One of the most scenic places in the Yoshino District is probably Mitarai Valley (みたらい渓谷) in Tenkawa Village (天川村). The valley that boasts of being one of the most stunning valleys in the Kansai region is located where the Yamagami River (山上川) that flows from Mt. Ōmine (大峯山) joins the Amano River (天ノ川). It is a masterpiece of nature where large and small waterfalls flow down the large rock wall at the foot of the mountain.
Mitarai, written as “御手洗” in Chinese characters, has the meaning of hand-washing. The valley got this name because Emperor Godaigo’s son, Prince Moriyoshi (護良親王), washed his hands here after he won a war.
The 7.4 km promenade leading to Dorogawa Onsen (洞川温泉) is picturesque throughout the year and attracts many nature lovers every year. Furthermore, the hot spring in Dorogawa Onsen Town at Yamagami River’s upstream has been known to be effective in healing one’s body since ancient times. Perfect for you to indulge in after a 3-hour hike (the 3 hours here include resting time along the course)!
Getting to the Hiking Trip’s Starting Point
The 2-hour hike to Dorogawa Onsen starts at Tenkawa Village Tourist Information Center (天川村総合案内所). You can source a hiking map from here, and if you have any questions about traveling in Tenkawa Village, the staff here will be more than happy to answer you (albeit their English might not be good).
To get to Tenkawa Village Tourist Information Center, from Kintetsu’s (近鉄) Shimoichiguchi Station (下市口駅), catch Nara Kōtsū’s (奈良交通) bus bound for Dorogawa Onsen (洞川温泉) or Nakaiosumi (中庵住) and get off at Tenkawakawai (天川川合). The information center will be right in front of you.
For the timetable of the bus services, you can use Google Chrome’s translation function at the address bar’s right to translate Kintetsu’s set ticket webpage HERE.
At the moment, we can’t figure out why the set ticket is marketed as a discount ticket because when we sum up the cost of each segment of the trip (train + bus), it is a lot cheaper to buy the single-use ticket. However, you can double-check with the Kintetsu station staff when you get there.
For the hiking course’s map, HERE is a map in Japanese.
From Tenkawa Village Tourist Information Center, you can stop by the village’s farmers’ market Koji no Eki Ten (小路の駅「てん」 ), to grab a few locally made snacks. One of the Top 100 Japan’s Famous Fresh Stream (日本名水百選) – Gorogoro-mizu (ごろごろ水) is also sold here.
Gorogoro-mizu is the stream flowing out of the Goyomatsu Limestone Cave (五代松鍾乳洞), also in Tonkawa Village. The water was named after the flowing sound of water echoing in the limestone cave (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
From Tenkawa Village Tourist Information Center to Mitarai Valley’s Promenade
From the farmer’s market and crossing the traffic light not too far away, the next landmark is the Kawainotsuri Bridge (川合の吊橋), hidden in the road lined with people’s houses. If you are chatting with your companions, you can easily miss the bridge, so please follow the above link to Google Maps (^_-)-☆.
Although you haven’t got to the trailhead of Mitarai Valley’s promenade, its beauty can already be adorned from the bridge!
Important: If you are coming in a group of more than 5 people, please ensure that only 5 people are on the suspension bridge at any given time for your safety.
After around a 15-minute walk along the road from Kawainotsuri Bridge, you will be at the entrance of Mitarai Valley’s promenade! Referring to the photo, they made the trailhead really obvious so no one can possibly miss it (^_-)-☆. The red bridge next to it can be a perfect landmark to look for this entrance too!
The promenade is nicely situated in the forest that, even in summer, still won’t be too hot. The entire trail is flat enough that even those who don’t usually work out can still trek through easily. However, hiking shoes are still recommended as parts of the promenade can be muddy, especially after rain.
After trekking for around 20 – 30 minutes, you will cross another suspension bridge. This time, you can have up to 10 people on the bridge at any given time.
Crossing the bridge means you are very close to the Mitarai Resting Area (みたらい休憩所), where toilet facilities are located.
Then, when you are ready, cross that bridge next to the Mitarai Resting Area to enter the highlight of the entire course, where Mitaraikai Valley Tsuri Bridge and Mitarai no Taki Fall are located!
Mitaraikai Valley Tsuri Bridge (ミタライ峡吊橋) and Mitarai no Taki Fall (みたらいの滝)
Immediately after crossing the bridge, you will climb up a set of staircases, which might be the second most tiring part of the hiking course.
At the end of the staircases is the Aiden Bridge (哀伝橋). The 85-meter-long bridge is the longest bridge in the 7.6 km hiking course.
The view of Aiden Bridge in the valley is simply amazing!
Hiking further from Aiden Bridge, you will get to where those people stand in the photo. In summer, it is a great spot to enjoy the coolness of the cold and clear mountain stream.
There are some steep slopes to hike from here to the next attraction in the valley.
The Second Part of the Hiking Trip
At the end of the slope is the 15-meter-tall Hikari no Taki Fall (光の滝).
At the end of the slope is the 15-meter-tall Hikari no Taki Fall (光の滝).
Then, after around 15 more minutes or so, you will get to the trailhead of Mt. Kannonmine (観音峯). From there to the summit, at an altitude of 1,285 meters, a one-way trip will take about 90 minutes.
Those who have time and are confident with their physical stamina can definitely head up for a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains!
For the rest of us, continue to follow the promenade, and you will soon get to the motorway, where the entrance of the connecting path is just meters away. Before you get to the entrance, you will walk past a black torii-like gate. The gate is known as Kekkai-mon (結界門) or barrier gate. In ancient times, women were forbidden to cross the gate because from there onwards, it is the pilgrimage route of Shugendō (修験道) to the spiritual mountain – Mt. Ōmine (大峯山). It wasn’t due to discrimination against women. Rather, it was due to a kind thought and an effort to protect women from the dangers in the mountain.
Shugendō (修験道) originates from Japan and is derived from animistic beliefs. It embraces Shintoism, Taoism, and Buddhism. It aims to cultivate spiritual power through ascetics in holy mountains.
From the second entrance of Mitarai Valley’s promenade to Dorogawa Onsen, it is around another 40 to 50 minutes of trekking, mostly inside a forest.
Tip: In early summer, there will be fireflies dancing around the river close to Dorogawa Onsen Center (洞川温泉センター) close to the bridge in the photo.
Mitarai Valley’s Fall Foliage Season
The autumn foliage season at Mitarai Valley is from early to mid-November.
Dorogawa Onsen Town (洞川温泉郷)
Dorogawa Onsen Town (洞川温泉郷) in Tenkawa Village in Yoshino District (吉野郡天川村), situated at an altitude of 820 meters, has long been the first stop for the Shugendō (修験道) pilgrims on their way to the sacred mountain, Mt. Ōmine (大峯山).
The mountain village in the highlands still enjoys chiller weather in the hot summer. This is why people nicknamed it Kansai’s Karuizawa.
Apart from the temples and shrines with a long history dating back 1,300 years, the onsen resort features two short monorails that are more exciting than those in amusement parks. The Gorogoro-mizu Water we mentioned earlier is so delicious that people are willing to bring water tanks to the hot spring resort to get as much water as possible!
For more information, please refer to our article on Dorogawa Onsen (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.