Great views into the gorge (Photo: Justin Velgus)

Rairaikyo Gorge in Akiu

Mysterious rocks, hiking, and easy access nature

Great views into the gorge (Photo: Justin Velgus)
Justin Velgus   - 3 min read

Akiu is a hot spring resort town just a 30 minute bus or car ride from downtown Sendai. While its hot springs and overnight accommodations (not to mention winery!) are wonderful, there is certainly lots of natural wonders that should not be missed. The large Otaki waterfall often tops that list, though it is a bit out of the way at about 10k from the downtown tourist area. For a quick escape literally steps away, head towards the Natori River running through town. You'll be greeted by mysterious rock formations, a shady hiking trail decorated with flowers, and the feeling of wonder, peace, and adventure.

Probably the easiest tourist attraction to enjoy in Akiu is Rairaikyo Gorge. It is free, easy to access, and never closes. This 1km hiking trail hugging the cliff 20 meters above the river is really something special. Just look near the bridges that cross the river or behind the row of hotels that line the main road cutting through town to find an entrance. There are plenty of entrances/exits, so if you want to skip or return to a favorite part of the trail, you will will have no problem doing so. There are some stairs and a few bumpy parts. So, unfortunately it is not barrier free--at the same time a concrete path may have taken away from the natural setting. The trail is one path and does not circle back. A roundtrip takes about 40-50 minutes. But enough about the statistics, what can you see?

Those hotels on the street are hiding a big secret. The fast, flowing, clear water of the Natori River has been cutting its way through the stone gorge for centuries. Snowmelt in the rivers, or perhaps the rare small earthquake, likely has changed the river course slightly many times over the years. This has resulted in some very strange, yet beautiful, rock formations. All the very large or special rocks have names of their own. Some gigantic boulders rest silently right in the middle of the river, forcing the water to find another path. Miniaturewaterfalls can be found here and there, while seasonal flowers grace the green bushes and trees. There are many benches and tables, so bringing a lunch for a picnic would be an excellent idea. There are several lookout spots for this or fantastic pictures.

Perhaps most popular is the "Lover's Sanctuary" location. This Japanese NPO set up--in the name of love-- tries to encourage romantic settings to bring people closer together. This location at Nozoki Bridge is a heart-shaped hole that naturally formed in the canyon wall. It is often filled with water from a previous rain, so if you are lucky you can imagine your lover in the reflection. Capture the love on camera from the vantage point of the bridge.

Rairaikyo is a magical walk with scenery that changes with the seasons. Occasionally there are light-up events to enjoy an evening illumination of this natural wonder. Make this a must when you visit Akiu Onsen outside Sendai.

Justin Velgus

Justin Velgus @justin.velgus

Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is the Miyagi Prefecture expert for Japan Travel and a long-term contributor since 2012 with a focus on the Tohoku region.  Justin has written extensively for JT, and other publications such as VisitMiyagi and Sake Today, amassing over 350 published articles...