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Japan is an amazingly beautiful island country with wildly diverse landscapes and lots of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Here you’ll find everything from mountains to beaches, volcanoes, lakes, and forests to capture your imagination and help you reconnect with nature. These are some of the best national parks to check out next time you’re in Japan.
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The first Japanese national park we’ll highlight here is Shiretoko National Park, which is in eastern Hokkaido and on the Shiretoko Peninsula. This is a rugged place where the northern part can only be reached via multi-day treks or by boat. When you visit the park, you can see various wildlife species like deer and foxes, check out the drift ice, and take a sightseeing boat tour. Popular places to visit are Rausu Town with the hot spring pools, Furepe Waterfall, the five lakes, Kamuiwakkayu Falls, the hot spring town of Utoro, and Shiretoko Pass with views of Mount Rausu.
Established in 1936, Fuji Hakone Izu National Park is one of the most incredible national parks in Asia. It features volcanic islands, rugged coastlines, Mount Fuji, lakes, and the Izu Peninsula. It is a popular destination because of its close proximity to Tokyo. At this park, it’s fun to cycle, trek, kayak, and snorkel. There are caves and forests to explore on hikes here. Spring is a really special time to visit because of the cherry blossoms. Plan to take a day trip here from Tokyo to experience a truly lovely part of Japan without having to travel too far.
The Kerama Islands were designated a national park in 2014 and are a group of islands in the East China Sea. They are about 40 kilometers from the Okinawa Main Island and known for their sandy beaches and bright blue waters. Come here to go swimming, sunbathing, diving, and snorkeling. Whale watching is a popular activity here between January and March. In total, this area is made up of 36 islands and only four of them are inhabited. Zamami Island is the most popular island to visit, while Tokashiki Island is the largest island and also a great travel destination.
Daisetsuzan National Park is the largest national park in Hokkaido and a mountainous park with lots of wilderness. Come here for hiking, wildlife viewing to see bears and deer, and to experience the changing seasons. Many people use Asahidake Onsen or Kogen Onsen as their home base to visit the park. Mount Kurodake is a major peak to check out, while Ginsendai is known for its stunning fall colors. Daisetsuzan has been a national park since 1934 and is known as “the roof of Hokkaido” and the “playground of the gods.”
Iriomote Ishigaki National Park is a park that features subtropical forests and ocean areas with coral reefs. Visit Hateruma-jima Island, Japan’s southernmost inhabited island, to see sugar cane fields and white sandy beaches. Mariyudu-no-taki Falls and Pinaisara-no-taki Falls are lovely waterfalls to see here. Taketomi-jima Island is a traditional townscape that’s great to explore on a bike. Other highlights to check out are the Nagura Amparu tidal flat, Kabira Bay, and Mt. Omoto, which is the highest peak in the Okinawa Prefecture.
You’ll definitely love visiting Nikko National Park when you’re in Japan to experience the Toshogu Shrine, Senjogahara Marsh, and do lots of year-around activities. A popular day trip from Tokyo, this park has lots of authentic wilderness to explore, as well as adrenaline-fueled adventure and spiritual experiences too. This part of Japan is known for its lovely autumn colors in October and early November. Nikko is the town at the entrance of the park and a center for Buddhist and Shinto mountain worship. When you come to this area, you can enjoy the hot springs, waterfalls, lakes, hiking trails, and wild monkeys that live here. Cultural sights to see in town are the Toshogu Shrine, Rinnoji Temple, and Futarasan Shrine.
Akan Mashu National Park is an eastern Hokkaido park that is home to Lake Mashu, Lake Akan, and Lake Kussharo. Come to this park to canoe in the river, hike up a volcano, explore primeval forests, and view wildlife. The Ainu people of Japan settled here, so there are also opportunities to learn about local culture in addition to nature here. Snowshoeing, fishing, soaking in hot springs, and attending cultural performances are all popular activities to do in this park. Iozan is a volcano to see here, while the Kawayu Onsen is a hot spring resort that is worth visiting as well.
Here’s a national park in Japan that is in the mountainous interior region of northern Honshu and a great place to visit during any season of the year. Depending on when you visit, you can see green leaves, alpine flowers, colorful autumn trees, or snow for snowshoeing and skiing. It’s fun to take a sightseeing cruise on Lake Towada here, soak in the Nyuto Onsen hot springs, and walk along the Oirase Gorge. The hot springs here are the result of ancient volcanoes and a wonderful treat on chilly days. Hachimantai is a mountainous area known for its hot springs here. There are two separate areas of the park that are about 50 kilometers apart.
Experience the subtropical archipelago of Ogasawara National Park that’s approximately 1,000 kilometers from mainland Japan and you’ll get an unforgettable remote location for ecotourism. This is a nice place to come for swimming, snorkeling, and seeing the whales. It is a chain of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean, and the way to get here is by ferry ride from Tokyo. Father Island and Mother Island are the only to inhabited islands in this area. Enjoy warm temperatures year-around and take the time to learn about the unique plants and animals that live here and the best ways to help preserve them.
Ise-Shima National Park features many inlets, an archipelago, and forests. It is also a place with a rich maritime heritage to learn about if you are interested in Japanese history. Here you can learn about the unique fishing practices and take a tour to meet with divers who have special rules for fishing and seaweed preservation. Sea kayaking is another popular activity to do in this park. When you go hiking here, you can get awesome views of Mount Fuji and the ocean. Other top attractions in the region include the Inner Shrine, Outer Shrine, Meoto Iwa, and Mikimoto Pearl Island.
Impressive peaks, dense forests, and a stunning coastline make up this Japanese national park that is also an ancient pilgrimage route. Come here to see the shrine of Kumano Nachi Taisha, the rock formation of Hashiguiiwa, and the deep Dorokyo Gorge. There is also the Kushimoto Marine Mark here to check out. The pilgrimage route totes through the forests and to multiple shrines. To get more out of your visit, you can also sign up for a guided experience, such as forest therapy or a trekking tour.
Active volcanoes are the centerpiece of this national park, so plan to come here to observe the volcanoes and this unique landscape. There are some excellent hiking trails here are also hot springs in the onsen towns of Yufuin and Kurokawa. Aso is the big active volcano here with an ancient caldera. Fun things to do here include hiking through the Kuju mountain range, horseback riding in the grasslands, and seeing the crater lake of Mount Nakadake. There are five peaks of Mount Aso that resemble a sleeping Buddha. If you visit in mid-March, you can check out the Aso Fire Festival.
This national park is made up of two islands, one with forests and the other with active volcanoes and hot springs. Come here to hike, see a waterfall, visit steaming volcanic vents, and see colorful fish and coral reefs at the Tsukasaki Tide Pool. Yaskushima has over 39 mountains with 1,000-meter peaks. Kuchinoerabujima has coastal paths and sea cliffs worth exploring and spas that are perfect for taking a soak after a long hike. There’s a museum and cultural center at the park where you can learn more about the customs of the people that lived here hundreds of years ago.
Shikotsu-Toya National Park is the last park that we’ll highlight on this list and home to volcanic activity, ezo foxes and other wildlife, and natural hot springs. It’s fun to come here and kayak at Lake Shikotsu and to ride the Mount Usu Ropeway for views. Hiking along the Hohei Gorge is another popular activity at this park. This is an easy national park to access from Sapporo. In addition to the two namesake lakes, it’s worth checking out Niesko for a snow resort with lots of powder. Noboribetsu and Jozankei Onsen are hot spring resorts in the area that are popular with visitors to this national park as well.