Jofu Waterfall (Jofu-no-taki [常布の滝])

Kusatsu Onsen / Mt Shirane / Kanto Region / Nagano, Gunma, Japan

About Jofu Waterfall (Jofu-no-taki [常布の滝])


Hiking Distance: 3.6km round trip (to overlook only)
Suggested Time: 90-120 minutes (to overlook only)

Date first visited: 2016-10-19
Date last visited: 2016-10-19

Waterfall Latitude: 36.64204
Waterfall Longitude: 138.56875

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The Jofu Waterfall (Jofu-no-taki [常布の滝]; or Jofu Falls as well as Jofou Falls) was a rare waterfall where we managed to experience it surrounded by the peak of the koyo (or Autumn-colored foliage).

It was a 40m tall waterfall on the Osawa River or Osawagawa nestled in a very rugged ravine.

Jofu_Falls_066_10182016 - Jofu Waterfall
Jofu Waterfall

Given its close proximity to the resort town of Kusatsu Onsen (or Kusatsu Hot Springs), we were pretty surprised that this waterfall wasn’t more well-signed nor as popular as we would have expected.

It was even considered to be one of Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls according to the Japanese Ministry of the Environment.

As a result of how much difficulty we had trying to reach this waterfall, perhaps that koyo was the silver lining to our experiences.

But it turned out that the root cause of our difficulties with this falls resulted from landslides that damaged and ultimately closed off key parts of the access trail.

Jofu_Falls_064_10182016 - Jofu Waterfall surrounded by the koyo
Jofu Waterfall surrounded by the koyo

So we were only able to get the view you see pictured above, but we were never able to get all the way to its base for a more intimate experience.

There was also another trail closure that resulted in us taking a detour that caused some of the directions and trail descriptions in the literature to be obsolete.

Experiencing the Jofu Waterfall

In order to even get a decent view of the Jofu Waterfall, we hiked for nearly two hours on a 3.6km round-trip trail to only the lookout.

The hiking times and distances would have been longer had we been able to reach the bottom of the gorge right in front of the falls.

Jofu_Falls_013_10182016 - Following a group of hikers making their way towards the Jofu Waterfall from an alternate trailhead
Following a group of hikers making their way towards the Jofu Waterfall from an alternate trailhead

So starting from an alternate trailhead due to the primary path being closed (see directions below), we went up some steps then onto a forested trail.

The path crossed some ditches that appeared to drain into an adjacent golf course.

During our hike, the koyo didn’t quite reach the lower parts of this trail, but it was definitely in peak colors when we climbed higher towards a two-sided narrow ridge.

From the right side of the ridge, we started to get our first partial glimpses of the Jofu Falls surrounded by gorgeous Autumn colors.

Jofu_Falls_034_10182016 - Mom and Dad hiking on a ridge as we were surrounded by the gorgeous colors of the koyo en route to the Jofu Waterfall
Mom and Dad hiking on a ridge as we were surrounded by the gorgeous colors of the koyo en route to the Jofu Waterfall

On the left side of the ridge was the Tanizawa River or Tanizawagawa, which was another river system cutting a rugged gorge.

This river system actually passed beneath a road bridge near the alternate trailhead where we started this hike.

It turned out that the original trail that we almost initially took would have crossed this river.

Beyond this narrowing of the ridge about 1.6km from the alternate trailhead was a trail junction where the original trail merged with this trail.

Jofu_Falls_048_10182016 - Partial view of the Jofu Waterfall in the distance while hiking along a ridge near where the original trail junctioned with the alternate trail that we were on
Partial view of the Jofu Waterfall in the distance while hiking along a ridge near where the original trail junctioned with the alternate trail that we were on

During our visit, a local warned us about how this original trail was damaged (this was the trail described in the literature).

After this junction, the trail was flanked by somewhat tall sloping concrete walls while the surface of the trail had exhibited some water damage causing little gullies cutting right through the middle.

Anyways, about 200m beyond the trail junction was another trail junction.

