Yamagata Life Diary: Easy adventure hiking along the Omoshiroyama Momijigawa Gorge
An American friend of mine who used to live in Yamagata came back for a visit recently, and he sent me a message. “Let’s go hiking,” he said, and that’s how we ended up on the Omoshiroyama Momijigawa Keikoku hiking trail.
My friend and his traveling companion were coming by train, so I drove out to Yamadera and then another 20 minutes down a narrow mountain road (basically one-lane all the way and littered with fallen rocks in places) out to Omoshiroyama Kogen Station, an unmanned and serenely silent JR station which seems to sit in the middle of nowhere.
To get to the upstream start of the hiking trail, we crossed the road above the train tracks and found the entrance to the trail conveniently indicated by a few signs and a white arrow painted on the road. After a short descent down a dirt path and a few rusty metal stairs, suddenly a waterfall was gushing down on our right and we were plunged into the unexpectedly dramatic world of the Omoshiroyama Momijigawa Gorge.
It’s remarkable how this trail manages to be basically safe and not technically difficult – a place that local elementary schools can take their students on short excursions – but still pretty thrilling at the same time. The first part of the hike had pronounced (at least to me) overtones of Indiana Jones, with huge boulders, moss-covered rocks and jungle-like foliage, and delicate arched bridges that seemed to belong to another age.
Steep rock walls rose up on both sides and the river rushed through narrow channels, while the trail wandered down one side of the gorge, then traversed one bridge or another to continue down the other side. The wooden planks of some of the bridges were significantly chipped in places, and combined with slippery metal pipe ladders and rickety old suspension bridges which wobbled in a stomach-turning way when you walked across them, there was definitely a touch of adventure in the air.
The second half of the hike was more placid and mostly involved walking on flat paths carved into the sides of the gorge. But while the trail as a whole is generally flat, it is also quite narrow, and water seeping down the rock walls leaves some sections slippery and slick even on the hottest days of summer. There are also a few rocky areas, and the path can get pretty close to the river in places, so it’s best to watch your step.
Tiny lizards – brown ones and electric blue-tailed ones – scurried about underfoot, and every time I stopped to take a photo, a dragonfly would alight on my cell phone. However, I also heard reports of a recent bear sighting on this mountain road, so it is probably best not to assume that everything you encounter will be cuddly and cute (assuming that you agree with me that dragonflies and lizards are cuddly and cute).
Less than an hour and a half after we started, we were climbing up a final set of metal stairs and through a short tunnel, and then we found ourselves back on the mountain road. From this point, you can either turn around and walk 1.7 km (about 30 minutes) back to Omoshiroyama Kogen Station, or continue 5.8 km in the other direction to Yamadera Station.
On the day we visited, the hydrangeas were in full bloom, but as the “Momijigawa” (literally, “red maple leaves river”) name implies, this would no doubt be a gorgeous place to visit in autumn. If you have a half-day to spare and are looking for an easily accessible mini adventure, it’s hard to think of a more perfect place than this.