About Shirogane Waterfall (shirogane-no-taki [白銀の滝])
The Shirogane Waterfall (shirogane-no-taki [白銀の滝]; “White Silver Falls”) was the main waterfall attraction by the Ginzan Onsen (銀山温泉 or “Silver Mountain Hot Springs”) historic town center.
Immediately upstream from this plunging 22m waterfall was another waterfall called Rai-on Falls (rai-on-no-taki [ライオンの滝]; “Lion Falls?”), which dropped around 5-10m with steam often shrouding it as the Ginzangawa is geothermically heated.
First and foremost, the Shirogane Falls should not be confused with the Shirahige Waterfall in the Shirogane Onsen resort in Hokkaido.
That’s a separate waterfall that we’ve visited, and we have a write-up for it, which you should check out if you want to read about that one.
Anyways, Ginzan Onsen already has a charming town center with traditional 900-year-old buildings (and even public foot baths) flanking the Ginzangawa River.
However, the Shirogane Waterfall is like the cherry on top making an already popular and attractive destination even more so.
Indeed, the falls provided a natural alternative to the bustling yet cute village for those willing to venture a short distance upstream from it.
Furthermore, an excursion to the Shirogane Falls could also be augmented with visits to temples as well as curious silver mines.
Those mines not only offered a glimpse into the silver mining past of Ginzan Onsen, but it also provided much-needed cool temperatures, especially in the muggy Summer months (which I had to deal with during my July 2023 visit).
Indeed, there was a lot going on at Ginzan Onsen, and I can see why it was so popular despite being in Northern Japan.
Nevertheless, the popularity at Ginzan Onsen was nothing like the crush of the heavily-touristed itinerary routes (e.g. Tokyo, Kyoto, and everything in between) further to the south.
Hiking to the Shirogane Waterfall
The charming of Ginzan Onsen was actually about 400m from the car parks higher up the hill, which we wound up walking (though there are shuttles that can bring you down there).
We actually stayed at the Ginzan-so Resort, which was 200m from the center of the Ginzan Onsen center.
So even though it’s possible to ride the shuttle and cut the walking distance, the 200-400m round-trip of walking was short enough that we didn’t rely on it.
Thus, the difficulty rating you see reflects the increased hiking distance and time commitment, but for all intents and purposes, the visit to Shirogane Waterfall really started and ended from the Ginzan Onsen historical center.
From there, I walked all the way to the end of the town center, which went around a bend and the commercial center continued on one side before ending when the falls can be seen up ahead.
At that point, there was a bridge going to the left side of the Ginzangawa as the trail splits before the waterfall (roughly 300m from the start of the Ginzan Onsen town center).
At this split, I had a choice of going up a ramp leading towards the top of the Shirogane Falls and beyond, going along the left side of the river to the base of the waterfall, or going across a gap bridge to the other side of the river.
I call this a “gap bridge” because I could get across to the other side while stepping over the gaps in the bridge that would allow water to keep flowing below me.
Like with the ramp on the left side of the river, this side also switches back up to the top of the Shirogane Falls, but it does so while going past a cross-river view of the falls, a memorial, and other trail junctions.
Indeed, it was at this trail split that it essentially marked the beginning and end of a loop trail of whatever length of your choosing, which I’ll explain a bit more in the next section.
Hiking beyond the Shirogane Waterfall
When I made my visit in July 2023, I did a loop that went counterclockwise that encompassed the top of the Shirogane Waterfall, the Raion Waterfall, and a really near Silver Mine.
Technically speaking, you don’t have to do this loop to have experienced the Shirogane Falls adequately, but I found this extra effort to be well worth it, which I’ll try to convey in this section.
The loop hike I ended up going on was about 3.6km long, but the hike could be as short as just going up to the Raion-no-taki before coming back down or even longer than the loop that I wound up doing (there are lots of options).
So going up right side of the Ginzangawa River, at the first switchback was a view with a railing directly opposite the Shirogane Falls.
The trail continued up a few more switchbacks as it went past some relief statue dedicated to Tanaka Yutaka, who was said to have built Shirogane Park in 1929.
