Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest and northernmost prefecture, has a reputation for its natural beauty, and it’s certainly deserved. Despite being a relatively small island, Hokkaido boasts an incredibly diverse landscape that makes it a prime destination year-round. 

We’re talkin’ thick blankets of snow bringing ski resorts to life in the winter, and lush, flowery meadows breathing color into the spring and summer seasons followed by a fiery overtake of foliage in the fall. Not to mention the countless volcanic lakes, winding cape spines, craggy, undulating grasslands and rolling lavender fields. 

Framed by the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk, it’s also home to some seriously spectacular beaches such as Shiretoko and Itanki. But, with a vibrant patchwork of Ainu history and remnants from prehistoric Japan like dinosaur fossils and ancient Paleolithic dwellings, Hokkaido’s more than just a pretty face. 

Shiretoko National Park

Shiretoko National Park is the ultimate destination for those who love the peacefulness of the sea and the ruggedness of mountains. In fact, the name Shiretoko comes from the indigenous Japanese Ainu term sir etok or ‘end of the world.’ Quite fitting given that Shiretoko boasts one of the richest integrated ecosystems on the planet with sky high mountains, rugged coastlines dotted with drift ice and precipitous cliffs left over from ancient volcanic eruptions. 

Take in swaths of the wide open sea dotted with icy slabs floating in from Russia, or ponder the snow-capped mountains that frame glittering turquoise lakes. Fortunately, much of Shiretoko’s magnificent landscape is protected under the umbrella of the Shiretoko National Park spanning nearly 154 square miles (400 square kilometers) of breathtaking wilderness. 

It’s so breathtaking, in fact, that Shiretoko even has its own Unesco World Natural Heritage Site status. Even better, the wildlife is just as diverse as the landscape it inhabits, so expect burly brown bears, unbelievably cute spectacled guillemots, and majestic killer whales. 


Three words: flowery alpine meadows. It’s what Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park is known and loved for. 

Nestled in the wilderness of northern Hokkaido and holding the title for Japan’s northernmost national park, Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu is home to a wide array of landscapes from steep volcanic hills to coastal dunes and rich marshlands. 

View from on top of Mt Rishiri
View from Mount Rishiri by Douglas P Perkins via Wikimedia Commons

Be sure to explore the Sarobetsu Plain, an ancient lake bed that gave way to the peat marshlands that exist today, and Mount Rishiri, a volcanic cone located on Rishiri Island, the park’s most recognizable symbol. Then, the windswept grasslands of Rebun-to Island, with its vibrant seasonal blooms and plethora of endemic species, will show you that the local nickname ‘island of flowers’ is a title well deserved.

Shikotsu-Toya National Park

Named for its two spectacular caldera lakes, Lake Shikotsu and Lake Toya, Shikotsu-Toya National Park is in a league of its own. In addition to the two pristine bodies of water you’ll find even more delights like natural hot springs, active volcanoes and a rich community of wildlife complete with everything from sly Ezo foxes to determined black woodpeckers within the park. 

View of a lake
Lake Shikotsu, by MIKI Yoshihito. (#mikiyoshihito) via Wikimedia Commons

Better yet, Shikotsu-Toya’s proximity to Sapporo makes it a great destination for those looking for a city break on limited time, and its variety of activities mean you’ll have plenty to pencil in for your getaway to the great outdoors. 

Seize the day with a hiking trail around the shimmering lakes or in the shadows of the volcanic mountains before a nice soak in the hot springs. Or how about saddling up for some horseback riding through a series of scenic trails or canoeing through the ancient waters of Lake Toya?

Daisetsuzan National Park

With a name that literally translates to ‘Great Snowy Mountains’ and is known by locals as ‘the playground of the gods,’ Daisetsuzan National Park belongs on any Hokkaido itinerary. Taking the cake for Hokkaido’s largest national park and famous for its pristine alpine landscapes starring Mount Tomuraushi and the Ishikari and Tokachi ranges, Daisetsuzan truly is a trail-lover’s dream. 

Snowy mountain with a turquoise pond
Suribachi Pond on Mount Asahidake in Daisetsuzan National Park by OKJaguar via Wikimedia Commons

Plus, thanks to its diverse landscape of rolling peaks and deep valleys, each season in Daisetsuzan is spectacular. Whether the colorful meadows of spring and summer, the 5,000-shades-of-orange-foliage in autumn, or the never ending blankets of shimmering snow in wintertime, any time is a good time to explore Daisetsuzan.

Akan-Mashu National Park

Head to Akan-Mashu National Park where you’ll be met with volcanic craters turned crystal clear lakes and woodland wildlife such as red foxes, and Japanese sables galore. Characterized by its dense forests and plethora of woodland lakes, Akan-Mashu is perfect for those who find their peace and serenity in the thick of the forest. 

In addition to primeval woodlands, visitors to Akan-Mashu also have the opportunity to explore Lake Kussharo, aka Japan’s largest volcanic crater lake, and the mighty Mount Meakan, a bubbling, active volcano. 

Volcanic lake
Lake Mashū by Kpravin2 via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re worn out from hiking or are just looking for something more adventurous, grab a canoe and explore the depths of one of the many crater lakes through the area. More of a history buff? Akan-Mashu National Park doubles as a gateway into the region’s rich, indigenous Ainu culture with plenty of ancient settlements to explore. 

Whether you want to know more about the Land of the Rising Sun’s great outdoors or life in its big cities, our Japan Travel Guide will tell you all you need to know.

This content was created in partnership with the Japan National Tourism Organization and Japan Airlines.