My quick autumn getaway to Naruko Gorge
Have you ever experienced finding some spare time to visit a place you never thought of visiting in the first place while planning your travel itinerary? That often happens to me, and when it comes to planning my travels to Japan, there have been a number of times when I learned that I have an empty slot in my travel schedule. When looking for ideas on where to go during that empty slot, I discovered a place I originally didn’t plan to go to.
One instance of such an experience is Naruko Gorge (鳴子峡 Naruko-kyō), which is located in the rural side of Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県 Miyagi-ken). Often regarded as one of the most beautiful gorges in the Tohoku Region, the gorge is stunningly beautiful especially in autumn, when it is enveloped in a sea of vibrant red, yellow, and orange hues.
My journey to Naruko Gorge. (Image credit: Google Maps)
I have visited a number of gorges in Japan, including a few in the Tohoku Region such as the famous Geibikei Gorge in Iwate Prefecture, and the picture-perfect Oirase Gorge in Aomori Prefecture. But Naruko Gorge? This one had been flying under my radar, and it was only when I was planning my trip around the Tohoku Region that I learned more about this spot.
For this article, I want to share with you my quick getaway to the gorge, which I had the privilege of visiting back in late October last year. That period was the busiest time in autumn, as numerous visitors flocked to the gorge to witness its magnificent beauty, and I had a very small window in my travel itinerary that gave me leeway for a very brief visit.
Want to know how it went? Then let’s find out!
① Starting my journey from Furukawa Station
Transferring to the Rikū-East Line at Furukawa Station. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
My journey to Naruko Gorge began at Furukawa Station (古川駅 Furukawa-eki). Upon arriving here, I transferred to the Rikū-East Line (陸羽東線 Rikūtō-sen) to make my way to Naruko-Onsen Station (鳴子温泉駅 Naruko-Onsen-eki), where I would continue my route to the gorge.
Rikū-East Line’s timetable. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Taking the Rikū-East Line is one of the most common ways of accessing Naruko Gorge, but I observed something that I think visitors should take note of: the train does not run very frequently, with only one train departing almost every hour from 9am onwards. Visitors making their way to the gorge should plan their travel itinerary properly, especially if they are making a day trip from another city.
Hopping on the train and making my way to Naruko-Onsen Station. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
At 9:20am, my train arrived and I made my way to Naruko-Onsen Station. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the train was packed with other travellers who were bound for the same destination as me, and looking forward to enjoying Naruko Gorge’s beautiful autumn foliage. My excitement began to build up from then on, as the train made its way through Miyagi’s countryside towards Naruko Onsen.
View of the countryside from the train. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Speaking of the countryside, the views of the rural areas as my train made its way towards Naruko Onsen were simply amazing. The hill slopes in the distance were gradually turning colours from greenish hues to warmer shades, and together with the clear blue sky, the scenery from the train window was so stunning that I couldn’t stop snapping photos.
② From Naruko Onsen to Ofukazawa Bridge
Arriving at Naruko-Onsen Station. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Visitors can get off at Naruko-Onsen Station to visit Naruko Hot Spring Village (鳴子温泉郷 Naruko onsenkyō), a hot spring resort located in the mountains in the northern part of Miyagi. It is a popular getaway destination for visitors wanting to soak in the natural hot spring baths while being surrounded by the natural beauty of the mountainous surroundings, as well as visiting popular spots such as Naruko Gorge.
Footbath outside Naruko-Onsen Station. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
There is a surprise for everyone arriving at Naruko-Onsen Station: just outside the station building is a footbath (足湯 ashiyu), which they can use to soak their feet and warm themselves up upon arrival at the hot spring village. It was also the perfect start for me, and it felt heavenly to dip my feet into the warm hot spring water amidst the chilly autumn weather.
Ideally, I wanted to take the bus from Naruko-Onsen Station to Ofukazawa Bridge (大深沢橋 Ōfukazawa bashi), or better yet, make my way on foot to the bridge if I had plenty of time on my hands. However, I was extremely short on time, so I decided to take a taxi instead.
③ Behold, the magnificent views of Naruko Gorge
Finally reaching Ofukazawa Bridge. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
During my taxi ride, I got a glimpse of Naruko Hot Spring Village’s stunning autumn foliage. I spoke with the taxi driver a bit and he mentioned that I was in town at a very good time, as the autumn foliage had begun to appear. He also told me that many local and foreign visitors were pouring into the village to see the autumn leaves, and I felt encouraged to hear that, especially when Japan had just reopened their borders to overseas travellers.
Naruko Gorge, enveloped in autumn foliage. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
And indeed, as I stepped out of the taxi and walked my way to the bridge, the spectacular sight of Naruko Gorge came into view and I was left mesmerised by its sheer grandeur. The 100m-deep gorge was blanketed in a sea of vivid autumn shades of gold, crimson, and orange, and I couldn’t stop myself from snapping photos away at the view in front of me. Just look at how magnificent the scenery was!
Other visitors and photography enthusiasts on the Ofukazawa Bridge. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
The Ofukazawa Bridge is a highly popular spot among visitors to enjoy the views of Naruko Gorge, and of course, I wasn’t the only one on the bridge admiring the sights. There were many other visitors there as well, along with a number of photography enthusiasts taking photos of the scenery. However, on top of the autumn views, they were there for something else as well.
