Explore Shiretoko’s Dramatic Drift Ice and Abundant Ecosystem

Discover how Shiretoko National Park’s incredible nature and wildlife secured its legacy as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. Book your journey with JAL today.
Explore Shiretoko’s Dramatic Drift Ice and Abundant Ecosystem

Set on the remote northeastern tip of Hokkaido, the Shiretoko National Park is recognized as one of the most spectacular ecosystems anywhere in the world. This pristine peninsula remains untouched by humans, with abundant wildlife thriving due to the landscape’s strictly protected status. Named a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in 2005, Shiretoko National Park is one of only five destinations across Japan to receive this special designation.

Rising to 1,600 meters, the Shiretoko Peninsula sits atop an active volcanic mountain range, while the frigid Sea of Okhotsk brings glacial drift ice in winter. Alongside enchanting species, this diverse ecosystem is also home to numerous threatened and endangered marine and bird species.

However, Shiretoko offers more than just wildlife encounters. The rugged landscape ensures visitors can discover boundless sea ice in Winter, a collection of unspoiled lakes, soaring cliffs, and even a hot spring waterfall. If you consider yourself a nature lover, there are few better places on earth to explore.

The best things to do in Shiretoko

Ready to plan your itinerary? Here, we delve into just some of the magnificent outdoor adventures travelers can soak up during their visit to Shiretoko National Park.

Take a trip to Shiretoko Goko Lakes

Take a trip to Shiretoko Five Lakes

Five little lakes sitting quietly amid virgin forest, their surfaces reflecting the Shiretoko mountains. There are two approaches available: a boardwalk offering easy access to one of the lakes, or ground walking trails around all five lakes that bring you up close to the flora and fauna of Shiretoko (conditions may vary by season).

If you’re only looking for a short stroll, an elevated wooden boardwalk stretches 800 meters from the parking lot to the water’s edge, featuring stellar views of the surrounding seascape. Meanwhile, a three-kilometer nature trail ensures you can navigate this stunning landscape on a longer journey if you desire.

Climb to the top of Mount Rausu-dake

Climb to the top of Mount Rausu-dake

Punctuating the landscape between the charming towns of Shari and Rausu, Mount Rausu-dake is the tallest mountain in the Shiretoko National Park. Known by the indigenous Ainu people as Chacha-Nupuri, translated to 'Father Mountain,’ this scenic landmark has two trails leading to the summit.

The easier Iwaobetsu Course is found on the peninsula's northern side near the Iwaobetsu Onsen. However, if you’re looking for a much tougher challenge, the steep Rausu-onsen Course begins from the Shiretoko Campground. Whichever path you choose, the views along the coastline are spectacular.

Named in the popular ‘100 Famous Japanese Mountains’ collection, reaching the top of this rocky peak is undoubtedly a rewarding experience.

Soak in the Kamuiwakka Hot Falls

Soak in the Kamuiwakka Hot Falls

Yet the Shiretoko National Park presents an even more captivating onsen experience, as the Kamuiwakka Hot Falls provides travelers with an entire river to soak in. Here, hot water heated from Mount Io flows into the nearby stream to reach a lovely 30 degrees celsius.

While the river is shallow in most spots, there’s still enough depth to soak your legs along the Kamuiwakka Hot Falls, with warm volcanic water flowing down the hillside. However, the riverbed is rather slippery with few nearby facilities available, so remember to be careful as you explore the site.

Roam the drift ice

Roam the drift ice

If you’re willing to brave Shiretoko National Park’s chilly winter, you can step onto the famous ice drifts that cover the water from late January to early March. Arriving from northeastern Russia, across the Sea of Okhotsk, these large frozen sheets are safe to explore on foot, with skilled guides helping you complete the trek.

There’s a selection of experienced tour operators that make this journey an unforgettable experience. Dressed in a warm, dry suit, there’s a good chance you'll encounter inspiring marine and bird life during these two-hour adventures. 

Later in the season, when the ice begins to melt, you’re welcome to take a frigid dip in the sea while wearing a dry suit. However, if you’d prefer to admire the drift ice from the comfort of land, Shiretoko’s coast is dotted with several viewing points. Check your travel options before arriving, as public transport is limited outside peak season.

Set off on a sightseeing cruise

Set off on a sightseeing cruise

In the southeast Rausu area of Shiretoko, each season brings different animals: whales and dolphins in summer, and sea eagles and sea lions in winter, for example. On a nature cruise, you may meet this wildlife. Do not miss the chance to get up close and personal with the dynamic ecosystem of Shiretoko.

Set off on a sightseeing cruise

Besides the delightful landscapes, these sightseeing cruises provide fantastic opportunities to observe the wildlife that calls Shiretoko National Park home. Of all the wildlife in Shiretoko, the most famous would have to be the biggest land mammal, the brown bear. Due to the immense danger it is prohibited to approach a brown bear, but a boat cruise will allow you to get closer and observe a wild bear from the sea. The sight of the brown bear, which bravely makes its home in the brutal wilds of Shiretoko, is gripping.

Helpful tips for visiting Shiretoko National Park

Exploring Shiretoko National Park is an incredible experience for anyone who loves to surround themselves with pristine nature. However, consider these helpful tips before you make your way to this remote location.

Although wild animal encounters are extraordinary throughout this sprawling region, keep your distance as many are dangerous. Feeding the animals is also strictly prohibited, as protecting Shiretoko National Park’s natural ecosystem is paramount.

Spending time in Shiretoko requires an adventurous spirit, but staying on the designated trails means you won't damage fragile vegetation and soil.

If hiking during your stay, arriving with suitable clothing and gear ensures you won't encounter any problems. Always review the weather, trail conditions, and local warnings before heading into the wilderness. Remember to bring rubbish bags to take your waste home with you.

How do you get to Shiretoko National Park?

Departing from Haneda Airport in Tokyo, you can touch down at Memanbetsu Airport in 1 hour and 45 minutes. Then, you can catch the Shari Bus "Shiretoko Airport Liner" to Utoro in approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes. Alternatively, you can rent a car from Memanbetsu Airport and drive for two hours along the peninsula to reach Utoro.

Plan your journey with JAL today

Excited to experience the unique biodiversity of Shiretoko National Park? No matter the season, a wealth of outdoor experiences ensures your journey overflows with impressive hiking, sailing, and onsen adventures.

Book your next adventure with Japan Airlines to ensure you have the best trip to Shiretoko National Park. Supported by our special JAL Japan Explorer Pass, you’ll discover awesome airfares for over 30 domestic destinations. Book your journey with JAL to elevate your time in Japan.

Getting There