Shikoku is known for being an island of natural beauty. A prime example is Nibukawa Valley (鈍川渓谷), a scenic outdoor retreat. Though most people visit the place for the famous hot spring and onsen of the same name, the real treasures of this area are the sparkling water of the river and the hiking trails that meander through the mossy forest.
The valley is located inland on the outskirts of Imabari, taking a mere 25 minutes by car from the town centre. The area is designated as a prefectural nature park in Ehime.
My fiancé and I have visited Nibukawa twice, once in the height of summer with our local friend and during fall season with our work colleague. This location is exceptional; it offers amazing scenery year round, changing colors from season to season.
As with most outdoor activities in Japan, some of the most beautiful times to enjoy are during cherry blossom season and during autumn when the leaves are of different colors. However, I recommend a visit anytime you may be in the Ehime area; in spring, there are new flowers, in summer, it is warm enough to swim, and in winter, the waterfalls are more impressive.
There are a number of hiking trails of varied difficulty levels in the nature park.
If you continue driving up the hill from the onsen, you will reach a carpark area within a couple of minutes. Here, there is a deck with benches and tables overlooking the river and surrounded by trees. It is a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch.
There are toilets and running water here. There is also a map detailing where the walks are located and the sights you can see along the way. It is only in Japanese, but you can get the gist from the pictures.
We explored two trails. One followed the river for a short distance before leading to a calm spot in the river, which was perfect for swimming. Nearby was another trail that passed by a serene forested campsite that I would definitely return to if I had brought my tent to Japan.
This trail wound through the forest to the ridge, giving us peeks through the trees of the mountains on the other side of the valley in their autumn splendor.
In Japan, this year, during the summer months there was an unprecedented heatwave that saw us seeking every possible water source in an attempt to stay cool. My absolute favorite swimming area was in Nibukawa. The river flows directly from the mountains, so, it is super refreshing and crystal clear. There are many calm pools of varying depths that make ideal swimming holes.
In summertime, the water level is lower so it is safe to work your way up or down the river by climbing over the rocks and going through waterfalls.
The rocks are mostly smooth so you can take a dip and then, dry out in the sun on the river bank.
To perfect your day of relaxation, why not visit the Nibukawa Onsen (link in Japanese) on your way out where you can continue to enjoy the view while soaking in the Bijin-no-Yu (美人の湯), a hot water known for its soothing and healing properties.
Nibukawa Valley information
Tamagawacho Nibukawa, Imabari, Ehime Prefecture 794-0121
- By car: There are a number of parking spaces available.
- By bus: From Imabari Station, the bus trip takes around 30 minutes. Disembark at the Nibukawa Onsen stop. Continue up the hill for 10-15 minutes to reach the carpark and rest area.
http://www.go-shimanami.jp/spot/?a=149 (in Japanese)