The Jofu Waterfall (Jofu-no-taki [常布の滝]; or Jofu Falls as well as Jofou Falls) was a rare waterfall where we managed to experience it surrounded by the peak of the koyo (or Autumn-colored foliage). Given how much difficulty we had trying to reach this waterfall, perhaps that was the silver lining to our experiences. But it turned out that the root cause of our difficulties with this falls resulted from landslides that damaged and ultimately closed off key parts of the access trail. So we were only able to get the view you see pictured at the top of this page, but we were never able to get all the way to its base for a more intimate experience. There was also another trail closure that resulted in us taking a detour that caused some of the directions and trail descriptions in the literature to be obsolete.
Anyways, as far as this waterfall was concerned, we were experiencing a 40m tall waterfall on the Osawa River or Osawagawa nestled in a very rugged ravine. Given its close proximity to the resort town of Kusatsu Onsen (or Kusatsu Hot Springs), we were pretty surprised that this waterfall wasn't more well-signed nor as popular as what we wound up experiencing, especially since it was one of Japan's Top 100 Waterfalls according to the Japanese Ministry of the Environment. In any case, we hiked for nearly two hours going about 3.6km round trip reaching only the lookout with a distant view of the falls as pictured above.
So from an alternate trailhead (see directions below), we went up some steps then onto a forested trail that crossed some ditches that appeared to drain an adjacent golf course. During our hike, the koyo didn't quite reach the lower parts of this trail, but it was definitely in peak colors when we climbed higher towards a two-sided narrow ridge. From the right side of the ridge, we started to get our first partial glimpses of the Jofu Falls surrounded by gorgeous Autumn colors. On the left side of the ridge was the Tanizawa River or Tanizawagawa, which was another river system cutting a rugged gorge that actually passed beneath a road bridge near the alternate trailhead where we started this hike. It turned out that the original trail that we almost initially took would have crossed this river.
Beyond this narrowing of the ridge about 1.6km from the alternate trailhead was a trail junction where the original trail merged with this trail. During our visit, a local warned us about how this original trail was damaged (this was the trail described in the literature). After this junction, the trail was flanked by somewhat tall sloping concrete walls while the surface of the trail had exhibited some water damage causing little gullies cutting right through the middle. Anyways, about 200m beyond the trail junction was another trail junction. Continuing straight at this junction for 100m led shortly to the Jofu Waterfall overlook, which was where the photo at the top of this page came from. This was ultimately our turnaround point. The trail on the left led another 300m to another trail junction where the path on the right would have descended into and alongside the steep ravine of the Osawagawa. Unfortunately, this trail was closed so we couldn't describe what we would have seen on this last stretch of trail.
From Nagano, the drive towards Kusatsu Onsen along the Hwy 292 was a feast for the senses as the road climbed high towards the summit of the active Mt Shirane
We drove towards the Jofu Falls from the city of Matsumoto (where we were staying), which was famous for its castle
This was our first glimpse of Jofu Falls on the trail, but the koyo really made our experience on this hike
This was the start of the alternate trail to get closer to the Jofu Falls as opposed to the one that left directly from the P6 car park
Mom and Dad following the forested trail where the koyo hadn't quite arrived at the lower elevations
The alternate trail had us traversing these ditches, which I believe might be there to drain the golf course that was to our right
The trail we took kept climbing, and the higher we went, the more we started to see koyo
At this point of the hike, we started to see more yellows and hints of orange
Mom approaching a narrowing of the ridge that we were on, which now exhibited more koyo, especially reds and oranges
Mom and Dad really enjoying the koyo along the trail
On the right side of the narrowing of the ridge we were on, we started to get partial glimpses of the Jofu Falls amongst the koyo
Context of the koyo as we continued walking along the trail to Jofu Falls
Mom and Dad walking past the trail closure on our left. That path on our left was the original trail that the literature would have had us go on before a local warned us about the trail conditions and suggested the alternate trail we ended up taking
Beyond the trail junction with the closure, the trail now was flanked by concrete walls with some water damage through the middle
Zoomed in look at the impressive Jofu Falls from a distance once we finally made it to the lookout
More contextual look at the Jofu Falls from the lookout
This trail closure leading down the final stretch to the bottom of Jofu Falls was what turned us around
Last look at the Jofu Waterfall before heading back to the car
Looking downstream from the ravine caused by the Osawa River
This was our last glimpse of the Jofu Falls before we continued further down the trail
The return hike allowed us to experience the koyo all over again
Back at the alternate trailhead, where a car took advantage of the lone parking spot there. All other cars had to park in one of the more official lots about 500m away
While GoogleMaps and the GPS may take you on a different (and perhaps more trafficked route as it did for us) from Matsumoto or Nagano to the Kusatsu Onsen vicinity (where the Jofu Waterfall hike was located) via the Hwy 144, we're going to describe the route that we'd most recommend, especially since it allowed us to experience the surprising highlight of witnessing the Mt Shirane as well as the Autumn colors if the timing is right. We'll pick up the driving directions from Matsumoto via Nagano.
So from Matsumoto (getting on at the Matsumoto IC), we took the Nagano Expressway north towards the city of Nagano, then we kept left and continued going north along the Joshinnetsu Expressway before taking the Shinshunakano IC exit. This stretch of expressways lasted for about 77km. Then, from the Shinshunakano IC exit, we took the Shiganakano Tollway towards the Hwy 292, and we'd then follow this mountain highway for about 50km towards the Kusatsu Onsen.
As we descended towards the junction of the Hwy 292 and Route 55 (there were some car parks around this junction), one of the car parks was the P6 car park. The literature for the original trail advocated parking here and starting the hike from here, but given our experience, unless they fix the trail, don't take the trail heading to Jofu Falls from here. Instead, park the car at one of the car parks by the Route 55 junction, then walk along the Road 55 for about 500m. The alternate trailhead would be on the left shortly after the Road bridged the Tanizawagawa or Tanizawa River. Overall, this nearly 139km drive would take between 2-2.5 hours.
For some geographical context, the heart of the Kusatsu Onsen was about 1.6km further south along Hwy 292 from its junction with the Route 55. The town was about 130-140km (2-2.5 hours drive) northeast of Matsumoto, 70-80km (1.5-2 hours drive) east of Nagano City, and about 120km (2.5 hours drive) south of Joetsu. Matsumoto was about 221km or 3 hours by car or bullet train northwest of Tokyo.
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