[Updated 11/9] Fall Foliage Forecast 2020: What Are the Best Times and Places to See the Autumn Leaves?
The current situation might make it difficult to travel overseas, but this doesn’t mean it is impossible to have an adventure! How about heading to one of the most beautiful fall-foliage spots in Japan, so you can soothe your soul with the beautiful scenery? This article will introduce the best spots in Japan for autumn leaves, which we have carefully selected. We have also included the best dates in 2020 to see them, which can vary by region, so be sure to take note of this as well!
Nov 10 2020 (Nov 12 2020)
When’s the Best Time to Visit? The 2020 Fall Foliage Forecast
Autumn in Japan is when the trees turn beautiful shades of yellow and red, and people travel to the most beautiful sites throughout the country to view the autumn leaves. Because 2020 was an average year in terms of sunlight, rainfall, and temperature trends, the whole country is expecting vivid foliage this fall. The foliage schedule (when the leaves reach their peak color before falling) is likely to be standard this year, making for easy planning. An additional bonus this year is that due to the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no international tourists, so you can enjoy these destinations in peace. Relish the opportunity to visit Japan’s most popular foliage spots without the crowds!
Foliage Viewing Times Throughout the Country
2020 Map of Estimated Foliage Viewing Times (as of October 1, 2020) Source: tenki.jp
Hokkaido and Tohoku Region (Hokkaido, Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata, Fukushima Prefectures)
The Hokkaido and Tohoku regions, situated at the north end of the Japanese archipelago, have the earliest viewing season. When visiting here in the fall, make sure to bring warm clothes! The mountainous areas, where the foliage spots are concentrated, are chillier than at ground level, and additionally, Hokkaido’s cities start seeing snowfall in late October. Always check the weather before heading outside. The viewing season here is mid-October.
Recommended Spot in Hokkaido: Sōunkyō
The Sōunkyō gorge, located on the north side of Daisetsuzan National Park, is a tourist spot that is famous for the onsen town at the mountain base and fall foliage. Drive to Ginsendai, at an altitude of 1,500m, or take the Kurodake Ropeway, and gaze upon the beautiful mountainside dyed in the bright colors of autumn leaves. Make sure also to check out Ryusei Falls and Ginga Falls, with their precipitous cliffs.
Recommended Spot in Hokkaido: Jozankei Onsen
Jozankei Onsen, located a 1-hour drive from Hokkaido’s largest city of Sapporo, is easy to access. The onsen town is surrounded by mountains on all sides, making it entirely cocooned by autumn colors. Make sure to check out the Futami Suspension Bridge, which offers the most gorgeous sights, and the nighttime illuminations of the leaves. Nearby are also the Hoheikyo Dam and Sapporo International Ski Resort, also known for their foliage scenes. Visit this area to get your fill of both autumn leaves and onsen.
Recommended Spot in Hokkaido: Onuma Quasi-National Park
The Onuma Quasi-National Park is a 50-minute train ride from the popular Hokkaido city of Hakodate. Within its 9,000 hectares are three lakes, the Onuma, Konuma, and Junsai Lakes. Enjoy the sublime sights of over a hundred islands that dot the Onuma and the numerous colorful trees reflected in the waters of the Konuma.
Recommended Spot in Aomori: Oirase Gorge
Enjoy a full palette of colors at the Oirase Gorge, blending together the white sprays of water from mountain streams and rapids, the deep red and orange of the virgin forest’s leaves, and the deep green of the moss-covered rocks. The walking path along the rapids stretch for some 14 km, long enough that the upstream (by Lake Towada) and downstream areas see the trees change color at different times. Travel along the path, and notice the subtle differences between radiantly-colored leaves and those that are earlier in the color-changing process—an experience you can find in few other places.
Recommended Spot in Miyagi: Naruko Gorge
The Naruko Gorge features a sheer drop of some 100m that is completely filled with multicolored trees. If you’d like to check out the spot’s most famous scene, that of Ofukazawa Bridge straddling the gorge, then you should head to the Naruko Gorge Rest House nearby. From the rest house, take a stroll along the Naruto Gorge and Ofukazawa walking trails. Naruko Onsen-kyo is another recommended spot that is nearby.
Recommended Spot in Fukushima: Urabandai
Urabandai is where you can find the Goshikinuma, or “five colored marshes,” which were given a star by the Michelin Green Guide in 2016. Particularly splendid is the sight of autumn leaves reflected in the Aonuma (Blue Marsh), which brims with an almost unrealistic shade of bright blue. Take a stroll along the Goshikinuma Walking Trail, about 4 km in length, and you can observe the unique colors of eight different marshes (more than just the five main ones) and the leaves reflected in them.