The trail eventually leveled out as it reached a trail junction where it was possible to go up to another onsen accommodation (Takimikan, I believe) as well as the Uchino Gorozo-sekihi Stone Monument.
However, I stuck with the path along the river, which stayed along a ledge eventually reaching a bridge fronting the Raion Falls (roughly 200m beyond the Shirogane Falls views) called the Setokoibashi.
At this point, I continued to the right to follow the steamy Ginzangawa River for a ways before the path crossed another bridge (there was a small shrine nearby this bridge).
I then continued up a path that eventually brought me to another trail junction, where I could go left to loop back to the bottom or keep to the right.
I kept to the right, where shortly after going around another bend, I encountered a cave that was billowing steam (roughly 400m beyond the Raion Falls).
I couldn’t go inside this cave, but its steam was refreshingly cool (and even the map of the area called this the “Cool Cave”).
Beyond this cave, the path continued another 200m towards a park or garden (called Omokageen), where there was a pond, some memorials, some overgrown trails, and even a toilet facility.
However, I wound up following a path that climbed right up to one of the silver mine entrances, and it was here that I was able to go inside.
This mine surprised me with how well-lit it was, how cool it was, and how big the walking area was.
In fact, I was able to go through a large chamber then all the way to its other side (maybe 150-200m long), where there were steps leading to an egress.
At this exit of the silver mine, I noticed that there was another silver mine entrance though it was closed during my visit.
Thus, I had to go back to hiking in the muggy exterior (which totally fogged up my camera by now), and then I followed some narrow paths that brought me past a statue called Gigaichiro Zaemon-zo, which was of a miner.
Beyond this statue, the trail descended back towards the trail junction before the “Cool Cave”, where I then followed the path going downstream along the Ginzangawa.
Eventually, this trail descended towards a small shrine or temple (called Takifudo Shrine) before reaching a trail junction near the bridge before the Raion Falls.
On this side of the bridge, I was able to get down to the edge of the Raion Falls plunge pool while also checking out the alcove seemingly carved out by past floods here.
After having my fill of the Raion Falls, I then went down the ramping trail that eventually brought me back to the original trail split at the upper end of the Ginzan Onsen historical center.
Overall, I wound up spending a little over 2 hours on this longer loop excursion before returning to the Ginzan-so, and this included all the detours and even waiting out rain by the “Cool Cave”).
The Shirogane Waterfall resides in Ginzan Onsen, which was about 20 minutes drive east of Obanazawa in the Yamagata Prefecture, Japan. It may be administered by the local authorities at Ginzan Onsen. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can try visiting the Yamagata Tourism website for some leads.
The Shirogane Waterfall pretty much lies right behind the center of Ginzan Onsen.
So reaching this waterfall pretty much means going to the Ginzan Onsen resort area.
Well, this is an easy-to-route-to spot on GoogleMaps so I won’t bother giving exact directions since there are many ways to get to Obanazawa, which is the largest neighboring town.
But once you’re at Obanazawa (assuming you’ve taken the E13 expressway to get here), you’ll want to exit at the Obanazawa IC, and then follow the Route 347 east for about 14km to the car parks for Ginzan Onsen town.
Keep in mind that most of the car parks here are private (i.e. you’ll have to be staying at one of the accommodations here, which will then give you instructions on which car park is affiliated with them).
It’s also possible to take public transportation to Ginzan Onsen by taking the JR Yamagata Shinkansen line to Oishida Station (if you’re coming from Tokyo, which takes about 3 hours 20 minutes).
From the Oishida Station, you’d then catch the bus to Ginzan Onsen, which takes about 35 minutes.
For some geographical context, Obanazawa was 46km (under an hour drive) north of Yamagata City, 75km (under 90 minutes drive) southeast ofSakata, about 108km (about 90 minutes drive) northwest of Sendai, 165km (about 2.5 hours drive) south of Akita, 197km (about 3 hours drive) southwest of Morioka, 204km (about 3.5 hours drive) northeast of Niigata, and 413km (over 5 hours drive) north of Tokyo.
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