Sounkyo Onsen 層雲峡温泉
Credit: lienyuan lee, Wikimedia
Ginga no taki, Sounkyo onsen
Credit: johnlsl, Flickr
Ryusei no taki
Credit: (WT-en) Jpatokal
Up in the clouds
Sounkyo Onsen is a hot spring town nestled in a gorge (nicknamed "The Cloud Gorge") north of Daisetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido.
The Soun gorge, flanked by 100-meter-high wooded cliffs, runs along the Ishikari River for 24 kilometers and attracts crowds for its lava formations, waterfalls and fall landscapes.
Sounkyo Onsen, the spa town, is very developed and is home to many hotels and ryokan. It's a good starting or ending point for those wishing to hike in Daisetsuzan National Park. Besides its hot springs, Sounkyo Onsen is also known for its two waterfalls that can be reached on foot or by car, the area being very poorly served by public transport.
To read: Daisetsuzan National Park
About three kilometers east of the village are the two famous waterfalls. Ginga no Taki ("Milky Way Waterfall") is made up of small streams with silvery reflections tumbling down the mountain. Ryusei no Taki ("Shooting Star Waterfall") is much more powerful and seems to spring from the mountain. Those in a hurry can admire the two sites from a parking lot on the other side of the river, while the more adventurous can take the hiking path (closed in winter) which starts from the car park and climbs up the mountain, allowing access (in 15-20 minutes) to an observation platform.
See also: The 7 waterfalls of Kawazu
Five kilometers up the valley, along the main road, the Obako ("big box") and Kobako ("little box") rock formations are also a must.
These sites are very popular with tourist groups, don't expect much serenity, especially in the fall (mid-September to mid-October, depending on the location) when the wooded cliffs turn a stunning yellow and red! The place is known as one of the earliest to admire autumn foliage.
The village is especially appreciated for its many hot springs. Those not staying at a hotel can still enjoy the baths that some hotels or ryokan provide (for an entry fee) or visit the public bath Kurodake no Yu in the city center. There are indoor and outdoor (single-sex) baths.
Sounkyo Onsen also offers hiking opportunities in Daisetsuzan National Park and Mount Kurodake. The Kurodake Ropeway Cable Car is right next to the Sounkyo Visitor Center, not far from the city center. At the arrival of the cable car, a chairlift leads to the summit of Mount Kurodake in one hour.
From late January to late March, the Sounkyo Onsen Hyobaku Matsuri (Ice Waterfall Festival) is held, where numerous impressive works of snow and ice are on display.
Daisetsuzan National Park
Credit: Dimitry B., Flickr
The cable car at Mt. Kurodake
Credit: pakku, Wikimedia
The chairlift at Kurodake
Credit: Mukasora ,