokodake peaks
One last look back
Back down into the autumn wonderland forest

Nyuto Onsen

After finishing my hike and made my way back down into the much more colorful lower areas of the mountains, I decided I couldn't leave Akita without enjoying the leaves at their peak here.

Thankfully, Nyuto Onsen, one of the most atmospheric onsen resorts in the entire country, just so happens to be located about 15 minutes from Komagatake's 8th station trailhead by car (and is also easily accessible by bus from Tazawako Station). The onsen town also happens to sit right in the elevation range that was at peak autumn color today.

To make the most of the amazing colors here, I quickly stopped by Kuroyu Onsen, a wonderfully old ryokan with fantastic baths that look out onto the nearby painted hills. The colors in and around Nyuto Onsen should still be excellent through the coming weekend and possibly into next week.

Kuroyu Onsen
The colors around Nyuto Onsen, including here at Kuroyu Onsen, were breathtakingly at their peak today
Autumn at its best in Akita
Nyuto's hot spring sources have unique mixes of minerals that are truly blissful to bathe in
The colors just don't stop
Momiji (Japanese maple) getting in on the action, too
Pretty amazing place to take a bath

By Joe Mignano, japan-guide.com

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