Autumn leaves 紅葉, Ranzan valley / Gorge
Ranzan Valley (also known as Ranzan Gorge or Ranzan Keikoku in Japanese) is a beautiful nature spot with several hiking routes in the Hiki area of Saitama Prefecture. It is particularly popular in Autumn when the leaves are in various shades of red, yellow and green. It is known as the “Arashiyama of Musashi Country” due to its resemblance of Kyoto’s famous Arashiyama area. Furthermore, they are both written in the same kanji (Chinese characters) 嵐山。嵐山 can be read as either “arashi yama” or “ran zan”. This year, for the first time in three years, the ranzan valley autumn leaf festival is scheduled to go ahead. More details in the “information” section near the bottom of the post.
The Tsuki river runs through the gorge. I wrote in a previous post, about the Ranzan riverside barbecue spot, that the water isn’t the cleanest. However that is specifically by the barbecue area. The rest of the gorge has beautiful clear water. The Tsuki river is known within Saitama as being one of the cleanest, purest rivers.
The leaves in the Ranzan Valley typically change color around mid November and can be seen until early December. During the period there is usually an autumn leaves festival, generally held the Saturday and Sunday closest to November 23rd, Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan and a national holiday. There are food vans and events scheduled for the two day celebration of the Autumn leaves. Specific 2021 details in the information section near the bottom of the post.
There are five different walking courses you can use to take in the scenery. The focal point of each is the same; an observation deck with a rest area. Three of them are outlined below.
The main route
The main route, as Ranzan town pitches it, is the hiking course that starts from the Ranzan Valley Barbecue. This is the only route that has parking charges. During the autumn leaf period parking normally costs 500 yen. That’s half the barbecue season price, but in 2021 the barbecue season has actually been extended until December. The toilets are always open. And there are some vending machines. If you park here, the caretaker gives you a free (basic) map of the hiking courses. You also get a small leaflet with the 12 rules of the barbecue area. The two big surprises among the rules – no visible tattoos (I expect that at a pool or onsen, but a public nature spot) and no loud voices please!
This course brings you on a picturesque walk alongside the Tsuki river. You then cross over the river on stepping stones. As such, this course is not suited to a wheelchair or a stroller. In fact, unfortunately, due to the terrain of the paths, none of the courses are wheelchair or stroller friendly. On the far side of the stepping stones there is a quaint walkway that leads to the observation deck.
Alternative from the barbecue end
Fukurou no Mori, a cafe and stylish private barbecue area with a dog run, is North of the ‘main’ car park. It is also along the Tsuki river, close to the stepping stones. Their car park is free, if you are eating at the cafe. There is a stairs in their forest that leads to the stepping stones. It only takes about 15 to 20 minutes to get to the observation deck on this route from both the Ranzan barbecue area and Fukurou no Mori.
Kansui Bridge Course
On the way to the observation deck after you cross over the river you will see a sign to another walking / hiking course. That brings you down to the quaint Kansui bridge at the back of the Tsukigawaso Camping ground.
The main free car park is right on the border of Tokigawa town. There is a beautiful stone bridge that connects the two towns. I have searched high and low for the bridge name and I can’t find it. And unfortunately there was no name plate on the bridge either (that I could find anyway). The entrance to the walking course is east of the car park. Or you can climb down into the valley and carefully navigate the rocks to the Iwadatami.
This area is where Ranzan’s Iwadatami are. Nagatoro of course is famous for its tiered tatami looking stone formations. Ranzan’s is only small, but it is very distinct. The first time I visited I said “this looks like Iwadatami” and a by-passer said “yes, this is Ranzan’s Iwadatami”. Afterwards when I looked it up, I could see its clearly marked on Google maps. However, the free map they give you at the car park doesn’t have it marked. Possibly for safety reasons – you have to do a bit of climbing to get to the Iwadatami.
Ranzan Valley in Autumn
Ranzan Valley is definitely worth checking out in Autumn. Especially if you enjoy hiking. The main paths are suitable for kids that are old enough to walk. And you can make a hike as short as twenty minutes one way or explore all the different routes and the valley to make it a half day (or more!). Unfortunately, even though I live relatively close, I have yet to see it at its best. For one reason or another I haven’t been able to get there at the perfect time, yet. Just another reason to go back, again!
Ranzan Valley Information 2021
Season: generally mid November to the first week in December. In 2021, the various weather and tourism websites give varying dates of when will be prime viewing. But taking the average from those sites, the expected peak viewing period in 2021 will be from around November 13th to December 5th.
Festival: The 2021 festival is currently (October 30th) scheduled to go ahead for the first time in three years. The festival was cancelled in 2019 due to the significant damage in the area due to typhoon Hagibis. Last year, it was cancelled due to the pandemic. But this year it is back! It is scheduled for Saturday November 20th and Sunday November 21st. The festival is on from 9.30 am to 3 pm on those days. The festival area is at the Ranzan Valley Barbecue. Please note, due to inclement weather conditions or the situation with the pandemic there maybe last minute changes or even cancellation. Please do always check with the official website for any last minute changes.
Hours of the main car park: open Saturday to Thursday (closed Fridays) from 9 am to 4.30 pm during the barbecue season. The car park closes at 4 pm from November 1st to December 5th. (The car park is closed on Fridays except for during the summer holiday, Golden Week and Autumn leaf periods.) This year only, the barbecue area will also be available to rent two additional weekends in December – the 11th and 12th and the 18th and 19th.
Other car parks in the area are free. They are quite small so can often be very congested.
Cost of the main car park: During barbecue season the car park costs 1000 yen. However, for autumn leaf viewing, that is during November and early December it costs 500 yen. Please note that you can’t go out and come back on the same ticket. If you leave the car park once, you have to pay again to get back in.
Address: 2857 Kamagata, Ranzan, Hiki-gun, Saitama 355-0225
There are a couple of different routes you can take. The one that is mapped from the station, on Google maps, brings you in by the river on the autumn leaf side, so you don’t have to use the stepping stones. If you would like to incorporate the stepping stones, head towards the barbecue site car park. It is a scenic 40 minute walk from Musashi Ranzan station on the Tobu Tojo Line.
The car parks are all about eight kilometers from both the Higashimatsuyama and Ranzan Ogawa Interchanges of the Kanetsu expressway.