Kanto and Koshin Regions (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Yamanashi, Nagano Prefectures)
The Kanto-Koshin region is where you can find Tokyo, the national capital. This makes the region extremely accessible, and its beautiful foliage spots make for great day-trips. While the Kanto region boasts a relatively warm climate, if you head out to its more mountainous corners of Nagano and Yamanashi, you’ll notice that mornings and evenings can get quite chilly. Because of this, if you’re taking a trip from the city center, make sure to bring one layer of clothing beyond what you’d normally wear. Additionally, the city itself features several gardens with splendid foliage for those who’d prefer not to venture too far away from home. Peak foliage in this area comes between mid-October and late November.
Recommended Spot in Tokyo: Mt. Takao
Mt. Takao, standing 599m tall, earned three stars in the 2007 Michelin Green Guide, and it’s very easy to navigate through cable car or chair lift. The cable car route is a particularly great foliage spot; in the autumn, the ride is like traveling through a bright red tunnel of leaves. You should also make sure to stop by the Takaosan Yakuoin temple, since what could be a more Japanese sight than a temple shrouded in fiery leaves? There’s a “day-trip onsen” by the Keio Takaosanguchi Station, so stop by after your hike for a soothing soak in the waters before heading back home.
Recommended Spot in Tochigi: Nikko and Kinugawa
Stay at Kinugawa Onsen, and you can make a full tour of the Nikko and Kinugawa areas, including destinations such as the Nikko Toshogu shrine (a World Heritage Site), Lake Chuzenji, and the Kegon falls, all with beautiful foliage sceneries. As peak foliage tends to come later in onsen towns, it’s recommended to go visit Kinugawa Onsen and the surroundings in early November. Make sure not to miss the Kinu Tateiwa Otsuribashi (Suspension Bridge), near the onsen, from which you can take in the breathtaking sight of colorful trees covering a yawning ravine.
Recommended Spot in Nagano: Kamikochi
Just five minutes from the Kamikochi Bus Terminal is the Kappabashi (Kappa Bridge), Kamikochi’s most iconic sight and one of the best-known foliage spots in Japan. Take in the emerald green of the transparent Azusa River, the colorful trees, and the majestic Hotaka Mountains in the background. It’s a landscape that looks like a work of art seen from any angle. Just exploring the Kappabashi area will leave you satisfied, but if you’re down for a hike, check out the nearby Myojin, Tashiro, and Taisho ponds. Their mirror-like surfaces perfectly reflect the vibrant leaves around them.
Tokai and Hokuriku Regions (Aichi, Gifu, Mie, Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui, Shizuoka Prefectures)
Included here are the Tokai Region facing the Pacific Ocean, the Hokuriku Region facing the Sea of Japan, and the inland Gifu Prefecture. This area is located right at the center of Japan. In addition to Shirakawa-go and Daitoin Temple introduced here, you can enjoy autumn leaves in other tourist destinations such as the popular Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route and Shuzenji in Shizuoka, where you can enjoy soaking in an onsen in addition to leaf-viewing. Average temperatures are similar to those in the Kanto area. Peak foliage is between late October and late November.
Recommended Spot in Gifu: Shirakawa-go
Shirakawa-go, a World Heritage Site, is a village with a group of thatched-roof houses that date back to the 18th century. These houses are built in what is called the “gassho-zukuri” style, where wooden beams are arranged in a triangular formation, and the roof is thatched, i.e. covered with harvested and dried grasses. In the backdrop of the village is a mountain range, which in the autumn is covered with colorful leaves from foot to summit.
Recommended Spot in Shizuoka: Daitoin Temple
Daitoin Temple features many colorful broadleaf trees, including maples, and during the peak foliage season, they litter the ground so completely that the footpaths are wholly colored bright red. The Main Hall is located quite high up, so once you arrive, you’ll be able to gaze upon a sea of colorful trees from above, the same trees that you saw from below during your walk. The Okuni Shrine, located a 20-walk minute away, also boasts beautiful fall foliage, so you should stop by both places at once!
Kinki Region (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hyogo, Shiga, Wakayama Prefectures)
The Kinki region is home to numerous temples, shrines, and castles of historical importance, and this historical gravitas heavily contributes to the foliage-viewing experience! Because this region is an established tourist spot, it is well-served by public transit, and there are numerous foliage locations that are a short train ride away from your accommodations! Note that while several foliage illuminations are held every year in Kyoto, many of them have been canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re planning to visit one, make sure to check the official website before heading out! Peak foliage is between late October and late November.
Recommended Spot in Kyoto: Arashiyama
Arashiyama has been known as a beautiful fall-foliage location for over 1,000 years. If you’re looking for the perfect scene to capture on your camera, make sure to head to the Katsura River and include the wooden Togetsu-kyo Bridge that spans it. Tenryu-ji, a World Heritage Site once visited by Queen Elizabeth II, is a 10-minute walk from Togetsu-kyo, and its garden is another beautiful foliage spot to visit.
