About Sanbon Waterfall (Sanbon-daki [三本滝])
The Sanbon Waterfall (Sanbon-daki [三本滝]; Sanbon Falls or Sanbondaki) was a three-segmented waterfall that was one of the more unusual waterfalling experiences that we’ve had in Japan.
From reading the kanji signs pertaining to this falls, we had already guessed that the waterfall had something to do with being in three pieces.
We interpreted the kanji to mean the triple falls or that each of the three segments of the falls came from different sources (and converged in this one spot).
As for the characteristics of the waterfalls, each of them was said to have a height of 50-60m.
However, it was hard for us to get a real handle on them as it was very difficult to try to capture the waterfalls in a meaningful photograph without some dicey scrambling and bouldering.
The rightmost waterfall, which slid down a sloping bed of a former lava flow, was said to be named Kuroisawa Falls.
The middle waterfall, which had more of avertical plunge, was called Honsawa Falls.
This particular waterfall flowed on the Koonogawa or Koono River, which was the main river system that was responsible for other waterfalls in the Norikura Highlands like Zengoro Falls and Bandokoro Falls.
The leftmost waterfall of the Sanbon Waterfalls trio was said to be called the Mumei Falls, which ran on a watercourse that was not officially named.
Perhaps what was more surprising about these waterfalls was their notoriety.
Case in point, we encountered quite a few people photographing this waterfall even though we thought we had gotten an early start in the day.
Indeed, it seemed like a pretty popular photographic subject with tripod-wielding photographers perhaps seeking out their money shots before the crowds would inevitably arrive.
Hiking to the Sanbon Waterfall
Although we noticed that there was more than one car park for the Sanbon Waterfall, we started our hike from the highest car park (see directions below).
We chose this trailhead because it happened to be the one yielding the shortest walk.
This car park also happened to be where shuttle vehicles could take us up (for a fee) to the top of Mt Norikura for a 360-degree panorama.
Anyways, our hike ended up being about 1.8km round trip and took us a little over an hour to do.
The hike started off by meandering gently downhill through a clearing to the right of the large wooden building backing the car park.
We then reached a junction where it turned out that this was the beginning and end of a loop hike taking in the Sanbondaki.
Keeping right at this junction (so we were hiking counterclockwise), the clearing eventually closed in and we found ourselves hiking through a pleasant forested area as the trail continued to make its gradual descent.
Along the way, there was another trail junction where we kept left to continue to the Sanbon Falls.
I did briefly check out the other trail to see where it went, and it ultimately got me to a spot where I managed to get a view of some smaller cascades on the Koonogawa River before I turned back.
Anyways, the main waterfall trail then started to go up some steps before traversing a suspension bridge right above a pretty tall intermediate cascade.
Just on the other side of the bridge, the trail then bent around some giant rocks before finally terminating at the head of the ravine where the three waterfalls of the Sanbondaki converged.
During our visit, we happened to show up when there were deep contrasts between the brightly lit up area towards the top of the falls and the shadowy areas towards their bottoms.
Such conditions weren’t conducive to taking meaningful photographs due to the high dynamic range between the light and dark zones.
So if I had to do this all over again, I’d either visit late in the afternoon or very early in the morning when everything would be in shadow.
Either that or I’d show up on an overcast day when the lighting would be even under the clouds.
On the return hike, we kept right at the junctions to complete the loop.
This branch of the trail involved going up a lot of steps so I’d imagine that we made the right choice in doing the loop hike in a counterclockwise manner.
In general regarding loop hikes, I’d recommend gradual descents (to save the knees) and shorter but steeper ascents (so the pain of going uphill isn’t prolonged).
The Sanbon Waterfall resides in the Norikura Highlands near Matsumoto of the Nagano Prefecture, Japan. It is administered by the Ministry of the Environment. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can try visiting their website.
We drove to the Sanbon 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.
However, 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 17km (going past the National Park Vacation Center en route) to the end of the public access part of the road.
This was where there was the car park for the Sanbon Falls (or Sanbondaki Falls), which had a fairly big lot next to a large wooden building.
The hiking trail began to the right side of the building.
Overall, this drive would take us a little over an hour.
It was roughly 15-20 minutes drive past the Bandokoro 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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