Best National Parks in Hokkaido

Explore The Highlights of Hokkaido's National Parks

Hokkaido, the northernmost region in Japan, is a treasure trove of natural splendor and dramatic landscapes. In this vast wilderness, Hokkaido boasts six impressive national parks (out of a total of 32 parks nationwide) where unique sights range from volcanic mountains to crystal-clear lakes. And all of this is preserved and cherished under Japan’s distinctive approach to natural conservation. 

Come again? Well, did you know that unlike most western countries, Japan’s National Parks consist of a collective effort involving private and local government lands? Japan’s constrained spaces and a long history of private land ownership has led to an interesting sort of patchwork approach when it comes to protecting these lands, in order to preserve the natural ecosystems and the country’s most beautiful sights. 

But enough with the trivia, we’re here to introduce the National Parks you cannot miss in Hokkaido if, like yours truly, you’re an enthusiast of the great outdoors!

Check also: Best National Parks in Japan

1. Daisetsuzan National Park 

Daisetsuzan National Park 

Daisetsuzan National Park (大雪山国立公園), established in 1934, is Hokkaido’s largest national park, encompassing a mountainous area that’s often referred to with grandiose nicknames such as the “roof of Hokkaido” or the “Playground of the Gods”. Known for its rugged wilderness, this park is a paradise for hikers and nature lovers. 

The park boasts a variety of alpine flora and fauna, including the rare Pika and the Japanese Serow. Its landscapes offer a stunning array of seasonal transformations, from vibrant green summers to colorful autumn foliage and snow-capped peaks in winter. With its pristine hot springs, like those found in Sounkyo Gorge, and the highest peak, Mount Asahidake, Daisetsuzan offers a truly immersive natural experience.

More info: Hiking at Mt Asahi Daisetsuzan National Park, Hokkaido

2. Shikotsu-Toya National Park 

Shikotsu-Toya National Park 

Shikotsu-Toya National Park (支笏洞爺国立公園), established in 1949, is named after its two famous caldera lakes, Lake Shikotsu and Lake Toya. The park is known for its outstanding natural beauty, volcanic landscapes, and hot springs. Mount Usu and the Showa Shinzan, a volcanic lava dome, are among the park’s geological highlights, offering insights into the area’s active volcanic nature. 

The crystal-clear waters of Lake Shikotsu, the non-freezing lake surrounded by steep mountains, and the scenic beauty of Lake Toya, with its backdrop of Mount Yotei, often called “Ezo Fuji” for its resemblance to Mount Fuji, make this park a popular destination for both relaxation and adventure.

More info: Lake Shikotsu: The Most Transparent Lake in Hokkaido

3. Akan-Mashu National Park 

Akan-Mashu National Park 

Akan-Mashu National Park (阿寒摩周国立公園), also established in 1934, is renowned for its stunning caldera lakes, including Lake Akan, Lake Mashu, and Lake Kussharo. The park is a haven for wildlife and is home to the marimo balls, a rare algae species that forms beautiful green spheres, found in Lake Akan. 

Lake Mashu, acclaimed for being one of the clearest lakes in the world, has breathtaking views from its surrounding peaks like Mount Meakan, a local favorite among hiking enthusiasts. The area is also famous for its hot springs and the rich indigenous Ainu culture, providing visitors with a good opportunity to experience both the natural beauty and local cultural heritage.

4. Kushiro Shitsugen National Park 

Kushiro Shitsugen National Park 

Kushiro Shitsugen National Park (釧路湿原国立公園), officially designated in 1987, encompasses Japan’s largest wetland area with the Kushiro Marshland. This area plays a critical role in biodiversity conservation, supporting a unique and large array of flora and fauna. It is particularly famous for the elegant red-crowned cranes, a symbol of Japan and a conservation success story, once thought to be extinct in the wild.

The park’s vast marshes offer a unique landscape that changes with the seasons, from lush greenery in summer to a snowy wonderland in winter. Observation platforms and walking trails allow visitors to explore the wetlands and observe wildlife in their natural environment, making it a must-visit for bird watchers and nature enthusiasts.

