Namekawa Waterfall (namegawa-otaki [滑川大滝])

Yonezawa / Fukushimaya / Namegawa Onsen, Yamagata / Fukushima, Japan

About Namekawa Waterfall (namegawa-otaki [滑川大滝])


Hiking Distance: 4.2km round-trip (to bottom of falls)
Suggested Time: about 2.5 hours

Date first visited: 2023-07-22
Date last visited: 2023-07-23

Waterfall Latitude: 37.77934
Waterfall Longitude: 140.22108

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

The Namekawa Waterfall (namekawa-otaki [滑川大滝]; “Slippery River Falls?”) was perhaps one of the most interesting waterfalls in Japan thanks to its size and unique shape.

The waterfall is said to be where the Otakizawa Stream dropped 80m tall over a width of about 40m (though I’ve seen other sources say it’s as short as 60m and as tall as 105m).

Namegawa_242_07222023 - The Namekawa Waterfall in the Yamagata Prefecture
The Namekawa Waterfall in the Yamagata Prefecture

Such dimensions made it perhaps the largest waterfall in the Tohoku Region (i.e. Northern Japan) let alone the Yamagata Prefecture, which is arguably Japan’s “waterfall kingdom”.

In addition to its size, as you can see in the photo above, the waterfall split into multiple strands collectively making it appear like a giant fan.

That characteristic was most apparent when seen from its base, which required quite the adventure to get to.

However, when the Namekawa Great Falls is seen from a distance, it almost looks as if a robe had been draped down a steep mountainside.

Namegawa_173_07222023 - A contextual look at the Namekawa Great Falls as seen during the steep descent to the Otakizawa Stream
A contextual look at the Namekawa Great Falls as seen during the steep descent to the Otakizawa Stream

Indeed, all of these characteristics made it a pretty obvious choice for it to be among Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls as gazetted by the Ministry of the Environment in 1990.

And as if that alone wasn’t enough, its trail began from the remote Namekawa Onsen, which was a hot springs resort facility dating back over 200 years.

While making the Namekawa Great Falls easier to access with its suspension bridge, it also offered the public the ability to bathe in its therapeutic hot waters both before as well as after the hike.

By the way, I’ve also seen this waterfall referred to as the Namegawa Waterfall or Namegawa Great Falls as opposed to Namekawa Great Falls.

Namegawa_113_07222023 - One of the outdoor hot spring baths of the Namekawa Onsen was situated near the suspension bridge where we could go right onto the trail leading up to the Namekawa Great Falls
One of the outdoor hot spring baths of the Namekawa Onsen was situated near the suspension bridge where we could go right onto the trail leading up to the Namekawa Great Falls

I suspect this is often the case when trying to spell out Japanese place names with Romaji tends to be an inexact science.

Accessing Namekawa Great Falls

As interesting as the Namekawa Waterfall is, we definitely had to earn our visit because getting there wasn’t easy.

In a way, this waterfall was a test of how much adventure you’re willing to endure in Japan to experience a waterfall like this.

First, we had to drive on a cliff-hugging single-lane road for quite a ways, and things can get pretty interesting when there’s oncoming traffic (see directions below).

Namegawa_156_07222023 - The view of the Namekawa Great Falls from the sanctioned overlook after going around 1.2km taking around 20 minutes from the Namekawa Onsen facility
The view of the Namekawa Great Falls from the sanctioned overlook after going around 1.2km taking around 20 minutes from the Namekawa Onsen facility

Judging from how decisive a lot of the drivers I had encountered on this road were, I knew they were either very skilled drivers or they’re quite familiar with these mountain roads.

Then, we had to hike up to the overlook with a view of the Namekawa Great Falls from a distance.

However, doing this hike came with strings attached, so to speak.

The normal option would be to wait for the onsen to be open to the public at 9am and pay about 200 yen per person to use their bridge.

Namegawa_125_07222023 - If you're trying to do the Namegawa Great Falls hike without going through the Namegawa Onsen, then you'd have to know where to cross the Maekawa River and how to go down the retaining wall holding up the access road
If you’re trying to do the Namegawa Great Falls hike without going through the Namegawa Onsen, then you’d have to know where to cross the Maekawa River and how to go down the retaining wall holding up the access road

But if we wanted to have an earlier start, then we’d have to figure out how to cross the Maekawa River before going on a trail that rejoins the main path further uphill.

