Nikko has a little something for everyone; there are shrines, Japanese culture in spades, amazing food, temples, festivals, and to round it all out breathtaking natural beauty. When you tire of the crowds the mountains around Nikko offer respite with stunning waterfalls, lakes, moors, cliffs, and of course rivers.
One of the most beautiful temples I have seen in Japan (and I have seen A LOT) is located in Nikko. The Nikkō Tōshō-gū is absolutely marvelous, even if it is insanely crowded (like it was when I visited).
We wandered around Nikko for a while, found a great place to eat, and soaked in some culture before we headed up into the mountains.
The mountains around Nikko make up the Nikko National Park, which offer a plethora of outdoor recreational activities.
Just before the Hell River (地獄川) flows into Lake Chūzenji it plunges down a series of cascades known as Ryuzu Falls. It is quite beautiful. It is popular to visit during the spring and fall when the colors of the flora accentuates the white water of cascade/waterfall.
Above Lake Chūzenji lies the Senjogahara (戦場ケ原) which is a 400 hectares moor that was formed by the god of the mountain (most likely Mount Nantai - a nearby long dormant volcano) when he battled the bog at this location... I guess the bog won because it's still an active wetland. The area is rife with wildflowers, stonechat (ノビタキ), deer, and the occasional bear too!
As you continue driving up the 120 you soon come upon Yudaki (湯滝) waterfall. It's impressive 50m drop from Lake Yuno is absolutely beautiful. I could stand there all day and watch the water dance its way down the less than vertical cliff face.
Lake Yuno is stocked with Brook Trout, Brown Trout, and Grayling (I had no idea that Grayling were stocked in Japan)! The Yukawa (湯川) below Lake Yuno is one of the premier Brook Trout fisheries in Japan. Way back in 1902 25,000 Brook Trout eggs were imported from Colorado and transplanted here. The river is also unique to Japan in that nearly the entire length of the river is catch and release. Consequently, the Brook Trout that you can catch in this river have been here for over 110 years! More info here.
About one hour south of Nikko lies the city of Utsunomiya. While there are a few things to do and see here we visited exclusively to do some rock climbing at Kogashiyama (古賀志山).
The place is quite popular with rock climbers (there were even several para-gliders flying overhead throughout the day) on the day that we visited but we were able to find a cliff face that we had all to ourselves for most of the day.
Nikko really is an awesome place to visit. There are all sorts of things to do and see and it is a short trip north from Tokyo. It's also a great place to visit for fishing. While I didn't get to do any fishing this trip (I did bring my Tenkara rod) I went up with friends and the trip was all about sightseeing and rock climbing but not fishing. Seeing as though it's only 2.5 hours away from where I live, I'm sure I'll make it back up there to focus exclusively on Tenkara and maybe some backcountry camping too ;)