Autumn leaves 紅葉 (koyo/ kōyō) Festival at the Ranzan valley / Gorge in 2023.
Ranzan Valley¹ 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”. Last year, they just had a one day Autumn leaves festival, but in 2023, for the first time in five years, it will be on for two weeks.
¹ Ranzan Valley is also known as Ranzan Gorge or, in Japanese, Ranzan Keikoku 嵐山渓谷。
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. There are some really idyllic spots for river play along the Tsuki River, such as the Tochimoto Water Park or this spot the Emperor visited.
Ranzan Autumn Leaves Festival
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, but since the pandemic it was either cancelled or just on for one day. Moreover, in 2019 it was cancelled because the area was badly damaged by Typhoon Hagibis. In 2023, the autumn leaves festival will be on for two weeks, or 15 days to be precise, from Saturday November 18th to Sunday December 3rd. However, there are only events on for two days during that period. In 2023 that is, Saturday November 25th and Sunday November 26th.
Ranzan Autumn Leaf viewing routes
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. The parking during the autumn leaf period used to be half the barbecue season price, but the barbecue season now runs right up until the end of the Autumn leaf season and so parking costs 1000 yen. 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.
(2023.11.09 I have temporarily removed the Youtube video that was embedded here as in the SEO world many experts believe that Google are currently not indexing pages with embedded Youtube videos. This is a test of sorts!)
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 absolute best (have been so close, so often!). 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 2023
Event: Ranzan Valley Autumn Leaves Festival 嵐山渓谷紅葉まつり
Date: from Saturday November 18th to Sunday December 3rd 2023. The main weekend is Saturday November 25th and Sunday November 26th.
Time: the valley is open 24 hours, but the main parking is closed overnight. 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.) On November 25th and 26th the festival will be on from 9 am to 3 pm, weather permitting.
Cost: there is no charge to visit the festival, but there is a cost for the main parking lot. See the access paragraph below.
Venue: Ranzan Valley, 2857 Kamagata, Ranzan, Hiki-gun, Saitama 355-0225. View on Google Maps.
Please note, due to inclement weather conditions or the situation with the pandemic there maybe last minute changes or even cancellation, as happened several times in the past! Please do always check with the official website for any last minute changes.
There are a couple of different routes you can take on foot. 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. The main, large, parking lot at the barbecue area costs 1000 yen (double what it was before the pandemic). Please note, that the fee is not for one day, but for entry. In other words, if you pop to the shop or a cafe, you have to pay the 1000 yen parking entrance fee again to get back in.