Are you looking forward to visiting Nikko this autumn? You need at least two full-days to experience its stunning fall foliage and awe-inspiring historic structures. The area can be divided into two parts: Central Nikko (main town), and Okunikko (the area around Lake Chuzenji).
These two areas are part of the Nikko National Park. If you think that you can manage time to explore all the popular sightseeing spots within a day, then that would be an idea which will not work the way you want it. That’s the wrong path to walk through!
Discovering the places, such as Shinkyo Bridge, Toshogu Shrine, Rinnoji Temple, Yumoto Onsen, Kegon Waterfall, and Ryuzu Waterfall within a day is possible, but there are other notable attractions that you can’t miss visiting whenever you embark on a trip to Nikko, especially in the fall.
Central Nikko is home to some of Japan’s highly valued famous temples and shrines, while Okunikko area is known for its picturesque natural landscapes.
Nestled at the foot of Mount Nyoho, in the western part of Tochigi prefecture, Nikko offers year-round outdoor recreation for travelers of all ages.
Besides, it is considered to be one of best places to enjoy autumn leaves in Japan. It makes a great one or two day trip from Tokyo as it is located about 125 kilometers north of the capital city of Japan.
The Shrines and Temples of Nikko, and the gorgeous surrounding natural settings have been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. The area also packed with important structures, which are designated National Treasures of Japan, and Important Cultural Properties.
This suggested itinerary shows you how to spend 2 days in Nikko in the fall. Please note you are always welcome to modify it. Instead of buying the Nikko City Pass Area, I highly recommend you to buy a Nikko All Area Pass (valid for 4 consecutive days).
It includes the round trip from Tokyo and lets you unlimited travel on buses between Nikko and Okunikko, and on trains between Nikko and the Kinugawa Onsen area.
Day 1: Nikko Town
Places of Interest: Shinkyo Bridge, Toshogu Shrine, Taiyuinbyo, Rinnoji Temple, Nikko Botanical Garden, Futarasan Shrine, Kanmangafuchi Abyss, Tamozawa Villa.
The following hotels/guesthouse are very good to stay an overnight in Nikko. I hope you find the right one that is located adjacent to Tobu Nikko Station.
Let’s begin the trip to Nikko from Tokyo!
Hop on the train to get to Tobu Nikko Station from Tobu Asakusa Station in Tokyo. The entire journey takes about 2 hours and if you have a Nikko All Area Pass, you don’t have to buy a ticket. Check in immediately, and leave your luggage alone in the room.
It’s always a positive sign if you start your trip with a visit to the iconic Shinkyo Bridge. This is said to be a sacred bridge, and marked as one of Japan’s three finest bridges. You require a 5-mintue bus ride from Tobu Nikko Station to Shinkyo Bus Stop.
Take a walk over the bridge and enjoy the surrounding fall colors. The bridge itself is used as the entrance to Nikko’s famous Temples and Shrines.
To reach the entrance of the famous Rinnoji Temple from the bridge, walk a little longer.
The temple was founded by a Buddhist monk called Shodo Shonin. He was the one who also founded Futarasan Shrine, and believed to introduce Buddhism in Nikko area in the 8th century.
Explore the main temple hall known as Sanbutsudo, which houses beautiful Buddha statues.
In addition, don’t forget to see the foliage found in a gorgeous Japanese style garden (Shoyoen), located behind the treasure house of the temple.
Every landmark of the Shrines and Temples of Nikko tells you a different story. Keeping this in mind, you must explore the whole area. Nikko is renowned for its precious decorated structures of the temples and shrines.
Yomeimon, the main gate of Toshogu Shrine, can easily draw your attention with its large decorated structure. It is really big, and you will be overwhelmed seeing its appearance for sure!
The shrine has 55 architectures including 8 national treasures and 34 important cultural properties such as the five story pagoda, front gate, stone torii, front gate, storehouses and many more.
Whatever you may think, each of these architectures is worth a visit and it takes time! Visit Futarasan Shrine, Nikko Toshogu Museum, Taiyuin temple, and other important ancient buildings in the area.
The hours you will spend in the Shrines and Temples of Nikko area is like traveling back in time as you explore traditional style architectures, Buddha statues, museum, impressive walking trails, and the surrounding forested area.
I always like to walk along the walkways in this area filled with beautiful architectures. A walk along its tree-lined walkways would be an amazing experience. Go for it and by doing so you can discover a lot of hidden treasures.
