Japan boasts 34 national parks that can be found across the country from the northernmost areas of Hokkaido all the way through remote islands in the south. Each park features respective characteristics, including unique diverse ecosystems and historic structures designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Visiting the national parks of Japan allows you to explore the most beautiful hidden natural spots, get close to wildlife and pay a visit to world-famous temples and shrines. Combining the modern highlights of Tokyo and the traditional temples and shrines in Kyoto with a visit to any of these natural parks is a great way to discover the different sides of Japan! Here we prepared our list of 10 best national parks in Japan from north to south.
- 1. Shiretoko National Park (Hokkaido)
- 2. Kushiro Shitsugen National Park (Hokkaido)
- 3. Nikko National Park (Tochigi)
- 4. Chubu Sangaku National Park (Nagano)
- 5. Fuji Hakone Izu National Park (Shizuoka)
- 6. Ise Shima National Park (Mie)
- 7. Setonaikai National Park (Ehime)
- 8. Aso Kuju National Park (Kumamoto)
- 9. Kirishima Kinkowan National Park (Kagoshima)
- 10. Ogasawara National Park (Tokyo)
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1. Shiretoko National Park (Hokkaido)
Covering Hokkaido’s northeast corner of Shiretoko peninsula, Shiretoko National Park (知床国立公園) is one of the many national parks in Hokkaido. The park is home to a great diversity of unique species and untouched natural spots. Designated as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in 2005, it fascinates visitors with a stunning landscape created by the incredible volcanic mountains as well as scenic coastlines. You can join a guided tour to get close to the wildlife including brown bears and sperm whales which have lived there for generations in harmony with nature. Shiretoko has the highest population density of brown bears in the world, so be prepared for a bear encounter especially in summer. The suburb circumstances in winter season cater for some amazing activities like winter rafting or walking on drift ice, which rarely appears in a frozen ocean in the Hokkaido area!
2. Kushiro Shitsugen National Park (Hokkaido)
Another must-visit national park in Hokkaido is Kushiro Shitsugen National Park (釧路湿原). Located in the east part of Hokkaido, it features Kushiro Marsh, the largest marshland in Japan. 5 observation spots and 6 walking trails allow visitors to explore the majestic park while encountering impressive sceneries and a diverse wildlife. Wild animals such as deer, eagles, and the endangered red-crowned crane, the symbolic bird of Japan, also can be spotted, making it a popular bird watching park. Being a national park there are no street lights thus little light pollution creating the best conditions for observing another natural phenomenon; hotaru, better known as fireflies! Early summer is the best time to spot the illuminated beauties here. Different outdoor activities are also available each season including canoeing along Kushiro river and horse trekking in summer!
3. Nikko National Park (Tochigi)
From Tokyo, a 2-hour train ride takes you to Nikko, a peaceful mountainous area which is visited by large numbers of tourists as a weekend getaway into nature. A trip to Nikko is especially popular in autumn when the autumn leaves create a spectacular vista. It is home to Nikko National Park (日光国立公園), which covers some of the most popular tourist attractions around Tokyo. Nikko Toshogu Shrine, one of the 23 as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan, is a sacred Shinto shrine built back in the 16th century to honor Tokugawa Ieyasu who is known as the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Kegon Falls attracts visitors all year round with the stunning scenery created by the beautiful waterfall along with surrounding nature featuring lush greenery in summer and autumn colors in fall. Lake Chuzenji is a perfect spot for hiking, trekking, fishing and taking a boat cruise! We recommend taking a guided tour in Nikko to explore the amazing sights and learn about the rich culture and history here.
4. Chubu Sangaku National Park (Nagano)
Chubu Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園) in Nagano is the perfect destination for those who love to spend their time tackling hiking trails or trying adventurous mountain activities! It welcomes visitors with a stunning landscape created by the northern Japanese alps featuring giant peaks over 3,000m. Head to Kamikochi, a peaceful mountain resort nestled about 1,500m high above the sea level. Taking a refreshing stroll along the Azusa river is easy to try even for kids as it requires no professional experiences or hiking gear. The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is a spectacular sightseeing route stretching 37.2m through the northern alps area between Toyama and Nagano prefecture. It boasts a great number of popular tourist attractions such as giant snow walls in spring and refreshing hiking experience at Murodo Plateau in summer!
5. Fuji Hakone Izu National Park (Shizuoka)
If you are looking for somewhere close to Tokyo, head to Fuji Hakone Izu National Park (富士箱根伊豆国立公園). Covering Mt. Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain in Shizuoka prefecture and its surrounding areas, this scenic park stretches across four prefectures including Shizuoka, Kanagawa, Yamanashi, and Tokyo. Visit Fuji Five Lakes, a perfect spot for a range of outdoor activities such as hiking, trekking, canoeing, BBQ and camping against a backdrop of Mt. Fuji. The Hakone area awaits visitors with relaxing hot spring experiences as well as popular tourist attractions in nature such as Owakudani Valley and Hakone Shrine!
