Zengoro Waterfall (Zengoro-no-taki [善五郎の滝])

Norikura Highlands / near Matsumoto / near Takayama, Nagano Prefecture, Japan

Rating: 2.5     Difficulty: 2
The Zengoro Waterfall

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

The Zengoro Waterfall (Zengoro-no-taki [善五郎の滝]; or just Zengoro Falls) was the third of three significant waterfalls that we visited on the Koonogawa (Koono River), which was the main river passing through the famed Norikura Highlands draining east of Mt Norikura on its way to the manmade Azusako (Lake Azusa). This modestly-sized falls (at least compared to the other waterfalls on the Koonogawa like Bandokoro Falls and Sanbon Falls) was said to be 30m tall and 10m wide. In trying to understand the translation of the falls' name, I learned that the falls was said to be named after a local lumberjack who was apparently proficient at catching fish at this falls. However, one fish was huge and managed to drag him into the waterfall's plunge pool. The lumberjack survived, but since that incident, the villagers started referring to this falls as the Zengoro Falls.

Of course instead of the fish that the lumberjack Zengoro was known to have caught, the kind of wildlife that was more pertinent to us hikers was the presence of bears. In fact, we noticed some hanging pipes with sticks to strike them with. So in essence, these contraptions acted like bear bells strategically placed throughout the trail as a sort of a means to try to scare bears away should a close encounter occur near any one of these pipes.

We managed to visit this falls from an unsigned trailhead with a large clearing (see directions below). It turned out to be the closest approach to the waterfall, and it had the added bonus of getting a gorgeous view of the Zengoro Waterfall backed by Mt Norikura. In any case, there were also other alternate trails to the Zengoro Falls, including a signposted one further downhill along the road, but we'll describe our trailside perspective from the unsigned closest approach. Distance-wise, they were similar in distance at about 1km round trip, and it took us under an hour to complete, which included all the picture taking as well as the hiking itself.

So from the unsigned large car park clearing, we had a choice of taking a shaded trail alongside the Koonogawa (which was a small stream at this point) or walking across the large car park or clearing, which had another trail starting at its opposite end. The trail eventually merged up with the trail that initially hugged the Koonogawa before veering away and descending steps and switchbacks towards the bottom of the gorge. About 120m downhill from the end of the clearing was that aforementioned overlook with a partial view of the Zengoro Waterfall backed by the peak of Mt Norikura. Shortly downhill from this overlook was a trail junction where we went right to continue descending towards the bottom. The trail on the left led another 0.5km to the aforementioned signposted trailhead that we didn't start at.

After another 150m or so of switchbacks and stair-stepped descents, we then crossed a bridge over the Koonogawa before going up to another bridge that fronted the impressive Zengoro Waterfall. In addition to the views from the bridge itself, there were also viewing spots on the far side of the bridge for a closer and mistier look, and there was also a more elevated viewing area on the front side of the bridge. The trail actually continued climbing above this particular view, but we didn't pursue going any further as it would ultimately lead up to the National Park Vacation Center in another 600m or so.

On the return hike, we decided to go across the large clearing that doubled as a car park. And when we did so, we were treated to a nice surprise as we had a nice view back towards Mt Norikura fronted by trees that just started to change color. Perhaps the only thing marring this view was the presence of construction vehicles parked in the middle of the clearing.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

This was our bonus view of the Zengoro Falls with Mt Norikura in the distance, which we managed to get by taking the unmarked trail as opposed to the marked one from Road 84This was our bonus view of the Zengoro Falls with Mt Norikura in the distance, which we managed to get by taking the unmarked trail as opposed to the marked one from Road 84
Not far from Zengoro Falls in the Norikura-kogen was the lovely Shirahone Onsen, which was the perfect spot to enjoy a hot spring while viewing the koyoNot far from Zengoro Falls in the Norikura-kogen was the lovely Shirahone Onsen, which was the perfect spot to enjoy a hot spring while viewing the koyo
Zengoro-no-taki was one of our waterfall excuses to come out to Matsumoto, but the big highlight was the wooden Matsumoto Castle, which was a UNESCO siteZengoro-no-taki was one of our waterfall excuses to come out to Matsumoto, but the big highlight was the wooden Matsumoto Castle, which was a UNESCO site
To the west of the Norikura-kogen was the charming city of Takayama, which featured the Sanmachi District with its charming and atmospheric alleywaysTo the west of the Norikura-kogen was the charming city of Takayama, which featured the Sanmachi District with its charming and atmospheric alleyways
The koyo was in full effect when we first got on the trail from the unmarked car park closest to the Zengoro FallsThe koyo was in full effect when we first got on the trail from the unmarked car park closest to the Zengoro Falls