5. Shiretoko National Park 

Shiretoko National Park 

Shiretoko National Park (知床国立公園), established in 1964 and located on the Shiretoko Peninsula, at the northeastern tip of Hokkaido is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its rich biodiversity and unspoiled nature. The park’s rugged terrain, dense forests, and abundant wildlife, including brown bears and sea eagles, make it one of the most remote and wild places in Japan, accessible mainly by boat or on foot. 

The coastline is characterized by dramatic cliffs and cascading waterfalls with spectacular views, while the interior’s dense forests and mostly untouched nature trails are a prime spot for hiking and wildlife observation. In winter, the drift ice phenomenon is a unique natural spectacle that attracts visitors from around the world.

More info: 10 Best Things to Do in Shiretoko

6. Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park

Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park

Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park (利尻礼文サロベツ国立公園), designated in 1974, comprises the islands of Rishiri and Rebun, along with the Sarobetsu wetlands at the northernmost edge of Japan. The park is famous for its alpine flora, particularly on Rebun Island, known as the “Floating Island of Flowers”, where rare alpine species thrive at sea level due to the cold ocean currents, creating a unique landscape.

Mount Rishiri, resembling a miniature Mount Fuji, offers challenging hikes with rewarding panoramic views. The Sarobetsu plain is one of Japan’s largest wetlands, providing a habitat for migratory birds and a variety of wetland flora. This park offers a unique blend of mountainous and coastal landscapes, with opportunities for hiking and bird watching while enjoying a uniquely beautiful landscape.

Extra: Hokkaido’s Quasi-National Parks

Hokkaido is also home to five Quasi-National Parks, which are places of natural scenic beauty almost on par with the National Parks:

Onuma Quasi-National Park (大沼国定公園)

Onuma Quasi-National Park

Located in the Oshima Peninsula, this park is known for its picturesque scenery combining Mount Komagatake and the Onuma, Konuma, and Junsainuma lakes. It presents a serene environment reminiscent of a Japanese garden, where the interplay of forest, water, and volcanic landforms captivates visitors.

Niseko-Shakotan-Otaru Kaigan Quasi-National Park (ニセコ積丹小樽海岸国定公園)

Niseko-Shakotan-Otaru Kaigan Quasi-National Park

Facing the Sea of Japan, this extensive area is divided into three distinct zones: Niseko, known for its world-famous ski resorts and hot springs; Shakotan and Otaru, celebrated for their coastal beauty, camping spots, and unique geological formations; and the marine area, which includes Cape Kamui and Cape Shakotan, offering dramatic sea cliffs and panoramic ocean views.

Shokanbetsu-Teuri-Yagishiri Quasi-National Park (暑寒別天売焼尻国定公園)

Shokanbetsu-Teuri-Yagishiri Quasi-National Park

Also along the Sea of Japan, this park encompasses Mount Shokanbetsu, the Uryunuma Marshland, Teuri Island, and Yagishiri Island. It’s known for its spectacular sea views from Mount Shokanbetsu, the diverse flora of the high-altitude Uryunuma Marshland, and the birdlife of Teuri Island.

Hidaka Sanmyaku-Erimo Quasi-National Park (日高山脈襟裳国定公園)

Hidaka Sanmyaku-Erimo Quasi-National Park

The largest Quasi-National Park in Hokkaido, centered around the Hidaka Mountain Range, known as the “backbone of Hokkaido.” This park is largely unspoiled, with mountain trails that are not maintained, offering a wild and natural experience for more adventurous visitors.

Abashiri Quasi-National Park (網走国定公園)

Abashiri Quasi-National Park

Located in the northeastern part of Hokkaido, facing the Okhotsk Sea, this park is celebrated for its vibrant flower blooms in areas like the Koshimizu and Wakka natural flower gardens. The park also features wetlands like Lake Saroma and Lake Abashiri, providing important habitats for diverse species and offering beautiful natural landscapes.

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Written by

Photographer, journalist, and avid urban cyclist, making sense of Japan since 2017. I was born in Caracas and lived for 14 years in Barcelona before moving to Tokyo. Currently working towards my goal of visiting every prefecture in Japan, I hope to share with readers the everlasting joy of discovery and the neverending urge to keep exploring.