Lake Towada and Oirase Stream: an Autumn Trip

While Lake Towasa has been on top of my list since I moved to Japan as a fall destination, it was only this year that I could find the opportunity.

Scheduling a trip for the peak fall colors is not a very easy task. As also discussed in my first post about autumn in Japan (where I wrote about my foliage trip to Nikko), there are many very useful fall foliage forecast sites. But with so many moving parts, changing temperatures and the need to plan a trip up to Tohoku at least a week in advance, there is never a guarantee that you will be on time for the peak colors.

Oirase Stream in Lake Towada

I visited Towada in late October, as the first leg of my week long trip to Tohoku. I stayed at Lake Towada Adventure Lodge right by the lake, great location but the hotel could use some upgrading work.

Visiting Lake Towada and Tohoku with JR East Pass

As many foreign passport holders living in Japan, I benefited from the JR East Pass (it used to be a three days pass and now replaced by the longer 5 days Tohoku Pass) and took the first Shinkansen out of Tokyo (at 6.30 am) to get off at Hachione Station. Soon after I got on the JR Bus (for the bus schedule) for Lake Towada (costs 2,200 Yen one way). The bus is scheduled to accommodate the Shinkansen passengers and departs 15 minutes after the trains arrival time (follow the west exit and turn right). 

Oirase Stream Hike - Hikes in Japan

You can also take the bus from Aomori, also served by Shinkansen, if it works better with your itinerary. Advance reservations for the bus are not accepted but there is no need to worry as they arrange the number of buses in accordance with the number of passengers. The bus ride to Lake Towada takes around 2 hours (3 hours if departing from Aomori).

As for transportation within Towada, there is a public bus that runs frequently between Lake Towada and Oirase Stream with many bus stops along the way.

Oirase Stream, the autumn wonderland

Oirase Stream, 15 minutes by bus from Towada, is one of the most popular fall destinations in Tohoku. It is also definitely worth the hype. 8-kilometers long hiking trail follows the stream and also takes you through several waterfalls. I am not very much into the long exposure waterfall photography but if you are, it probably does not get any better than the Oirase Stream. The hiking trail that follows Oirase is entirely flat.

Oirase Stream Hike - Hikes in Japan

Oirase Stream trail leads all the way down to Nenokuchi (where you can catch the JR bus back to Lake Towada) and follows the traffic road (but do not worry the sound of the stream mutes the road sounds). There are few sections where you need to walk along the car road. Keep in mind that there are not any vending machines or restaurants along the way so you should pack your own water/drinks/food.

Beautiful morning visiting Towada Shrine

While the main attraction point in Towada Lake area is Oirase Stream, there is another site, which equally deserves a trip on its own.

Towada Shrine (十和田神社) was definitely the very unexpected highlight of my Towada trip. I was so focused on Oirase Stream that I would not visit the Towada Shrine if I did not have some time to kill before the first bus to Oirase Stream. I am glad that I did.

There are multiple short trails that start from the town and lead to Towada shrine. The shrine is reported to be founded in 9th century and occupies an exceptionally beautiful place in the forest. You can also hike up a hill to reach a smaller shine with views of the lake. As the warning signs remind you, the shrine is located in the bear country. So it would not hurt to watch out and avoid evening hikes.

How to get to Lake Towada and Oirase Stream

If you are departing from Tokyo or any other major city in Japan, you can take the Shinkasen to either Aomori or Hachione and then jump on the JR bus to Towada area. JR East Pass is now available (as of 1 April 2021) to non-Japanese passport holder Japan residents and is an amazing deal allowing you five consecutive days of rides in any JR train serving Tohoku for the price of a one way shinkansen ticket to Aomori from Tokyo (one person can buy more than one pass as I did).

For trips within the region,JR Bus Tohoku is an ideal option to travel within the are with frequent enough services. Renting a car is obviously the most ideal option with the freedom it allows you but I found the public transportation reliable enough not only in Lake Towada area but also in Tohoku. I could visit every destination I wanted (even outside of urban areas) relying on regional or local transportation.

Where to eat in Lake Towada

Full disclosure, definitely not a gourmet here. Atmosphere is usually more important for me than the taste of food. During my trip to Lake Towada, I really enjoyed the sleek design of Yamaju and my early dinner of Japanese style curry. As for lunch, I had gyudon at Cafe Ikoi run by two lovely ladies right by the lake. The highlight was my simple toast and coffee breakfast at Marine Blue though, a cozy cabin style cafe again sitting right by the lake.

Where to stay in Lake Towada

Towada Adventure Lodge offered large rooms (in Japanese standards) overlooking the lake with old style decoration for reasonable prices (4,000 Yen a night with Go To Campaign discount). The owners were very kind and offered me a ride to the Oirase trailhead when I would have to wait for the next bus. The heating in the room was a bit noisy though making me to overdress and turn off the heater to be able to sleep.