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.
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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