Hiking on Hokkaido
A Journey through Japan’s Outback
Discover the mountain trails of Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. Among the Japanese islands, Hokkaido may be lacking in the cultural monuments so often associated with Japan, but it offers an abundance of wide-open spaces, wilderness landscapes, and the best opportunities for outdoor activities in the country. (Hokkaido accounts for one-fifth of the total Japanese landmass, but only 5% of Japan’s population lives there!) On this trip we’ll sample the mountain trails of four national parks—Shikotsu-Toya, Daisetsuzan, Akan, and Shiretoko.
Autumn comes to the Daisetsuzan high country, Hokkaido, Japan.
Overnight in Chitose
Arrival at Sapporo (Chitose Airport). Overnight at accommodations at or near Chitose Airport.
The lava dome of the Tarumae volcano, Shikotsu-Toya National Park.
Overnight in Chitose
Travel from Chitose to the shores of the Shikotsu crater lake (Shikostu-ko) in the heart of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park (支笏洞爺国立公園). Hike up the volcanic cinder slopes of the Tarumae-san volcano. From the crater rim, enjoy a stunning view of the volcano’s lava dome. Far below you, the waters of the Pacific Ocean shimmer. Ascend to the summit of the west peak of Tarumae-san before returning to the trailhead. Later, enjoy a stroll up the “Moss Gorge” (Koke-no-domon) where thirty different species of moss are said to grow. Travel by vehicle back to Chitose and overnight.
Asahidake volcano from Asahidake Onsen.
Overnight in Asahidake Onsen
This morning, travel by vehicle to Asahidake Onsen on the western slopes of Hokkaido’s magnificent Daisetsuzan massif. You’ll spend the evening at the small mountain settlement of Asahidake Onsen above which rises 7,500 foot tall Mount Asahidake, the highest peak on Hokkaido. Upon arrival, a short hike will introduce you to the lush woodlands that cloak the lower slopes of Asahidake volcano. Labels along the trail identify key tree species. The hike ends at a garden featuring the alpine plants (many endemic) that grow in the highlands of the Daisetsuzan National Park.
Japanese gentians (Gentiana nipponica)–a sampling of the wildflowers riches of the Daisetsuzan.
A trail leads past the Sugatami Ponds en route to the Daisetsuzan high country.
Overnight in Sounkyo
From Asahidake Onsen, ascend into the mountains by cable car (called a “ropeway” in Japan). From the cable car’s upper station near the Sugatami Ponds, begin a hike across the Daisetsuzan National Park (大雪山国立公園) whose name translates as “big snow mountain.” This full-day trek across wild, alpine landscapes offers expansive vistas across the “roof of Hokkaido.” At days end, descend the northern flanks of Daisetsuzan and lodge for the evening at Sounkyo Onsen, set in the bottom of a dramatic, waterfall-lined gorge.
Hiking across the high Daisetsuzan; The peak of Hakuundake in the background.
Autumn tints the high country of Daisetsuzan.
Midori-numa (Green Lake), Daisetsu-Kogen.
Overnight at Daisetsu-Kogen Onsen
Enjoy a second day of hiking in the Daisetsuzan National Park. Travel by vehicle to an area on the eastern slope of the Daisetsuzan known as Daisetsu-Kogen (Daisetsu Plateau). Today’s hike leads to the Daisetsu Kogen Numa—a cluster of small subalpine lakes set into a mountain basin at the foot of the Takane-ga-hara escarpment. This evening, enjoy the quiet comfort of a traditional Japanese mountain inn at Daisetsu-Kogen Onsen. Here, you can soak in a hot spring surrounded by by scenic grandeur of Daisetsuzan National Park.
Daigaku-numa (University Lake).
Autumn color in Daisetsuzan National Park.
Waterfalls in the Sounkyo Gorge. Ginga-no-taki (left) and Ryusei-no-taki (right).
