Last week I went on a quest to find 10 beautiful river onsen in Japan and oh my god! I had no idea how many beautiful hot spring baths there are right next to a river and even with waterfall views. Some of them are free or insanely cheap, while the way to others can be a true adventure. And at one of them, you can even try to dig your own bathtub. Looking for a unique onsen experience? Choose one of these river hot springs.
Let’s go ٩(⌒ω⌒)੭⁾⁾
P.S: This time my list includes a lot of mixed-gender baths, but most of them also have women-only baths or offer some kind of bathing garment to cover yourself. I have described everything in detail below.
10 Beautiful River Onsen & Waterfall View Hot Springs in Japan
1. Takaragawa Onsen Osenkaku (Day Trip From Tokyo)
Location: Takaragawa Onsen, Near Minakami Onsen, Gunma Prefecture
General Information: Osenkaku (汪泉閣) is part of the Minakami Onsen Area and the sole Onsen Ryokan of Takaragawa Onsen. The Minakami Onsen Area is a popular hot spring destination that consists of 9 different resorts located in the mountains along the Tone River. Besides the hot springs, you can enjoy hiking and other outdoor activities. Takaragawa Onsen is about 14 kilometers away from Minakami.
About the Onsen: Osenkaku’s large open-air bath right next to the river is considered one of the most beautiful outdoor baths in Japan. It is so big that up to 200 people could take a bath together. This is also one of the closest mixed outdoor baths to Tokyo and therefore perfect for couples and families. Don’t let that scare you, though! Everyone has to wear a bathing garment that you will get from the onsen and is included in the price. And nope, you are not allowed to wear your own swimsuit.
Besides the 3 large mixed outdoor baths, there’s also a women-only outdoor bath and gender-separated indoor bathing facilities. Another really cool thing about this onsen is that you can bathe 24 hours. So I highly recommend you stay overnight and try night or midnight bathing.
Access: The nearest JR station is Minakami Station on the JR Joetsu Line. From Minakami Station, take a bus for Takaragawa Iriguchi and get off 30 minutes later at the same-named bus stop. From the bus stop, it is an additional 20-minute walk to the onsen or you reserve the onsen’s courtesy bus. It is also possible to visit the onsen as a day trip from Tokyo. The trip will take about 3 hours.
Price: 2,000円 (about $18 or 17€)
2. Kawayu Onsen (Wakayama)
Location: Tanabe, Near Kumano Kodo & Yunomine Onsen, Wakayama Prefecture
General Information: Kawayu Onsen (川湯温泉) is a unique river hot spring located along the Oto River in the south of Wakayama Prefecture. This whole area is famous for its pilgrimage routes called the Kumano Kodo and has some of the most beautiful shrines I have seen in all of Japan. Nearby is also Yunomine Onsen, a traditional onsen town where you can bathe in the only hot spring registered as UNESCO World Heritage.
About the Onsen: The hot spring water bubbles up to the surface of the river and turns the riverbank into a natural onsen bath that you can enjoy in different ways. When you stay at one of the onsen ryokans nearby you will get a shovel and you can dig your own little onsen right next to the river. You can also use one of the pre-dug basins if you don’t feel like digging your own. Throughout the winter months from December to February locals create a giant 40-meter open-air bath called Sennin-buro. At that time you are not allowed to dig your own baths and you can soak from 6:30 – 22:00 o’clock. Since this onsen is entirely natural there are no gender-separated pools, but you can wear a bathing suit or towel.
Access: The nearest JR stations are Shingu Station on the east side of Wakayama Prefecture and Kii-Tanabe Station on the west side of Wakayama Prefecture. From Shingu Station you can get to Kawayu Onsen in about 1 hour by bus. Get off at Fujiya-mae bus stop and you will be right there at the river. From Kii-Tanabe Station it is best to take the Kumano Hongu Line bus. You can get off at one of the 3 following bus stops: Kawayu Onsen, Kameya-mae, or Fujiya-mae. The whole trip will take about 2 hours. From Osaka or the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture you could get to the onsen in about 4.5 hours. From Shirahama Onsen it takes 2.5 hours.
