The Waterfalls of Norikura Highlands

One of my absolutely favorite things to see in nature are waterfalls – and Norikura is one place that has plenty. In fact, the most well-know waterfalls in Norikura are all easily accessible from the nearest parking lot or bus stop without requiring miles of hiking.

Each waterfall has its own unique characteristics and each is worth seeing at least once, if not more. I’ll introduce all the major ones here, but let the photos do most of the talking. I’ve also included a map at the end of this post.

Great Bandokoro Waterfall (番所大滝)

Located less than 10-minute downhill hike from the Path to Otaki (Falls) bus stop/Otaki parking lot. With a 40-meter drop and huge volume of water, this waterfall is one of the most impressive and powerful of all of Norikura’s falls. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can continue hiking the trail that leads down the canyon along the stream.

Bandokoro Falls

Bandokoro Falls

The canyon below the Great Bandokoro Falls

The canyon below the Great Bandokoro Falls

Sengenbuchi Falls (千間淵滝) and Little Bandokoro Waterfall (番所小滝)

These two waterfalls are located on the same trail and same stream as the Great Bandokoro Waterfall (use the same bus stop/parking lot). Though much smaller and perhaps less impress the the “Great” waterfall down stream, the surrounding forest and sunlight trickling through the leaves gives these falls their own special appeal. To reach furthest waterfall, Sengenbuchi Falls, you only need to hike about 15-20 minutes, but the trail can be a little rough at some points.

I wouldn’t pass up seeing Sengenbuchi Falls – here the stream has carved out a natural alcove on either side of the waterfall, making for some remarkable scenery.

The path to Sengenbuchi and Little Bandokoro Falls

The path to Sengenbuchi and Little Bandokoro Falls

Little Bandokoro Falls

Little Bandokoro Falls

Sengenbuchi Falls

Sengenbuchi Falls

Zengoro Falls (善五郞の滝)

Legend has it that a lumberjack named Zengoro was drug into the waterfall by a huge fish caught on his fishing line, hence the name Zengoro Falls. Like the Great Bandokoro Waterfall, Zengoro Falls is also quite impressive with its 21.5-meter drop and 8-meter width. Since the forest canopy above the waterfall is open, you have a good chance of seeing a big rainbow formed in the falls’ mist. And speaking of mist, prepare to get a little wet if you want to see Zengoro from the nearest platform!

You can reach the falls by an easy, 30-40-minute hike from either the Norikura Kogen Tourist Information Center or the Kyukamura hotel/hot spring (both have their own bus stops and parking lots). There is also a small parking lot along the road between the Tourist Information Center and Kyukamura; if you walk from there it will only take 15 minutes.

P.S. Although I haven’t seen it yet, in the winter, Zengoro Falls freezes completely creating an amazing, natural ice sculpture. Renting snowshoes to hike down to Zengoro is apparently the best way to go and see the frozen falls! (You can get an idea of what it looks like in the Japanese blog article with photos here.)

The path to Zengoro Falls

The path to Zengoro Falls

Zengoro Falls

Zengoro Falls

Sanbondaki Falls (三本滝)

The first time I saw Sanbondaki Falls, I was awestruck. Sanbondaki is actually a combination of three separate waterfalls that surround you with roaring water from almost all sides. One waterfall runs down humongous boulders, dropping from the river above, and gradually fans out into a wide and beautiful falling stream. The second waterfall is a narrow, yet powerful and straight drop falling off the ridge of rock wall. And the third waterfall is a small trickle that falls from the forest high above the stream. Here, you can climb up on of the giant boulders at the bottom of the falls and soak in all the glory of magical atmosphere of Sanbondaki.

The falls are an easy 20-25 minute hike from the Sanbondaki Parking Lot/Sanbon-daki (Falls) Bus Stop. The hike itself is very enjoyable, with boardwalks and a mossy forest along the way.

Along the trail to the waterfalls

Along the trail to the waterfalls

Sanbondaki

Can you find the rainbow?

Can you find the rainbow?

Sanbondaki

Map of Waterfall Locations

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