Finally, from the overlook, we’d then have to make a steep and overgrown scramble down the steep mountainside to access the Otakizawa Stream.

From there, we’d have to stream scramble up the river in order to access the bottom of the Namekawa Great Falls.

As far as the hiking is concerned, my GPS logs suggested that it was about 1.2km (2.4km round-trip) to hike up to the overlook and 2.2km (4.4km round-trip) to get to the base of Namekawa Great Falls.

Namegawa_264_07222023 - In order to get to the bottom of Namegawa Great Falls, you have to stream scramble the Otakizawa
In order to get to the bottom of Namegawa Great Falls, you have to stream scramble the Otakizawa

It took me around 2.5 hours total to do the full hike and scramble, which also included the time that I took to change shoes given the river scramble.

I’d say a good pair of hiking boots was necessary because there were some eroded parts of the hike both on the main trail and especially some sketchy steep parts at the bottom of the scramble down to the river.

Namekawa Waterfall and the Weather

By the way, I do want to say that as with all adventures, the outcome is not guaranteed (that’s what makes adventures adventures, right?).

In our particular instance, when we first showed up to the falls, our efforts were hampered by persistent low clouds and misting rain that prevented us from witnessing the Namekawa Waterfall.

Namegawa_005_iPhone_07222023 - On our first visit to the Namegawa Onsen, the clouds were too low to properly experience the Namekawa Great Falls, which was very disappointing considering how much effort it took to get here
On our first visit to the Namegawa Onsen, the clouds were too low to properly experience the Namekawa Great Falls, which was very disappointing considering how much effort it took to get here

This was despite the weather being mostly sunny closer by the E4 Expressway in both Sendai and Fukushima.

It was quite a disappointing result, especially given how much effort it took to get all the way here.

However, when I came back a day later under much better weather (though clouds were still present; just not as low), that was when I finally got to witness the falls and complete this write-up!

Given that this waterfall was at an elevation of about 860m, the weather definitely plays a big part in whether Mother Nature lets you experience it or not.

Namekawa Waterfall Trail Description

Namegawa_054_07212023 - One of the eroded parts of the Namekawa Great Falls Trail leading up to the lookout about 20 minutes from the Namekawa Onsen
One of the eroded parts of the Namekawa Great Falls Trail leading up to the lookout about 20 minutes from the Namekawa Onsen

From the Namekawa Onsen, we took off and carried our shoes while paying the 200 yen per person to go through their property and use the suspension bridge out back.

After putting back on our shoes and embarking on the hike, we then pretty much went uphill for the next 1.2km or so leading up to a lookout of the Namekawa Great Falls from a distance.

There was one trail fork at about 50m from the suspension bridge, and the path that came up from the right was actually the alternate path leading up from a limited parking area.

In order to access this trail from there, you’d have to know how to get down the retaining wall to the Maekawa River before crossing it either by skillful rock hopping or by straight fording it.

Namegawa_142_07222023 - This was the tricky eroded obstacle that Dad took a spill on, but here, Mom took the more sensible bottoms up approach by going down and then going up instead of trying to cling to the rock face to get across
This was the tricky eroded obstacle that Dad took a spill on, but here, Mom took the more sensible bottoms up approach by going down and then going up instead of trying to cling to the rock face to get across

Anyways, it’s said that this walk (gaining around 130m in elevation) should take around 20 minutes in each direction, but there were a couple of eroded spots that slowed us down.

Dad even took a spill on one of the eroded parts by taking a wrong approach and not really paying attention to the pink tape suggesting to go down then up the eroded part instead of clinging to narrow “footholds”.

Once at the lookout for the Namekawa Great Falls, there were a few choices on where to go next.

There was a path that continued further uphill to the left that seemed to go to other waterfalls as well as deep into the backcountry.

