Hakuba is about an hour’s drive from Nagano City and is usually one of the most popular spots for skiing in winter. That should come as no surprise since the village is nestled amongst the Northern Japan Alps, with nine ski resorts and various skiing tracks operating in the area.
In the autumn months leading up to winter, Hakuba entices visitors with its mesmerising natural beauty, best seen via its scenic hiking trails. Autumn leaves start to colour the mountains red in October, but the best time to visit is just as the first snow starts to fall.
When that happens, you’ll be able to witness a surreal sight known in Japanese as 3段紅葉, the 3 stages of autumn foliage. During this time, the mountains are bathed in a beautiful tri-coloured hue, with the white snow blending in well with the red autumn leaves and green plants on the ground. This alone makes Hakuba one of the best spots in Nagano for autumn scenery.
Not far from Hakuba is the village of Togakushi (40 minutes northwest of Nagano city centre). Nestled within forested mountains, the village is home to Togakushi Shrine (called Togakushi Jinja by the locals). The shrine (divided into three separate sections) recounts an important lore in Japanese mythology, which depicts how the Sun Goddess brings light into the world.
Fascinating origin story aside, Togakushi is famous for stunning autumn vistas. As you head towards the shrine, you’ll find yourself walking on charming cedar-lined paths, surrounded by the lovely crisp air of the forest mountains.
Kagamike Pond is especially alluring around mid-October. The water is so clear that it reflects the autumn colours of the surrounding mountains perfectly, creating an otherworldly view that’s perfect for more than just a few Instagram photos.
Located in the mountainous highlands of the Nagano Prefecture, Shiga Kogen is another one of Japan’s top skiing destinations in winter. But before the snow falls, Shiga Kogen attracts visitors with its pleasant nature trails and stunning mountain scenery. There are plenty of chairlifts which provide visitors access to the breathtaking peak of Mount Yokote, 2,305 metres above sea level.
Unsurprisingly, the geography of the area makes it another of Japan’s top spots for memorable autumn scenery. One of the best locations in Shiga Kogen for that is Onumaike Pond. The reflective emerald water of the pond is the perfect canvas to admire the fiery autumn foliage. The contrast of colours is simply alluring, especially in early October, when the first speckles of red begin to show in the trees.
Naena Falls (known as Naena-Taki in Japanese) is one of Japan’s 100 most beautiful waterfalls. Cascading down a 55 metre basalt cliff, the sound of the gushing water is so loud that echoes can be heard in the neighbouring forests. This is how Naena Falls earned its apt nickname: Earthquake Waterfall.
Despite being a viable attraction all-year round, this scenic location in rural Myoko is best visited in early October when leaves begin to take on the colours of autumn. Only an hour’s drive from Nagano Station, Naena Falls can easily be reached via its well-paved walking paths. At the end of the trail, there is a long bridge from which you can admire Naena Falls in all its beauty.
There is also a restaurant here which allows customers to ‘catch’ noodles flowing down a bamboo gutter with chopsticks. Known as
nagashi-somen, it offers a truly memorable dining experience.
Joyful Trains are trains in Japan that are creatively designed according to unique themes, bringing a whole new excitement to rail travel. Featuring innovative colour and design motifs, a ride on a Joyful Train can turn any journey, even those that are painstakingly long, into a…(excuse the pun) joyful one!
Some Joyful Trains even offer limited edition lunch boxes, live performances and special event areas and carriages! And, with meticulous planning, you can actually catch some of these charming trains while on your trip to Nagano and Niigata!
From Nagano Station, you can catch the Oykot Joyful Train towards Tokamachi, even if only for a few stops.
The name “Oykot” comes from “Tokyo” spelt backwards, and the concept is to be a contrast to the busy metropolitan capital, and to let travelers experience the rustic interior of authentic Japanese village homes. It draws inspiration from the Chikuma-gawa River (Shinano-gawa River), and the surrounding fields and country homes.