Since Hokkaido is practically bursting with innumerable varieties of flora and fauna, it can be a bit daunting for even experienced nature hunters.
There’s simply too much, and having a local guide is the perfect way to get the right kind of introduction, especially if you’re looking for specific birds or other creatures.
When we arrived in Kamikawa at dusk we met first with Yohei Shimizu, a local nature guide and expert on the Kamikawa area, and went back to stay at the Sounkyo Hostel, which he founded as a base for the growing number of travelers coming to the area.
Before settling in to rest for the next day, we took a short walk into the typically pitch-black night which, on this occasion, was brightened by perfectly backlit trees using spotlights set-up by locals. We were in the peak season for fall colors, and this luminous display was the perfect way to start off our time in Kamikawa and the Sounkyo Gorge area.
As we headed back to the hostel we found that some deer apparently had the same idea, as they came down the mountain to check things out before scurrying back up the steep hills after we managed to get a shot off.
After an early breakfast at the hostel, we grabbed our modest gear and headed out for the day with Yohei.
As we mentioned in our profile of him, he knows these mountains and trails like the back of his hand, and also has a knack for guessing the weather conditions, so we were in good hands.
It had been raining and was fairly cloudy in the morning, so instead of heading up one of our major spots, the top of the epic Daisetsuzan, he brought us to some lower-lying valleys with better weather and lush vegetation.
One thing that really stands out in this area is the moss that grows on the boulders lining the valleys and canyons.
The boulders themselves are already quite impressive on their own, but the moss that grows all over them looks and feels like a shag carpet or the fur of a creature out of a Miyazaki film.
We’ve never seen anything like it elsewhere in Japan.
Venturing further on into the woods, Yohei pointed out lots of things we would have missed; Deep holes in trees from the local woodpeckers (who are quite large and can be seen often, and streams of sap coming out from other trees as part of their own healing process.
Since the weather cleared a bit we decided to give the ropeway up to Daisetsuzan a try.
The view from the cablecar is spectacular, and though the fog kept us from seeing the full view of the mountain range at the top, we were able to see mysterious, misty vistas below and around us during the ride.
While a bit disappointing that we couldn’t take in the view from the top of the mountain, that luckily gave us even more time to explore the Momiji Gorge, which was the highlight of our time there. The trek along the river through the gorge is slightly challenging in places, but fairly accessible to most hikers (proper footwear is advised, especially when wet).
As we walked along the trail back to the misty falls, all we could hear was the rustling of leaves and chirping birds.
As we walked along, Yohei explained about the landscape and local nature, and brought us all the way to the end of the trail where it’s cut off by a beautiful waterfall where we sat down, took a break, and had some of the coffee that Yohei was kind enough to bring along.
Then we headed back into town, surrounded by beautiful fall leaves and monolithic rock formations jutting out from the hills surrounding the gorge.
Going back into Sounkyo, we had a hearty lunch at Ramen House Tozanken, a charming little place in town with a tonkotsu ramen that absolutely hit the spot.
Afterward we popped into a nearby cafe for some coffee and cake, and spent some time talking with Yohei about the area, his work, and of course how we should spend the rest of our time in the area.
He was great in helping us plan, especially factoring in weather, daylight, travel time, and other variables that come naturally to him and got us on the right track.
Having experienced as much of Kamikawa and Sounkyo as possible in 24 hours, led by our able guide Shohei, we gave our thanks, said our goodbyes, and headed straight for one of the many local natural onsen baths.
As an “onsen town”, the baths and accompanying vistas were the main draws for tourists when the town was first developed and are naturally heated from the local geothermal vents (and feel amazing).
After freshening up, we hopped back in the car to go to the Daisetsu Mori no Garden which we’d heard so much about. One of Hokkaido’s best gardens, and only 30 minutes from Sounkyo, in the warmer months you can find 500 different flower species blooming across the hills and prairies.Our visit was a bit less colorful but still incredibly beautiful.
We took in a full view of the mountain range from afar while sitting in the garden cafe with incredible coffee and cakes made from local ingredients.
As if we needed any more hospitality, when we left the garden and set off for our next destination, a glorious double rainbow gave us the perfect farewell.