HOKKAIDO
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NATURE & PARKS

Hokkaido’s Best Parks and Nature Attractions

Shiretoko National Park sits in the north-eastern part of Hokkaido. It is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan and one of the most beautiful national parks.
Hokkaido’s Best Parks and Nature Attractions

From unique winter sights to different Hokkaido summer activities—there's a lot to see in this destination that is a favorite of many tourists. From snowy Japan mountains to scenic coastlines, you can explore various outdoor attractions in Hokkaido the whole year-round.

Experience Hokkaido’s Natural Wonders

Hokkaido is often known as the ultimate winter destination for those who love skiing and snowboarding. Nevertheless, it has just as much to offer during the spring, summer, and fall months. Hiking in colorful forests, bathing in hot springs, walking among lavender fields and cherry blossoms are but a few of the natural wonders you can experience.

Shiretoko

Shiretoko

First-time travelers often ask, “what does Shiretoko mean?” It is from the Ainu word sir etok, meaning “the end of the Earth” or “the place where the Earth protrudes.” Shiretoko National Park sits in the north-eastern part of Hokkaido. It is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan and one of the most beautiful national parks. Shiretoko is the home of diverse wildlife, including foxes, deer, and brown bears.

Shiretoko is also known for its various winter activities. From January to March, the Okhotsk Coast forms white drift ice from frozen seawater, allowing for many tourist attractions, including the Drift Ice Walk that lets you walk over the frozen surface. It’s an incredible experience that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. You can cap it off with a dip in the sea or float among the ice.

The best time to visit Shiretoko, however, is in the summer for hiking. You can explore the Shiretoko Goko Lake through one of its trails or enjoy a swim in various hot springs. One of the most popular hot springs is the Kamuiwakka Hot Falls, a unique, unspoiled river that gets its water from Mt. Shiretoko-Iwo, an active volcano. 

Another popular location is Utoro, where the water contains iron and sodium, a feature unique to the place. There are hotels and guesthouses for travelers to spend the night, some of which come with a view of the Okhotsk Sea.

The airport closest to Shiretoko National Park is Memanbetsu Airport. During the summer and winter months, there are direct buses between the airport and Utoro. You can also go via Nakashibetsu Airport where there are buses to Rausu, another small town in Shiretoko.

Daisetsuzan National Park

Daisetsuzan National Park

Daisetsuzan is Hokkaido’s largest national park and home to deer and brown bears. It’s a haven for outdoor lovers and hikers. It is also the first place in Japan to see fall colors in the autumn and snow in the winter.

Daisetsuzan is famous for its serene landscapes and lofty mountains, which have given the park the nicknames “the roof of Hokkaido” and “the playground of the gods.” In Daisetsuzan, you can see Mount Tomuraushi and the Tokachi and Ishikari mountain ranges.

You can find various activities around Daisetsuzan throughout the year. In the spring and summer, flowers blanket the meadows, and you can observe them through the Kurodake Ropeway (cable car). Your hiking in Japan is not complete without a trek to the peak to see the leaves changing colors in the fall. 

Can’t get enough skiing in the winter? Daisetsuzan holds Japan’s longest ski season from November to early May. You can ski on the slopes of Mt. Asahidake and then warm up after in Asahidake Onsen. You can also check out Lake Nukabira, which reveals a ‘phantom bridge’ when the water level drops.

Daisetsuzan is easily accessible through Asahikawa Airport. You can opt to rent a car or take the shuttle bus to Asahikawa Station which is the hub to the different areas in the park.

Akan-Mashu National Park

Akan-Mashu National Park

Akan-Mashu National Park is home to the Ainu, Japan’s indigenous people, and showcases a variety of natural attractions and cultural wonders. It houses various wildlife, such as red foxes, black woodpeckers, white-tailed eagles, and even the rare Blakiston's fish owl. Akan-Mashu is also well-known for its three beautiful lakes—Akan, Mashu, and Kussharo—that allow for diverse outdoor activities throughout the year. 

Lake Akan is known for its hot springs during the summer months. In the winter, natural conditions create a sight that is remarkable and almost unbelievable. Steam rising from the lake crystallizes because of the cold temperature and transforms the lake into a field of delicate glass flowers. For those asking, “How do I get to Lake Akan?” there are buses from Kushiro Airport that take you directly to the place. You can also hop on a bus to Abashiri from Memanbetsu Airport and take the JR Senmo Line from there.

