Morioka isn’t just about Wanko soba, Morioka cold noodles, and Nambu Ironware. The old city also has picturesque natural destinations for stunning sceneries and to adore gorgeous flowers and fall foliage. One of the lakes in Morioka is even famed to be Japan’s most beautiful artificial lake! A couple of them also allow you to enjoy hiking and water activities!
Where to Visit in Morioka to Enjoy Nature
- Takamatsu Park (高松公園)
- Iwayama Observatory (岩山展望台)
- Mt. Himekami (姫神山)
- Mahora Iwate (安倶里まほら岩手)
- Gosho Lake (御所湖) and Lake Gosho Park (御所湖広域公園)
- Gandō Lake (岩洞湖)
Takamatsu Park (高松公園)
To adore cherry blossoms, Takamatsu Park is the best spot in Morioka’s city center. With more than 1,200 cherry trees planted in the park, the scenery is so amazing that it was chosen to be one of Japan’s Top 100 Cherry Blossom Spots.
Of course, a cherry blossom festival is held during the season. The flowers are illuminated with traditional lanterns from 6 pm to 9 pm. There are also temporary stalls set up during the event.
The large pond in Takamatsu Park wasn’t formed naturally. It resulted from the Ueda embankment for Morioka’s food control work completed around 1600 when the castle was built. After the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century, Morioka became a city. The area around the lake was then turned into a park.
The Flowers and Swans at Takamatsu Park
Apart from the cherry trees, there are also peony and rose gardens, with more than 200 peonies and 40 types of roses planted. Other flowers can also be seen across the park, so how about taking a walk on the promenade to explore the 54.1-hectare park, especially when the entry is free? Boat rental with a few different options is also available!
In winter, swans can usually be spotted at the park’s large pond. January is the peak season when more than 600 swans may spend the winter at Takamatsu Pond. The birds usually linger around until at least early March each year.
Walking on the promenade surrounding the pond is the best way to enjoy Takamatsu Park. At a relaxing pace, it only takes around 20 minutes to complete the loop course. From the promenade, you can also snap a scenic photo of the pond with the magnificent Mt. Iwate as the backdrop.
☛ The cherry blossom season at Takamatsu Park is usually from late April to early May.
☛ The rose season usually peaks in mid-June.
☛ The peony season is usually from mid to late May.
☛ If you want a good photo of Mt. Iwate from Takamatsu Park, visit the park in the morning. The sun sets over the mountain in the evening.
How to Get to Takamatsu Park
- From JR Morioka Station, take Iwateken Kōtsū’s (岩手県交通) Route 11 bound for Matsuzono Eigyōjo (松園営業所) and get off at Takamatsu no Ike-guchi (高松の池口). The park is then a 5-minute walk.
Iwayama Observatory (岩山展望台)
Iwayama Observatory, at the top of a 340.5-meter-tall Mt. Iwa (岩山). It is a great spot for a panoramic view of Morioka’s cityscape and the surrounding mountains from afar, including Mt. Iwate and Hachimantai, where the mysterious scenery called the Dragon Eye is located.
When you have your fill of the scenery, how about taking a walk on the promenade close to the observatory to meet the wild birds and native plants? When you need a rest, benches are available at the observation area. There is also a cafe below the observatory.
The night view from Iwayama Observatory was chosen as one of Japan’s Top 100 Nightviews. The sunset from the observatory is fantastic, too!
In addition to Iwayama Observatory, you can also visit the Kajima Seiichi Memorial Observatory (鹿島精一記念展望台) nearby. Kajima Seiichi Memorial Observatory provides an even wider view than Iwayama Observatory. While the two observatories are only a 3-minute walk apart, the Kajima Seiichi Memorial Observatory at the top of 80 staircases stays unknown to most visitors.
How to Get to Iwayama Observatory
- To get to Iwayama Observatory, take a bus bound for Shinjo Cemetery (新庄墓園) from JR Morioka Station (盛岡駅) and get off at Iwayama Tenbōdai (岩山展望台).
- Cafe GEN・KI is open from
- 1 hour before sunrise to 8 am
- 11 am to 4 pm
Mt. Himekami (姫神山)
If you like hiking, Mt. Himekami at a height of around 1.1km is a perfect spot for you. Although it varies from person to person, you should be able to reach the top in about 1.5 hours.
At the summit, you can enjoy the magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. On a clear day, the skylines of the mountains at the prefectural border between Iwate and Akita can be seen. The breathtaking scenery is the best source of energy given by mother nature to those made to the top.
Mt. Himekami is mainly made of granite. While it isn’t obvious in the forest area at the lower part of the mountain, the landscape changes as you climb closer to the summit, where large granites cover the ground. Mt. Himekami is open for hiking in mid-May. On the 3rd Sunday, a ritual is performed to pray for the safety of those who enter the mountain at the trailhead of the Ipponsugi Course.
Among the 4 hiking trails, the Ipponsugi Course (一本杉コース) is the most popular one. The trail that goes past a large cedar tree is lined with many alpine plants.
Because the locals found the appearance of Mt. Himekami more feminine compared to Mt. Iwate, in the region’s legend, Mt. Himekami and Mt. Iwate are a couple. And according to the legend, Mt. Himekami was banished after Mt. Hayachine (早池峰山) nearby was taken as Mt. Iwate’s concubine. Nevertheless, these three mountains are known as the Northern Ou Sacred Mountains (北奥羽三霊山) and were the center of mountain worshipping.
Mt. Himekami’s Hiking Trails
☛ Hiking shoes are recommended to walk on the earthen mountain trails. The rocks that form a part of the trail are slippery, especially when wet.
☛ Please submit your notice of mountain climbing at the car park.
☛ The road signs along the hiking trails are in Japanese only.
- Ipponsugi Course (一本杉コース):
- The most popular course.
- There is a large cedar tree around 10 minutes from the trailhead.
- The mountain spring close to the tree isn’t suitable for drinking.
- The slope between the trailhead and the 5th station is steep. Climbing the staircases is the most tiring part of the course.
- Be careful as you climb up the wooden stairs from the 7th station.
- You can head down the mountain via the trail heading to Kowasaka Trailhead (こわ坂登山口). To get back to the Ipponsugi Trailhead, it will be a 20-minute walk through the motor road.
- Tashiro Course (田代コース):
- The Tashiro Trailhead is close to Ipoonsugi Course’s cedar tree.
- It is the fastest course to Mt. Himekami’s trailhead.
- From the trailhead to Himekamisan Spring (姫神山冷水), the mountain trail is wide and gentle.
- The last 10 minutes of the hike are steep.
- Jōnai Course (城内コース):
- The Jōnai Course is the longest course among the 4 hiking trails. The majority of the mountain trail is through the birch forest. The rail hike only starts from close to the summit. You can choose to climb up the rocky area or a detour course.
- In autumn, the vivid color of the forest can be enjoyed as you trek through the trail.
How to Get to Ipponsugi Trailhead
- Mt. Himekami is a 15-minute drive from JR Kōma Station (好摩駅).
Mahora Iwate (安倶里まほら岩手)
If you plan to visit Morioka from late January to late February, consider visiting Mahora Iwate. It is the best spot in the city to enjoy winter. Although the Yabukawa area (薮川地区) where Mahora Iwate is located isn’t at the northmost of Japan’s main island, it is the coldest spot. The temperature can be as low as minus 35 degrees here!
Using the cold weather to its advantage, the facility creates a 10-meter-long ice cave. Of course, that isn’t enough to attract tourists. So in addition to the amazing ice cave, 600,000 LED lighting are used to turn the site into a winter wonderland. It is the largest winter illumination event in Iwate Prefecture. Sleds are also available for you to rent to enjoy the snow!
Various events are also held here in the summer. And when the snow isn’t covering Mahora Iwate, outdoor activities can be enjoyed at Mahora Iwate, including trekking, camping, and rowing a boat. Farm animals await your treats too!
Moreover, vegetables can also be harvested from the farm. In autumn, it is a great spot for mushroom hunting. When you are hungry, head to Resthouse Komorebikan (レストランハウスこもれび館). While the broth and sauce used aren’t vegetarian, dishes such as handmade pizza can have meat and seafood removed.
Mahora Iwate’s Opening Hours and Access Information
- Komorebikan is open from 10 am to 4 pm.
- Light meals are served from 11 am to 2 pm.
- It closes on Mondays and Tuesdays. If the Monday or Tuesday is a public holiday, it closes on the next business day.
- From JR Morioka Station, it is a 45-minute drive.
- From the closest bus stop, Hibezuka (蛇塚バス停), it is a 30-minute walk.
Gosho Lake (御所湖) and Lake Gosho Park (御所湖広域公園)
Gosho Lake, south of Morioka Handi-Works Square, is another top spot in Morioka to adore Mt. Iwate’s magnificence. Around the vast lake, there are various recreation facilities and botanical gardens, perfect if you like to take scenic photos or are on a family holiday.
For more information about what to expect when you get to the lake/park, refer to our article on Lake Gosho Park!
Gandō Lake (岩洞湖)
Gandō Lake is praised as Japan’s most beautiful artificial lake. It is the dam lake of Gandō Dam, completed in 1961.
The lakeside is surrounded by a white birch forest, offering the visitors beautiful scenery to adore throughout the year. While it is best known as an ice smelts fishing spot, around mid-October, the breathtaking view of the red-white birch forest reflecting on the lake’s surface is what lures people out of the city center.
Camping sites and promenades are maintained around the lake, making Gandō Lake the top destination for outdoor activities. SUP tours are also held by SUPclub OnYourMark at Gando Lake Family Travel Village (岩洞湖家族旅行村)! Note for safety reasons, you need to be able to communicate in basic Japanese to participate in the SUP tours.
- From Morioka Station, take the bus services bound for Iwaizumi and get off at Gandōko Resthouse-mae (岩洞湖レストハウス前).