Kyushu is the third largest of the Japanese islands. It is a vibrant place both culturally and geologically, with the hopping startup hub city of Fukuoka and numerous hot springs both found here. When autumn rolls around, even the lush foliage of this craggy region gets in on the act, turning various shades of red and gold.

Momigari, or red leaf hunting, is an ancient Japanese tradition that celebrates the nation’s striking fall foliage. Many viewing areas offer unique treats when the season comes, including maple leaf tempura. Fall foliage viewing has become a major tourist draw for Japan.

Because of its southerly location, Kyushu has a later autumn leaf season than most other regions, though this does vary by elevation.  The many wonderful onsens (hot springs) in the area set it apart from other locations. Here are the twelve best fall foliage spots in Kyushu.

1) Mifuneyama Rakuen, Saga Prefecture

Impressive fall colors and Mt. Mifuneyama in the background. Photo Credit: mifuneyama.

This magnificent park is 50 hectares big. The park dates back to 1845 and is a sight to behold in any season. In fall, the trees are a riot of color, all with mighty Mt. Mifuneyama looming in the background. The main walkways are paved and lead all throughout the carefully designed garden.

At night, the trees are illuminated from below for a striking sight. During the park’s Fall Foliage Festival, you can visit the Hagino Ochaya Tea House for konacha and kushi-dango (powder tea and skewered sweet dumplings) during the day and konacha and zenzai (powder tea and red bean soup) at night.

Fall leaves in Mifuneyama Rakuen usually change in mid-November. Entry costs 600 yen for adults and 300 yen for elementary school children. The park is open from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM during their Fall Foliage Festival. There is a free shuttle bus to the festival from the North Exit of JR Takeo Onsen Station.

2) Unzen Ropeway, Mount Unzen, Nagasaki Prefecture

Mount Unzen during autumn. Photo Credit: Unzen Ropeway Co. Ltd.

Unzen is an active volcano and, while highly destructive, is for its unique beauty. The fall foliage here drapes across the dangerous mountain. You can get the best views from the observation deck located at the bottom and top of the Unzen Ropeway. The lower station has parking as well as restaurants and shops.

Fall foliage at Mt. Unzen peaks between late October and mid-November. Admission is 1260 yen for a two-way trip, 620 for one way (if you intend to follow the trails that lead from the upper station). The Unzen Ropeway operated from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM. To get to the Unzen Ropeway, we recommend taking a bus from your location to Unzen Onsen and walking or taking a taxi to the ropeway station.

3) Shindenan, Nagasaki Prefecture

Red maple leaves of Shindenan. Photo Credit: Nagasaki Prefecture Convention and Tourism Association.

This lovely garden dates to the Edo Period. While not large, it has its own unique serene atmosphere thanks to its tea house. Enjoy its fall colors with a cup of tea inside the tea house or sit under the leaves with one to keep you warm.

Admission if 300 yen, though exchange students with their resident card may get that waived. Tea costs 500 yen. Shinedan is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The garden is a 10-minute walk from Shindaikumachi Streetcar stop.

4) Maizuru Park, Fukuoka City

Ginkgo leaves in Maizuru Park, Fukuoka City. Photo Credit: Fukuoka City Greenery Town Planning Association.

Sitting atop the ruins of Maizuru Castle, the park hosts a variety of trees that all don their autumn colors every year. Though the park is known for its lively sakura blossom viewing in the spring, the autumn trees still draw in visitors. They are very popular backdrops for wedding photos.

Fall colors at Maizuru Park peak from mid-November to Mid-December.  There is no admission fee. You can get to Maizuru Park by walking 10 minutes from Tenjin.

5) Kuju Mountain Range, Oita Prefecture

Kuju mountains during fall. Photo Credit: Solaseed Air.

With their volcanic terrain and vast span, these mountain peaks offer spectacular views of fall foliage. The highest peak in the region, Nakadake, is located here. There are many hikes available through the mountains at varying degrees of difficulty. The peaks feature a high degree of volcanic activity, meaning that there are several onsen baths to be found.

The Kuju fall colors peak between mid-October and mid-November.  You can drive (or take a bus) through the mountain range via the popular and beautiful Trans Kyushu Route.