Train emerging from a tunnel in Naruko Gorge. (Image credit: photoAC)
If you look closely at the gorge from the Ofukazawa Bridge, you can spot a tunnel in the far distance. It is where the train on the Riku-East Line emerges when it travels from Naruko-Onsen Station to Nakayamadaira-Onsen Station (中山平温泉駅 Nakayamadaira-onsen-eki), and this is a sight that visitors can look forward to while on the bridge. There is also a timetable nearby that visitors can refer to know when the train will emerge from the tunnel.
If you have the time and the patience to wait and catch this memorable moment, my advice is to find a good position on the bridge and wait under the right time comes before you start taking photos.
The view of Naruko Gorge from Naruko-kyō Resthouse. (Image credit: photoAC)
Want an alternative view of Naruko Gorge? Then head over to Naruko-kyō Resthouse (鳴子峡レストハウス Naruko resuto-hausu), where visitors can take a break and rest inside after walking around the area. The resthouse also features an observatory with a wonderful view of the gorge, and offers a good angle to see the Daiya River (大谷川 Daiya-gawa) below.
Naruko-kyō Resthouse (鳴子峡レストハウス)
Address: 13-5 Hoshinuma, Naruko Onsen, Osaki-shi, Miyagi 989-6832
Access: 1-minute walk from Ofukazawa Bridge (大深沢橋)
④ Other fun activities around Naruko Gorge
Ofukazawa Promenade. (Image credit: photoAC)
For visitors looking for other fun activities to do other than viewing Naruko Gorge, they can also check out Ofukazawa Promenade (大深沢遊歩道 Ōfukazawa yūhodō), a 2.2km walking trail that spans around the Naruko-kyo Resthouse. It offers visitors an intimate look at the area’s seasonal beauty, whether it is the verdant greenery during the green season, or the fiery foliage of autumn.
Ofukazawa Promenade during the peak of autumn. (Image credit: photoAC)
Ofukazawa Promenade was one of the places that I really wanted to check out during my visit to Naruko Gorge. However, due to time constraints, I didn’t have the opportunity to do so, and given how stunning the foliage was at the gorge, I felt really bad for not being able to even see the walking trail with my own eyes. The promenade has become a reason for me to come back to the area in the future.
Naruko kokeshi dolls around Naruko Hot Spring Village. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Naruko Hot Spring Village visitors would also notice unique and adorable wooden dolls everywhere. They are called Naruko kokeshi dolls (鳴子こけし), and it is said to be part of the local tradition since the end of the Edo Period.
There are many types of kokeshi dolls are found in different parts of the Tohoku Region, such as the Tsugaru style in Aomori Prefecture and the Sakunami style in Miyagi Prefecture, and the Naruko style has its own unique features, such as body patterns based around the chrysanthemum flower.
Naruko kokeshi dolls near Yumeguri Kairo Hand Bath. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
One of the first things I saw upon leaving Naruko-Onsen Station was a Naruko kokeshi doll, and there were lots more that I found all over the village when I made my way to the gorge. It was hard to miss them wherever I went, and it made me curious to learn more about their history and perhaps even get one as a souvenir.
Naruko Dam. (Image credit: photoAC)
Can’t get enough of Naruko Hot Spring Village’s seasonal beauty? Then check out Naruko Dam (鳴子ダム), which is located just a short drive away from Naruko-Onsen Station. Completed in 1957, it was Japan’s first concrete arch dam, and it was also built entirely by Japanese engineers.
Naruko Dam is famous for its surrounding views, and during autumn, the entire area is engulfed in a sea of vibrant autumn shades of red and orange. The surrounding views are also just as spectacular during the green season, when vivid greenery sweeps across the entire area around the dam.
Naruko Dam (鳴子ダム)
Address: Iwabuchi-2-8 Narukoonsen, Ōsaki, Miyagi 989-6711
Access: 7-minute taxi ride from Naruko-Onsen Station (鳴子温泉駅)
The Momijigō bus service. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Visitors heading to Naruko Gorge can take a 45-minute train ride on the Rikū-East Line from Furukawa Station to Naruko-Onsen Station. From the station, they can take a 15-minute ride on the Momijigō (紅葉号) bus service, which operates only during autumn, or a 10-minute taxi ride to Narukokyo Nakayamadaira Guchi Bus Stop (鳴子峡中山平口) to reach Ofukazawa Bridge. They can also choose to walk to the bridge, which would take approximately 60 minutes.
Take note that the departure and arrival timings on the Momijigō bus service are subject to change every year.
One last look at Naruko-Onsen Station. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Naruko Gorge is often regarded as one of the top spots in the Tohoku Region for viewing autumn leaves. After seeing it first-hand, I can wholeheartedly understand why many visitors flock to the gorge during the season to enjoy the autumn views personally. The sight of the beautiful gorge from Ofukazawa Bridge made me feel so glad that I made time to visit it.
There was only one regret I have about my time at Naruko Gorge: I simply did not have enough time to fully explore the area! I only had one morning to see the gorge, but I could easily see myself spending a whole day there instead. In fact, I would even relish the idea of spending the night at one of the many hot spring inns there for a complete autumn experience.
My first time at the gorge will not certainly be my last, and I can imagine spending much more time there for my next visit. If you want a memorable autumn experience, then this is one place that you shouldn’t miss.
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)
The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)
Want to visit Naruko Gorge and other beautiful spots around the Tohoku Region for your next autumn adventure? Then check out the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), an affordable pass that offers unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including the Rikū-East Line, bullet trains, and some Joyful Trains) in the valid area for 5 consecutive days. At ¥20,000, the pass is cheaper than a round-trip ticket between Tokyo and Furukawa (more than ¥22,000).
The pass can be used at the automatic ticket gates, and you can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains, and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here.
Header image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang, illustAC