Hiking to the summit of Mount Fuji at 3,776m is on the bucket list for many nature-lovers. Each year some 300,000 people make their way to the top, most of them in the official climbing season which lasts from Early July to mid September. For those of you who are feeling less adventurous, the base of Mount Fuji is also beautiful to visit, all year round. Take a Mt. Fuji Private Walking Tour and discover the cultural and historical heritage of Mount Fuji while walking parts of the traditional pilgrim route.
6. Ise Shima National Park (Mie)
Visiting Ise Shima National Park (伊勢志摩国立公園), also called Ise Shima, will allow you to explore both scenic coastlines by the ocean and sacred historic spots in the rugged landscape of Mie Prefecture. The national park is located on a peninsula and offers breathtaking vistas. Head to Yokoyama Observatory to enjoy panoramic views of the Ago Bay featuring 64 scenic islands. Iseshima Skyline is a 16.3km scenic road with plenty of stops to enjoy magnificent views overlooking the Ise bay. Don’t forget to visit Ise Jingu (also known as Ise Grand Shrine), one of the most popular Shinto shrines in Japan which is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu. Exploring around the sacred shrine complex in forests will definitely be an unforgettable experience!
7. Setonaikai National Park (Ehime)
Designated as one of the first Japan’s national parks in 1934, Setonaikai National Park (瀬戸内海国立公園) features a great number of famous tourist attractions and natural spots in the Seto Inland Sea area. It offers beautiful coastal scenery, panoramic views of the Seto Inland Sea with more than 1,000 islands, historic spots, popular cycle route and much more. Visit Itsukushima shrine on Miyajima widely known for its iconic floating torii gate. Head to Mt. Washuzan where you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the Seto Ohashi Bridge and the islands located in the Seto Inland Sea. Or cycle over the bridges of Shimanami Kaido, a world-famous toll road connecting the mainland of Japan and Shikoku region.
8. Aso Kuju National Park (Kumamoto)
If the Kyushu area is on your list of travel destinations in Japan, Aso Kuju National Park (阿蘇くじゅう国立公園) is something that you can’t miss! One of the most notable features is the dynamic landscape created by volcanic mountains and caldera represented by Mt. Aso, Japan’s most active volcano standing at 1,592 at the highest point above the sea level. The breathtaking volcano is a great spot to visit, with hiking trails surrounding the caldera that are lesser know to the international tourists! Renting a car is your best way to explore the large area of Aso Kuju National park, this way you are flexible and easily drive to some amazing spots like Daikanbo, an observation spot offering a breathtaking view of the five giant peaks of Aso. The scenic drive through the park is worth the visit already. Selected among the 100-best water in Japan, Kikuchi Gorge offers a refreshing environment in nature all year round where the water temperature rarely gets higher than 13 degrees even in summer! The Kyushu area is rich in nature, with active volcanoes, rugged mountains and natural onsen everywhere.
9. Kirishima Kinkowan National Park (Kagoshima)
Kagoshima prefecture is home to Kirishima Kinko National Park (霧島錦江湾国立公園) one of Japan’s first national parks along with Setonaikai National Park in 1934. It encompasses a large number of natural scenic spots, including Kinkowan bay, Sakurajima (another active volcano accessible from Kagoshima by ferry), and Kirishima Mountains featuring giant mountain ranges with incredible hiking trails. Climb Mount Karakuni, yet another volcano with an altitude of 1,700m. Kirishima Jingu Shrine is a popular historic spot nearby which attracts about 1.5 million people every year with a long history dating back to the 6th century. Finish your day of sightseeing and soak in one of the many onsen on the nearby area like Kirishima Onsen where you can enjoy refreshing natural hot springs with great views of sacred Kirishima mountains!
10. Ogasawara National Park (Tokyo)
Located approximately 1,000 km south of the mainland of Japan, Ogasawara National Park (小笠原国立公園) consists of a group of islands belonging to Tokyo Islands. With a super remote location, the park is home to a unique ecosystem. The cluster of subtropical islands offers an ideal environment for wildlife and flora to evolve easily without any influence from outside. Enjoy a refreshing stroll at scenic beaches on Chichijima or join guided snorkeling tours to dive into the underwater world which is home to diverse marine lives such as dolphins, whales, and sea turtles. Head to Hahajima to tackle trekking courses at Mt. Chibusayama which offers a panoramic view of the entire island and the ocean from the top!
Every corner of Japan has something special to offer and each of the national parks we introduced above, offers an unforgettable experience. Whether it is wildlife watching, hiking activities or simply stunning nature you are looking for, these parks all offer stunning landscapes, untouched wildlife and historic spots preserved for over centuries. When visiting the parks and the untouched nature, look carefully for the wildlife that resides in the areas and you might just spot some wild deers, predatory birds or even beers (especially in summer make sure to prepare yourself and alway carry a beer bell to scare them off). Some of them also could be a perfect destination for families with kids, which will help them develop their interest and curiosity about nature.
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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with travelling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.
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