If you’re down in Hiroshima and have explored the city and history, head out to this stunning ravine for a hike you won’t forget.
An hour from Hiroshima by bus, the Sandankyo Gorge is a haven of fresh air and clear water, with everything you need for a unique day out in the Japanese countryside. With a variety of routes including one for couples, an intermediate one, and a full trekking course (which takes 5 hours), there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Leading up to Hijiri Lake, the gorge contains five famed scenery spots and is one of the Top 5 Special Valleys of Scenic Beauty in Japan.
Depending on whether you arrive by bus or car, and whether you plan to stay over night in the nearby hotel, you can explore the valley at your leisure, with water activities available too. If you’re lucky enough to go between late April and late November, you can ride a short boat through the Kurofuchi pool, and even enjoy lunch at a small restaurant on the other side.
Hiking Sandankyo Gorge
Regardless of which route you choose, you’ll be taking the same route to return—a handy tip to help you determine when you need to turn back to catch the bus. If you’re planning on seeing all of the five main sights, the hike will take around 4 to 5 hours in total, but a shorter route is available if you’re planning on going for lunch instead. All routes begin at the main entrance which is lined by a few small souvenir shops, a restaurant and hotel.
As you cross Nagabuchi Bridge, you’ll leave civilization behind and enter nature, so breath deep and feel the fresh air fill your lungs. There’s a small kayak rental shop on the far side of the bridge, so if you’re keen to explore the river up close and personal, enquire there for rates and availability. Nagabuchi itself is a deep pool filled by streams and marks the entrance of Sandankyo Gorge.
After an hour or so of walking, the first viewpoint you’ll reach is Shimaitaki. A waterfall with a name meaning “sisters”, which is actually two waterfalls that flow parallel to each other.
Next, at Tatsunokuchi, the river will become more intense, creating rapids.
On your right you’ll find a smaller waterfall called Akadaki, easily spotted with the red earth showing through.
You’ll soon arrive at Meotobuchi, a place for couples with an almost completely still blue pool. The tranquil water is one of the most scenic spots on the hike and has an elevated walkway, which may not be fun for those with a touch of vertigo.
Later, you’ll reach Ishidoi, a stone gutter (much nicer than it sounds), which is a stunning narrowed point of the river with high rocks on either side. Reminiscent of something from Jurassic Park, it is breathtaking, especially after heavy rainfall as the river rushes through.
Kurobuchi is one of the most famous spots, and the first of the five grand locations that earned the valley its (somewhat) prestigious title. A deep and narrow valley surrounded by 100–meter-tall rock faces, the river Shiwagigawa runs through it from the flat eroded area of between mount Uchiguroyama and Mount Shiwagiyama. This is the spot with the much-photographed boat rides, which are offered from late April to late November and take you through the mouth of the valley, for ¥500.
If you wish to reach the other side, you can enjoy a lunch of rice balls and grilled salmon at Kurofuchi-so, a small family-run restaurant. The food is cooked in fresh water from the river and you can enjoy your meal while looking out into the ravine. The restaurant is open during the boat season, but during rainy season it will only be open on weekends and bank holidays.
Depending on how much time you’ve allotted for the hike, you can continue on the trail up to the remaining key sights of Sarutobi, Nidandaki, and Sandandaki, or head back to the bus stop.
Getting to Sandankyo Gorge
This is the slightly tricky part: There is only one express bus that leaves Hiroshima bus center in the morning with enough time for you to explore before you have to catch the final bus home. Check with the center before you arrive to triple confirm the departure time, as many online timetables are outdated, and it may change. The bus leaves at 8:18 am and a one-way ticket is ¥1,480. Luggage can be stored in lockers at the bus station, or if they are full, stored for the same price at the terminal department office.
This post was originally published in May 2019. Last updated: March 2021.