Price: Free ٩(⌒ω⌒)੭⁾⁾
3. Wanoyado Hotel Iya Onsen (Tokushima)
Location: Iya Valley, Tokushima Prefecture
General Information: Wanoyado Hotel Iya Onsen (和の宿 祖谷温泉) is located in one of Japan’s 3 most secluded regions, the Iya Valley. It is located deep down in the mountains of Tokushima Prefecture. With steep cliffs, azure blue rivers, colorful autumn leaves, and daunting vine bridges called Kazurabashi you have everything a nature lover needs.
About the Onsen: Wanoyado has 2 insanely beautiful outdoor baths right next to the river. The baths are gender-separated and alternated daily. So if you stay overnight you can enjoy 2 different hot spring baths and views. The way to the onsen is also kinda special because you have to ride a cable car. This seems to be a bit of a tradition in the Iya Valley or maybe Tokushima Prefecture. Opening hours for day-trippers are from 7:00 – 18:00 o’clock.
Private Onsen: The private hot spring is also right next to the river and can be reserved for an additional fee. Bathing time is 60 minutes, but unfortunately, the website doesn’t mention how much the rental fee is.
Access: Oboke Station is the nearest JR train station. From there you have to take a bus that will bring you all the way to the onsen. Get off at Hotel Iyaonsen after about 31 minutes. It is possible to visit the onsen as a day trip from Matsuyama (about 2 hours) and Kochi (about 3 hours).
Price: 1,700円 (about $16 or 15€)
4. Amagiso Liberty Resort (Day Trip From Tokyo)
Location: Kawazu, Near Shimoda Onsen, Shizuoka Prefecture
General Information: Amagiso Liberty Resort (天城荘) is a natural onsen hotel located on the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture. The peninsula is renowned for its hot spring resorts Ito and Atami. Shimoda is another onsen town just around the corner. Here you can soak in beautiful beach onsens overlooking the famous white sand beach Shirahama. In Kawazu, on the other hand, you can see some of the earliest cherry blossoms and many waterfalls.
About the Onsen: Amagiso has a gender-separated indoor bathing area and a mixed outdoor bathing area. The 2 traditional indoor bathing areas are alternated on a daily base and feature several indoor baths and a rotenburo. From one of them you can see Kawazu Nanadaru Loop Bridge.
The real highlight, however, is the outdoor bathing area right next to the waterfall. Just take a look at the picture above and you know what I mean. Definitely one of the open-air baths with the most beautiful view and they also have a cave onsen. Since everyone has to wear a swimsuit in the mixed outdoor bathing area, it is even for the shy. If you are lucky and come here in summer you can also see fireflies.
Sometimes when it has rained a lot or when it is raining a lot the outdoor bathing area can’t be entered because of safety reasons. So better don’t plan to go there during typhoon season or right after a typhoon. Non-staying guests can bathe here from 11:00 – 19:00 o’clock.
Access: You can’t really use the Japan Rail Pass on the Izu Peninsula since it only covers the fee until Ito or Mishima, but Kawazu Station and Shuzenji Station, the 2 closest stations, are still about 1 hour away. Kawazu Station is a little bit closer to the onsen. It will take you about 25 minutes by bus from there. No matter which route you take you will have to pay an additional 2,000円 for transportation (one way). From Tokyo, you can get here in about 3 hours.
Price: 2,000円 (about $18 or 17€)
Website: www.amagisou.jp (Google Translation available)
5. Tateshina Grand Hotel Takinoyu (Nagano)
Location: Tateshina, Near Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture
General Information: Tateshina Grand Hotel Takinoyu (グランドホテル滝の湯) is an Onsen Ryokan located west of Matsumoto city and Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture. Tateshina is a health resort and outdoor paradise that is beautiful all year round with autumn leaves in fall and snow in winter. Lake Suwa is also famous for a big fireworks display taking place in August and a fireworks competition introducing state-of-the-art pyrotechnics in early September.
About the Onsen: This onsen is located in the middle of nature and features 2 gender-separated bathing facilities. One is located on the rooftop terrace with several pools from where you can see the Takinoyu River flowing below. The other one is a large indoor garden bath from where you can see a small waterfall. Since the window can be opened it also feels like a bit like a rotenburo. Unfortunately, the garden bath is only available for overnight guests. Day visitors can soak in the outdoor bathing facilities from 13:00 – 21:00 o’clock.
Private Onsen: There are also 3 types of private onsens, a Japanese cypress hot spring bath, a pine bath, and a stone bath. They are open-air baths and can be rented for ￥3,080 (about $28 or 26€) for 1 hour. I couldn’t find any information on the website, but it could be that they can only be rented by staying guests.
