Today, I was supposed to go on an autumn color hiking trip near Mount Myoko in Niigata Prefecture; however, when I arrived, the mountain was half covered in thick, dark clouds. Because I did not want to spend another day inside the clouds, I postponed the Myoko report to next year and instead checked out the state of the season along National Route 292 between Shiga Kogen and Kusatsu Onsen.

National Route 292 is the highest national road in Japan (note that some local roads go higher), reaching 2172 meters near Shibu Pass and the border between Nagano and Gunma prefectures. As such, it one of the most convenient destinations to easily see early autumn colors on Honshu.

Starting on the Nagano side, I was surprised to find relatively attractive colors already shortly after passing the 1000 meter elevation mark in Shiga Kogen. The colors then further improved as the road climbed towards Shibu Pass and also offered nice seasonal views on the Gunma side along the descent to Kusatsu Onsen. I expect the road to remain an attractive autumn color destination for a couple of weeks to come as the colors gradually move into lower elevations.

Afterwards, the road is scheduled to close for the winter around mid November. Note furthermore, that there is a 2- kilometer section near the summit of Mount Shirane that is currently closed to motorcycles and bicycles due to a raised volcanic alert level (it is possible for them to descend in the direction of Manza Onsen, though). Cars are allowed to pass through the 2-kilometer section between 8am and 5pm, but may not stop along the way.

A rice field near Shibu Onsen and the snow monkeys, just as the road starts to climb towards Shiga Kogen
Slight colorations in the low elevations
Road over forest
Located around 1400 meters above sea level, Ichinuma Pond provided the first nice pockets of autumn colors
Ichinuma Pond
Autumn color hunters at Ichinuma Pond
Along the trail from Ichinuma Pond to nearby Biwaike Pond
This red tree was the main provider of autumn colors around Biwaike Pond
View from further up the road
One of today's highlights was the small Tanohara Marshland at 1610 meters above sea level
The marshland can be reached in a short walk from a parking lot along the road
Ikebana, made by nature
The colors intensified with the altitude
Climbing towards Shibu Pass
The temperature at Shibu Pass was 3 degrees Celsius this morning around 9am
Views down the slopes of Mount Shirane
Smoking Mount Shirane
The road descends towards Kusatsu Onsen, seen in the background
Nice colors along the descent
The best spot for autumn colors on the Gunma side was the Mononugunoike Pond
Autumn colors in the marshland surrounding Mononugunoike Pond
Elevated walkway
The pond can be reached in a short walk downhill from the now-defunct Shirane Kazan Ropeway's lower station
The autumn colors haven't descended to the town of Kusatsu Onsen yet
The Yubatake is located 1156 meters above sea level
... and produces a lot of Kusatsu's beloved hot spring water
Sainokawara Park features warm streams and multiple small hot spring sources
The park is reached in a 5-10 minute walk from the Yubatake

By Stefan Schauwecker, japan-guide.com

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