Zengoro Waterfall (Zengoro-no-taki [善五郎の滝])

Norikura Highlands / Matsumoto / Takayama, Nagano, Japan

About Zengoro Waterfall (Zengoro-no-taki [善五郎の滝])


Hiking Distance: 1km round trip
Suggested Time: 45-60 minutes

Date first visited: 2016-10-20
Date last visited: 2016-10-20

Waterfall Latitude: 36.11817
Waterfall Longitude: 137.61765

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The Zengoro Waterfall (Zengoro-no-taki [善五郎の滝]; or just Zengoro Falls) was the third of three significant waterfalls that we visited on the Koonogawa (Koono River).

This modestly-sized falls (at least compared to the other waterfalls on the Koonogawa like Bandokoro Falls and Sanbon Falls) was said to be 30m tall and 10m wide.

Zengoro_Falls_030_10192016 - Zengoro Waterfall backed by Mt Norikura in the distance
Zengoro Waterfall backed by Mt Norikura in the distance

In addition to getting close and intimate with this waterfall, perhaps its main appeal was the chance at witnessing it together with Mt Norikura in the background.

By the way, the Koonogawa River was the main river passing through the famed Norikura Highlands draining east of Mt Norikura on its way to the manmade Azusako (Lake Azusa).

Zengoro and the Norikura Wildlife

In trying to understand the translation of the name of Zengoro, I learned that the waterfall was said to be named after a local lumberjack who was apparently proficient at catching fish at this falls.

However, one fish was huge and managed to drag him into the waterfall’s plunge pool.

Zengoro_Falls_067_10192016 - The Zengoro Waterfall
The Zengoro Waterfall

The lumberjack survived, but since that incident, the villagers started referring to this waterfall as the Zengoro Falls.

Of course instead of the fish that the lumberjack Zengoro was known to have caught, the kind of wildlife that was more pertinent to us hikers was the presence of bears.

In fact, we noticed some hanging pipes with sticks to strike them with.

So in essence, these contraptions acted like bear bells, which were strategically placed throughout the trail.

Zengoro_Falls_086_10192016 - Dad trying out the soundmaking pipes that I believe were meant to be like bear bells along the Zengoro Waterfall Trail
Dad trying out the soundmaking pipes that I believe were meant to be like bear bells along the Zengoro Waterfall Trail

If you happen to encounter a bear near one of these soundmaking pipes, then you’d bang on these pipes in an effort to scare them away with the sounds they make.

Hiking to the Zengoro Waterfall

We managed to visit the Zengoro Waterfall from an unsigned trailhead with a large clearing (see directions below).

It turned out to be the closest approach to the waterfall, and it had the added bonus of getting a gorgeous view of the Zengoro Waterfall backed by Mt Norikura (see photo at the top of this page).

In any case, there were also other alternate trails to the Zengoro Falls, including a signposted one further downhill along the road.

Zengoro_Falls_103_10192016 - This large clearing with a view of Mt Norikura was the unsigned car park that we used as the trailhead for the Zengoro Falls
This large clearing with a view of Mt Norikura was the unsigned car park that we used as the trailhead for the Zengoro Falls

We’ll have to describe our trailside perspective from the unsigned closest approach, but the other trail is an alternate option to keep in mind.

From a trail length standpoint, they were similar in distance at about 1km round trip.

It took us under an hour to complete, which included all the picture taking as well as the hiking itself.

Zengoro Waterfall Trail Description

Starting from the unsigned large car park clearing (see directions below), we had a choice of trails to take.

Zengoro_Falls_009_10192016 - Mom on the forested trail going around the large clearing on the way down to the Zengoro Waterfall
Mom on the forested trail going around the large clearing on the way down to the Zengoro Waterfall

We could take a shaded trail alongside the Koonogawa (which was a small stream at this point).

Or, we could walk across the large car park or clearing, which had another trail starting at its opposite end.

The trails eventually merged up with each other before veering away and descending steps and switchbacks towards the bottom of the gorge.

About 120m downhill from the end of the clearing was that aforementioned overlook with a partial view of the Zengoro Waterfall backed by the peak of Mt Norikura.

Zengoro_Falls_037_10192016 - Context of the overlook area with the view of Zengoro Waterfall backed by Mt Norikura in the distance
Context of the overlook area with the view of Zengoro Waterfall backed by Mt Norikura in the distance

Shortly downhill from this overlook was a trail junction where we went right to continue descending towards the bottom.

