Oirase Stream (奥入瀬渓流)
Oirase stream is one of the most popular places in Japan to view autumn foliage. The flat 14km walk along the entire gorge is filled with soothing rapids and a couple of majestic waterfalls. The only downside is the paved road, which runs the entire length of the walk.
The hike: From Yakeyama bus stop, walk out to the main road and walk away from the post office and gas station towards the gorge. Walk past Oirase Keiryu hotel and you’ll see a big signpost for 奥入瀬湧水館. The trail starts just to the left of this signpost. Your first target on the long walk will be Ishigedo (石ヶ戸), about 4.6km away on a well-marked path. The trail soon reaches a paved road, where you should turn right and walk towards Deai-bashi. Before crossing the metal bridge over the river, you’ll see the path dive back into the forest on your left. About 2km in, you’ll reach a small hut that houses a public toilet. Use the facilities now, because the next toilet isn’t until Ishigedo. The path alternates between the beautiful forest and the ugly paved road. This is one hike where you really need to worry about being hit by a car or tour bus! At the 4km mark you’ll reach a paved road. Cross the road and duck back into the forest, following the wonderful rapids of the swiftly moving stream. Eventually you’ll reach Ishigedo, which is marked by a toilet hut and small restaurant. It should take about 90 minutes from Yakeyama to this point. This is where the majority of people start the hike, so be prepared for a large increase in numbers of tourists. If you’re short of time then you can consider starting from here and skipping the section from Yakeyama, but the first part is a nice warm-up and you’ll appreciate the lack of people. The next signposted landmark is Kumoi falls, which should take about 45 minutes or so to reach. The trail passes through some areas of photogenic swift-moving rapids before passing by some rock formations known as Makadoiwa (馬門岩). There’s a bus stop here if you’re feeling lazy or the legs are starting to give out. Soon after passing by the rocks, you’ll cross over the stream on the concrete bridge and follow the right bank of the river for a while. (up to this time you will have been on the left bank the entire time) You’ll pass through another area of rapids (signposted as 飛金の流れ) before reaching a small waterfall marked 千筋の滝, which is little more than a trickle. Soon you’ll cross over the road and be back on the left bank of the stream, arriving at Kumoi falls after about 100 meters. Take the path on the left that crosses the main road and leads up to the falls. It’s definitely worth the short side trip, as this is the biggest waterfall in the entire gorge. After sufficient photos snapped, retrace your steps back to the main trail and turn left, where you’ll soon reach another waterfall named 白布の滝. This is a nice waterfall on the other side of the river on your right that drops straight off a cliff. After passing through another area of rapids, you’ll see your first signposts indicating the distance to Tamadare falls. After passing by the bus stop for Kumoi no nagare, you’ll reach a public toilet at Tamadare falls. The waterfall itself is on the opposite side of the road and is nothing more than an unimpressive trickle, so don’t waste your time climbing up to the main road to see it. Stay on the main path and you’ll pass by another trickle of a waterfall (白絹の滝) before reaching Shiraito no taki (白糸の滝), which is very impressive but unfortunately on the other side of the river. Soon after you’ll reach Furou falls (不老の滝), which is also nice but kind of difficult to see through the trees on the right bank of the stream. After passing by more rapids, you’ll reach another unimpressive trickle of a fall called 姉妹の滝, before crossing over the river on a wooden bridge. A few minutes after crossing, you’ll see a signpost for 九段の滝, which is accessible via a spur trail on your right. This waterfall is really nice since you can get relatively close to it. Retreat back to the main route and turn right. After crossing over the river again, you’ll reach the largest and most popular waterfall in the entire park (Choshi falls).
The waterfall is actually reminiscent of a concrete fall, but I’ve been told that it is completely natural. Climb the stairs just to the left of the fall and continue walking upstream. The next part of the route is closed, which means you’ll have to walk on the main road for a little while. On the right side of the road, you’ll see a signpost for 五両の滝, accessible via a small trail that dives into the forest on your right. After checking out the fall, retrace your steps and continue on the main road for a short time until reaching the continuation of the trail on your right. From here to the end you’ll stay in the forest, where you’ll soon pass by a concrete dam! This is used for hydroelectric power and flood control, and the water just behind the dam is incredibly clear and beautiful. From here it’s a straight shot to the main road, where you should turn right and cross over the concrete bridge and arrive at the bus station and ferry terminal of Nenokuchi (子の口). There’s a restaurant here that serves tasty food on the 2nd floor, with a souvenir shop below. You can either catch a bus out to Aomori, Hachinohe, or to Lake Towada. A more scenic option for those heading to the lake is to take the sightseeing boat, which takes 50 minutes (1400 yen) to reach Yasumiya, the main tourist village of the lake. The boat is great because you can see scenery that you would otherwise miss.
When to go: As this is an extremely popular walk, aim to go on weekdays between early June and late September. Oirase is one of the most popular places in Japan for autumn leaves, so avoid the peak season in October at all costs (unless you want to share the the trail with hundreds of other people). Winter is also an option if you’ve got snowshoes.
Access: From either Aomori or Hachinohe stations, take a JR bus bound for Lake Towada and get off at Yakeyama (焼山) bus stop. The bus from Hachinohe takes about an hour and a half. Another option would be to base yourself at Lake Towada (staying at Lake Towada Backpackers) and take a bus from Lake Towada (40 minutes, 1210 yen). Click here for the bus schedule
Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change ~100m)
Distance: 14km ( 4 to 5 hours)