About Abe Waterfall (abe-no-otaki [安倍の大滝])
The Abe Waterfall (Abe-no-otaki [安倍の大滝]; Abe Great Falls) seemed like one of the off-the-beaten-path waterfalls near the Umegashima Onsen Resort in the Shizuoka Prefecture.
The waterfall dropped an impressive 80m (though I’ve seen its height also quoted at 90m) making it one of Japan’s tallest permanent waterfalls.
If we really wanted to extend our time in the mountains of the Minami-Alps (Southern Alps) just north of Shizuoka City, we could have also bathed in the public onsens of Umegashima Onsen.
Nevertheless, the natural scenery attained by doing this moderate hike to an impressively tall and high volume waterfall definitely made us glad that we made the detour to experience a part of Japan most tourists miss out on.
The Hike To Abe Great Falls
Because the Abe Great Falls is situated deep in the mountains, there are complications that come with that.
First, to even reach the trailhead (let alone the Umegashima Onsen; see directions below), you have to drive on a long, narrow, and winding road (which can be single-lane in several spots).
If you’re a passenger that’s prone to motion sickness, then you’ll probably want to make sure you’re sleeping (or focusing on the road if you can’t sleep).
Second, depending on the snowpack, access to the Abe Otaki Waterfall may not be possible if it’s too early in the season due to the presence of snow.
During our April 2023 visit, Japan actually experienced a warmer-than-normal Spring (which caused an earlier sakura or cherry blossom bloom by a week or two), and that facilitated our early-season visit.
I did email the Shizuoka Tourism Office for the latest conditions, and they confirmed that there wouldn’t be issues for our visit.
Finally, as with any watercourse in the presence of steep gorges and mountainsides, there is the possibility of avalanches, landslides, and flooding, which can close the trail for extended periods of time (even indefinitely).
That said, we did notice that the Abe-no-otaki Trail was well maintained, which reinforced our confidence that this trail is open more often than it is closed.
Anyways, according to my trip logs, the hike to the Abe Great Falls is about 4km round trip (though the signage here suggested it was more like 2.4km round trip) in a generally uphill trajectory.
It took us upwards of 2 hours to do this hike without rushing, but this doesn’t include the driving detour to get to the trailhead, which can be about an hour’s drive north of Shizuoka City.
So you’re really looking at about a half-day excursion to experience this waterfall, which we’ll go into more detail about in the next section…
Experiencing The Abe Great Falls
Starting from either of two car parks by the Abe Great Falls Trailhead, we promptly descended towards the first of three swinging bridges.
This first bridge (which was the longest of the three bridges) spanned the Abe River and its wide valley, and it was quite sturdy.
Once beyond the bridge, we kept to the right at the junction, which then descended towards a second swinging bridge going over a high-flowing tributary of the Abekawa (安倍川 or Abe River).
By the way, the path coming in from the left at the end of the first bridge was closed during our visit, and I’m guessing that it was an alternate footpath for the falls from the Umegashima Onsen.
Anyways, although the second bridge wasn’t as long as the first one, it was the scariest because it was bouncier and more open to dropoffs.
It was also suspended pretty high over the tributary with a pair of man-modified waterfalls to further keep things interesting.
With this bridge, it was best to not have too many people use it at the same time (having one person at a time made things less bouncier or less prone to constructive interference).
Once beyond this bridge, the path then narrowed and pretty much followed the south side of the tributary stream going over a combination of steps, slopes, and some bridges (often times with intermediate waterfalls).
It was during this roughly 1km or so stretch that we noticed the trail maintenance that took place here (e.g. felled logs wedged and arranged against sturdy live trees parallel to the trail as well as waffle walls for avalanche mitigation).
Eventually, the trail reached a third swinging bridge, which was the shortest in length, but it traversed another interesting series of cascades.
After this bridge, the trail resumed its uphill climb while clinging to landslide-prone ledges before finally reaching the end in front of the Abe Great Falls (about 2km from the trailhead).
There was a sheltered lookout above as well as a lower lookout closer to the river, where the falls blasted it with mist so it was cold, wet, hard to take pictures, and the rocky footing here was quite slippery.
After having our fill of the falls, we went back the way we came, which ultimately took us around 2 hours 15 minutes overall away from the car.
Even though our visit took place on a Saturday in the second week of April, we only saw maybe 3 or 4 other small parties of Japanese hikers the whole time, which attested to how lightly-visited the Abe Great Falls is.
The Abe Waterfall resides in the Aoi Ward within the Minami Alps north of the Shizuoka City in the Shizuoka Prefecture. It may be administered by the Umegashima Onsen District. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can try visiting the Official Shizuoka City Tourism Website.
Abe Great Falls sits within the southern end of the Minami Alps directly north of Shizuoka City (静岡市).
When we visited this waterfall in April 2023, it was a detour during a long drive from Odawara to Kyoto (though in hindsight, we probably could have started from Mishima or Shizuoka instead of Odawara).
Nevertheless, I’ll just condense the driving directions to span the Shin-Shizuoka IC exit from the E1A expressway near Shizuoka City to the trailhead.
Assuming we took the expressway exit at the Shin-Shizuoka IC, we then kept left to eventually get onto the Route 27 northbound to Umegashima.
We then followed this road (eventually becoming the Route 29 as the 27 branches off over 9km north of the IC exit we took) for a little over 36km towards the Abe Great Falls Trailhead.
Note that this stretch took us over 50 minutes due to a combination of narrow roads, road construction, and following slower traffic (with little to no opportunities to pass slower drivers).
It’s also worth noting that the inn we parked at (which I believe was called “Yoshitomi” from reading the hiragana) was the first of two different places to park the car to start the hike for Abe Great Falls.
Its turnoff (on the right side of the Route 29) was not well-signed so at first we didn’t know if we were parking in the right place or not.
But when a lady came out to collect 300円 from us for parking there and I asked her in my broken Japanese if we were at the right place for the waterfall, she confirmed it.
The second one was just the next turnoff along the Route 29 on the right, which had bigger signage and a driveway that descended from the road down to their lot near the first suspension bridge we’d eventually walk on as part of the hike.
I noticed from the signage there (again trusting my broken Japanese at the time) that they charged 500円 per car and 300円 for motorbikes.
For geographical context, Shizuoka City was 74km (about 1 hour drive) west of Mishima, 102km (over 90 minutes drive) west of Odawara, 109km (about 90 minutes drive) southwest of Fujikawaguchiko, 178km (over 2 hours drive) east of Nagoya, 181km (about 2.5 hours drive) west of Tokyo, and 284km (about 3.5 hours drive) east of Kyoto.
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