Recommended Spot in Nara: Nara Park
Nara Park, famous for its flock of roaming deer, is also a great place for foliage-viewing. One excellent scene to catch is the combination of the bright red leaves and the Ukimido Pavilion floating atop the park’s Sagi-ike Pond. Also in the park is Todai-ji Temple, where the leaves falling from ginkgo trees produce a golden carpet, so make sure to snap a shot of the deer wandering through this landscape.
Recommended Spot in Wakayama: Koyasan
Koyasan (Mt. Koya) is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.” The mountain, all of which is within the grounds of Kongobu-ji Temple, has been a sacred site in Japanese Buddhism for over 1,200 years. The vermillion Daimon (main gate) and smaller Chumon (medium gate), Danjo Garan (a complex of sacred buildings), and Kondo (main hall) are some of the many historical buildings you should explore. There are autumn leaves all throughout the premises, but particularly beautiful is the Jabara-michi between Kongobu-ji Temple and Danjo Garan, where the overhanging trees create a tunnel of leaves.
Chugoku and Shikoku Regions (Hiroshima, Tottori, Shimane, Okayama, Yamaguchi, Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime, and Kochi Prefectures)
Next is the Chugoku region, at the western end of Honshu island, as well as the island of Shikoku on the other side of the Seto Inland Sea. Each prefecture faces the sea, which means there are numerous places where you can enjoy the leaves against a marine backdrop, such as Miyajima and Kankakei Gorge (introduced below). Numerous islands also dot the Seto Inland Sea, such as Shodo-shima, where Kankakei is found. As for the climate, the prefectures facing the Sea of Japan (Shimane and Tottori) tend to be slightly chillier than the rest of the region. The best time for foliage-viewing is between late October and late November.
Recommended Spot in Tottori: Daisen
Standing 1,729 meters tall, Mt. Daisen is notable for its beech thickets and for its conical shape. There are two excellent moments to visit in the fall: in late October, when the entire mountainside appears bright red, and then in early November, when the first snowfall turns this red landscape white. At the foot of the mountain are lifts and a ranch, so you can explore the meadows while gazing upon the fall foliage.
Recommended Spot in Hiroshima: Miyajima
When visiting Miyajima in the fall, you must stop by Momijidani Park, with its 700 colorful trees. A 5-minute walk from the tourists’ eternal favorite Itsukushima Shrine, it is a garden at the foot of Mt. Misen, along the Momijidani River. Go see the Momiji Bridge, which is painted a bright vermilion but can still pale in comparison to the vivid maple trees surrounding it.
Recommended Spot in Kagawa: Kankakei Gorge
The ropeway is the best way of absorbing everything Kankakei Gorge has to offer at one glance: look down, and you’ll see a panorama view of the rugged rocks, the colorful trees dyed red, yellow, and green, and the Inland Sea. The mountain trail, which can be completed in just 1 hour, is also recommended. Just after getting off of the ropeway, stop by the restaurant and sample the “Olive Soft,” made by mixing locally-grown olives into soft-serve ice cream.
Kyushu Region (Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, Kagoshima Prefectures)
The Kyushu Region, at the southwestern end of the Japanese archipelago, experiences the foliage season a bit later than the rest of the country; peak foliage is between early November and late November. Its southern part (Miyazaki and Kagoshima) is slightly warmer than the northern part (Fukuoka), but if you’re heading into more mountainous areas in search of foliage, you should definitely be prepared for cold weather. This section will introduce two spots, but there are plenty of other excellent spots for autumn leaves, such as Mt. Aso in Kumamoto and Yakushima Island in Kagoshima.
Recommended Spot in Oita: Shin-Yabakei Gorge
Shin-Yabakei Gorge, positioned along the Yamautsuri River, is best-known for “Hitomi Hakkei,” or “eight views at one glance”: a reference to the eight curious and impressive rock formations at the gorge. Because of the superb sight of autumn leaves decorating the varied cliff faces, it has been called one of Japan’s Three Great Fall Foliages, alongside Arashiyama and Nikko. While you’re there, sample some handmade soba, a local delicacy.
Recommended Spot in Miyazaki: Takachiho Gorge
At Takachiko Gorge, you can marvel at the sheer cliffs on both sides of the Gokase River and the waterfall cascading into it. From the Mihashi Bridge or the Takimidai Lookout, you can also enjoy the beautiful sight of the Manaino Falls surrounded by red leaves. You can take in the gorge’s scenery from above with a leisurely walk along the walking trail, but there is also the more thrilling option of viewing from below by renting a boat!
You can always find plenty of pictures of autumn foliage on the internet, but seeing it in person is a whole different experience! Immersing yourself in nature’s refreshing sceneries is an excellent way to soothe your spirit, and this year, because of the government’s Go To Travel campaign, exploring Japan’s autumn scenery is more affordable than ever before!
Title image credit: kazukiatuko / PIXTA
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.