18 Best Autumn Leaf Spots in Japan’s Tohoku Region (2023 Edition)

As autumn approaches, the Japanese maple tree and more burst into dramatic shades of red, yellow, and orange, creating spectacular scenery all over the country. Japan’s northern region of Tohoku is one of the best places for autumn leaves in Japan, offering remote wilderness, intriguing historical sites, and plenty of fiery fall landscapes. Read on for our top choices on where to visit in Tohoku during autumn in Japan!

Check out our writers’ top Japan travel ideas!

This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy through them, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

When Can You See Fall Colors in Japan?

Japan offers countless spots all over the country to enjoy the autumn foliage, which generally peaks sometime between late September to early December, depending on the area. The weather in autumn in Japan is just as varied, ranging from pleasantly brisk and even warm to absolutely freezing in some of Japan’s more alpine and northern regions.

2023 was a particularly warm year in Japan, and so the fall foliage, especially the Japanese maple, is coming at a later date this year than usual. That being said, in terms of weather, expect it to be cool but not yet bone-chillingly cold.

What Is Japan’s Tohoku Region?

Tohoku is the northernmost region of Japan’s Honshu mainland, and it consists of the six prefectures of Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, and Yamagata. It sits just under the island of Hokkaido, and is far more remote and less populated than Honshu's southern areas.

Tohoku is the perfect destination for adventurous souls wanting to spend autumn in Japan immersed in pristine nature. It abounds in natural beauty, rural charm, and profound history, and is full of both untouched wilderness and gorgeous urban parks.

Being very far north and highly mountainous, the fall colors in Tohoku peak earlier than many of Japan’s southern regions, like Kanto, Kansai, and Chubu. Some particularly elevated areas of Tohoku will see colors as early as late September, while most of the leaves across Tohoku will have fallen by late November. This makes Tohoku a popular destination for those seeking out early autumn colors ahead of hotspots like Tokyo.

18 Best Autumn Leaf Spots in Japan’s Tohoku Region

Check out our writers’ top Japan travel ideas!

Yamagata Prefecture

Mt. Zao

Mt. Zao is made up of a cluster of peaks called the Zao Mountains, and its breathtaking autumn leaves spread from summit to base, offering a complete view of the seasonal transition. In one magnificent scene are color gradients of yellow, orange, red, and crimson, all speckled with evergreen pine trees.

This Tohoku wonder is best viewed from the Zao Ropeway, which transports you up to an altitude of 1,661 m. The ropeway gondola is covered in wide windows, letting you take in the autumn tapestry from all directions.

Complete your visit by hitting a trekking path from one of the ropeway stations, then soak away fatigue in a hot spring in the mountainbase town, which is famed for its highly acidic waters with milky hues.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Late September - Mid-October

Our Top Tips

JR Pass for Whole Japan

Explore Japan in the most convenient and economical way with a Japan Rail Pass! It is valid for the majority of railways and local buses operated by JR. 

Yamadera Temple

Yamadera Temple, formally known as Hojusan Risshakuji, is a 1,000-year-old complex of spiritual gems lining a steep mountain trail.

The trail starts with Konpon Chudo Hall, said to be Japan's oldest beech wood building, followed by a barrage of magnificent Buddhist temples, halls, stone lanterns, and statues dotting the 1,015-step path. The main highlights are the iconic Kaisando and Nokyodo, which are perched together on a craggy mountain outcrop just begging to be photographed.

Autumn leaves also engulf Yamadera in stark fall shades, heightening its beauty as you take in the culture and history of Yamagata Prefecture.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Late October to Early November

Ginzan Onsen

Ginzan Onsen is the quintessential Japanese “onsen” hot spring town. Its enchanting central street is lined by multi-story wooden ryokan inns split between a tranquil river crossed by picture-perfect bridges. Alongside hot springs like Kurokawa Onsen and Shima Onsen, Ginzan Onsen feels like a scene from Studio Ghibli’s film Spirited Away come to life.

Autumn colors appear in the surrounding hills of Ginzan Onsen, complemented by the orange hue of ryokan lights and gentle glow of streetside gas lamps. At the back of Ginzan Onsen is Shirogane Falls, a 22-meter-tall waterfall bristling with fall foliage. The waterfall is adorned by a quaint vermillion curved bridge, which pops out against the greenery and blends in seamlessly with the fall colors.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Late October to Early November


Akita Prefecture

Dakigaeri Gorge

Dakigaeri Gorge is a deep 10-kilometer-long valley lined with thick natural forest. Its centerpiece is the Kami-no-Iwahashi Bridge, the oldest suspension bridge in Akita Prefecture, which was built in 1926 and stands near Dakigaeri Shrine. The 80-meter-long bridge offers a sweeping view of the gorge's contrasting display of dense colorful forest and the stark blue Tamagawa River.