Access: The nearest JR station is Chino Station. From there it is a 35-minute bus ride to the onsen. Public busses are available, but the onsen also has a free shuttle bus for staying guests. Just make sure to reserve the bus beforehand. From Tokyo, it will take about 3 – 4 hours.
Price: 1,540円 (about $14 or 13€)
Website: www.takinoyu.co.jp (External English webpage available)
6. Yubara Onsen – Sunayu (Okayama)
Location: Yubara Onsen, Maniwa, Okayama Prefecture
General Information: Yubara Onsen (湯原温泉郷) is a hot spring village located in the north of Okayama Prefecture. It is one of the most famous hot spring towns in Western Japan with a free river outdoor bath called Sunayu and several Hot Spring Ryokans. The region is also famous for a giant salamander and you can see statues and figures of it everywhere in the city. Since it is not too far from Okayama or Kurashiki you can easily include Yubara Onsen as a day trip on your trip.
About the Onsen: Sunayu (砂湯) is Yubara Onsen’s most famous hot spring bath. The open-air bath is right next to the Asahi River and in front of the Yubara Dam and is considered one of Japan’s top rotenburo. Other cool things about this bath are that it is open 24 hours and free. Before you go you should know that it is a mixed-gender onsen, but for women there are rental bathing garments available. If you stay at one of the Ryokans you can rent them for just 500円 (about $5 or 5€). Day visitors can borrow them for 2,000円 (about $18 or 17€) at the tourist center which is open until 18:00 o’clock.
Access: The nearest JR station is Chūgoku-Katsuyama Station on the Kishin Line. To reach the hot spring village take a bus bound for Hiruzenkogen and get off at Yubara Onsen. It is a 35-minute bus ride and then an 8-minute walk to the river onsen. From Okayama, it will take you about 4 hours by train and bus and about 3 hours if you only take the bus.
Price: Free ٩(⌒‐⌒)۶
Website: www.yubara.com (English available)
7. Shima Tamura (Gunma)
Location: Shima Onsen, Near Kusatsu Onsen & Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture
General Information: Shima Tamura (四万たむら) is a traditional Japanese inn with a history of 500 years. The Onsen Ryokan is located in Shima Onsen, a small hot spring town, but one of the top 4 onsen towns in Gunma Prefecture. One of the Ryokans here named Sekizenkan Ryokan was also one of the inspirations for Ghibli’s “Spirited Away”. You can enjoy onsen hopping, foot baths, and even drink hot spring water from one of the drinking fountains.
About the Onsen: This onsen ryokan features 7 stunning-looking onsen baths. The rotenburos are one mixed-gender bath, 2 women-only, and 2 men-only tubs. In the gender-separated indoor bathing facilities, you will find 4 different hot spring pools. From the indoor baths, you can look down on the river and see a beautiful waterfall, while the mixed outdoor bath is right next to the river stream. Day visitors can use the bathing facilities from 10:00 – 15:00 o’clock.
Private Onsen: One of the onsen baths is a private hot spring bath. The rental fee for 40 minutes is 2,000円 (about $18 or 17€).
Access: Nakanojō Station is the nearest JR station. From there take a local bus bound for Shima Onsen and get off at Kiri no Kidaira bus stop. It’s a 30-minute bus ride and then a 6-minute walk to the onsen. From Tokyo, you can do the whole trip in about 3 hours.
Price: 1,730円 (about $18 or 17€)
Website: www.shima-tamura.co.jp (External English webpage available)
8. Myogaya Honkan (Tochigi)
Location: Nasu-Shiobara Onsen, Near Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture
General Information: Myogaya Honkan (明賀屋本館) is a secluded hot spring inn located in Tochigi Prefecture about 2.5 hours north of Tokyo. It belongs to Nasu-Shiobara Onsen which isn’t only a fairly developed hot spring resort, but also a good base for hiking. You can find several onsen ryokans and public baths along the river bank plus a few nearby waterfalls. The autumn leaves are stunning, too.
About the Onsen: Myogaya Honkan’s hot spring water comes from 2 different springs, a sodium chloride spring, and a simple thermal hot spring. In total, the onsen ryokan features 10 different kinds of baths. The riverside open-air baths you can see in the picture are mixed gender baths, but in the morning from 7:00 – 8:00 o’clock they are women-only. They have one more outdoor bath next to river that is exclusively for women. The indoor onsen bathing facilities are gender-separated. In order to use the rustic baths you have to stay overnight.
