Distance: 9.4 km
Elevation change: 261 metres
Highest point: 1380 metres
Start: Nishizawa Keikoku Iriguchi Bus Stop
Finish: Nishizawa Keikoku Iriguchi Bus Stop
Emerald Waters of the Nishizawa Gorge
In the Kanto region there are few places more beautiful than the Nishizawa Gorge (Nishizawa Keikoku) 西沢渓谷 and surprisingly it is not all that well-known. I first stumbled upon the Nishizawa Gorge almost by accident returning from Mt. Kobushi last year, however with exhausted legs, I vowed to return another day.
One reason for the Nishizawa Gorge’s relative anonymity lies with the fact it’s an hour’s bus ride from both Enzan and Yamanashishi Stations. At Enzan Station 塩山駅 head out the south exit and transfer to a bus bound for the Nishizawa Gorge (1 hr, 1,050 yen). Note this timetable is seasonal. From mid-April to the end of September it runs only on weekends and public holidays. Exceptions to this rule include Golden Week, 9 July to 15 August and 1 October to November 20 where it runs daily. If hiking on a weekday out of season you will need to alight two stations further along at Yamanashishi Station 山梨市駅 and take a bus from there. Whichever bus service you decide upon both routes terminate at the Nishizawa Keikoku Iriguchi Bus Stop 西沢渓谷入口. If you’re coming by car there is free uncover parking beside the michi no eki. From the bus stop follow the road which dips under the Karisaka-michi 140 and continue along the road closed to traffic. After 20 minutes you will pass by a small picnic area and the Nishizawa-sansou which marks the start of the hike. Note the hike flows counter-clockwise.
Before entering the gorge you pass over a suspension bridge and a little further along there is a mountain trail pointing to Mt Keikan 鶏冠山 on your right as well as a surly warning that entry to the Higashizawa Keikoku is prohibited. The final descent is by way of a narrow trail and it is here the magnificent emerald waters of the Fuefuki River come into view.
Meandering along the clutches of the gorge you find many of the waterfalls and rock formations are given fitting names such as the Kaeru Ishi (frog rock) and Fugu Ishi (pufferfish rock). Given the popularity of the hike, safety is maintained through chained railings and wooden steps. After about 90 minutes from the trail head you finally arrive at the pièce de résistance the Nanatsugama Godan no Taki 七ツ釜五段の滝 which is appropriately bestowed as one the 100 best waterfalls in Japan. For a lunch stop continue heading up hill where there is a toilet and some stone benches to take in the view. From here you can also find the trail head to Mt. Kurogane 黒金山.
The return trip to the bus stop has a gentle gradient and follows an old narrow gauge railway that operated from 1933 through 1968 for transporting timber. Much of the remnant railway tracks remain and in sections you can see them dangling perilously where erosion has given way. In the railway’s infancy horses were used to haul up the empty carriages until arrival of diesel locomotives. The final section routes back past the rest area before heading back to the bus stop.
While the hike can be tackled year round, be prepared for heavy snow falls in winter and substantial crowds during the autumn season when the gorge plays host to colourful leaves koyo.