Anmon Falls (暗門の滝)
Anmon falls is part of Shirakami Sanchi, a World Heritage beech forest located in western Aomori Prefecture. The 3-tiered waterfall is well worth a visit if you’re looking for a quick half-day escape from the crowds in nearby Hirosaki city.
The hike: From the bus stop, the trailhead is a bit tricky to find. Walk out to the main road and turn left, crossing the metal bridge that spans the river. Just after crossing, you’ll see signs pointing the way to 暗門の滝歩道 (Anmon no taki hodou) Turn right and follow the asphalt past a toilet and a concrete dam to the start of the trail. There’s a water source here, so fill up your water for the walk. You’ll see a trail leading into the forest directly to the left of the water source. Ignore this trail, as you’ll use it to complete your hike. Follow the concrete trail along the river instead, which will lead directly to the waterfalls. The initial part of the path climbs past a concrete dam, but don’t fret: the rest of the way, though on a concrete trail most of the time, follows a natural river. The route is incredibly easy to follow but can be incredibly slippery in wet weather, so use extra caution in the areas with metal staircases and wooden planks. The trail has been washed out in several places, so boardwalks have been installed, which make the area look like one big construction zone in parts. After a couple of minutes, you’ll cross the river a couple of times and see a junction with a trail leading off to the left. Ignore this trail for the time being and head to the right, following the sign reading 暗門の滝へ. The path alternates between the left and right banks of the river, with some areas that can become real traffic jams if hiking on the weekend. Follow the 順路 signs as much as you can, as they can help alleviate some of the tight spots. After about 40 minutes or so, you’ll reach the first of the 3 waterfalls. When you reach the junction, turn left and descend to the base of the falls (the sign says 第3の滝はこちら). The first fall makes a great place to take your first break and soak up the scenery. Once satisfied, retrace your steps and continue climbing towards the remaining two waterfalls. The path actually climbs up to the left and over the first fall before ascending to the second fall, which should take about 10 minutes or so. Just before reaching the second fall you’ll see a trail branching off on the left that climbs to a small shrine. The shrine itself isn’t much to look at but it might be worth a visit to pray to the mountain kami for good weather. Between the second and first falls you’ll pass through a tunnel burrowed into the rock before reaching the final fall and the end of the trail. After sufficient photography time, retrace your steps all the way back to that first junction. At the junction, instead of turning left to cross the river, head straight on the trail marked 散策道へ. The trail climbs into a wonderful virgin beech forest, which, unfortunately, has been victim to people scrawling graffiti in the bark of some of the trees. Regardless, it’s still a nice place for a stroll and a great way to end the hike. The route is very well-marked and about halfway on you’ll see a junction on your right that follows a small stream. Take this trail as it meanders through the forest. Eventually it’ll meet back up with the main trail. When it does, take a right and continue towards the start of the trail. A short while later, you’ll see another trail branching off to the right. This loop is shorter and somewhat diminished by the cedar trees planted along the route! You can take this trail if you’d like, or simply ignore it and continue on the trail back to the parking lot. At the parking lot you’ll find a restaurant, as well as a hot spring bath. Both make a great place to kill some time if you find yourself with extra time before the next bus.
When to go: This hike can be done between early July and early November, when the buses to the trailhead are running. If you have your own transport, then you can consider going a little earlier in the season. Just confirm that the road is open before you go, as the road is closed in the winter.
Access: From bus stop #6 at Hirosaki (弘前) station, take a bus bound for Tsugaru touge (津軽峠) and get off at Aqua Green Village Anmon (アクアグリーンビレッジANMON) bus stop. The buses only run from July 1 to November 4, and there are only two buses per day for the 70 minute journey to the trailhead. Click here for the bus schedule. The tourist information centers at both Aomori and Hirosaki stations have a flyer with the bus schedule and a simple map. Pick it up before getting on the bus, as it has the return bus times as well.
Map: Click here
Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~200m)
Total round-trip distance: 8km (2 to 3 hours)