Fall foliage viewing has a long tradition in Japan. In Nagano, one of the prefectures located in central Honshu, the forested, mountainous wilderness provides unique places to see the leaves turn color. Nagano is more sparsely populated than many other areas in Japan. The rugged mountains hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics and, even before the snows fall, they are well worth seeing.

Nagano geography and history provide great backdrops to the changing autumn leaves. Peak season is usually from early October to early November, though there’s some variation from year to year depending on the weather. Expect the leaves to change in higher altitudes sooner in the season than in lower areas.

Here are the seven best fall foliage spots in Nagano:

1) Karasawa Cirque

Karasawa Cirque in the fall.

Hiking among the mountains of Karasawa valley amid autumn colors is a peaceful and powerful experience. There are many trails of varying difficulties to choose from. It should be noted that the higher elevations see colors change several weeks earlier than the lower elevations. The rugged valley offers an incredible and diverse view.

There are two mountain huts, the Karasawa Hyutte and the Karasawa Goya and campgrounds to be found here, all supplied by helicopter. You should make reservations early for accommodations and meals. The full hike will take several days. You can start and end at Kamikochi Bus Terminal.

2) Senjojiki Cirque

Senjojiki in Autumn. Photo Credit: Nagano Prefecture & Nagano Tourism Organization.

Located at an elevation of 2,612 meters, Senjojiki is a cirque in the Central Alps formed approximately 20,000 years ago. For anyone looking for an epic alpine adventure on the roof of Japan should visit Senjojiki.

The views of Senjojiki Cirque change from season to season, featuring mind-boggling alpine plants and flowers in the summer, gold-colored leaves in the fall, and snow in the winter and spring. Due to its high altitudes, you can expect to see autumn colors in the cirque which begins in early September and lust until late October. Visitors can hike up Mt. Kiso Komagatake (2,956 meters) or walk around Senjojiki Cirque and enjoy the gorgeous autumn foliage.

To get the Cirque, you can take a bus from Komagane Station to Sharabihira Station. Then switch to the Komagane Ropeway for an 8-minute ride. There are a number of full-day hiking tours from Tokyo city to Senjojiki Cirque. You can check out this page for more info about the tour.

3) Kamikochi (Kappa Bridge)

Kappa Bridge (Kappabashi).

In October, the leaves at Kamikochi turn golden and the grass shifts from green to red. The area offers spectacular views of the Japanese Alps at any time of year, especially at the photogenic Kappa bridge, but in the fall, the leaves give it a new coat of color.

It can get quite chilly here, as the snows have already begun to fall on the peaks above and will soon be coating the ground here, so be sure to dress warmly. Getting to Kamokochi is best done by car, taxi, or bus, as it is a fairly rural area. There are a few direct buses from JR Tokyo Station.

4) Hakuba Village

Oide Park in the fall at Hakuba Village. Photo Credit: Tourism Commission of Hakuba Village.

Hakuba village gives you a view of fall foliage and snowy mountains. While the area’s many ski resorts are well known for their wintertime entertainment, in the fall, the gondolas and ski lifts are a great chance to view fall foliage all along the mountainside in comfort.

You can enjoy amazing views of the Japanese Alps reflected on Lake Happo, located at an altitude of 2,080m in Hakuba valley. With a suspension bridge surrounded by traditional Japanese houses, Oide Park is another scenic spot to see gorgeous fall foliage and stunning views of snow-capped Japanese Alps in Hakuba.

Fall is very short in Hakuba village, but the experience of its unique landscape is so special that many people make arrangements to visit- often several years in a row. You can reach Hakuba village by bus from Nagano station which will take about an hour to reach.

Visit this page to explore the best locations to enjoy the fall colors in the area.

5) Shiga Kogen

Onuma Pond at Shiga Kogen. Photo Credit: Shigakogen Tourist Association.

Part of the Joshin’etsukogen National Park, Shiga Kogen (The Shiga Highland) is a mountainous region with beautiful landscapes consist of lakes, marshes, ski resort and hiking trails. Onuma Pond is a volcanic lake that is said to be the largest lake in the area provides stunning views of autumn leaves during koyo season.

The snow monkeys of Nagano in Japan are very famous and if you’re visiting them in the fall, it’s a great time to enjoy some fall foliage viewing as well. At Shiga Kogen, you can do both! Located a 30-minute drive from Snow Monkey Park, the area offers excellent hikes and scenic views. Nearby, you can enjoy staying at some excellent Japanese resorts, complete with wonderful food and hot spring baths. Take a bus from Kanbayashi Hotel Senjukaku to get to the area.

6) Togakushi Village

Kagami-ike (Kagami Pond) and Togakushi Mountain Range. Photo Credit: East Japan Railway Company.

Togakushi Village is located quite close to Nagano City, making it a great day trip that you can reach by train and bus. Visit the Togakushi Okusha Shrine, a Shinto shrine, closely associated with creation itself, which is surrounded by a beautiful forest preserve.

The area has a beautiful pond know as Kagami-ike (Mirror Pond). The view of the pond in the fall along with Togakushi Mountain Range in the background is sight not to be missed.

For a more active experience, visit the Togakure Ninpo Museum- an honest-to-goodness ninja museum! There is plenty to see and do here, as this is a highly interactive museum. To get to the village, from JR Nagano Station, take bus 70 or 71.

The village is an hour bus ride from Nagano City.

7) Karuizawa

Kumobaike Pond. Photo Credit: Karuizawa Tourist Association.

About an hour away from Tokyo, this lovely day-trip leaf-viewing spot is a delightful break from the busy city. Kumobaike Pond is located in town and is a popular place to see the leaves at their peak, where their reflections in the pond are at their most spectacular.

The Usui Pass Observation Platform is outside of town. Here you can enjoy the incredible view of the forested Myogi mountain range which will likely feature snow-capped peaks in the fall. Enjoy some of the hiking trails through the autumn foliage. Nearby Shiraito Fall is a wide veil of water cascading down a sheer cliff. The silky ribbons of white water are a great contrast to the fall colors. You can reach Karuizawa by train.

8) Matsukawa Gorge

Takai Bridge in Autumn, Matsukawa Valley. Photo Credit: snowmonkeyresorts.

This picturesque gorge offers stunning views of fall foliage. Take pictures from (and of) the graceful red Takai Bridge against the golden color of split-leaf maple trees in the fall. Enjoy views of the gorge’s three waterfalls. You can also enjoy the eight hot spring baths, found in the gorge.

A trip here is a magical journey into the wilderness of Japan. There are tours available for the area, though if you’d like to enjoy it at your leisure, you may want to rent a car instead.

The Matsukawa Gorge is a beautiful place for a day trip to see the changing fall foliage. If you are in Nagano city and looking for a perfect day trip idea from the city, be sure to pay a visit to this area.