Namegawa_167_07222023 - I would argue that this view on the way down to the Otakizawa Stream was better than the view we got from the sanctioned lookout before this descent
I would argue that this view on the way down to the Otakizawa Stream was better than the view we got from the sanctioned lookout before this descent

However, there was an overgrown path that went beneath a power pylon and ultimately down a handful of switchbacks before the final steep scramble to reach the Otakizawa Stream.

After the first main switchback, there was a nice view of the Namekawa Great Falls that I’d argue was even better than the one at the lookout.

Anyways, once I made it down to the Otakizawa Stream, I then changed shoes (and left my pack behind) while using trekking poles for balance.

From there, I went upstream for the final 500m or so to access the base of the Namegawa Waterfall.

Namegawa_203_07222023 - Looking back at the real sketchy final part of the descent to the Otakizawa Stream
Looking back at the real sketchy final part of the descent to the Otakizawa Stream

After having my fill of the falls, I then went back the way I came, but for the initial steep climb, there was a different trail that was easier to ascend (but not easy to descend).

That’s something to keep in mind as it seemed to cause some confusion among other hikers that I encountered here.

The rest of the return hike was pretty straightforward and mostly downhill after the initial climb back up to the lookout.

Finally, I did notice a handful of people that managed to stream scramble the Otakizawa without even doing the trail that I had described here.

Namegawa_225_07222023 - Context of the stream scrambling involved in order to get up to the bottom of the Namekawa Waterfall
Context of the stream scrambling involved in order to get up to the bottom of the Namekawa Waterfall

I think in order to pull that off, you’d have to walk down the access road from the lower public parking spaces to a bridge over the Maekawa near its confluence with the Otakizawa.

From looking at the map, it looks to be a longer and more time consuming river scramble, but since I didn’t do that, I really can’t say more about it.

Authorities

The Namegawa Waterfall resides near Yonezawa in the Yamagata Prefecture (very close to its border with the Fukushima Prefecture), Japan. It may be administered by the local authorities of Yonezawa. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can try visiting the Yonezawa Tourism website as well as the Namegawa Fukushimaya website.