Dad continuing on the trail that was actually still next to the large unmarked clearing on the way to Zengoro FallsDad continuing on the trail that was actually still next to the large unmarked clearing on the way to Zengoro Falls

Beyond the end of the clearing, the trail then descended down these stepsBeyond the end of the clearing, the trail then descended down these steps

On the way down, we stumbled upon this gorgeous glimpse of the Zengoro Waterfall backed by Mt NorikuraOn the way down, we stumbled upon this gorgeous glimpse of the Zengoro Waterfall backed by Mt Norikura

Context of the lookout yielding a view of Zengoro Falls and Mt Norikura togetherContext of the lookout yielding a view of Zengoro Falls and Mt Norikura together

After reaching a trail junction, we then had to descend these steps to get down to the level of the KoonogawaAfter reaching a trail junction, we then had to descend these steps to get down to the level of the Koonogawa

Once we reached the bottom of the descent, we then crossed this bridge over the KoonogawaOnce we reached the bottom of the descent, we then crossed this bridge over the Koonogawa

The anticipation was palpable as we knew the Zengoro Falls was just up those stairs going up past some intermediate cascadeThe anticipation was palpable as we knew the Zengoro Falls was just up those stairs going up past some intermediate cascade

Our first look from the base of the Zengoro WaterfallOur first look from the base of the Zengoro Waterfall

View from the elevated lookout to the left of the bridgeView from the elevated lookout to the left of the bridge

Another look at the Zengoro Falls and rapids downstream from itAnother look at the Zengoro Falls and rapids downstream from it

After having our fill of the Zengoro Falls, we then had to get all that elevation loss back by going up these stepsAfter having our fill of the Zengoro Falls, we then had to get all that elevation loss back by going up these steps

Looking up at Mom going up the switchbacks with the koyo above herLooking up at Mom going up the switchbacks with the koyo above her

Dad striking one of these pipes placed along the trail, which we're presuming acted as bear bellsDad striking one of these pipes placed along the trail, which we're presuming acted as bear bells

Dad hiking back up amongst the koyoDad hiking back up amongst the koyo

On the return hike, we went across the clearing and this was the gorgeous view (except for the construction vehicles parked here) that we were treated toOn the return hike, we went across the clearing and this was the gorgeous view (except for the construction vehicles parked here) that we were treated to


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Examining the falls from different spots along the suspension bridge and vicinity near the end of the trail


Checking out the falls from an intermediate lookout on the way down to its base


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

We drove to the Zengoro Waterfall from Matsumoto so this is how we'll describe the driving directions. We first drove west on the Route 158 from the JR Station at the city center for around 32km. As we were deep into the scenic mountains skirting the Azusako (Lake Azusa), the 158 passed through a series of tunnels, but in one of the openings between tunnels was the turnoff going to our left onto the Road 84 into the Norikura Highlands (or Norikura-kogen or 乗鞍高原). We then followed the Road 84 for about 11km (going past the Bandokoro Falls en route) to the unsigned but large clearing and car park to our left. Note that near a hairpin turn one kilometer earlier was a signpost and trailhead for the Zengoro Falls. This was perhaps the more sanctioned trail, but the one we took we thought was closest approach (though in reality, they were probably the same distance wise). In any case, this drive would take us a little over an hour. It was roughly 4.2km to 5km past the Bandokoro Falls or 5-6km downhill from the Sanbon Falls.

To give you some geographical context, Matsumoto was around 3.5 hours by train from Tokyo. As for the context by self-driving, the direct route passing through Kofu en route was said to be 221km or about 2.5-3 hours. Going in the opposite direction, Matsumoto would be 85km or under 2 hours drive east of the charming city of Takayama.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES




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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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