Kurobe Gorge

Kurobe Gorge is a natural gorge in the mountains of Toyama prefecture. It's most famous for its Autumn leaves, but is beautiful at any time! However due to heavy snow, it's only open from May through to November. 
I went in mid October, which was just when the leaves were just starting to change. Late October to Early November is probably the best time to see the Autumn foliage - but that's also the busiest time!

This website has a lot of great info in English, but I'll summarize below anyway: http://www.kurotetu.co.jp/en/index.html

How to get there:

Step One: Accessing Unazuki 

To access the gorge, you must travel on the Kurobe Gorge Railway, which begins at Unazuki. So, therefore you need to get to Unazuki!
You can travel either by tourist bus, car or train.
Tourist buses arrive from various different locations, through various different companies (probably too many to list here). Just search for buses that go to Unazuki.
As for trains, there's a train line that runs from the JR Kurobe Onsen Station. If you can get there, simply transfer to the Shin-Kurobe Station and then catch the train to Unazuki.  This takes 20 minutes and costs ¥740 one way.
If travelling by car, simply enter the Unazuki Station into your Navi. There is parking right next to the station for ¥900 (for the whole day).
The road into the mountains. The cloudy weather makes them especially spooky looking.

Step Two: Buying Train Tickets

Once you arrive at Unazuki Station, you need to buy tickets for the Kurobe Gorge Railway. The tickets are scheduled with a specified carriage, so you can't just hop on whenever you want. You can either pre-purchase or buy on the day. When I pre-purchased the tickets, it said a lot of carriages were fully booked, when in reality most were empty! I have a feeling some carriages are reserved for on-the-day purchases, so don't worry too much about pre-purchasing, as long as you show up early.
There are three stations that you can depart at, but the most popular are Keyakidaira (the last stop) and Kanetsuri. I went to Keyakidaira, which cost about ¥4,000 return.
On the train, there are three carriage types to choose from:
リラックス車 (rirakkususha)- Relax Carriage. This is the best choice. The seats are wider and more comfortable with large windows - that can be opened - for full visibility. There are also heaters under the seats.
特別車(tokubetsusha). Special Carriage. This carriage is similar to the Relax Carriage however the seats are smaller and more cramped. It still has heating though, and the windows can be opened.
Open Carriage. This is definitely the worst. It's open-air, which is great for photos but absolutely freezing cold! Be  warned!
Outside the Kurobe Gorge Railway Station (Unazuki)
About 10 minutes before your scheduled departure you need to arrive at the entrance. If you have spare time, whilst waiting for the train, I recommend exploring the town. It has many beautiful streets and good viewpoints along the river.
Unazuki town

On the Train

During the train ride there are a lot of beautiful sites (even in cloudy weather).  The train switches from the left side to the right side of the gorge, so no matter where you sit, you'll have a view.
The full trip takes about 80 minutes, so be sure to use the toilet before you leave. And, if you can't bare to go that long without food/drink, bring a snack and eat it on the train! There are no restrictions on eating and drinking (even alcohol) on the train.
Train as it crosses a bridge
View from the train


At Keyakidaira there are a few things to do: 

Okudane Bridge

The first is to check out the big red Okukane Bridge which crosses the Kurobe River. If you're afraid of heights, don't look down!
Okukane Bridge


If you go down the stairs toward the river you'll find a foot bath on a platform overlooking the river, as well as another cafe. There's also another lookout platform 20 minutes walk down the river.
View of the Okukane Bridge from the river

Walking Trail

If you continue along the path over the Okukane Bridge, you will follow the river up into the gorge (which is really pretty). The full route takes about 50 minutes one way (so I recommend wearing sneakers or hiking boots) and has three tunnels to go through. If you're scared of tunnels I recommend bringing a torch as they're quite dark in places. After about 15 minutes you will reach a small cafe and onsen. 

Babadani Hell

But, if you're up for the full hike you can see a place called Babadani Hell at the very end of the trail. This is where the natural hot springs can be found. The area smells strongly of sulfur and is full of steam. The rocks are hot underneath, so don't stand in one place for too long!
Approaching Babadani Hell
The natural pools are creepily black and belch out sulfurous gas. They look enticing but are actually too hot to touch, so don't try entering them. But they're fun to look at!
The natural hot spring water
Beside the natural pools is a river. A man places rocks around to mix the hot spring water with the cool river water to form warm pools. This was pretty exciting as the pools would suddenly heat up making you dash out of the water screaming hot! hot! hot! Proceed with caution, but definitely try it out.
Trying out the pool

Babadani Onsen

Around the corner from Babadani Hell is the Babadani Onsen.

Babadani Onsen (on the right) overlooking the river

The water from Babadani Hell is piped straight in the onsen (but a little bit cooler) so it's an actual real onsen! To enter, go inside the first door on the building and press the chime to call the attendant. The entry fee is ¥600 yen. Girls go down the first staircase on the left, and guys go down the second. The water smells like sulfur and has a weird slimy precipitate from the hot springs, but it was lovely. Despite being a Sunday I was the only one there, and was able to sneak a picture. Unlike most onsens, there was no clean water to wash yourself. Instead you have to use the little buckets to wash yourself with the hot spring water (So maybe don't go to a fancy restaurant after unless you want to smell like eggs).
Inside the women's onsen
In the area a lot of wildlife exists. There are bears, weasels, deer and monkeys. I was lucky to come across a family of monkeys! They ran away as soon as I got close, but it was still super exciting to see.
Wild Japanese Monkeys
Overall Just visiting Keyakidaira made for a great day out. However if you arrive early it's probably possible to see Kanetsuri and Keyakidaira in the one day.  

If you choose to visit the Kurobe Gorge, I hope you have a great time! 

Maree May