Continuing straight at this junction for 100m led directly to the Jofu Waterfall overlook, which was where we took photo at the top of this page.

Jofu_Falls_110_10182016 - Looking out towards the mountainous scenery from the ridge as we were returning after having experienced the Jofu Waterfall Overlook
Looking out towards the mountainous scenery from the ridge as we were returning after having experienced the Jofu Waterfall Overlook

For all intents and purposes, this was ultimately our turnaround point of the hike.

The trail on the left led another 300m to another trail junction.

The path descending on the right would have gone into and alongside the steep ravine of the Osawagawa.

Unfortunately, this trail was closed so we couldn’t describe what we would have seen on this last stretch of trail.

Authorities

The Jofu Waterfall resides near Kusatsu Onsen of the Gunma Prefecture, Japan. It is administered by the Gunma Prefectural Government. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can try visiting the Gunma Tourism website.

Jofu_Falls_008_10182016 - Dad starting on the roadway and ultimately trail that would lead up to the Jofu Waterfall. This was the original path from the P6 parking lot
Jofu_Falls_010_10182016 - Dad and Mom hesitantingly pursuing the original trail to the Jofu Waterfall from the P6 parking lot before we finally came to our senses and returned to ask someone in one of the buildings we had passed by about whether we were on the right trail
Jofu_Falls_016_10182016 - Mom and Dad following the alternate trail to the Jofu Waterfall, which went through this forested area after the initial climb up steps. Note that the koyo hadn't quite arrived at the lower elevations
Jofu_Falls_017_10182016 - The alternate trail to Jofu Waterfall also had us traversing these ditches, which I believe might be there to drain the golf course that was to our right
Jofu_Falls_020_10182016 - The alternate trail to the Jofu Waterfall that we took kept climbing, and the higher we went, the more we started to see koyo
Jofu_Falls_022_10182016 - More of the koyo or Autumn colors were starting to show up the higher up this alternate trail to the Jofu Waterfall we went
Jofu_Falls_027_10182016 - At this point of the hike along the alternate trail to the Jofu Waterfall, we started to see more yellows and hints of orange
Jofu_Falls_030_10182016 - Dad about to descend towards a ridge along the alternate trail to the Jofu Waterfall while there were more koyo showing up around us
Jofu_Falls_033_10182016 - Mom approaching a narrowing of the ridge that we were on en route to the Jofu Waterfall, which now exhibited even more koyo, especially reds and oranges
Jofu_Falls_044_10182016 - Mom and Dad continuing along the ridge of the alternate trail to the Jofu Waterfall while surrounded by a lot of koyo along the way
Jofu_Falls_047_10182016 - On the right side of the narrowing of the ridge we were on en route to the Jofu Waterfall via the alternate trail, we started to get partial glimpses of the Jofu Falls in the distance
Jofu_Falls_050_10182016 - Context of the koyo as we continued walking along the alternate trail to Jofu Falls
Jofu_Falls_053_10182016 - Mom and Dad walking past the trail closure on our left. That path on our left was the original trail that the literature would have had us go on to reach the Jofu Waterfall. However, a local warned us about the trail conditions and suggested the alternate trail we ended up taking
Jofu_Falls_055_10182016 - Closer look at the trail closure signs of the original path to the Jofu Waterfall, which would have crossed the Yasawa River to get here
Jofu_Falls_057_10182016 - Beyond the trail junction with the closure, the Jofu Falls Trail now was flanked by concrete walls with some water damage through the middle
Jofu_Falls_068_10182016 - Contextual look at the Jofu Falls from the lookout
Jofu_Falls_069_10182016 - Even more contextual look at the Jofu Waterfall from the lookout
Jofu_Falls_076_10182016 - This trail closure leading down the final stretch to the bottom of Jofu Falls was what turned us around
Jofu_Falls_083_10182016 - Back at the Jofu Waterfall overlook again. This was about as much of the waterfall as we could see on our visit in October 2016
Jofu_Falls_088_10182016 - The sun was starting to break through the overcast skies and add some color to the koyo around the Jofu Waterfall
Jofu_Falls_101_10182016 - Another look at the Jofu Waterfall bathed in a little more sunlight before heading back to the car
Jofu_Falls_104_10182016 - Last look at the Jofu Waterfall with koyo all around it before heading back to the alternate trailhead
Jofu_Falls_115_10182016 - Witnessing lots more koyo on the return hike from the Jofu Waterfall Lookout all the way back to the alternate trailhead
Jofu_Falls_117_10182016 - This was our last glimpse of the Jofu Falls before we continued further down the alternate trail
Jofu_Falls_119_10182016 - Continuing along the railings of the ridge part of the hike along the alternate trail coming back from the Jofu Waterfall Lookout
Jofu_Falls_123_10182016 - The return hike from the Jofu Waterfall Lookout allowing us to experience more of the koyo all over again

