Japan may not exactly be known for wide-open spaces or vast wilderness, and yet Hokkaido has them both. The second largest of Japan’s four main islands, Hokkaido accounts for 22% of Japan’s landmass but less than 5% of its population. Considered Japan’s last frontier, Hokkaido has plenty of unspoiled forests, majestic mountain ranges, crystal-clear lakes, bubbling hot springs and space for wildlife to roam as well as dairy farms and agriculture. People, too, can roam to their heart’s content as much of Hokkaido’s natural beauty is preserved in its national parks. In fact, there are so many hiking trails it’s easy to feel like you have the woods, scenic peaks, and natural beauty all to yourself. Add fishing, bird watching, canoeing, mountain biking and other outdoor pursuits combined with pleasant summer temperatures, and it’s easy to see why Hokkaido tops the list when it comes to experiencing Japan’s wilder side.
Japan’s largest—and some say most beautiful – national park is Daisetsuzan, which sprawls
some 880 square miles across central Hokkaido. Its three volcanic chains and forests of birch and fir are laced with hiking trails offering endless possibilities for an hour’s stroll or even a multi-day trek. One of the most popular multi-day hikes is between the hot-spring villages of Asahidake Onsen and Sounkyo Onsen, which traverses the island’s tallest mountain and offers hut accommodations along the way.
Farther east is Akan National Park, famous for its subarctic primeval forests and clear
caldera lakes, including Lake Akan which offers hiking, mountain biking, canoeing and
fishing. Shiretoko National Park, at the northeastern tip of Hokkaido on a sliver of a
peninsula jutting out into the Sea of Okhotsk, is also a World Heritage Site. Not only is it one
of the least spoiled regions in Japan, but it’s also one of the richest integrated ecosystems in
the world. The Shiretoko Five Lakes, formed by a volcanic eruption and fed by natural
springs, is popular for its boardwalk and nature trails. Sightseeing boats depart from Utoro
for jaunts along the dramatic coastline, where you might be treated to sightings of bears, sea
lions, white-tailed eagles or cormorants.
An altogether different natural wonder is the focus of Kushiro Shitsugen on Hokkaido’s southeastern end. A favorite with nature photographers and bird watchers alike, this national park is home to Japan’s largest marshlands and to red-crested cranes. For travelers with only a day or two to spare, there’s Shikotsu-Toya National Park, conveniently located in southwestern Hokkaido between Hakodate and Sapporo and offering lakes, volcanoes and hot-spring spas.
In short, Hokkaido offers a different take on Japan – a place to escape and revel in the healing power of the great outdoors.
Summer in Asahidake: © BUD international
Hiking on slope of Tokachidake in Hokkaido: © DavorLovincic
Canoeing in Hokkaido: © Ippei Naoi