Gero onsen perfection in Gifu

Gero Onsen has been rated since the beginning of the Edo period (the early 1600s) as one of the top 3 onsen towns in all Japan, along with Arima Spa in Hyogo Prefecture and Kusatsu Spa in Gunma Prefecture. Which says plenty – there are just so many amazing onsen towns in this very volcanic country. Here at Jsummer we reckon it’s onsen perfection.

The selfie spot in Gero Onsen
You, Charlie Chaplin and Gero © Jsummer.com.au

The surrounding area is not too shabby either, with magnificent national parks and high alpine wilderness areas like Mt Ontake, which reaches 2959m, readily accessible.

Hide-Osaka waterfalls, Gero City
Hide-Osaka Waterfalls offer a range of hiking circuits to enjoy them © Owain Price

Gero wilderness and outdoor activities

Hida-Osaka waterfalls offer some of the cleanest water we have ever seen, anywhere. The river cascades down from the high peaks in a few kilometres, with a series of falls and emerald pools. In high summer you might be tempted to cool off, but the water would still be cool. It was icy when we hiked here at the end of February. The full circuit from the carpark takes 21/2 – 3 hours, but the first 20 minutes access some of the best falls. They also call it ‘200 Waterfalls’, but there are actually 216 falls measured at over 5m drop in the area!

The geology is pretty amazing too. An old lava flow is exposed showing impressive rock formations between the Nigorigo and Sarawa rivers – the longer hiking routes take you to both.

Guide and clients at Hida Osaka, Gero
Guide Jun Kumazaki (front) can show the best of Hida Osaka © Owain Price

To refresh afterwards try the naturally carbonated spring water and take an onsen at Himeshaga-no-Yu. The waterfalls are accessible by local bus from Gero or Takayama Stations – ask the tourist offices at either for schedules.

Fresh and fizzy, naturally carbonated spring at Himeshaga-no-Yu © Owain Price

More extensive trekking options to go further and higher up to frozen waterfalls are available with excellent local guiding company Osaka-taki 200 Waterfalls.

Jun Kumazaki and the team do a wide range of beginner to advanced programs and have rental gear to suit you up, including wetsuits for “Shower Climbing” and canyoning, and full ice climbing gear too for the capable, so there is something on offer in all seasons.

Frozen waterfall Gero City, Hida
Frozen waterfalls can be viewd after hiking up with local guides © Osaka-taki

Gero onsen city attractions

Arriving to Gero you immediately notice how well cared for and organised it is. Some onsen towns are pretty drab – just like with ski resorts, Japan had a huge boom of onsen resorts and hotels, many of which are now in decline and pretty rundown.

But Gero is bright, bustling and beautiful.

Atano River at Gero Onsen
Lights along the Atano River © Carmen Price

Just 90 minutes from Nagoya by train, it’s a popular day, overnight or weekend escape.

The lamplit streets and channeled waterways leading to the main Hida River invite you to stroll around and take some selfies. Best selfie spot is next to the Charlie Chaplin bronze statue on a bridge over the Atano river, which cascades down from the mountains into town, where it joins the Hida River past the Chaplin bridge.

Foot spa at Gero Onsen
Ashiyu – Foot spas – are all over the place © Carmen Price

Gero is famous not just for a single onsen but for many. There are lots of them scattered all round the wider Gifu City area. There’s even a public onsen in the river bed itself – just remember to bring a swim suit as it’s one onsen they prefer you to be clad in! They clean out the river onsen overnight and refill it in the morning. Many Ashiyu – foot spas – are dotted around the centre of town.

Riverbed piblic onsen in Gero City
A free public onsen is right on the river in the middle of town © Owain Price

You can learn the history of onsens, the differences between them, and a lot more at the interesting Gero Museum of Hot Springs.

Gero Onsne Museum of Hot Spring
Become an onsen expert with a visit to the Museum of Hot Spring © Carmen Price

The town is popular with uni students, so there are plenty of bars and cafes catering to a younger crowd.

For the more sedate oldies the many superb ryokan spa hotels offer a relaxing experience, often with entertainment as part of the package, along with delicous food. Suimeikan, just 3 minutes walk from Gero JR Station, boasts 3 onsen per gender, and spacious Japanese rooms and suites with great views over the city.

View over Gero Onsen from Suimeikan Ryokan resort
The view from Suimeikan © Carmen Price

Now many places claim the best rice in Japan, but Giro’s Ryo no Hitomi (‘Eye of the Dragon’) strain was only discovered by accident in 2000, but has already become a multi award winner favoured for its size, 1.5 times that of regular Japanese rice, higher elasticity, stickiness and naturally sweeter flavour.

Another local must eat is the amazing ‘Gero Gero’ custard. The shop is so popular they sell out. ‘Gero Gero’ is pronounced like a gutural Heh-row, Heh-row – which is how you imitate a frog croaking in Japanese. Learn something new every day!

Don’t be too late to the custard shop .. © Carmen Price

Around Gero are many attractions withing easy walk, bus or taxi ride.

The Gassho Mura Village features 10 of the famous thatch roof houses like those at Shirakawa-go transported here from elsewhere in the Hida area and reconstructed as part of a folk and traditional arts and crafts set up. They have done a good job and if you won’t have time to check out Shirkawa-go or the Gokayama gassho villages in Toyama then it should be a must. Traditional Shirasagi-za Shadow Play puppet theatre shows are a feature. It’s only a 6 minute Nohi bus ride from Gero Station.

It overlooks town, and so walking back down is a good option. There’s a morning market in Ideyu Park along the way.

Gero combines perfectly with Hida Takayama a bit further up the valley – have a night or to in Gero with 3 or so there.

Suimeikan Ryokan garden, Gero Onsen
Tranquil garden at Suimeikan Ryokan which is right on the Hida River bank © Carmen Price

Gero Accommodation

There is a great range of accommodation to suit any budget in Gero. Just enter your target dates below for the latest deals from Booking.com

Booking.com
The helpful ladies at the Gero Tourist Office even have a selection of reading glasses on the counter © Owain Price

Access to Gero

By rail is the quick and scenic way to Gero – 88 minutes from Nagoya on the Wide View Hida Limited Express, or 2 hours 15 minutes from Toyama, with shinkansen connections to either of those.

By road Gero is around 3 hours from Nagoya either via the Chuo Expressway to Mino-Kamo and take Route 41, or continue to Nakatsugawa and take route 257. Or just drive Route 41 the whole way.

Having a car is handy to explore the area, but local trains and buses with the odd taxi will get you to most places no problem.

More info/links:

Gero City Tourism official site

Official Gifu Prefecture tourism site

Gero is pretty compact and it’s easy to get around to see a lot

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