Takachiho Gorge: One of the most beautiful places in Japan
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Have you ever seen an image on the internet of a fairytale setting with a waterfall flowing into a chasm and small colorful rowing boats on the river paddling through it? That’s s the Takachiho Gorge in Japan (高千穂峡), located in the Miyazaki Prefecture on Kyushu Island.
It’s without a doubt one of nature’s most beautiful places in Japan, and it was on top of my bucket list after saving this image on google maps in 2017.
Nao and I returned to Japan in October 2022 to visit her family, and it turned out to be not far from where she lives, so we decided to make a mini road trip in Kyushu.
As soon as we made it to this extraordinary place and were able to soak in its splendor with our very own eyes, we were astonished by how incredibly beautiful it is.
So here is the perfect guide on how you can admire this stunning place yourself including my personal experience, information on how to get there, where to stay, helpful tips, and beautiful photos that will inspire you.
What is the Takachiho Gorge?
The Takachiho Gorge is a narrow gorge formed by the rapid cooling of volcanic basalt columnar rocks after an eruption of the nearby Volcano Mt. Aso many years ago and has been further eroded by the Gokase River.
Together with the beautiful Minainotaki Falls that cascades down 17 meters over the cliffs in the middle of the chasm, it is considered the most beautiful place in Japan. These days you can rent a boat to paddle through the magical chasm yourself.
How to get to Takachiho Gorge?
When you are planning a trip to Japan to visit this natural wonder, it’s more convenient to make a day trip from Kumamoto to Takachiho Gorge even though it’s located in the Miyazaki Prefecture of Kyushu Island in Japan.
From Kumamoto, it takes about 1h and 45 min. to get there by car and if you don’t have your own transport, it might be better to join a Takachiho Gorge Tour with a guide from the city.
It is also possible to travel from Fukuoka, which is the largest and most popular city on the island of Kyushu. From Fukuoka, you can take a JR Train to Kumamoto and go from there to Takachiho. However, the easiest way is by car but the trip takes almost three hours, so you might want to combine it with some other stops along the way.
Best time to visit Takachiho Gorge
Autumn (October – November) and Spring (March – April) are two of the most popular times of the year and also the best times to visit Takachiho Gorge because during these seasons the foliage of the trees transforms into a colorful environment, which makes the gorge even more impressive.
As I visited at the end of November, when the leaves changed into bright orange, red, and yellow, the scenery was even more breathtaking than I could imagine.
Another thing you have to keep in mind if you are planning to visit this beautiful place in Japan is when you make a reservation online or at the office of the Takachiho Gorge boat rental as you need to select a time slot.
The best times to paddle into the chasm and admire the stunning glow that the sun creates on the waterfall are between 10h and 12h.
Takachiho Gorge boat rental
If you want to get the most out of this experience for yourself, it is highly recommended that you book your tickets for the rental boats in advance as there are only a certain number of rowing boats, and they are typically sold out several days in advance.
Especially during the busy period of autumn and spring when the foliage changes color, it’s best to book your tickets ahead. You don’t want to miss this unique experience in one of the most beautiful places in Japan.
We made our reservation for the rowing boat four days in advance, and the only time slot that was open was in the afternoon at 15h.
The best way to get tickets is online through the official website or at the ticket office next to the Takachiho Gorge. However, it’s possible that the tickets are no longer available at the spot.
How much does it cost?
Renting a rowing boat is not cheap and costs 4100 JPY (€ 29) on some weekdays and 5100 JPY (€ 36) during busier days and weekends for a half-hour trip. However, since three people can fit in a boat at a time, this price is still quite affordable if you go with three people.
You can easily check the prices on the calendar of the website. I reserved a boat on a Wednesday and paid 4100 JPY.
For me, it was a bucket list experience that was worth the money because it was something I have always wanted to do. And it appears that many people agree, as all boats were sold out for the next few days.
If you still want to experience this place on a budget, you can admire the surroundings from various viewpoints instead of renting one of the iconic rowing boats.
Where to stay near Takachiho Gorge?
There are a few places to stay near Takachiho, but they are frequently booked out, or very expensive as it is a very popular destination in the country.
Staying in Kumamoto or even Fukuoka, where you can find accommodations at prices that are more affordable would be an alternate option, especially when you travel on a budget.