Private Onsen: There are also 2 private onsen baths “Kotobuki” and “Fuku” that can be rented for 1,000円 (about $9 or 9€) for 45 minutes.
Access: Nishi-Nasuno Station on the Utsunomiya Line is the closest JR Station. From there it takes 40 minutes by bus and an additional 21 minutes on foot to the onsen. So it is not the easiest onsen to access. However, if you take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nasushiobara Station you can get there in 3 hours. Nikko is actually way closer than Tokyo, but the journey also takes about 3 hours.
Stay: From 10,000円 (about $92 or 85€)
9. Yosenkaku Iwamatsu Ryokan (Near Sendai)
Location: Sakunami Onsen, Near Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture
General Information: Yosenkaku Iwamtsu Ryokan (鷹泉閣 岩松旅館) is located just half an hour away from Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture. Sendai is actually one of my favorite day trip cities from Tokyo and before you take the bus to the onsen ryokan you have to get some Zunda mochi and a Zunda shake at the station. Don’t let the green color put you off! Sakunami Onsen is a small hot spring town with a few onsen ryokans. Most of them are clustered along the Hirose River that also flows through Sendai.
About the Onsen: This onsen ryokan has a history of more than 200 years and the hot tubs are fed by 5 natural hot springs. There are 4 beautiful mixed gender outdoor baths directly next to the river. In the morning from 5:30 – 7:00 o’clock and from 19:30 – 21:00 o’clock they are exclusively for women. The onsen also has a semi-open-air bath that is a women-only bath. The indoor bathing facilities are gender-separated. Unfortunately, the onsen ryokan doesn’t open their baths to day-trippers when I last checked. In the past, they offered a lunch & onsen plan for about 8,000円 (about $74 or 68€).
Access: You can ride all the way from Tokyo to Sendai Station by Akita or Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen (1.5 hours). Then take the bus in front of the west exit (Sendai Eki Nishiguchi) bound for Shinjo Eki Mae and 35 minutes later you will be in front of the onsen. The bus stop is called Sakunami Onsen and the total travel time from Tokyo is 2.5 hours.
Stay: From 15,000円 (about $139 or 127€)
Website: www.ssl.iwamatsu-ryokan.com (Japanese)
10. Shin-Hotaka No Yu (Gifu)
Location: Shin-Hotaka Onsen, Okuhida Onsen, Gifu Prefecture
General Information: Shin-Hotaka No Yu (新穂高の湯) is a natural river open-air onsen bath in Shin-Hotaka Onsen. The onsen town is located in Gifu Prefecture and part of Okuhida Onsen together with Hirayu Onsen, Shin-Hirayu Onsen, Fukuji Onsen, and Tochio Onsen. All hot spring towns offer a variety of outdoor baths with beautiful mountain views of Japan’s Northern Alps. After your bath you can ride Japan’s most unique ropeway, the Shin-Hotakaka Ropeway, or visit Takayama, one of Gifu’s (in my opinion Japan’s) most beautiful cities.
About the Onsen: Shin-Hotaka No Yu is an open-air stone bath overlooking the Takahara River. It is closed in winter, but from the end of April until the end of October you can bathe here from 8:00 – 18:00 o’clock. Sometimes when the river rises too high, it might be closed. Also, note that this is a mixed-gender bath, but women can wear a towel. If you want to have it for yourself I recommend you to come here early in the morning.
Access: Since Shin-Hotaka Onsen is a secluded onsen town located deep in Japan’s Northern Alps a bus ride is inevitable. The closest JR Stations seem to be Takayama Station in Gifu Prefecture (90 minutes bus ride) and Matsumoto Station in Nagano Prefecture (3 hours bus ride).
Price: 300円 (about $3 or 3€)
Looking For More Beautiful Onsen in Japan?
In Japan there are more than 3,000 hot springs and thousands of beautiful onsens. Besides these stunning riverside onsens, why don’t you check out some of the beach onsens with ocean view, soak in an onsen on top of a mountain, or try one of the snow onsens near Tokyo?
Thank you and until the next time!
Happy Onsening (⌒‐⌒)ﾉ