Overnight in Akan National Park
In the morning, enjoy a short hike to the So-baku-dai viewpoint from where you’ll view two spectacular waterfalls that grace the walls of the Sounkyo gorge. Later, travel to the Akan National Park (阿寒国立公園). Three lovely “crater lakes” are protected within its boundaries. One of these crater lakes, Lake Akan (阿寒湖, Akan-ko), is known for the unusual balls of the marimo algae that grow in the lake. Enjoy a short walk along the lakeshore to the bubbling mudpots at the Bokke thermal area. Overnight in Akan-kohan on the shores of Akan-ko.
Oakandake volcano rises above Lake Akan.
The lake of Onneto as seen from timberline on Meakandake volcano.
Overnight in Akan National Park
From the picturesque lake of Onneto, hike up to the mountain saddle between Mount Meakan (Meakandake) and the wonderfully symmetrical cone of the Akan Fuji volcano. From the saddle, an optional hike follows a spur trail that leads to the summit of Akan Fuji. Otherwise, continue to the summit of Meakandake (an active volcano) and enjoy spectacular vistas over the large steaming and rumbling summit crater of the volcano. In the other direction, views extend over Meakandake’s subsidiary craters and beyond to the wooded expanses of Akan National Park. The trail then descends the volcano’s western slope through stands of dwarf pine (Pinus pumilla) before entering a beautiful forest of Hokkaido red spruce (Picea glehnii) at trail’s end. Travel back to the shores of Lake Akan where you’ll spend a second night.
Akan Fuji as seen from the summit of Meakandake.
The crater lake of Mashu-ko in Akan National Park.
Overnight in Utoro
After breakfast, travel to the pristine caldera lake of Mashū-ko (摩周湖) which some consider the most beautiful lake in Japan. See if you agree! There’ll be time to enjoy the classic beauty of this lake as well as to stretch your legs on a hike along a bamboo-lined trail to a dramatic vantage point high above either Mashū-ko or above Lake Kussharo, another of Akan National Park’s caldera lakes. Continue to the Shiretoko Peninsula, one of the wildest areas in Japan, named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July 2005. We’ll spend the evening in the coastal town of Utoro overlooking the Sea of Okhotsk and a gateway to the Shiretoko National Park (知床国立公園).
Oshinkoshin waterfall near Utoro.
On a crystal clear day, the summit of Rausu-dake beckons.
Overnight in Utoro
This morning, travel by vehicle to the trailhead at Iwaobetsu Onsen. From here, hike a switchbacking trail to the summit of Mount Rausu (Rausu-dake), one of several old volcanoes that together formed the Shiretoko Peninsula. From the summit of Rausu-dake, enjoy a glorious vista northward down the untrammeled volcanic spine of Shiretoko. To the west shimmers the Sea of Okhotsk while to the east, the Kuril Islands (today a part of Russia) float on the waters of the Pacific. Return to Utoro for the evening and enjoy a farewell dinner to celebrate the conclusion of your Hokkaido hiking adventure!
The view down the wilderness spine of the Shiretoko Peninsula from the slopes of Rausu-dake.
Twisted birches line the trail to Rausu-dake.
View of the Sea of Okhotsk from Utoro.
Departure from Memanbetsu
After breakfast, travel by vehicle from Utoro to the Shiretoko Goko (Shiretoko Five Lakes). Enjoy a short walk along trails and boardwalks that leads past the lakes which, if weather conditions are right, majestically reflect the line of peaks along the spine of the Shiretoko Peninsula. Then, continue to Memanbetsu Airport for your early evening departure.
Autumn flora in Hokkaido.
One traveler’s experience of traveling in Hokkaido is recounted in “The End of the Earth,” an article published in the November 2006 issue of Travel & Leisure Magazine.
The Asahidake Ropeway site contains information on the sights and features made accessible by the ropeways. The Asahidake Ropeway site has a great little section on Daisetsuzan wildflowers!
Browse through a comprehensive selection of Japanese topographic maps on-line. The detail is great, but navigating the site can be a great challenge because it’s all in Japanese! Happy browsing!
Live webcam view of Utoro harbor on the Shiretoko Peninsula.
Live webcam view of Yotei-zan volcano from Niseko (refreshed every minute between 5:00 AM and 6:00 PM, Japan time).
Hiking across the “roof of Hokkaido” on the Daisetsuzan Traverse.
Photos on this page are by John Osaki except as otherwise credited.