Namegawa_106_07222023 - It was a sunny day when Mom and I came back to the Namekawa Onsen one day after our failed visit in July 2023
Namegawa_112_07222023 - Approaching the familiar entrance to the Namekawa Onsen
Namegawa_132_07222023 - The trail junction around 50m from the suspension bridge by the Namekawa Onsen, where the path descending to the right was the alternate path while the path on the left went up to the lookout
Namegawa_119_07222023 - Before going up to the Namekawa Great Falls Overlook, I made a brief detour exploring where the spur trail at the start went, which I suspected was an alternate way to do the hike without going through the Namekawa Onsen
Namegawa_123_07222023 - During my brief detour, I encountered this snake going across the path though I wasn't sure if it was poisonous or not
Namegawa_128_07222023 - I also noticed during the brief detour that there were some relics on the access trail though I wasn't sure if they had any historical importance of if they were just left behind by some random person
Namegawa_130_07222023 - Continuing up the narrow access trail that bypassed the Namekawa Onsen facility en route to the Namekawa Waterfall
Namegawa_133_07222023 - Catching up to Mom who was slowly hiking up the incline on the way to the Namekawa Great Falls Lookout
Namegawa_135_07222023 - Mom going up a switchback on the persistently uphill trail leading up to the lookout for the Namekawa Great Falls
Namegawa_137_07222023 - Mom going up another switchback on the Namekawa Waterfall Trail just as more people were catching up to us and about to pass us
Namegawa_145_07222023 - Mom going up yet another switchback on the way to the Namekawa Great Falls Lookout. There was someone already coming downhill, which meant that person either stayed here or knew about the alternate hiking trail since we had gotten started right when the Namekawa Onsen finally opened its doors at 9am to the public to go through
Namegawa_148_07222023 - Looking back at Mom taking her time on these uphills on the way up to the Namekawa Great Falls Lookout
Namegawa_151_07222023 - Finally getting to witness the Namekawa Great Falls as clouds weren't in the way this time
Namegawa_152_07222023 - More zoomed in look at the Namekawa Great Falls from the official lookout
Namegawa_158_07222023 - Broad contextual look at the Namekawa Waterfall from the official lookout. It was here that I had Mom go back to the Namekawa Onsen facility while I would redo the scramble solo knowing how dangerous the bottom could be for her
Namegawa_159_07222023 - Descending the partially overgrown and narrow cliffhugging path down to the Otakizawa Stream from the official lookout
Namegawa_164_07222023 - This was the gorgeous view of the Namekawa Waterfall from the first switchback on the steep and narrow descent
Namegawa_163_07222023 - Another look at the Namekawa Great Falls from the first switchback, which I'd argue was better than the official lookout
Namegawa_175_07222023 - Pretty much trying to dodge tree roots and clinging onto trees on the way down to the Otakizawa Stream
Namegawa_177_07222023 - More descending on the narrow and overgrown path to the Otakizawa as the trail continued to get even steeper the further down I went
Namegawa_178_07222023 - Still more steep descending to the Otakizawa Stream
Namegawa_182_07222023 - Just to give you an idea of the steepness of the scramble to the Otakizawa, this is me filming myself taking steep steps beneath tree roots to ensure that I don't take a bad tumble
Namegawa_183_07222023 - Partial view of the Namekawa Great Falls while making my descent to the Otakizawa
Namegawa_185_07222023 - Still more primitive hiking conditions on the way down to the Otakizawa en route to the base of Namekawa Great Falls
Namegawa_187_07222023 - Looking back at some of the roots that I had to get over to continue the scramble down to the Otakizawa Stream
Namegawa_192_07222023 - Another partial look at the Namekawa Great Falls as it was getting more obstructed the further down the ravine that I went
Namegawa_196_07222023 - Sometimes the pink tape were helpful to identify where to go as things get increasingly overgrown towards the bottom of the scramble to the Otakizawa Stream
Namegawa_198_07222023 - Looking back up at a particularly slippery and muddy steep section near the bottom of the descent to the Otakizawa
Namegawa_208_07222023 - Looking up at some foreign vlogger and two other Japanese hikers making their way back up an alternate path after they were done stream scrambling the Otakizawa
Namegawa_020_iPhone_07232023 - This woman was stream scrambling and continuing further down the stream from where I had descended to, which meant that she must have taken the all-stream-scramble approach instead of the trail that I had gone on
Namegawa_211_07222023 - Now stream scrambling on the Otakizawa as I was fully prepared this time to get wet on the way up to the Namekawa Great Falls
Namegawa_213_07222023 - Looking back at the initial part of the stream scramble on the Otakizawa as the terrain got rockier en route to the base of the Namekawa Great Falls
Namegawa_216_07222023 - Starting to see the Namekawa Great Falls up ahead as I was stream scrambling the Otakizawa
Namegawa_219_07222023 - Starting to see even more of the Namekawa Great Falls as I continued scrambling upstream on the Otakizawa Stream
Namegawa_226_07222023 - Still stream boulder scrambling as it was a bit slower going on the Otakizawa en route to the base of the Namekawa Waterfall
Namegawa_233_07222023 - Getting even closer to the Namekawa Great Falls as I had to get around a pool obstacle on the Otakizawa Stream
Namegawa_230_07222023 - Another partial look at the Namekawa Great Falls looking even more impressive the closer that I'm getting to it
Namegawa_239_07222023 - Finally making it to the base of the Namekawa Great Falls where a couple of guys that were here before me provided a nice sense of scale
Namegawa_247_07222023 - This was about as close to the base of the Namekawa Great Falls as I was able to get before heading back during my July 2023 visit
Namegawa_027_iPhone_07232023 - One of the stitched pano shots taken of the Namekawa Great Falls from its base
Namegawa_030_iPhone_07232023 - Another one of the stitched pano shots taken of the Namekawa Great Falls from its base
