About Hirayu Waterfall (Hirayu Otaki [平湯大滝])
The Hirayu Waterfall (Hirayu Otaki [平湯大滝]; also called Hirayu Great Falls or just Hirayu Falls) was a classic columnar waterfall that was accentuated by the onset of the koyo (Autumn colors) during our visit. An emphatic member of the Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls from the Ministry of Japan, we were impressed by its size (64m tall and 6m in width) backed by the volume of the Big or Great Falls River (Otakigawa; also written as 大滝川). In fact, I thought that this was my favorite waterfall of my second trip to Japan given how the falls impressed us as well as the seemingly right set of circumstances adding more to its scenic allure. And while my parents and I already had our fill of the hot springs experience at the nearby Shirahone Onsen, this waterfall was also near the town of Hirayu Onsen, which itself was its own hot springs resort town.
Speaking of hot springs, there was a story of the Shirozaru or white monkey, where soldiers who had recently attacked Hida managed to find their way to the Hirayu Waterfall. Apparently, a white monkey happened to be coming from behind the falls and headed to a hot spring further down the mountain (perhaps to bathe in it). Curious, the soldiers followed the monkey to the spring, and it was said that this was how the town of Hirayu Onsen was discovered some 450 years ago.
As for our excursion to visit this waterfall, it turned out that we had a lot of options, and it all revolved around a shuttle bus that went from the car park (see directions below) to the falls and back. The way we visited the falls was to spend the 100 yen per person to let the van shuttle us closer to the waterfall. Then, we spent several minutes just enjoying the views and hiking as close to the falls before a rope discouraged further scrambling due to the rockfall danger. We were here in the early afternoon (around 2pm) in mid-October so most of the falls was already in shadow behind the mountains around us, which might have been a good thing since the falls faced north (i.e. towards the southern sun). Anyways, after having our fill of the impressive falls, we then chose to hike the rest of the way back to the car park (covering a distance of 1km). The difficulty rating reflected this one-way shuttle approach that we took. However, we very easily could have chosen to shuttle in both directions (for the minimal amount of walking of probably around 5-10 minutes) or hike in both directions (for the maximal amount of walking covering about 2km round trip).
The hike back from the waterfall followed along the Otakigawa sloping gently downhill before veering into a valley with beautiful foliage as well as mountains surrounding us. Towards the end of the walk was a developed area with a reflective pond, some buildings (most of the services were closed as we were here on a weekday or the off season or something), and nice views towards both Hirayu Onsen as well as the mountains looking in the opposite direction towards the falls. Overall, we had spent about an hour away from the car, but we really took our time both around the waterfall itself as well as on the walk back.
From Takayama, the drive east to the turnoff for the Hirayu Great Falls was about 34km along the Route 158. Along the way was the Chosi Falls, which might be a worthwhile excursion if time permits (we didn’t have the time to do it when we were in the area). This drive took us about a little under an hour.
Coming from the other direction in Matsumoto, the drive west to the turnoff for the Hirayu Great Falls was about 51km along the Route 158. This drive would take nearly 90 minutes.
We actually came here from the Shirahone Onsen, which involved us driving nearly 4km along the Route 300 to join up with the Route 158. Then, we went west on the 158 for nearly 12km. Turning left at the next light just after paying the toll fee, we then drove about 200m before making another left to go right up to the well-signed Hirayu Falls. Overall, this drive took us about 30 minutes. Note that turning right at the light (instead of a left) would have taken us further down the mountain to the Hirayu Onsen. It was about 1.5km between this resort town and the nearest car park for the waterfall.
For geographical context, Matsumoto was about 220km (roughly 3 hours drive) northwest of Tokyo. Meanwhile, Takayama was about 157km (over 2 hours drive) north of Nagoya. Matsumoto and Takayama were about 85km from each other.
Finally, we should note that we paid 500 円 (yen) to park at the nearest lot. However, we noticed quite a few people who managed to park further down the hill closer to the Route 158 and walk up to the main car park to not have to pay that kind of money. Parking at the nearest lot apparently would have saved around 400-500m in each direction (or up to 1km round trip), which might have been close enough to justify not needing to pay the extra amount. Perhaps that might have explained why the car park was so sparsely populated.
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