About Hirayu Waterfall (Hirayu Otaki [平湯大滝])
The Hirayu Waterfall (Hirayu Otaki [平湯大滝]; also called Hirayu Great Falls or just Hirayu Falls) was a classic columnar waterfall that was accentuated by the onset of the koyo (Autumn colors) during our first visit.
An emphatic member of the Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls from the Ministry of Japan (a list published in 1990 that informed which waterfalls are the country’s standouts), we were impressed by its size at 64m tall and 6m in width.
Backed by the volume of the Big or Great Falls River (Otakigawa; also written as 大滝川), this was a permanent, year-round waterfall (though snow may cut off access to the closest lookout in both Winter and Spring).
In fact, I thought that this was my favorite waterfall of my second trip to Japan given how the falls impressed us as well as the seemingly right set of circumstances with the koyo adding more to its scenic allure.
Of course, that first visit to this waterfall happened in October 2016, but when we came back in April 2023 and again in early July 2023, it seemed like Spring wasn’t exactly the best time to visit (though Summer was a little bit of an improvement).
That’s because Spring is a dead season in between Winter skiing (perfect for onsen bathing) and the Summer/Fall busy seasons, and thus the closest lookout was inaccessible given that snow and ice still covered that part of the trail.
Experiencing the Hirayu Waterfall
As for our excursions to the Hirayu Waterfall, it turned out that there used to be a lot of options (though this depended on when we made our visit).
In the past, there used to be a shuttle bus that went from the car park (see directions below) to the waterfall and back, and this was the way we did our visit back in October 2016 (at 100 yen per person).
However, in subsequent visits, we learned that the restaurant and bus are no longer in operation, and thus we were allowed (snow permitting) to drive all the way to where the shuttle buses used to drop us off.
From there, we then spent several minutes just enjoying the views and hiking as close to the Hirayu Great Falls before a rope discouraged further scrambling due to the rockfall danger.
On our first visit, we were here in the early afternoon (around 2pm) in mid-October so most of the falls was already in shadow behind the mountains around us.
Perhaps that might have been a good thing since the falls faced north (i.e. towards the southern sun) so we were spared from looking against the sun.
Anyways, after having our fill of the impressive waterfall, we then chose to hike the rest of the way back to the car park (covering a distance of 1km).
However, we very easily could have chosen to shuttle (now drive) in both directions (for the minimal amount of walking of probably around 5-10 minutes each way).
Moreover, we could have hiked in both directions from the lower car parks for the maximal amount of walking covering about 2km round trip.
And that was something we actually did on our second visit in April 2023 since the nearest car parks weren’t available due to snow on the former shuttle route (actually all the facilities here were boarded up and shut).
The hike back from the waterfall followed along the Otakigawa sloping gently downhill before veering into a valley with beautiful foliage flanked by mountains.
Towards the end of the walk was a developed area with a reflective pond, some buildings, and nice views towards the Hirayu Onsen in its mountainous context.
Strangely, it turned out that our first visit here happened to catch the restaurant and shuttle in its final days of operation because they closed for good in the following years (we initially thought they were seasonal closures).
Overall, in each of our visits, we had spent about an hour away from the car, but we really took our time both around the waterfall itself as well as on the walk back.
The Discovery of the Hirayu Onsen
While my parents and I already had our fill of the hot springs experience at the nearby Shirahone Onsen, the Hirayu Waterfall was also near the town of Hirayu Onsen, which itself was its own hot springs resort town.
Speaking of hot springs, there was a story of the discovery of the Hirayu Onsen.
It involved the Shirozaru or white monkey, where soldiers who had recently attacked Hida managed to find their way to the Hirayu Waterfall.
Apparently, a white monkey happened to be coming from behind the falls and headed to a hot spring further down the mountain (perhaps to bathe in it).
Curious, the soldiers followed the monkey to the spring, and it was said that this was how the town of Hirayu Onsen was discovered some 450 years ago.
The Hirayu Waterfall resides in the Hirayu Onsen near Takayama of the Gifu Prefecture, Japan. It is administered by the Gifu Prefectural Government. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can try visiting their website.
To get to Hirayu Great Falls from Takayama, we would drive east to the turnoff for the Hirayu Great Falls was about 34km along the Route 158.
Along the way was the Choshi Falls (also spelled Chosi Falls), which might be a worthwhile excursion if time permits.
This drive took us about a little under an hour.
Coming from the other direction in Matsumoto, the drive west to the turnoff for the Hirayu Great Falls was about 51km along the Route 158.
This drive would take nearly 90 minutes.
We actually came here from the Shirahone Onsen, which involved us driving nearly 4km along the Route 300 to join up with the Route 158.
Then, we went west on the 158 for nearly 12km.
Turning left at the next light just after paying the toll fee, we then drove about 200m before making another left to go right up to the well-signed Hirayu Falls.
Overall, this drive took us about 30 minutes.
Note that turning right at the light (instead of a left) would have taken us further down the mountain to the Hirayu Onsen.
It was about 1.5km between this resort town and the nearest car park for the waterfall.
For geographical context, Takayama is 35 km (45 minutes drive) from west of Hirayu Onsen, 50km (about 45 minutes drive) southeast of Shirakawago, 85km (about 2 hours drive) west of Matsumoto, 148 km (about 3 hours drive) southwest from Nagano, and 157km (about 2.5 hours drive) north of Nagoya.
Finally, we should note that we paid 500 円 (yen) to park at the nearest lot for the Hirayu Waterfall during our first visit in October 2016.
However, at the time, we noticed quite a few people who managed to park further down the hill closer to the Route 158 and walk up to the main car park to avoid having to pay that kind of money for parking.
Paying for parking at the nearest lot apparently would have saved around 400-500m in each direction (or up to 1km round trip), which might have been close enough to justify not needing to pay the extra amount.
Perhaps that might have explained why the car park was so sparsely populated during our visit in October 2016, but there was definitely no fee collected when we came back in both April 2023 and in early July 2023.
So maybe this business about parking fees may be obsolete at the moment, but you never know with these things as ownership situations could easily change and institute a new visitation scheme.
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