The 5 most beautiful national parks in Japan

Go outside Tokyo’s vast metropolis to experience the untamed and surreal splendour of Japan’s national parks. These protected areas have amazing natural diversity, with valleys covered in maple forests that glow scarlet and gold in the autumn and pink cherry blossom petals that flutter in the spring.

Swimming with dolphins, hiking old volcanic calderas, and camping in Japanese beech woods are all possible summertime activities. See rare red-crowned cranes creeping elegantly through the snow, frozen waterfalls, and onsens overlooking the mountains throughout the winter months.

Hokkaido's Akan Mashu National Park

Akan Mashu National Park, Hokkaido

With six national parks and an abundance of breathtaking, untamed landscape, the sparsely inhabited island of Hokkaido is a natural paradise. Visit between the months of June through August to trek volcanic calderas that offer breathtaking views of misted lakes surrounded by forests and marimo (a nearly extinct algae that appears as mysterious moss balls on the shores of Lake Akan in Hokkaido). The largest Ainu village in Japan, which consists of Hokkaido’s indigenous population, is also located in the park. The Ainu who starred in the well-known manga series Golden Kamuy should visit Lake Mashū, which is known as “the lake of the gods” in Ainu, if they are there during the summer. The park is at its best for onsens and excellent snow activities from December to February, when cold fronts from Siberia bring some of the best powder on the planet to the island. As many of these cranes can be observed in the area during the winter, keep an eye out for Tanchou, also known as the Japanese crane and a national treasure. Stay at Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga on the Lake Akan coastline.

Hachimantai-Towada National Park, Aomori, Iwate, and Akita

Towada-Hachimantai National Park, Aomori/Iwate/Akita

Northern Japan is home to the hilly Towada-Hachimantai National Park, which crosses the prefectures of Aomori, Iwate, and Akita. Lake Towada, Hakkoda Mountain, and the Oirase River—which features a boardwalk you may stroll along—are some of the area’s natural landmarks. The virgin woodland turns golden with dropping leaves in October, when the park is at its best. However, the snow-covered trees and icy waterfalls appear just as magnificent in the winter (and are frequently magically lit). Enjoy activities such as skiing, snowboarding, hiking, cycling, canoeing, and onsen (geothermal hot springs) swimming here. Warming winter regional dishes like Inaniwa udon (flavourful udon with thinner noodles than usual) and Kiritanpo (pounded rice wrapped around a stick of cedarwood) can also be enjoyed. Just 30 minutes’ drive from the park is the Historical Ryokan SENYUKAN, where you can stay.

Nikko National Park, Gunma/Fukushima/Tochigi

Nikko National Park, Gunma/Fukushima/Tochigi

You should definitely go to Nikko National Park to take in the bizarrely beautiful scenery. However, what really makes the area stand out are the gorgeous, old Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, and pagodas that can be seen peeking through the woods. The golden rooftop of Nikkō Tōshō-gū shrine, the shimmering red walls of Rinno-ji temple that echo the crimson-hued forest in fall, and the wistful Shinkyo Bridge—once reserved for the emperor alone—are all must-see sights. The park, which spans three prefectures, can be reached from Tokyo in roughly two hours by rail or three hours by car. Seasonal variations also affect the range of activities offered; in the summer, you can trek, canyon through clear streams, and camp surrounded by daylilies and rhododendron. Consider engaging in a holy waterfall meditation (be sure to visit the well-known Kegon Falls, for example). Winter offers a range of exciting snow activities, such as ice wall climbing and snowshoeing, but you may also choose to unwind in an onsen soak or take a stroll around the picturesque, snow-covered landscape. While visiting Asaya, take advantage of outdoor natural spring baths with views of the mountains.

Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo

Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo

Showa Kinen Park is an absolute haven in the western suburbs for anyone wanting a taste of Japan’s beautiful nature without having to travel outside of Tokyo. You may rent bikes and peddle along wooded pathways and around well-manicured flower fields of vivid tulips, all just a 30-minute train trip from the city core. Alternately, rent a paddle boat and tour the park’s charming canals studded with ginkgo trees and ponds. Although it’s a pleasant getaway from the busy city year-round, spring and autumn are the busiest seasons. Take in the seasonal sakura spectacular at the Cherry Blossom Garden, where you can also enjoy hanami among the blossoming trees. You might also go to the Japanese garden with so many maple trees to see a cosy, fall atmosphere. The park is decked out with Christmas illumination throughout December. Come enjoy a barbecue (it’s allowed to grill in the park) and watch the Tachikawa Festival fireworks in the summer. Stay in Tokyo’s west at Kikusuitei.

Setonaikai National Park, Shikoku (Seto Inland Sea)

Setonaikai National Park, Shikoku (Seto Inland Sea)

Japan’s largest national park, Setonaikai, covers an astounding 9000 square kilometres of land and sea across 11 prefectures. It was the country’s first national park. In addition to offering a plethora of cultural attractions such as the world-famous Benesse Art Site Naoshima art project and the Setouchi Triennale art festival, the park offers a wide range of recreational opportunities, including kayaking, hiking, and cycling. The park’s assortment of over three thousand rocky, hilly islands floating in the Seto Inland Sea is home to the widest variety of sceneries. The little island of Miyajima, which is well-known for its exquisite torii gate that seems to float on the water during high tide, is also located there. Visit white sand beaches surrounded by pine trees and take a tour of Setonaikai’s enchanted fishing towns, such as Tomonoura, which is well-known for serving as the backdrop for Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo. Alternatively, for sweeping views of Osaka Bay, trek through terraced rice fields and ride the cable car to the summit of Mount Rokko. The Naruto whirlpools, a phenomena created by currents merging in the Naruto Strait where circular torrents of ocean can spread up to 20 metres wide, are another sight not to be missed. Awaken to views of the ocean at the highly regarded Wakka.

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