Okunikko at peak autumn color

Autumn is fully upon us here in Japan as the autumn colors have begun to grace the higher elevations of Hokkaido and Japan's main island of Honshu.

While we're scaling back our autumn color coverage this season due to this year's unusual circumstances, we are delighted to share the state of the colors in as many of Japan's most impressive autumn color spots as we can. And no autumn color season is complete without a trip to Nikko National Park. Located two hours north of Tokyo in Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko is easily one of Japan's top spots for enjoying the season.

Nikko is situated in an area that covers a whopping 2000-meter range of elevations. The foliage at the cooler high elevations change colors first each autumn, usually in early-mid October. The color "front" then moves down the mountains to the town and temple area towards the end of the month.

Today, I headed to Okunikko, the highest area in Nikko, where the autumn colors were gorgeously at their peak. I expect the colors to remain quite nice in the highest parts of Nikko at least through the coming weekend and start moving down into lower elevations shortly thereafter.

Yunoko Lake

I started my day by heading to the highest point in Okunikko accessible by car, the Konsei Pass, which forms the border between Tochigi and Gunma prefectures. The colors here were phenominal today, forming a yellow blanket on the high mountainsides. From the pass, a short drive downhill brought me to Lake Yunoko next to the Nikko Yumoto Hot Spring. At about 1500 meters above sea level, the colors here were at their peak, and look to remain vibrant for at least another week.

Glorious colors in the highest reaches of Okunikko near the Konsei Pass
Nikko's highest elevations at peak color today
Nikko Yumoto Onsen
Fall color popping even around the hot spring source itself
Found a furry fall friend
The area around Lake Yunoko were quite colorful
Lakeside views
Autumn comes in all kinds of colors
Yudaki Falls, which pour down from Lake Yunoko, surrounded by some beautiful colors today
Momiji (Japanese maple) showing off its stuff near the Yudaki Falls

Senjogahara Marshland

From the Yunoko area, I next headed just a few minutes drive further down the mountain to the Senjogahara Marsh. This highland wetland is full of tall grasses and deciduous larch trees, all of which were a brilliant gold hue today. The surrounding forest, accessible via well-maintained walking trails and boardwalks, was also showing beautiful color today.

Senjogahara Marshland
Senjogahara's larch and tall grasses were a lovely gold today, framed by even more colorful foliage from the forest
Pampas grass: the unsung hero of autumnal shrubbery
Hiking the trails around Senjogahara
Unfortunately, one of Senjogahara's best viewing platforms is closed for maintenance this season
Autumn wonderland
Never too much momiji
One of Senjogahara's wooden walking trails
Deep red berries

Ryuzu Waterfall

My next stop was Ryuzu-no-taki Falls, a gorgeous 300-meter cascade surrounded by foliage which was also quite vibrant with autumn hues today. Both the top portion and the impressive falls at the bottom were at peak color today, even the relatively later-changing momiji (Japanese maple) trees in the area.

The top of the Ryuzu-no-taki Falls
Even the normally later-changing maples around the cascade were at full color today
The base of Ryuzu-no-taki

Lake Chuzenji

My final destination for the day was the area around the idyllic Lake Chuzenji. At 1269 meters above sea level, the elevation difference compared to the areas slightly higher up is just great enough that much of the foliage around the lake's shore were only just beginning to change color today. Desipte being slightly behind, though, there was still much to appreciate, and the colors will only improve here over the week and will likely reach their peak sometime next week.

Lake Chuzenji at the foot of the majestic Mt. Nantai
The colors around the lake were only just starting to change today
Enjoying the lake
Chuzenji Temple, located next to the lake, had some nice colors around its grounds
A quick, cloud-thwarted stop at the monolithic Kegon Falls: the colors were only just starting to change here

By Joe Mignano, japan-guide.com

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