Visit Yamagata Prefecture, in Japan's Tohoku region, and you'll fall in love. Known as "another Japan over the mountains," when the fall leaves in Yamagata start turning colors, this popular tourist destination with its unique culture, food, and natural beauty, truly glows.
From mid-October to late November, especially in the mountains, the prefecture is dyed with vivid autumn colors. People come from all over the country and globe to see the beautiful color-changing leaves. But there's also the stunning scenery from the surrounding valleys and mountain paths, plus the famous onsen hot springs, historic shrines and parks, and more!
Let's look at 10 great spots for fall leaves in Yamagata, where you can enjoy the autumn colors, as well as the best time to see them.
- Table of Contents
- 1. Zao Ropeway: The many shades of autumn seen from up above
- 2. Zao Echo Line: Autumn sky and leaves
- 3. Ginzan Onsen: Retro hot spring town with a picture-perfect autumnal backdrop
- 4. Risshakuji (Yamadera): The splendid harmony of a Japanese temple and autumn leaves
- 5. Gassan Hanagasa Line: Stunning view of fall leaves in Yamagata after exiting the tunnel
- 6. Mogamikyo: Experience the magic of autumn leaves from up close
- 7. Momiji Park: Gorgeous Japanese garden dyed red
- 8. Yamagata Prefectural General Sports Park: Golden tree-lined road and carpet of leaves
- 9. Great Gingko Tree of Kumano Taisha: Spectacular power of the sacred tree
- 10. Bonji-gawa Valley: Stroll across a suspension bridge and gaze at autumn leaves in the valley
1. Zao Ropeway: The many shades of autumn seen from up above
In the eastern part of central Yamagata is Yamagata City. Here is where you will find the Zao Ropeway, which allows you to enjoy all the beauty of the four seasons from the sky. In fall, around mid-October, the thick maples and oaks rich in their characteristic foliage make for an especially beautiful sight. You will be able to enjoy a 360° panoramic view of autumn foliage ranging from yellow to orange to brick red.
- Address 229-3 Zao Onsen, Yamagata, Yamagata 990-2301, Japan
Access: Take the bus from JR Yamagata Station to the Zao Onsen Bus Terminal and walk about 10 minutes. About 20 minutes away by car from the Yamagata Kamiyama IC on the Tohoku Expressway.
Ropeway hours: 8:30am-5pm (subject to change)
Fare (round trip): [Jizo Sancho Station] Adults (Junior High School students and older), 3,000 yen. Children (Elementary students) 1,500 yen.
[Juhyo Kogen Station] Adults (Junior High School students and older), 1,500 yen. Children (elementary school students) 800 yen *tax included
Closed: Open daily (may close depending on weather conditions)
2. Zao Echo Line: Autumn sky and leaves
The Zao Echo Line, a popular driving course connecting the prefectures of Miyagi and Yamagata, crosses the Zao Mountain Range. Both sides along this 26km long mountain road are covered with trees, and the bright red leaves of beech and birch reach their peak in mid-October. On sunny days, the Zao Echo Line is a place where you can enjoy the clear autumn sky, the pleasant breeze, and the autumn leaves that spread in front of you. Buses operate it too, making it for a delightful sightseeing ride. However, please note that the road will be closed due to snow from the beginning of November to the end of April.
Zao Echo Line蔵王エコーライン
- Address Kuraishi Gaku Kokuyu Chinai, Togattaonsen, Zao-machi, Katta-gun, Miyagi 989-0916, Japan
Access: Take the bus from JR Yamagata Station to "Zao Karita Sancho" (the Zao Echo Line is in the tract). 60 minutes by car from JR Yamagata Station.
Toll: free (Usually closed from early November to late April)
Phone：0224-33-2215（Zao Town Agriculture and Forestry Tourism Division）
3. Ginzan Onsen: Retro hot spring town with a picture-perfect autumnal backdrop
Ginzan Onsen, one of the most famous hot springs in Yamagata, is a popular hot spring town rich in a traditional atmosphere, lined with century-old wooden ryokan inns. From late October to early November, the surrounding mountains are dyed with autumn colors, and the vibrant foliage, in combination with the traditional look of the town, creates a nostalgic space. There is a park in the back of the hot spring town, and one of its highlights is Shirogane Falls, a 22m-high drop that can be seen from the walking path. Enjoy the magnificent waterfalls and the murmur of the mountain stream, while enjoying the autumn leaves in their prime.
4. Risshakuji (Yamadera): The splendid harmony of a Japanese temple and autumn leaves
Risshakuji is said to have been opened by Jikaku Daishi in 860. Called "Yamadera" (mountain temple) by the locals, this is a historical temple complex with buildings scattered in the mountains. If you climb up the 1015 stone steps, you will enjoy a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape.
The autumn leaves, showing their best look from late October to Early November, make for a great view themselves. Still, the combination with the historic buildings is terrific. In particular, Nokyou-Dou, a small temple standing on a cliff, makes for a humbling view, and is an excellent spot for pictures. We also recommend seeing the light-up event at night.
5. Gassan Hanagasa Line: Stunning view of fall leaves in Yamagata after exiting the tunnel
The Gassan Hanagasa Line, which has been selected as one of the "100 Best Roads in Japan," is a national road that connects the Dewa Sanzan, three sacred mountains towering in the center of Yamagata Prefecture.
The trees on Mt. Gassan will be at their richest in mid-October, turning the road into a colorful driving course. The autumn foliage that spreads around once you exit the tunnel is absolutely breathtaking. But be careful not to forget that you are driving, since the beauty of the landscape can be that mesmerizing!