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To reach the Jofu Waterfall, we’re going to describe the route that we’d most recommend, especially since it allowed us to experience the surprising highlight of witnessing the Mt Shirane as well as the Autumn colors.

That said, GoogleMaps and the GPS may take you on a different (and perhaps more trafficked route as it did for us) from Matsumoto or Nagano to the Kusatsu Onsen vicinity.

They took us on the route involving the Hwy 144, which seemed less featured and thus less worthwhile.

Jofu_Falls_001_10182016 - This was the very wide P6 parking lot area, which would ordinarily be the starting point for the hike to the Jofu Waterfall
This was the very wide P6 parking lot area, which would ordinarily be the starting point for the hike to the Jofu Waterfall

Therefore, we’ll pick up the driving directions from Matsumoto via Nagano.

So from Matsumoto (getting on at the Matsumoto IC), we took the Nagano Expressway north towards the city of Nagano.

Then, we kept left and continued going north along the Joshinnetsu Expressway before taking the Shinshunakano IC exit.

This stretch of expressways lasted for about 77km.

Jofu_Falls_004_10182016 - This was the P6 parking lot, which was the suggested starting spot for the original trail to the Jofu Waterfall, but it may not be the best spot to park for the alternate trail that we've described on this page
This was the P6 parking lot, which was the suggested starting spot for the original trail to the Jofu Waterfall, but it may not be the best spot to park for the alternate trail that we’ve described on this page

Then, from the Shinshunakano IC exit, we took the Shiganakano Tollway towards the Hwy 292, and we’d then follow this mountain highway for about 50km towards the Kusatsu Onsen.

As we descended towards the junction of the Hwy 292 and Route 55 (there were some car parks around this junction), one of the car parks was the P6 car park.

The literature for the original trail advocated parking here and starting the hike from here.

However, given our experience, unless they fix the trail, don’t take the trail heading to Jofu Falls from here.

Instead, park the car at one of the car parks by the Route 55 junction, then walk along the Road 55 for about 500m.

Jofu_Falls_125_10182016 - Looking back at the alternate trailhead for the Jofu Waterfall along the Route 55 just beyond the bridge over the Tanizawa River
Looking back at the alternate trailhead for the Jofu Waterfall along the Route 55 just beyond the bridge over the Tanizawa River

The alternate trailhead would be on the left shortly after the Road bridged the Tanizawagawa or Tanizawa River.

Overall, this nearly 139km drive would take between 2-2.5 hours.

For some geographical context, the heart of the Kusatsu Onsen was about 1.6km further south along Hwy 292 from its junction with the Route 55. The town was about 130-140km (2-2.5 hours drive) northeast of Matsumoto, 70-80km (1.5-2 hours drive) east of Nagano City, and about 120km (2.5 hours drive) south of Joetsu. Matsumoto was about 221km or 3 hours by car or bullet train northwest of Tokyo.

Examining the falls with fall colors from a distant viewpoint as the trail to its base was closed

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Tagged with: kusatsu, onsen, shirane, nagano, japan, waterfall, tanizawagawa, koyo, fall colors, top 100



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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