I travel for many reasons. To be inspired. To learn. To focus on the present. But sometimes, I visit a place just for the sheer loveliness.

The Oirase Gorge in Aomori Prefecture, Japan, is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever visited. (No put intended). Abutting pretty Lake Towada, 3-4 hours north of Tokyo by bullet train, Oirase is an unassuming place. There’s a small gift center and cafeteria, a few restrooms along the path, and that’s about it. You have the choice of either walking inland from the lake (where the gorge empties) and taking a bus back, or doing i5 in reverse, busing into the gorge itself and then hoofing back to the lake on foot along the river. The fact that a road runs through Oirase is unfortunate; you’re never as far from motorized vehicles as you would like. But somehow it doesn’t detract from the otherworld loveliness of the setting. Think Yosemite on a micro scale.

We arrive at the gorge little bit late in the day, 3pm-ish, thanks to a lengthy hitch-hiking journey (another Wow story!), and decide to bus in 3 miles and slowly wind our way back to the lake. Surprisingly, there’s no charge for entering Oirase, which is refreshing since accessing sights like this usually costs a bundle. As we get off the bus, we’re greeted by a meandering stream surrounded by thin fir trees just flirting with their fall colors. Periodically, we come across a pristine waterfall, spilling off the steep, basalt cliffs of the gorge, framing our riverside trail which hugs the creek in some places, and borders the road in others. Occasionally we climb a picturesque stair case – well-maintained, as always, to Japanese standards. It’s all very serene, very subtle, and eminently lovely.

Words don’t do it justice.