Gassan Hanagasa Line月山花笠ライン
- Address Oaza Tsukiyamazawa, Nishikawa-machi, Nishimurayama-gun, Yamagata 990-0733, Japan
Phone：0237-74-4119 (Gassan Asahi Tourist Association)
Access: Get off at Yamagata Motorway "Michi Gassan I.C." and immediately follow Route 112
6. Mogamikyo: Experience the magic of autumn leaves from up close
Also called "Mother River," the Mogami River is the largest river in Japan that flows through only one prefecture. Mogamykyo is a basin with the best landscape along the river, with magnificent autumn colors on the mountainside, especially around late October. You can, of course, admire the scenery while driving along the national highway along the river. But to make a unique memory, we recommend the Mogami River Basho Line Descent boat tour that will allow you to experience the dynamic landscape from up close. In particular, the Shiraito Falls, a drop of 120 meters amid a sea of autumn leaves, honors its title as one of the Top 100 Waterfalls in Japan, and it's truly a must-see. Plus, "Mogamigawa Funauta," the boat ferrymen singing with their beautiful voice, will be performed in English and Chinese, so please make a request.
Mogamikyo (Mogami River Basyo Line)最上峡（最上川芭蕉ライン）
- Address 〒999-6401 山形県最上郡戸沢村大字古口86-1
Access: From JR Yamagata Station, take the Ou Main Line, then change to the Rikuu West Line and get off at Furukuchi Station. It takes about 2 minutes by shuttle bus to the boat landing. By can, about 90 minutes from Yamagata Kita IC on the Yamagata Expressway.
Boarding fare: [Basho Line] Adults (Junior High School Students and above) 2,500 yen one way. Children (Elementary School Student) 1,250 yen one way. Preschoolers free. *Tax included
Phone：0233-72-2001（Mogami Valley Basho Line Tourism Co., Ltd.）
7. Momiji Park: Gorgeous Japanese garden dyed red
As the name "Momiji Park" suggests (momiji being the word for Japanese maple), this park located in the center of Yamagata City is a famous place for autumn colors. It was once open to everybody as a temple garden for Houdouji Temple. The temple within the park has a pond called Shinji Pond shaped like the kanji for "heart."
In early November, the garden's maple trees turn red. There is also a tea room inside the park, so you can fully experience the atmosphere of Japan. The access is easy from Yamagata Station, and it's worth visiting even if you don't have much time.
- Address 2-16-7 Higashiharamachi, Yamagata, Yamagata 990-0034, Japan
Telephone: 023-641-1212 (Yamagata City Park and Greenery Division)
Access: 25 minutes on foot from JR Yamagata Station. In the case of bus, go to Beni-chan bus "Higashi Kururin" Daigosho-mae stop from JR Yamagata
3 minutes by car.
8. Yamagata Prefectural General Sports Park: Golden tree-lined road and carpet of leaves
The Yamagata Prefectural General Sports Park is a popular place for sporting activities, as well as recreational activities. There is a row of ginkgo trees that stretches for about 250m, and the golden ginkgo tunnel shows its best colors at the end of October. The calm of the morning and the evening is lovely, and at night, many LED lights illuminate the trees, creating a magical atmosphere. Around the beginning of November, you can enjoy the golden carpet of the fallen leaves. The park shows a different vibe every time you visit.
Yamagata Prefectural General Sports Park山形県総合運動公園
- Address Sannou 1-1, Tendo Shi, Yamagata Ken, 994-0000, Japan
Access: From JR Yamagata Station, take the Ou Main Line to Tendo Minami Station and walk for about 20 minutes. By car: 10 minutes from Yamagata Kita I.C.
- Phone Number 023-655-5900
Light up: From late October to early November: sunset to 10pm
9. Great Gingko Tree of Kumano Taisha: Spectacular power of the sacred tree
Kumano Taisha Shrine boasts a history of 1200 years, and as a spiritual center, it's also known as "Ise of Tohoku." The huge ginkgo tree standing in front of the shrine is about 30 meters in height and with roots of 7.7 meters, and it was planted in 1091. The 900-year-old giant tree, designated as a Natural Monument of Yamagata Prefecture, reaches its best time to see autumn leaves around mid-November, so you should definitely try and enjoy its golden beauty and humbling presence.
10. Bonji-gawa Valley: Stroll across a suspension bridge and gaze at autumn leaves in the valley
The Bonji-gawa Valley is crossed by a 37.5 kilometer-long clear Bonji-gawa River, surrounded by nature. Depending on the season you visit, the valley will show different colors, and in late October, the trees take on vivid autumn foliage.
There are many spots from which to take photos in the surrounding area, but we recommend the view from the Nabirayukitsuri Bridge, from which you can look down on the valley directly below. Capture the beautiful contrast of the autumn colors and the clear stream of water.
Bonji-gawa Valley (Gassan Asahi Museum Village)梵字川渓谷(月山あさひ博物村)
- Address Nabira 3-1, Etchuyama, Tsuruoka, Yamagata 997-0403, Japan
Access: Take the Shonai Kotsu Bus from JR Tsuruoka Station and get off at Gassan Asahi Museum. About 25 minutes by car from the Yamagata Expressway Gassan IC.
Phone: 0235-53-3411 (Gassan Asahi Museum)
How did you like these gorgeous places for fall leaves in Yamagata Prefecture? To make sure you visit at the best time to see the leaves in all their beauty, check the websites of the municipalities and the tourist associations before you visit. Also, since the temperatures in these areas can vary a lot between night and day, make sure you pack for cold weather just in case.
Text by: Tsubasa Shimoda
*The above article is based on information from July 2020
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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