Easy hiking along the picturesque Oirase Keiryu!
Probably my favourite place in Tohoku, Oirase Keiryu (奥入瀬渓流 Oirase keiryū) is an extremely picturesque mountain stream flowing out of Lake Towada, near the border of Aomori and Akita prefectures. The best sights to enjoy are its renowned yellow foliage during autumn (late October to early November), and fresh verdant greenery in early summer (mid-May to June).
Although both seasons offer cool and comfortable temperatures, why not visit both so that you can enjoy the different colours. The rustling of the leaves above, the fresh air and the sound of flowing water make hiking here very relaxing, and are what I look forward to every time I visit (four times in four years so far!).
A relaxing and picturesque hike
Enjoying waterfalls along Oirase Keiryu. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Running alongside Oirase Keiryu is an easy-to-walk and relatively flat hiking path that is suitable for almost everyone. I highly recommend walking upstream, towards Lake Towada, so that you can see the water flowing towards you! There is something soothing about the sound of moving water, don’t you think so? It drowns out the background noise, the stressful thoughts, and calms the mind (at least for me!). The moving water also discharges a lot of negative ions, which bring you more energy and positive vibes! Maybe it is a mindset, but being in nature always makes me feel at ease, and recharges me when I feel drained from work.
While the dynamic views and ambience of Oirase Keiryu are best enjoyed hiking, frequent buses run parallel to the walking path, so no worries about bringing along young children and the elderly to enjoy the captivating sights as well. Do note that most parts of the trail might not suitable for bringing wheelchairs and baby strollers, as they are mostly unpaved dirt trails.
Lush greenery at Oirase Keiryu stream in mid-May. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
The entire stream runs 14km from Nenokuchi on the banks of Lake Towada to Yakeyama, but I would suggest the 6km stretch between Kumoi no Taki Waterfall (雲井の滝) and Choshi Otaki Waterfall (銚子大滝) for casual hikers. It should take around 1.5–2 hours when going at a leisurely pace, including photo stops. From there it is another 30-minute walk or 5-minute bus ride to Nenokuchi (Lake Towada), where you can catch a sightseeing boat across the lake.
Kumoi no Taki Waterfall (left) and Choshi Otaki Waterfall (right) during summer. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
I love Oirase Keiryu as you can enjoy nature up close while hiking along the scenic path, with dozens of waterfalls and virgin forests easily accessible by foot. And it is not just the beautiful scenery—the sound of the moving water from the stream and waterfalls is soothing; the air is cool and clean; and the fresh scent of the trees is calming. Hiking here recharges me and makes me feel happier. If you come from a tropical city like I do, you will know that this atmosphere is something you cannot experience at home, where it is always hot and humid. If you have more time, or enjoy hiking like I do, I recommend the 8.8km stretch between Ishigedo (石ヶ戸) and Nenokuchi (子ノ口), which will take around 3 hours with photo stops.
The Oirase Stream Eco-Tourism Project’s site has a very good English map with the hiking distances and times here. The route is pretty straightforward and runs alongside the stream. No special hiking gear is needed, just a sturdy pair of shoes. But don’t forget to pack an umbrella or your rain gear as there might be unexpected showers, especially in summer.
Enjoy vibrant yellow foliage in autumn
Autumn foliage at Kumoi no Taki Waterfall (left) and Oirase Keiryu stream (right). (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
From late October to early November, you can enjoy vibrant shades of golden yellow along the stream, making it a very popular viewing spot for autumn colors among local Japanese travelers. If you are not a fan of hiking, or cannot walk too much, make use of the bus to enjoy the scenery, only getting off to take photos and soak in the fresh air, then getting back on the next bus to head to the next photo stop. JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) holders can ride the bus for free.
Autumn colours at Choshi Otaki Waterfall (left) and Kudan no Taki Waterfall (right). (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Some of the highlights along the route are the abundant waterfalls, with the largest being the Choshi Otaki Waterfall (銚子大滝 Chōshi-ōtaki). Although not a very tall waterfall, it is relatively wide, and the powerful sound of the falling water drowns your worries away. About 10 minutes by foot from Choshi Otaki is the Kudan no Taki Waterfalls (九段の滝), and if you look closely you can see the nine levels (kudan means nine levels) where the water elegantly cascades down! Another must-see is the Kumoi no Taki Waterfall (雲井の滝), just a few steps away from the Kumoi no Taki bus stop.
Take a boat ride across Lake Towada
Lake Towada’s autumn colors (left) and sightseeing boat (right). (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
After making it to Nenokuchi, it’s time to take it easy. Sit down and enjoy a 50-minute sightseeing boat across Lake Towada (十和田湖 Towadako), the largest caldera lake on mainland Japan. A ticket for the sightseeing boat costs about ¥1,400, and takes you to Yasumiya on the other side. Click here for the sightseeing boat information and timetable in English. There are also places serving simple food and selling souvenirs on both sides of the lake. From Yasumiya, you can take a JR bus back to JR Aomori Station (2 hours 45 minutes) or JR Hachinohe Station (2 hours 15 minutes).
JR Tohoku bus stops at Lake Towada (Yasumiya) (left) and JR Aomori Station (right). (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Oirase Keiryu (Kumoi no Taki bus stop) is a 2-hour 10-minute bus ride from JR Aomori Station, or a 1-hour 45-minute bus ride from JR Hachinohe Station. Buses from both stations are operated by JR Tohoku Bus, and are fully covered by the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area). For non-pass holders, there is a 2-day unlimited ride ticket (青森･八戸･十和田湖フリーきっぷ Aomori･Hachinohe･Towadako furīkippu) for ¥5,000. (For reference, a one-way trip from Aomori to Yasumiya is ¥3,140). You can check the bus timetable here. The bus operates on a first-come-first-served basis. Reservations are not possible.
There are many bus stops along the stream, and buses run frequently during summer and autumn. If you are not a keen hiker, or if you are travelling with the elderly or young children, you can get off at photo spots to take photos, then hop back on the next bus.
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)
The new JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)
If you are thinking of visiting Oirase Keiryu, check out the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 5 consecutive days. At only ¥30,000, it costs less than a round-trip between Tokyo and Aomori (~¥35,000). 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, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation. The JR bus between Aomori and Oirase Keiryu/Lake Towada, and Hachinohe and Oirase Keiryu/Lake Towada can also be ridden for free with the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)!
The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)
During winter, the bus only operates on certain days, so the best way to enjoy Oirase Keiryu in winter would be to stay at the only hotel along the stream – Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel. Check out my other article on enjoying Oirase Keiryu’s winter scenery!
Header image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh