Massive lava rock formations surround you, as you tunnel your way to the best panoramic view.
In between the towering cliffs of southern Niigata prefecture is one of Japan’s Top 3 gorges, Kiyotsu Gorge. The natural scenery alone, with clear blue water and panoramic views, is enough to make the trip, but the area has more in store for travelers.
With an intricate appearance, the gorge and its surrounding cliffs are located in Joshinetsu Kogen National Park in Tokamachi City. Beyond a flowing stream, the gorge features a 12.5 kilometer-long continuation of V-shaped valleys formed by hardened lava.
Kiyotsu Gorge has iconic and rather unique rock formations called “columnar jointing,” which are only created naturally.
At first, you might think, so what? They’re just rocks. But stumbling upon these geometric columns, which are often hexagonal in form (imagine a bunch of giant pencils shooting up form the ground), has been described by the geological community as a “magical” experience.
These columns came about after an underwater volcanic eruption about 16 million years ago, as magma cooled down and hardened. And now you see them in present-day at Kiyotsu.
Before you go
Access to the gorge is safe through the Kiyotsu Gorge Tunnel. This tunnel runs 750 meters through the gorge and has four viewpoints. The walk is completely flat, which allows visitors of all ages to appreciate the beauty of the natural wonder.
A round trip through the tunnel takes at most an hour. Throughout the tunnel, information about the gorge and its surrounding area is detailed in exhibitions, photos and videos. At the last viewpoint, visitors can get a panoramic view of the gorge.
Kiyotsu Gorge is worth a visit year-round, but it is most popular for autumn colors, as well as to cool off in summer.
The entrance of the tunnel is very close to the parking lot; no hiking is needed. As soba noodle restaurants and a hot spring village are in the vicinity, feel free to make a half-day expedition to the area. To indulge in extra natural splendors of Tokamachi City, make your way to Hoshitoge Rice Terrace and Bijin Bayashi Forest.