Mikaeri-no-Taki, a 30-meter-tall waterfall in the area, also presents a mesmerizing scene. Its falling water is said to depict the shape of a woman wearing a kimono.

To celebrate the coming of autumn, locals put on the Dakigaeri Autumn Foliage Festival, which features folk music and traditional dances beside the vibrant fall colors that dominate the gorge. Visitors can take it all in at their own pace on the Dakigaeri Gorge hiking trail.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Late October to Early November

Kakunodate Samurai District

Known as the “Little Kyoto of Tohoku,” the Kakunodate Samurai District is a picturesque and deeply historic area that was once centered around Kakunodate Castle (which is now entirely gone). The town is full of stately and spacious samurai residences, transporting visitors back to the prosperity of the Edo Period (1603-1867). Some of these incredibly well-preserved buildings are open to the public, showcasing the town's rich samurai legacy, and its main street is registered as one of Japan’s Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings.

While Kakunodate is most famous for its weeping cherry blossoms, the autumn reds and yellows of many old Japanese maple and ginkgo trees promise a scene equally worth seeing. These vivid hues pop out against the blackened fences of the residences, forming a photogenic contrast. Visitors can heighten their experience by donning a vintage kimono available to rent at nearby stores, and stroll amongst the autumn bliss between famous residences like the Aoyagi Samurai House, Ishiguro Samurai House, Iwahashi Samurai House, and more.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Late October to Mid-November


Oyasukyo Gorge

The Minase River's mighty waters eroded its banks over millennia to form the striking Oyasukyo Gorge. A charming riverside walking trail lets visitors descend into the gorge with ease to inspect its dynamic geography up close, while bridges overhead grant equally beautiful vistas.

The main attraction at Oyasukyo Gorge is Daifunto, where steam and boiling water burst from crevices in the cliff. A plethora of autumn leaves add a splash of color to the rising steam and ragged rocks, yielding an irresistible scene for photographers.

Naturally, the geothermal water means lots of hot springs to bathe in at the nearby Oyasukyo Onsen, granting a relaxing way to wrap up a day of autumn sightseeing.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Mid-October to Early November

Aomori Prefecture

Oirase Gorge

Oirase Gorge is an idyllic river valley stretching 14 km from the serene Lake Towada. The gorge cuts through dense woodland, with fast-flowing, clear waters and stunning waterfalls.

Oirase Gorge was awarded two stars in the Michelin Green Guide, and its allure doubles when autumn in Japan brings brilliant reds and yellows to the surrounding forest, contrasting exquisitely with the mossy green river rocks. A trail along the valley provides easy access for visitors to witness these natural wonders up close.

Nearby, Lake Towada also boasts its own charming autumn leaf displays, promising a full day of autumn sightseeing in Tohoku. Head to the lake’s west and south banks for places to stay, eat, and unwind.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Late October to Early November

Hirosaki Park

Hirosaki Park is a spacious urban park surrounding Hirosaki Castle, a 17th-century historical site with a three-story castle tower bolstered by moats, gates, bridges, and turrets. It is one of just 12 Japanese castle towers that have remained intact since the Edo Period, and it continues to stand proudly as Japan’s northernmost castle.

Being in the center of Hirosaki City, Hirosaki Park is one of the most accessible spots to see fall foliage in Tohoku. The park is popular year-round with locals and tourists, and hosts annual festivals for cherry blossoms, snow lanterns, and autumn leaves.

Held in November, the Hirosaki Castle Chrysanthemum and Autumn Foliage Festival is an essential addition to any autumn in Japan itinerary. The fiery Japanese maple trees, lush green pines, and radiant white castle walls plus stunning flower art paint an incredible picture. During the festival period, visitors can also stay after dark to see the leaves lit up at night.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Late October to Early-November

Nakano Momiji Yama

The roughly 130 Japanese maple trees of Nakano Momiji Yama (Nakano Maple Mountain) spread out from the ancient Nakano Shrine and up the surrounding hill, creating a gorgeous landscape ranked as one of the best autumn spots in Japan. It is also lovingly nicknamed “Little Arashiyama,” owing to its beauty resembling the famous Arashiyama in Kyoto.

A leisurely strolling course loops bridges, waterfalls, and historical places of interest. During the peak autumn viewing season, clearings between trees become covered in fallen leaves, appearing like giant orange-red rugs on the floor.

Visitors will also find the Tsugaru Kokeshi Museum and several onsen hot springs and ryokan inns south of Nakano Momiji Yama, providing plenty more to do.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Mid-October to Early November

Fukushima Prefecture

Bandai-Azuma Skyline

The Bandai-Azuma Skyline is a 29 km scenic alpine road that runs through the Azuma Mountains near Fukushima City, reaching a peak altitude of 1,622 m. This so-called “Road That Runs Across the Sky” delights drivers with breathtaking panoramic views stretching across undulating hills.

