Nestled in the mountainous backbone of Tohoku, Naruko is located entirely within the Kurikoma Quasi-National Park. Haiku poet Matsuo Basho passed through the area on the trip that became his masterwork Narrow Road to the Deep North.
Naruko is accessible by train on the JR East Rikū-Tōsen Line, some 40 minutes from Furukawa, an interchange station with the Tohoku Shinkansen line.
Direct shuttle buses to Sendai and its airport run several times a day for a cost of around ¥1500.
Two national highways, Route 47 and Route 108, pass through the area.
Naruko is small enough to cover on foot, though there are intermittent bus and train services. Geta, traditional Japanese wooden sandals, are popular among visitors and can even be rented from the train station. The local proverb geta mo naruko explains why: the literal meaning is "geta are also noisemakers", a reference both to the meaning of the town name (a naruko is a castanet-like clapper, originally designed to scare away birds) and the clip-clapping sound produced by walking on geta.
The volcanically active area is famous for the Naruko Hot Spring Villages (鳴子温泉郷), a cluster of 5 villages — Naruko, East Naruko, Takayamadaira, Kawatabi and Onikōbe — with abundant onsen hot springs. The reputed curative properties of the springs make them especially popular with people in ill health.
Many of the hotels in the area also offer entry to their baths during the daytime for around ¥500.
- Naruko Gorge (鳴子峡) (20 minutes walk from Naruko Station.). This is a steep 2.5-km-long ravine famous for its fall colors in October and November. Free.
- 1 Taki no Yu (滝の湯), 鳴子温泉湯元 (In central Naruko up the hill from the train station.), ☎ . 7:30AM-10PM daily. A small traditional old wooden bathhouse with waters blended from two springs, one milky white, the other clear. Several pipes create artificial waterfalls, which are comfortable to sit under. ¥150.
- Skiing. Several ski resorts operate in the winter, especially around the hot spring resort of Onikōbe.
- Kokeshi (小芥子). Naruko is one among many places to claim to have originated this cylindrical wooden doll, emblematic of Tohoku. The Japan Kokeshi Museum is in Naruko, and some 80 craftsmen work there full-time.
Most guests eat breakfast and dinner at their lodgings, but there are a number of simple eateries in town.
- Sobadokoro Kobana (そば処小花). A basic noodle joint, locally known for its free-range chicken namban (southern barbarian) style. Main dishes ¥300-1,000.
- 1 Kābehorie (カーベホリエ), 鳴子温泉字新屋敷６３−１ (From the station, walk west on the road for about 10 minutes. The store is on the south side of the road.), ☎ . 9AM-7PM. This small bakery makes its own bread and rolls. It also sells soft serve ice cream. ¥100-300 for a pastry.
Other than camping, there are few budget options here.
- 1 Ryokan Ōnuma (旅館大沼), 鳴子温泉字赤湯34, ☎ , fax: . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. This ryokan stands out from the crowd by offering eight separate baths to sample — one outdoors and many privately reservable. 1 night and two meals ¥13,800.