Autumn Tohoku Travel Guide

8 Best Places to See Fall Foliage in Yamagata

Autumn leaf viewing is a traditional practice throughout Japan. The beautiful natural landscapes of the country and its incredible historical architecture make it an amazing, magical experience.

Yamagata is a prefecture located north of Tokyo in the Tohoku Region. The area is perfect for autumn leaf viewing in some amazing locations. Not only will you see amazing autumn leaves, but also get to enjoy some great atmosphere, food, and drink.

The best time to view autumn leaves in Yamagata is from early to late October

Here are the best autumn foliage spots in Yamagata:

1. Mount Zao

Zao Ropeway’s amazing fall foliage view. Photo Credit: ZAO Ropeway.

This volcano mountain can be found on the border between Yamagata Prefecture and Miyagi prefecture. The west side of the mountain in Yamagata is the site of a more developed tourist area, Zao Onsen.

The mountain is one of the highest in the Tohoku Region, offering amazing views at any time of year and a view of autumn colors unlike any you’ll find elsewhere.

The Central Ropeway offers the best views of the surrounding area. You can have a nice easy hike along the trails found at the ropeway’s upper station.

You can also find onsen, or hot spring baths, at the base of the mountain. Most of these are located in hotels and reserved for guests, but you can also find a few for use by visitors.

Click here to find out the Zao Ropeway’s Fares and Hours of Operation.

To get to Mount Zao from Tokyo, get on the JR Yamagata Shinkansen from Tokyo to Yamagata and take to a bus headed to Zao Onsen from the station.

If you’re headed there from Sendai instead, take the JR Senzan Line from Sendai to Yamagata and take the bus.

2. Zao Echo Line

Zao Echo Line. Photo Credit:

For a different look at the environment, take the Zao Echo line. This tourist road traverses the Zao mountains for 26 kilometers. It is the highest part of Highway 12.

Fall colors can be seen all along the route and take the opportunity to take a short hike or use a chairlift to see Okama Crater. You can even see the Sankai and Fudo waterfalls along the way. You can drive, hike, or cycle the route.

A bright toril gate marks the entrance which is near Okama at the peak of Mt. Katta. It winds along to end in Kaminoyama Onsen, a tourist town that also has a train station.

You can follow this simple itinerary in Yamagata that will provide you great views of fall colors, picture-perfect landscape and enjoyable drive.

3. Yamadera Temple (Risshaku-ji Temple)

Photo Credit: TOHOKU × TOKYO.

This scenic temple sits on a mountainside northeast of Yamagata City. The name literally means “mountain temple” and it was founded more than a thousand years ago.

The temple complex contains many different buildings, including the main hall which contains a flame that is said to have burned since the temple’s founding. The treasure house, another building, requires a small admission fee to view the artifacts inside.

For autumn colors, you can get a great view around the grounds, but the best view will be along the hike to the Temple’s upper grounds. There are a thousand steps on this hike, which can be difficult for some.

The famous Kaisando Hall can be found here as well as a truly spectacular view of the landscape. Godaido Hall has an observation deck with some of the best views.

To get to Yamadera Temple, head to Yamagata Station. The Temple is a five-minute walk from there. You’ll find numerous shops and eateries along the way!

4. Yudono-san Shrine

Torii at the entrace to Yudono-san. Photo Credit: Yudonosan Sanrojo.

The most sacred shrine of the three mountains of Dew Sanzan, this shrine is so mysterious that no one can speak or hear of what goes on inside.

Photography is strictly forbidden, but it is very easily accessible. The mountains around the area are covered in forest, meaning that in autumn, the entire area is brilliantly colored.

Yudonosan Shrine is very easy to access via a toll road. There is a bus stop at the parking lot and the shrine itself is a few hundred meters away. You will need to remove your shoes to purify your feet before entering.

5. Gassan Hanagasa Line

Gassan Hanagasa Line (Gassan Road). Photo Credit:

Considered one of the “100 Best Roads in Japan”, this road is the one that takes you to Yudono-san shrine. It runs from Tsuruoka over the mountains towards Yamagata City. The road is surrounded by trees.

As the autumn continues, their colors start to change at higher elevations and go lower over time until the whole mountainside is covered in fiery foliage.

The best time to enjoy a ride along this national road is in mid-October when the fall foliage are at its best. 

6. Mogami River Basyo Line (Mogami River)

Mogami River. Photo Credit:

You can find this boat tour in Yamagata Prefecture. It follows a famous historical route once used to transport various goods- and at least one famous poet, Matsuo Basho.

The forested gorge surrounds the deep river and its rapids, providing a spectacular autumn site when the foliage changes color. There are several waterfalls along the route, including the famous Shiraito no Taki waterfall.

Boat captains will often sing traditional Japanese boat songs to set the mood. If you make reservations in advance, you can get a delicious meal of potato stew or a box lunch.

The best way to get to the Mogami River Basyo Line is by flying to Shonai Airport, then taking the Shonai Bus to Sakata Station. At Sakata Station, take the JR Uetsu Main Line to Amarume Station.

At Amarume Station, transfer to the Rikuu West Line and get off at Furukuchi Station From Furukuchi Station, take a short walk to the Tozawa Clan Ship Guard Station, which is where the boat leaves from.

7. Momiji Park

Photo Credit: Yamagata City Parks.

Found in Yamagata City, this beautiful park was originally the garden of a Shingon Sect temple. The name of the park, Momiji, means maple leaf and there are many to see, which is excellent when their colors change with the season.

It is a beautiful example of a traditional Japanese garden, with meandering paths through the trees. There is a pond where koi and ducks swim in the center of the garden. It’s a peaceful and beautiful experience with the autumn colors.

You can get to the park by heading to Yamagata prefectural government office and walking for about five minutes.

8. The Yamagata Prefectural General Sports Park

Photo Credit: 般社団法人東北観光推進機構.

This park in Tendo City is an excellent place to see ginkgo leaves change to their autumn gold. There are also maple trees and tulip trees, but the main draw for autumn leaf viewing is the ginkgo trees.

A 250-meter street runs through the park and is lined with these trees, turning an autumn stroll into a magical experience.

The sky is often clear during this time and the contrast between the brilliant gold and the pure blue makes the trip well worth it.

The park is located a short walk from JR Tendō Minami Station on the JR Ou Main Line.

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