Next, you take a walk along the trail of Kanmangafuchi Abyss (gorge formed by an eruption of nearby Mt. Nantai) would be a hilarious experience as you witness the 70 Jizos and admire the breathtaking views of the surrounding fall foliage.
If you are not tired and you want some more, head to Nikko Botanical Garden and Tamozawa Imperial Villa.
I know you are not short on time, so experience most of the things the area has to offer you before you call it a day.
Day 2: Okunikko Area
Places of Interest: Hangetsuyama, Lake Chuzenji, Yumoto Onsen, Senjogahara Marsh, Akechidaira Plateau, Ryuzu Waterfall, Kegon Waterfall, Chuzenji Temple, Irohazaka.
Today you will explore the area of Okunikko. A place of scenic beauty where nature lovers are offered to hike or walk along the designated trails, marvel at the waterfalls, lake, and mountains from the observation decks, scenic drive along Irohazaka (a pair of winding road connecting central Nikko and Okunikko) and many more.
Autumn is a glorious season, I love it. The weather is cool, and for every nature lover, the best ways to experience the fall color beauty is to take a scenic drive.
Today, you are going to experience it in Nikko. Get on the bus from Tobu Nikko Station; enjoy a scenic ride along Irohazaka while seeing incredible foliage along the way to the Akechidaira bus stop.
Here, you will take the ropeway (a-3 minute ride) to an observation deck from the bus stop. This is the place from where you can expect to see incredible views of Kegon Waterfall, and Lake Chuzenjiko in the distance.
Your tour continues with a visit to Chuzenjiko Onsen area, a picturesque place to see gorgeous fall colors of Lake Chuzenji’s shores and surrounding mountains.
From here, you take a little walk to Kegon Waterfall (about 100 meter tall), which is designated as one of Japan’s three most beautiful waterfalls.
Free and paid observation platforms can be found there, experience both! Late October is said to be the perfect time to see autumn leaves there. You will also visit Chuzenji Temple, Futarasan Shrine, and Nikko Natural Science Museum.
What’s next? The best thing would be having your lunch from a restaurant located nearby the lakeshore. Once your stomach is satisfied with the delicious meals, get ready to explore rest of the attractions.
Wait for the bus that departs to Yumoto Onsen, get on when it arrives. Enjoy a pleasant ride viewing the beautiful surroundings. Don’t get off at the Ryuzu Fall Bus Stop; you will come back here later, not by bus though but on foot.
Located near Lake Yunoko, Yumoto Onsen is a small hot spring resort town featuring wonderful ryokan with hot spring baths, marshland, and a Buddhist temple. If you are not tired of visiting waterfalls, head toward Yudaki Fall and see what it showcases during autumn.
The best time to see fall colors in this hot spring resort town is between mid October and late October.
If hiking is in your blood, Senjogahara Marsh would be your next destination to discover. This is absolutely an amazing marshland area with yellow grasses and lurch trees in the autumn.
Start your hike from Yudaki fall by following an attractive hiking trail that leads you to Ryuzu Waterfalls (dragon head waterfall). The views along the way are at their best in early October.
When you are close to Ryuzu fall’s observation platform, make sure you plan to stay for some times before heading towards the rest house. Have some rest eating the foods you find there, and buy souvenirs from the shop if you think are worth buying.
What a day it was! The whole area of Okunikko boasts a list of exciting things to do and see including some awesome hiking adventure.
This suggested itinerary only features the trail of Senjogahara Marsh, while it’s true that there are many hike opportunities in the area, though I would highly recommend you to experience the hike of Mount Hangetsuyama. In fact, the secret to finding mind-boggling autumn color in Okunikko is to go on a hike.
Ok, there is no need to hike to Mount Hangetsuyama, which is going to be your last destination on the day. Just get back to Chuzenjiko Onsen bus stop from Ryuzu fall bus stop.
Wait for the bus that takes you to the Hangetsuyama Parking Lot. One way ride between Chuzenjiko Onsen and Hangetsuyama Parking Lot takes about 20 minutes.
Take a walk to the Hangetsuyama Observation Deck from the parking lot and witness an incredible autumn scene of Lake Chuzenji and Mount Nantai including other mountain ranges in the background.
What do you think of this suggested itinerary? Do you want to explore Nikko within a day or two? Whatever your choice is, let’s start dreaming of your next voyage.