The trail on the left led another 0.5km to the aforementioned signposted trailhead that we didn’t start at.

After another 150m or so of switchbacks and stair-stepped descents, we then crossed a bridge over the Koonogawa before going up to another bridge that fronted the impressive Zengoro Waterfall.

In addition to the views from the bridge itself, there were also viewing spots on the far side of the bridge for a closer and mistier look.

Zengoro_Falls_042_10192016 - The trail leading across a bridge and ultimately taking us to the bottom of the Zengoro Waterfall
The trail leading across a bridge and ultimately taking us to the bottom of the Zengoro Waterfall

Furthermore, there was a more elevated viewing area on the front side of the bridge.

The trail actually continued climbing above this particular view, but we didn’t pursue going any further as it would ultimately lead up to the National Park Vacation Center in another 600m or so.

On the return hike, we decided to go across the large clearing that doubled as a car park.

And when we did so, we were treated to a nice surprise as we had a nice view back towards Mt Norikura fronted by trees that just started to change color.

Zengoro_Falls_076_10192016 - After having our fill of the Zengoro Waterfall, we had to get all that elevation loss back starting with hiking back uphill on these steps to reach the large car park where we left the car
After having our fill of the Zengoro Waterfall, we had to get all that elevation loss back starting with hiking back uphill on these steps to reach the large car park where we left the car

Perhaps the only thing marring this view was the presence of construction vehicles parked in the middle of the clearing.

Authorities

The Zengoro 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.

Zengoro_Falls_011_10192016 - Dad continuing on the trail that was actually still next to the large unmarked clearing on the way to Zengoro Falls
Zengoro_Falls_016_10192016 - Mom continuing along the well-forested trail on the way down to the Zengoro Waterfall
Zengoro_Falls_019_10192016 - Beyond the end of the clearing, the Zengoro Waterfall trail then descended down these steps
Zengoro_Falls_032_10192016 - On the way down, we stumbled upon this gorgeous glimpse of the Zengoro Waterfall backed by Mt Norikura
Zengoro_Falls_040_10192016 - After reaching a trail junction, we then had to descend these steps to get down to the level of the Koonogawa and eventually the base of the Zengoro Waterfall
Zengoro_Falls_043_10192016 - The anticipation was palpable as we knew the Zengoro Falls was just up those stairs going up past some intermediate cascade
Zengoro_Falls_050_10192016 - Finally making it down to the base of the Zengoro Waterfall
Zengoro_Falls_053_10192016 - Another look from the base of the Zengoro Waterfall
Zengoro_Falls_069_10192016 - View of the Zengoro Waterfall from the elevated lookout to the left of the bridge in front of the falls
Zengoro_Falls_081_10192016 - Looking up at Mom going up the switchbacks with the koyo above her as we were making our return hike from the base of the Zengoro Waterfall
Zengoro_Falls_092_10192016 - Dad hiking back up amongst the koyo on the way back to the large clearing where we left the car for the Zengoro Waterfalls hike
Zengoro_Falls_109_10192016 - When we finally made it back to the car park in the large clearing for the Zengoro Waterfall hike, we started to notice the mountains around us that perhaps we hadn't noticed before

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We drove to the Zengoro 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 11km (going past the Bandokoro Falls en route) to the unsigned but large clearing and car park to our left.

Note that near a hairpin turn one kilometer earlier was a signpost and trailhead for the Zengoro Falls.

Zengoro_Falls_014_10192016 - This big clearing with construction vehicles was where we parked the car to pursue the Zengoro Waterfall hike
This big clearing with construction vehicles was where we parked the car to pursue the Zengoro Waterfall hike

This was perhaps the more sanctioned trail, but the one we thought that the one we ultimately took was the closest approach (though in reality, they were probably the same distance wise).

In any case, this drive would take us a little over an hour.

It was roughly 4.2km to 5km past the Bandokoro Falls or 5-6km downhill from the Sanbon 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.

Examining the falls from different spots along the suspension bridge and vicinity near the end of the trail


Checking out the falls from an intermediate lookout on the way down to its base

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Tagged with: nagano, norikura, highlands, matsumoto, japan, waterfall, matsumoto-jo, matsumoto castle, shirahone onsen, kogen, japan alps, zengorou, sanbon, bandokoro, takayama, koonogawa, koyo, fall colors



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