Japan prides itself on all four magnificent seasons, but early November in Niigata is the most colorful time of year and truly something to beholdMany areas around the prefecture are bursting with koyo (warm red and yellow foliage), as well as momiji (exploding red foliage). Thus, pilgrims far and wide make the trek for the annual momijigari, or “red-leaf hunt”. Here are the top 5 locations around Niigata to experience its ephemeral autumn beauty.
Yuzawa (Dragondola, Mt. Naeba, Canyon Daigenta)
Due to its white powdery slopes at the top of the Japanese alps, Yuzawa is best-known for winter sports and all things winter related. However, during the area’s evanescent autumn, Yuzawa’s most famous mountain, Naeba, can be seen in all of its august majesty via the Dragondola, (ドラゴンドラ), Japan’s longest ropeway. Throughout its 5,481m, you can witness not only the vibrant mountains, but also the rushing Kiyotsu River when, like a dragon, the gondola swoops down into the gorge. If you have time, Canyon Daigenta further enchants with its fiery red maple trees, creating a picturesque autumn adventure.
Hakkaisan towers over the city of Minamiuonuma and is renowned as one of the three Echigo Mountains. As summer fades, the mountain range transforms into a kaleidoscope of vivid reds, oranges, and yellows. The Hakkaisan Ropeway spans 2,217m, with an elevation of 771m, offering a seven-minute journey, with a panoramic view of the Uonuma Plain. At the mountaintop observation deck, a breathtaking 360° vista unfolds, and on clear days, the Sea of Japan and Sado Island can be seen. Before you descend the mountain, a trip to the iconic Hakkaisan Sake Brewery is a must. Here, visitors can savor exquisite sake, crafted using the purest waters from the region.
Nestled in the Uonuma area, Lake Okutadami mirrors the fiery foliage bursting from the 2,000m mountains that tower over the water, including beech, maple, and rowan trees. Visitors can meander along the water’s edge, immersing themselves in the peaceful serenity, or make a 40-minute loop on Lake Okutadami sightseeing boat to completely soak in the spectacular display. The entire area is worth uncovering as Okutadami is not only Japan’s largest man-made lake filled with a treasure trove of cherry salmon and smelt, but it is also one of the best locations to witness the natural phenomenon of takigumo, a waterfall of rolling clouds that rise from the lake’s surface in the early hours of the morning.
Yahiko Park’s “Momiji Valley” is a quintessential fall delight and well-known as a famous spot to leisurely bask in the colors of the season. With its vermilion-painted Kangetsu Bridge surrounded by a canopy of gold and crimson, the 132,231 sq. meter park contains all the embodiments of autumn. After traversing the crunchy paths and paying respects at the popular Yahiko Shrine, rest your feet in the nearby ashi-yu foot bath and wait until nightfall when the park becomes illuminated, casting the beautiful foliage in a new light.
Nestled in the northern town of Gosen, Muramatsu Park, also one of the top spots for cherry-blossom viewing, transforms into a mesmerizing tapestry of colors during the autumn months. As the leaves transition from vibrant greens to fiery reds and golden yellows, the park becomes a picturesque haven for outdoor enthusiasts and photographers alike. Strolling along the park’s winding paths, visitors are greeted by the symphony of rustling leaves and chirping birds. Muramatsu is ranked 3rd in “Niigata 100 Scenic Spots” by the citizens of the prefecture and is truly a gem with its tranquil atmosphere and abundance of seasonal beauty.
Niigata’s diverse and unspoiled landscape renders it a wonderland to cherish throughout the year, but especially when autumn reveals it’s vivid palette. So don’t wait too long! Grab your walking stick, pack your camera, and enjoy your momijigari.
|Even though Joshua Furr is from North Carolina (home of bluegrass, flight and Pepsi), he prefers a life outside the U.S. Currently you’ll find him in Warsaw, Poland.
He has a beautiful wife and two sons, all whom he forces to listen to Japan-based conversation and 80s music. Around lunch, he dreams about eating gyudon at Sukiya. When he’s not spending time with his family, he’s writing, teaching or tinkering with Adobe software.