The Jododaira Visitor Center is a popular pitstop and base for exploring the otherworldly crater of Mt. Azuma-Kofuji (1,707 m), as well as Mt. Issaikyo (1,949 m), and the Kamanuma Pond.

The sheer size and varying altitudes across the Bandai-Azuma Skyline present a complete spectrum of autumn colors when viewed at the correct time of year. There are numerous lookouts to pull over and enjoy the scene, including at the Tsubakuro Valley, Tengu no Niwa, and Tenpukyo.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Late September to Mid-October (depending on the area)


Goshikinuma means the “Five-Colored Lakes,” owing to the mysterious color changes that grace this scattering of lakes and ponds throughout the day and year. The Goshikinuma lakes were formed after an eruption from Mt. Bandai in 1888, and their shades range from lime to deep turquoise and more due to their varying constitutions, further changing depending on the weather and sunlight.

The colors of Goshikinuma are also bolstered by a tapestry of autumn scenery, which can be enjoyed on the 3.6 km walking trail. This uneven but reasonably easy path takes just over an hour to complete one way, and it winds through each of the ponds and lakes. For a more leisurely experience, you can take a rowboat out on Lake Bishamon, the largest of the Goshikinuma.

Being one of Fukushima's most famous attractions, there are plenty of great places to stay, eat, and bathe in hot springs around Goshikinuma. Be sure to also stop by nearby Lake Hibara, and if you have time, continue onto Lake Inawashiro, the fourth-largest freshwater lake in Japan.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Mid-October to Early November

Tsurugajo Castle

Tsurugajo Castle is conveniently located in the bustling historical city of Aizuwakamatsu. Also known as Aizuwakamatsu Castle, it sits in the center of Tsurugajo Park and stands as a symbol of samurai courage. It survived the chaotic Boshin War (1868-1869) only to be dismantled by the Meiji Government in 1874. Thankfully, it was faithfully reconstructed in 1965 and remains today.

In 2011, red tiles were added to the roof of Tsurugajo Castle resembling those last seen during the final days of the Shogunate. These striking tiles perfectly complement the Japanese maple trees and more in the park that burst into blazing tones come autumn. After strolling the spacious grounds, be sure to ascend the castle tower itself for an all-encompassing view of the autumn foliage in the park and surrounding mountains from its upper viewing deck.

The site also hosts the Tsurugajo Autumn Illumination event, where the illuminated fall foliage and white castle walls present a stunning contrast sure to leave you spellbound (see official website for the latest dates).

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Late October to Mid-November

Check out our writers’ top Japan travel ideas!

Iwate Prefecture

Chuson-ji Temple

Chuson-ji Temple is an ancient religious complex built in Hiraizumi as the foundation of a peaceful world based on the notions of Buddhism. It presents a look at Tohoku at its peak, when it prospered as one of Japan’s major power centers, while its blissful forest paths offer an escape from urban clamor. It earned UNESCO World Heritage status in 2011.

The Golden Hall (Konjikido) was built in 1124, and is one of Japan’s oldest surviving structures. It continues to dazzle with its exquisitely crafted gold leaf coverings and intricate trimmings. Next to the hall is the Sankozo Museum, which holds more than 3,000 Important Cultural Assets and National Treasures integral to Chuson-ji Temple's past. With so much to see, it’s worth dedicating a full day to a quiet stroll around Chuson-ji to soak in the full extent of Tohoku's cultural heritage.

In autumn, Japanese maple trees and more cast a crimson canopy over the Chuson-ji Temple grounds, with after-dark illuminations to boot. The Autumn Fujiwara Festival in early November features an enchanting parade of children dressed up in traditional costume under the cover of autumn branches, making it a fantastic time to visit.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Late October to Mid-November


Mt. Kurikoma

Mt. Kurikoma is a 1,626-meter-high active volcano in Tohoku that spans three prefectures: Miyagi, Iwate, and Akita.

It offers nine trails for hikers of all levels, each doable in a day trip, and with hot springs near their trailheads. Hikers are rewarded with sweeping vistas encompassing Mt. Gassan, Mt. Chokai, the Zao Mountains, and even the Pacific Ocean, making it a nature lover's paradise.

Mt. Kurikoma’s expanse of autumn color is nicknamed the “Carpet of God,” and is one of the most iconic images of autumn in Japan. These warm hues start appearing in late-September at the summit and continue cascading down the mountainside until early October, presenting a full spectrum of green, yellow, orange, and red at the right time of year.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Late-September to Early-October

Geibikei Gorge

Geibikei Gorge is a 2-kilometer run of soaring 100-meter-high cliffs, dynamic rock formations, potholes, and waterfalls. During autumn, vibrant red and yellow leaves from Japanese maple trees and zelkovas decorate both sides of the valley, casting their glowing reflection on the Satetsu River.