Namegawa_032_iPhone_07232023 - Last stitched pano look at the base of the Namekawa Great Falls
Namegawa_251_07222023 - Last look back at the Namekawa Waterfall as the sun was coming out again during my July 2023 visit
Namegawa_254_07222023 - Another look back at the Namekawa Great Falls as I was further downstream on my way back
Namegawa_261_07222023 - Just as I was changing shoes back to hiking boots, I noticed another pair of guys doing the stream scramble on the Otakizawa. Apparently, this spot wasn't as obscure as I had thought
Namegawa_269_07222023 - Looking back at a group of Japanese visitors who were a little confused about the path to take (seeing that I was going up a steep path that wasn't what they were on), but I told them that one path was to descend and the path I was on was for ascending
Namegawa_271_07222023 - Starting to see a partial view of the Namekawa Great Falls the higher up I was going
Namegawa_274_07222023 - Back at the nice view of the Namekawa Great Falls from the first (or last switchback) on the way back up to the official lookout
Namegawa_281_07222023 - Another look at the Namekawa Great Falls from that first or last switchback (depending on which direction you're going)
Namegawa_285_07222023 - Heading down the mostly downhill trail back to the Namekawa Onsen after having had my fill of the Namekawa Great Falls. Some other hikers were making their way up at this time
Namegawa_286_07222023 - Making it back to the suspension bridge to get back to the Namekawa Onsen property
Namegawa_290_07222023 - Going back down the narrow corridor of the Namekawa Onsen property after having concluded the hike to the Namekawa Great Falls
Namegawa_292_07222023 - By the time we made it back to the car park for the Namekawa Onsen, it was full!  Again, this attested to how perhaps this place wasn't as obscure or as hidden as I had once thought
Namegawa_296_07222023 - Looking back at the waterfall by the Namekawa Onsen on the Maekawa River
Namegawa_001_07212023 - When we first showed up to the Namekawa Onsen, it was a cloudier day, which was already concerning regarding whether we'd be getting a good experience here or not during our July 2023 first visit
Namegawa_002_07212023 - Another look at the waterfall on the Maekawa by the Namekawa Onsen on our first attempt at visiting the Namekawa Great Falls
Namegawa_007_07212023 - Context of the car park for the Namekawa Onsen and the building
Namegawa_011_07212023 - This look back at the car park for the Namekawa Onsen perhaps shed some light on how much fog was rolling up the mountains here
Namegawa_015_07212023 - At the back side of the Namekawa Onsen where we were about to hike up to the Namekawa Great Falls
Namegawa_016_07212023 - Looking back at the Namekawa Onsen from the suspension bridge as we were about to start our foggy hike
Namegawa_026_07212023 - The family going on the suspension bridge en route to the Namekawa Great Falls lookout
Namegawa_029_07212023 - The family going up the mostly uphill trail leading to the lookout for the Namekawa Great Falls
Namegawa_031_07212023 - Mom and Dad dealing with one of the more eroded parts of the Namekawa Great Falls Trail, which required using all of our limbs
Namegawa_036_07212023 - The family continuing to climb up the Namekawa Falls Trail, but as you can see fog was becoming an even bigger issue the higher up we were going!
Namegawa_042_07212023 - As feared the fog was getting worse the higher up we were going!
Namegawa_044_07212023 - The family still dealing with fog on the way up to the lookout for Namekawa Great Falls
Namegawa_049_07212023 - Going up a switchback as the Namekawa Great Falls Trail still kept climbing despite the fog staying low
Namegawa_057_07212023 - When we made it up to the lookout for the Namekawa Great Falls, this was all that we could see (even when the sun was kind of breaking through)!
Namegawa_059_07212023 - We didn't get good internet so we couldn't really translate this sign, but it seemed to discourage us from going down (though it turned out to not be the case)
Namegawa_061_07212023 - Looking towards the overgrown trail descending to the Otakizawa Stream
Namegawa_062_07212023 - I did briefly pursue the trail that kept going up from the lookout just to see where it went, but it didn't really go anywhere, especially with all that fog
Namegawa_064_07212023 - Going back down to the official lookout when I realized how futile the uphill hike was given the fog
Namegawa_066_07212023 - Context of the power pylon and signage at the Namekawa Great Falls Lookout
Namegawa_070_07212023 - Descending the trail to the Otakizawa as I wanted to see just how bad this trail was
Namegawa_071_07212023 - Continuing to go down the narrow and steep trail to the Otakizawa from the official lookout
Namegawa_072_07212023 - Making it down to the Otakizawa Stream, but I wasn't prepared to go barefoot or change shoes (I didn't have it with me at the time)
Namegawa_075_07212023 - Looking ahead at the stream scramble before me but with the fog still low, it was pretty bleak whether continuing up there was going to be worth it or not
Namegawa_077_07212023 - About to approach a rocky part of the Otakizawa Stream, and this was around the part where I turned back
Namegawa_080_07212023 - Climbing back up through the overgrowth to get back up to the lookout for the Namekawa Great Falls
Namegawa_082_07212023 - Still foggy when I got back to the Namekawa Great Falls Lookout
Namegawa_084_07212023 - While waiting patiently for the fog to clear, I noticed quite a few dragonflies swarming about at the official lookout
Namegawa_091_07212023 - Going back down the Namekawa Falls Trail to the Namekawa Onsen after finally giving up on the fog
Namegawa_095_07212023 - Making it back to the Namekawa Onsen where my parents were chatting with someone from the facility in Mandarin Chinese
Namegawa_096_07212023 - Returning to the car park pretty defeated and wondering if we had just wasted an entire half-day pursuing this waterfall
Namegawa_101_07212023 - Last look at the waterfall on the Maekawa River by the Namekawa Onsen facility, where the waterfall seemed to have lower flow than it did when we first showed up. That means that perhaps the onsen facility does influence the flow of the Mekawa River from time to time