While Lake Mashu is often covered by fog, it holds some of the clearest waters in the world. An observatory offers an almost 360-degree view and sits atop Lakes Mashu and Kussharo, which is ideal for stargazing, especially during the warm summer months. Both Lake Kussharo and the Takimi Bridge are home to some of the most picturesque places in the fall when the leaves show off their colors in bursts of red and gold. 

For those asking “How do I get to Lake Akan?”, there are buses from Kushiro Airport that take you directly to the place. You can also hop on a bus to Abashiri from Memanbetsu Airport and take the JR Senmo Line from there. Lakes Mashu and Kussharo are accessible from Lake Akan by bus although exploring the national park through a rental car is a better option.

Uncrowded Islands: Rishiri Island & Okushiri Island

Uncrowded Islands: Rishiri Island & Okushiri Island

If you fancy a little solitary time away from the more crowded tourist spots, Rishiri and Okushiri Island are yours to explore.

Rishiri Island sits at the farthest end of the Sea of Japan. You will find Mount Rishiri, a dormant volcano, at its center. A coastline circles around the base of the mountain, which you can cycle around to experience the vibrant and picturesque scenery. The best time to visit Rishiri Island is from June to August, when the flowers are in full bloom. In the winter, its skiing slopes are less crowded as compared to the popular Niseko skiing resort. Rishiri is also famed for its enchanting powder-like snow that adds to the wintry experience.

Okushiri is known for its interesting rock formations along the shoreline and the emerald hue of its waters, often dubbed the “Okushiri blue.” It’s a place for walking and cycling as well as relaxing in hot springs. Most of the island’s forests are made up of beech wood which provides magical scenery no matter the season. You can even trek up to the summit of Mount Tamashima (Kyuujima) to take in a 360-degree panoramic view of mainland Hokkaido. 

Flights to both these islands’ airports are available regularly, but you need to check the latest schedule on the website. You can also fly to Wakkanai Airport and get a ferry to Rishiri Island. An alternative option to Okushiri is through Hakodate Airport, a two-hour bus ride to the port of Esashi, and a two-hour ferry ride to Okushiri Island.

Cherry Blossom: Matsumae

Cherry Blossom: Matsumae

Matsumae Park is a former castle town near Cape Shirakami, the southernmost part of Hokkaido. It is home to more than 10,000 cherry trees and is recognized as one of the best spots in Japan to view cherry blossoms in the spring.

The best time to visit Matsumae is when the trees are in full bloom, from late April to late May. Over 250 varieties of cherry trees can be seen around Matsumae Park. One of the most spectacular views is Matsumae Castle (also known as Fukuyama Castle), surrounded by cherry blossoms. Aside from these, there are other gardens you can check out, such as the Rose Garden and the Peony Garden.

The best way to travel to Matsumae is through Hakodate Airport. When you arrive, you can take a shuttle to Hakodate Station, and from there, take a bus to Matsumae. 

Flower Fields: Kamifurano

Flower Fields: Kamifurano

Kamifurano is a small town in the center of Hokkaido and is the perfect place to spend your summer. You can drive along the Roller Coaster Road, a 2.5-km stretch with varying ups and downs, and see the lush green valleys on either side. You can also trek the Miyama Pass for a breathtaking view of the Tokachi mountain range.

The highlight of Hokkaido summers, however, is the lavender fields that stretch out across the hillsides. One of the largest tourist attractions is Farm Tomita, with its five-hectare lavender fields. They bloom from late June to early August, which is the best time to visit the place. Other flowers add to the colorful backdrop, including grape hyacinth, viola, Iceland poppies, lupine, marigold, and more. Some of these flowers are seasonal, with the autumn flowers blooming just as the spring flowers fade.

Asahikawa Airport is the airport closest to Kamifurano. From there, you can take a bus to Nakafurano Station. Various lavender gardens are accessible within walking distance, such as Choei Lavender Park (10 minutes) and Farm Tomita (20 minutes). 

See Hokkaido’s Natural Wonders Today

There’s a little bit in Hokkaido for everyone. You’ll find that this island in northern Japan has a lot in store for any traveler: whether you are a nature-lover looking for picturesque places to photograph, or an adrenaline junkie seeking adventure on the ski slopes of Hokkaido mountains, or a culture enthusiast discovering the heritage Hokkaido has to offer.

Explore the great outdoors in Hokkaido!

Getting There