The Naena Waterfall (Naena-no-taki [苗名滝]; or Naena Falls) was one of our more pleasant waterfalling experiences in Japan. As you can see from the photo at the top of this page, we happened to have timed our visit for the near peak of the koyo (or Autumn colors), and it complemented quite well this classically-shaped rectangular 55m tall waterfall flanked by pronounced basalt columns. The Naena Falls was not only one of Japan's Top 100 Waterfalls according to the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, but it was also very popular as we shared this falls with dozens (maybe well over a hundred) people mostly from tour buses. Yet even with the busy visit, there were plenty of ways to experience the falls that it never really felt like it was overwhelming nor stifling. We've been made aware that this waterfall was also referred to as the "Earthquake Falls" because of how loud its thundering roar can be and we can confirm that indeed it was pretty loud around this gushing waterfall.
Our visit to the Naena Waterfall was quite straightforward as we followed a well maintained 500m path from the cafes and shops flanking the car park to a suspension bridge crossing the Sekigawa (関川 or Seki River). Backing the bridge were some terraced dams, which I'm guessing was there for flood control. On the other side of the bridge, we had to get over this dam infrastructure by going up several flights of steps spiralling up past the top of the dam walls and then continuing on a more conventional riverside trail.
We started to get our first views of the beautiful Naena Falls fronted by a suspension bridge crossing the Sekigawa after about 400m from the trailhead. Continuing another 100m, we then reached a trail junction where we could go right to view the falls from the bouncy suspension bridge over the Sekigawa or continue straight for some more informal views of the falls from an angle. That trail keeping left of the bridge was more overgrown and muddy (therefore slippery) due to the spray coming from the falls. We didn't pursue going all the way on that trail so we don't know where the trail ultimately went. However, we did cross the suspension bridge and had the opportunity to do some boulder scrambles to get as close to the Naena Waterfall as was safely possible. There was a shelter here as well as some interpretive signposts (in kanji) talking about the Japan's Top 100 List.
Overall, we spent a little over an hour away from the car. We easily could have spent less time here, but we were so captivated by the koyo as well as the waterfall itself that we really took our time. It has been said that the peak koyo of this area would be in mid-November so we can only imagine just how much more colorful this place would be if we thought our early arrival was pretty already!
The Naena Waterfall was north of the city of Nagano and south of the northern coastal city of Joetsu. Given its relative close proximity to Nagano, we're aware that this waterfall can be visited using public transport. However, since we drove to this waterfall, this is how we'll discuss the directions since we can only talk about how we've managed to make our visit.
Starting from Matsumoto, enter the Nagano Expressway heading north at the Matsumoto IC entrance. Then drive north towards the city of Nagano, keeping left to stay on the northbound lanes of the Joshinnetsu Expressway. Remain on this expressway until the Myokokogen IC exit (roughly 104km north of the Matsumoto IC).
After exiting at the Myokokogen IC, head south on the Route 18, we then followed the signs which directed us to turn right onto the Route 39. We took this road for over 6km following the signs as it passed through the town of Suginosawa before arriving at the well-developed car park. There were plenty of parking spaces considering how popular this place can get. Overall, the drive from Matsumoto took us a little over 90 minutes.
For some geographical context, the city of Nagano was about 30km south of Suginosawa (via a combination of the Route 37, Route 119, and Route 280 before hitting the Route 39). Nagano was about 70km (75 minutes drive or 90 minutes by train) from Matsumoto and 242km (3 hours drive or about 2.5 hours by train) from Tokyo. Joetsu was about 64km north of Nagano (about 90 minutes drive or by train).
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