6) Komyozenji Temple, Fukuoka Prefecture

Garden of Komyozenji Temple. Photo Credit: KYUSHU & TOKYO.

This Zen temple was founded in the Kamakura Period and is today known for its beautiful gardens. The smaller front garden features carefully raked pebbles and fifteen stones that form the Japanese word for light. The larger rear garden mixes plant life and raked pebbles, forming a soothing landscape meant to present an abstract image of land and bodies of water. The maple trees in the rear garden turn colors in the fall, introducing a new element into this unique isle of serenity.

The peak season is around mid-November. Admission costs 200 yen. Hours are 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM. You can reach the temple by walking about five minutes from Dazaifu station.

7) Kamado Shrine, Fukuoka Prefecture

Kamado Shrine in Autumn. Photo Credit: Dazaifu City.

At the base of Mount Homan, this shrine was built to honor the thousands of gods residing on the mountain. Mount Homan has been held sacred throughout Japanese history. There is a sanctuary at the bottom of the mountain and one at the top. Because of its spectacular location and long history, this is a popular spot for viewing fall foliage.

You can reach Kamado Shrine by the going to the Mahoroba Go “Kamado Jinja Mae” bus stop.

8) Akizuki Castle Ruins, Fukuoka Prefecture

Photo Credit: Kyushu Tourism Promotion Organization.

The ruins of this castle date back to 1623. All that is left standing now is the castle’s Nagaya-mon gate. The fall foliage that dots the area turn it into a mystical sight, making it a popular spot to enjoy the season.

You can reach the Akizuki Castle ruins by bus from Amagi Station on the Amagi Railway on any bus bound for Akizuki; just get off at Kyodokan Mae bus stop after a 20-minute ride. By car, it is 20 minutes from the Amagi Interchange off the Oita Expressway.

9) Mount Hiko, Fukuoka and Oita Prefectures

Kane-no-torii at Mount Hiko. Photo Credit: Kyushu Tourism Promotion Organization.

Held to be a sacred mountain, Mount Hiko rises 1200 meters above sea level. It is one of the mountains on the “Three Major Mountain Pilgrimage Destinations” (alongside Mount Haguro and Mount Omine). This is a great place to enjoy nature and the fall leaves bring vibrant color to these already beautiful surroundings.

The interesting landmarks that you can explore there are the Hiko Shrine, located on the top of the mountain, Hoheiden, an important cultural property of Japan, Takasumi Shrine, and Kane-no-torii.

You’ll need to drive to the mountain. Drive time and routes vary depending on your starting trip, but it is a day trip from most major cities in Kyushu.

10) Fukiji Temple, Oita Prefecture

Photo Credit: Fukiji Temple in the Fall. Photo Credit: Rokugo Manzan Japan heritage Promotion Council.

This elegant Buddhist temple was built in the 12th Century and may be the oldest wooden structure in Kyushu. It is a very tranquil spot, sitting in the midst of the open countryside. While once richly decorated, the current décor is simple and rustic due to the wear and tear of time.

In fall, the surrounding gingko yellow trees turn color, carpeting the area in yellow and make it seem like you have been transported back in time.

11) Gokanosho, Kumamoto Prefecture

Momiki Suspension Bridge in Gokanosho Photo Credit: Kumamoto Prefectural Tourism Federation

Gokanosho is the term used to describe a set of five villages tucked away in steep mountains. Very few people live in these picturesque villages and it is far removed from many things we find in more civilized areas, making a trip here into a serene getaway. Stay here for a few days and enjoy hiking and sightseeing among the area’s waterfalls, as well as its luxurious fall foliage when the seasons change.

You’ll need to drive to reach Gokanosho. The roads are very narrow and winding, so caution is advised.

12) Sogi-no-taki Park, Kagoshima  Prefecture

Sogi-no-taki Waterfall. Photo Credit: Kagoshima Prefectural Visitors Bureau.

The key feature of this park, the Sogi-no-taki waterfall, is 12 meters tall and 210 meters wide. It is hard to describe their beauty, especially in fall, when many of the surrounding trees turn bright red. The park and waterfall are popular spots for viewing autumn leaves, which reach their peak in November, and there is nowhere else in Japan quite like it.

It is 40 minutes by car from Kurino Interchange via Kyushu Expressway and 1 hour by car from Shin-Minamata Station.