The Namegawa Waterfall is located near the city of Yonezawa near the prefectural borders shared by Yamagata and Fukushima.

I’ll describe the way we drove here from Fukushima (even though we had been staying in Koriyama) since that seems to be the most common way to get here from the low-lying cities to the east.

Drive_back_to_Namegawa_057_MingSung_07232023 - The drive to Namegawa Onsen involved lots of single-lane roads where things get tricky if there's oncoming traffic
The drive to Namegawa Onsen involved lots of single-lane roads where things get tricky if there’s oncoming traffic

The most straightforward route would be to take the E4 Expressway to the Fukushima-Izaka IC exit, and then follow the National Route 13 west for about 16km before turning left onto the Route 154 (not long after leaving a long tunnel).

The Route 154 then connected with the Route 232 after about 900m, where we turned right and followed this narrow road through a small town and then along some mountain roads (most of which were single-lane).

We pretty much stuck to the Route 232 for about 3km before we turned left near some power station (there should be a sign for the Namegawa Onsen at this point).

From there, we followed the single-lane mountain road for another 2.1km towards another signed junction (near a JR train station) before turning left and taking the rest of the road to the Namegawa Onsen after another 3.7km.

Namegawa_111_07222023 - The car park for the Namegawa Onsen, which as you can see has very limited spaces so there are additional spots further downhill as well as on a steep narrow single-lane road further uphill
The car park for the Namegawa Onsen, which as you can see has very limited spaces so there are additional spots further downhill as well as on a steep narrow single-lane road further uphill

Overall, the drive from Koriyama to the Namegawa Onsen took us about 90 minutes (so it’s probably closer to an hour drive from Fukushima).

For some geographical context, Yonezawa was about 45km (about an hour drive) northwest of Fukushima City, 54km (about an hour drive) south of Yamagata City, 84km (about 90 minutes drive) northwest of Koriyama, 111km (over 90 minutes drive) southwest of Sendai, 123km (over 90 minutes drive) south of Koriyama, and 325km (about 4 hours drive) north of Tokyo.

Find A Place To Stay

Checking out the falls from the photo spot before zooming in on the falls while panning down its drop


Checking out the narrow scrambling path to the river walk leading up to the falls. The view from this switchback was every bit as nice as the overlook even in a drive-to- joint like this one.


Nice comprehensive sweep a little set back from the base of the falls with some people for a sense of scale


Checking out the falls right in front of its base just as the sun was coming out


Brief sweep showing the falls by the onsen's car park with Dad commenting that the falls are influenced by the onsen facility upon noticing changes in its flow

Tagged with: namekawa great falls, namegawa great falls, namekawa great waterfall, namegawa great waterfall, namekawaotaki, namegawaotaki, namegawa waterfall, yamagata, yonezawa, fukushima, fukushimaya, namekawa onsen, namegawa onsen, namekawaonsen, namegawaonsen, tohoku, itaya pass



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning 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.
Read More About Johnny | A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls.