Sanbon Waterfall (Sanbon-daki [三本滝])

Norikura Highlands / Matsumoto / Takayama, Nagano, Japan

About Sanbon Waterfall (Sanbon-daki [三本滝])

Hiking Distance: 1.8km round trip
Suggested Time: 45-75 minutes

Date first visited: 2016-10-20
Date last visited: 2016-10-20

Waterfall Latitude: 36.11855
Waterfall Longitude: 137.59393

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The Sanbon Waterfall (Sanbon-daki [三本滝]; Sanbon Falls) was a three-segmented waterfall that was one of the more unusual waterfalling experiences that we’ve had in Japan. From reading the kanji signs pertaining to this falls, we had already guessed that the waterfall had something to do with being in three pieces so it could be translated to mean the triple falls or that each of the three segments of the falls came from different sources (and converged in this one spot). Each of the waterfalls was said to have a height of 50-60m but it was hard for us to get a real handle on them as it was very difficult to try to capture the waterfalls in a meaningful photograph without some dicey scrambling and bouldering. Even though we thought we had gotten an early start to visiting this falls, there were actually a handful of photographers with tripods who were already here seeking out a way to compose their photographs before the crowds would arrive.

The rightmost waterfall, which slid down a sloping bed of a former lava flow, was said to be named Kuroisawa Falls. The middle waterfall, which had more of a vertical plunge, was called Honsawa Falls. This waterfall flowed on the Koonogawa or Koono River, which was the main river system that was also responsible for the Zengoro Falls and Bandokoro Falls among others further downstream. The leftmost of the trio of the Sanbon Waterfalls was said to be called Mumei Falls, which ran on a watercourse that was not officially named.

One of the early bird photographers standing on a rock between the middle and leftmost of the Sanbon Falls
Although we noticed that there was more than one car park for the Sanbon Waterfall, we started from the highest car park (see directions below), which also happened to be the one yielding the shortest walk. This car park also happened to be where shuttle vehicles could take us up (for a fee) to the top of Mt Norikura for a 360-degree panorama. Anyways, our hike ended up being about 1.8km round trip and took us a little over an hour to do. We started off by hiking gently downhill through a clearing to the right of the large wooden building backing the car park. We then reached a junction where it turned out that this was the beginning and end of a loop hike taking in the Sanbondaki.

Keeping right at this junction (so we were hiking counterclockwise), the clearing eventually closed in and we found ourselves hiking through a pleasant forested area as the trail continued to make its gradual descent. Along the way, there was another trail junction where we kept left to continue to the Sanbon Falls, but I did briefly check out the other trail, which provided a view of some smaller cascades on the Koonogawa River. Anyways, the main waterfall trail then started to go up some steps before traversing a suspension bridge right above a pretty tall intermediate cascade. Just on the other side of the bridge, the trail then bent around some giant rocks before finally terminating at the head of the ravine where the three waterfalls of the Sanbondaki converged.

During our visit, we happened to show up when there were deep contrasts between the brightly lit up area towards the top of the falls and the shadowy areas towards their bottoms. Such conditions weren’t conducive to taking meaningful photographs due to the high dynamic range that was required so if I had to do this all over again, I’d either visit late in the afternoon when everything would be in shadow or very early in the morning for the same reasons. Either that or I’d show up on an overcast day when the lighting would be even under the clouds.

On the return hike, we kept right at the junctions to complete the loop. This branch of the trail involved going up a lot of steps so I’d imagine that we made the right choice in doing the hike in a counterclockwise manner as I’d generally recommend gradual descents (to save the knees) and shorter but steeper ascents (so the pain of going uphill isn’t prolonged).


We drove to the Sanbon Waterfall from Matsumoto so this is how we’ll describe the driving directions. We first drove west on the Route 158 from the JR Station at the city center for around 32km. As we were deep into the scenic mountains skirting the Azusako (Lake Azusa), the 158 passed through a series of tunnels, but in one of the openings between tunnels was the turnoff going to our left onto the Road 84 into the Norikura Highlands (or Norikura-kogen or 乗鞍高原). We then followed the Road 84 for about 17km (going past the National Park Vacation Center en route) to the end of the public access part of the road. This was where there was the car park for the Sanbon Falls, which had a fairly big lot next to a large wooden building. The hiking trail began to the right side of the building. Overall, this drive would take us a little over an hour. It was roughly 15-20 minutes drive past the Bandokoro Falls.

To give you some geographical context, Matsumoto was around 3.5 hours by train from Tokyo. As for the context by self-driving, the direct route passing through Kofu en route was said to be 221km or about 2.5-3 hours. Going in the opposite direction, Matsumoto would be 85km or under 2 hours drive east of the charming city of Takayama.

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Examining all three segments of the Sanbon Falls from the end of the official trail

Checking out some more intermediate cascades downstream of the main falls as seen from some suspension bridge

360 degree sweep from a footbridge on an alternate trail examining some cascades just downstream of the main falls

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Tagged with: nagano, norikura, highlands, matsumoto, japan, waterfall, matsumoto-jo, matsumoto castle, shirahone onsen, kogen, japan alps, zengorou, sanbon, bandokoro, takayama, top 100

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