Another big draw at Geibikei Gorge are the “funakudari” boat rides, where traditional boatmen navigate the gorge river with just a single pole, all while serenading passengers with traditional folk songs.

The boat ride lasts for 90 minutes return, but before heading back, a fun game awaits at the turnaround point. Here, local legend has it that tossing an “undama” (lucky stone) made of clay into a hole in the cliff will grant you a wish. You can buy three undama for 100 yen, so give it a go if you’ve got a good arm or are feeling lucky!

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Late-October to Early November

Our Top Tips

Japan Shinkansen, Narita Express (N'EX) & Express Train Tickets

Plan ahead by booking your shinkansen, airport train, and express train tickets online in English. Have the tickets sent to you by mail or collect them at the station once you're in Japan.

Naruko Gorge

Naruko Gorge, located in Miyagi Prefecture near the border of Yamagata, is one of Tohoku's most famous autumn destinations. This roughly 2.5-kilometer-long, 100-meter-deep ravine was carved by the Daiya River, and it transforms into a vibrant autumn extravaganza as trees and bushes including Japanese maples, oak, and red hornbeam burst with color from every nook and cranny, contrasting brilliantly with the white rock cliff surface.

The best autumn viewing spot is at the Narukokyo Resthouse, where you can also grab a meal and gaze upon enchanting panoramas centered on the Ofukazawa Bridge. Next, walk across the Ofukazawa Bridge itself, and wait for a train to pop out of the tunnel on the JR Rikuu East Line.

There are two short walking trails lining Naruko Gorge, open between 9:00 am and 4:00 pm. For a longer hike, there is also the Ofukazawa Trail, which takes around 50 minutes and is open all day. After exploring, take your pick from the collection of nearby hot spring communities like Naruko Onsen, Higashi-Naruko, and Onikobe to unwind.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Mid-October to Early November

Zao Echo Line

The Zao Echo Line is a scenic driving route spanning 26 km linking Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures through Tohoku's Zao Mountain Range.

Those embarking on this mountain drive will be greeted by a grand torii gate at the entrance, followed by a non-stop volley of magnificent alpine and volcanic landscapes as you continue on. Highlights include Takimidai, a vantage point overlooking three waterfalls bristling with autumn foliage; along with the surreal Okama Crater, a deep-colored pool tucked between volcano summits.

The Zao Echo Line’s autumn transformation naturally begins from the mountaintop, gradually flowing down to the mountain base in a resplendent arrangement of red and yellow.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Late September to Late October

Entsuin Temple

Entsuin Temple was founded in 1647 as the mausoleum of Date Mitsumune, the son of the local lord who died an untimely death at 19. He was the grandson of famous samurai ruler Date Masamune, who founded the city of Sendai and whose influence can still be felt in Miyagi to this day.

Entsuin Temple’s famous gardens include a moss and Japanese maple garden, a Western-style rose garden inspired by ancient paintings within the temple grounds, and a rock garden designed to resemble the nearby Matsushima Bay. During autumn evenings, Entsuin Temple remains open into the night to wow visitors with dazzling illuminations and more.

After touring the gardens, visitors can also participate in activities like dedicating wishes to Kannon, the Buddhist God of Mercy, with a small kokeshi doll, as well as making prayer bracelets. Complete your trip by visiting the island-studded Matsushima Bay, one of the Three Views of Japan, along with Zuiganji Temple, which is right next to Entsuin Temple, and whose history traces back all the way to the 9th century.

Peak Autumn Viewing Time: Late October to Mid-November

Autumn in Tohoku: A Natural Canvas Painted by Japanese Maple Trees and More

From remote valleys and sprawling mountains to urban castles and temples, Tohoku has everything you need to appreciate the splendor of autumn in Japan. Be sure to venture up north from Tokyo to Tohoku for your next autumn in Japan trip to see the true breadth of Japan’s fall wonder!

Top image: PIXTA

If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you'd really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram!

Tohoku Feature

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

tsunagu Japan Newsletter

Subscribe to our free newsletter and we'll show you the best Japan has to offer!

Subscribe Now!
Get your Japan discounts here!

About the author

James Rothwell
James is a writer and teacher from the UK living in the countryside of eastern Japan. He likes hiking, cycling, photography, and spending time with his two cats, who seem to take up all his time.
  • Check out our writers’ top Japan travel ideas!

Restaurant Search

Sign up to our free newsletter to discover the best Japan has to offer.