About Zengoro Waterfall (Zengoro-no-taki [善五郎の滝])
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Perhaps the only thing marring this view was the presence of construction vehicles parked in the middle of the clearing.
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.
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.
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.
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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