During my road trip in Kyushu, I found a cozy but not too fancy mountain cabin at the Gokase Campsite & Guesthouse for AU$ 60. Gokase is a small community that is a 25-minute drive from the Takachiho Gorge and offers a stunning view of the surrounding landscapes.
READ ALSO: 21 Best hotels in Japan
Even though there were no tickets available anymore for the golden hour glow on the waterfall, we had to reserve a timeslot at three in the afternoon as this was the only available option, the trip from Kusu to the Takachiho Gorge is already stunning with many breathtaking views and beautiful landscapes.
Due to the popularity of the autumn foliage, there were so many visitors that the ticket office was closed to purchase tickets at the spot. However, if you have reserved tickets online, you still have to validate them in the ticket office.
As soon as we got there, we parked the car at the parking area right in front of the ticket office which cost about 500 JPY (€ 3,5) and was by far the most convenient parking area. It might happen that you have to wait until someone drives off before you can have a parking spot.
TIP: There are a few parking areas nearby for 300 JPY but these are located up the hill, so you have to walk down but also up and it’s a very steep road. The best parking is in front of the ticket office.
After validating the ticket, we had about a half hour before it was our turn to jump in one of the boats and row through the gorge, so it was the perfect moment to check out some of the nearby viewpoints.
The first viewpoint is from the top of the bridge, where you can get a breathtaking view of the brightly colored boats that paddle past the Minainotaki waterfall as they make their way through the gorge. Contrasted with the autumn colors of the beautiful nature all around, this created a really stunning image.
As you walk over the bridge, you can see in the distance the Tamatare Waterfall, which cascades down the rocks next to the road in the background of the Onokoro Pond, where several koi fish swim around. From there, we walked along the trail along the cliffs of the gorge to a lower viewpoint with a view of the Minainotaki Waterfall and bridge.
From this point, you have a beautiful view and at the right time of day, the sunlight will illuminate the Minainotaki Waterfall, making it appear as if it is glowing. A unique phenomenon!
Usually, you can walk a little further on the other side of the viewpoint, but due to the typhoon in October, access was restricted but we could admire the massive basalt rock columns from a distance.
TIP: Arrive at least 30-40 minutes earlier so you can explore the surrounding area.
After nearly 30 minutes, it was time to walk back to the parking as the stairs that lead down to where the boats are docked are right next to the ticket office. Once you reach the platform, you will be given a life jacket and a short instruction on how to row with the boat to the Minainotaki Waterfall, which is one of the best waterfalls in Japan.
It’s a tough row upstream against the current, but once you’re there, things start to feel a little less challenging. Don’t worry, there is a rescue boat that keeps an eye on every boat in case there is something wrong.
Normally, you are able to row behind the corner where you can admire the basalt columns. However, as a result of the typhoon, most parts were damaged in this area and it was closed for safety reasons.
Though, we could row to the location of the lifebuoys and stare up at the enormous rocks from there, which is impressive!
Because each boat is only available for 30 minutes, we slowly drifted back to the waterfall with the current so that we could take some more photographs there before heading back to the docking platform.
After the rowing experience through the gorge, you can still walk around the area as there are several souvenir shops and an awesome noodle restaurant that you definitely have to try!
At the noodle restaurant, you can eat noodles that have been prepared with the natural cold water that comes from the source of the waterfall and slide past you through a half-open bamboo tube. A truly one-of-a-kind experience!
Either before or after your rowing boat experience, depending on when you were able to reserve a time slot, it’s also a great idea to visit the Amanoiwato Shrine, which is one of the most important temples in Japan. It’s only a short drive away from the Takachiho Gorge and really impressive.
It was well worth a visit, and it’s a great place to go just before sunset because the views are stunning.
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Plan your visit to Takachiho Gorge with my favorite travel apps
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PICTURES AND EDITING
All the pictures on this page are made and owned by me. If you are interested in some pictures to use for your magazine, website, blog, or any other purpose, just send me an email and we’ll figure it out.
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The camera gear I used for this trip
I never go out without my camera and many people ask me which gear I use. So to make it quite easy, I listed all the gear I used for this trip below.
Most of the time, I travel with the Sony A7III and the Sony 24-105mm/f4 as my primary lens but depending on the location, I change to another setup. However, I love the Tamron 17-28 to shoot in the big cities.