Located in east Asia, Japan consists of 14,125 islands. In total it has the sixth-longest coastline in the world and a vast array of diverse ecosystems. Around 67% of the country consists of vast forests, while other areas include volcanoes and mountains. Japan has 34 national parks and they offer some of the best opportunities to get close to nature while enjoying stunning scenery. So, let’s discover some of the most beautiful national parks in Japan!
1. Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park
The first place on our list is the Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park which forms part of the Ryukyu island chain. The area features numerous forests, mangroves, and beaches, as well as stunning coral reefs which are teeming with life. There are many animals which live in the national park, including several which are endemic to the islands — such as the Sakishima grass lizard and the Iriomote cat. There are plenty of things to do during your visit, such as scuba diving, fishing, kayaking, and hiking. You can also take a boat trip to Mariyudu Falls which is a beautiful waterfall on Okinawa island.
2. Yoshino-Kumano National Park
Next is the Yoshino-Kumano National Park which combines ancient and cultural sites with stunning scenery. Yoshino-Kumano includes three grand shrines which are the main feature of the pilgrimage route through the park. It is also the home of Mount Yoshino which is located in the northernmost region and is famous for its thousands of cherry trees. There’s also the stunning Dorokyo Gorge which has a fascinating rock formation and crystal clear water. The best way to view the gorge is on a scenic boat trip so you can fully appreciate the beauty of the site.
3. Towada-Hachimantai National Park
The Towada-Hachimantai National Park is located in Tōhoku and consists of two separate areas that are 31 miles apart. The northern region features the Hakkoda Mountains and Lake Towada while the southern region includes Mount Akita-Komagatake, Mount Hachimantai, and Mount Iwate. The park also features several hot springs, lakes, and rivers. There’s a wide variety of activities available in Towada-Hachimantai, including hiking, canoeing, camping, and swimming. Depending on what time of year you visit then there’s also skiing and snow-shoeing available on the many mountain slopes in the park.
4. Setonaikai National Park
The next beautiful national park in Japan is Setonaikai which consists of several areas of the Seto Inland Sea. It is the largest national park in the country and covers a vast area of both land and sea. Setonaikai has a wide variety of stunning scenery, including a long sandbar on Naruga Island, whirlpools, hot springs, mountains, and forests. There’s plenty of activities available too, such as mountain biking, hiking, swimming, and boat trips. Plus, Setonaikai is full of historical and cultural significance, hosting an annual art festival and being home to various ancient temples and shrines.
5. Daisen-Oki National Park
The Daisen-Oki national park is located in the Chūgoku region and features several volcanoes and mountains. The park’s namesake, Mount Daisen, is a dormant volcano and Japan’s oldest sacred mountain. A Buddhist temple — Daisenji — is located halfway up the mountain and has existed for more than 1,000 years. The route to the the temple consists of ancient forests, while the summit of the mountain offers a spectacular view of the Sea of Japan. There’s also an observatory at the peak where you can check out the night sky with the use of a telescope or even sign up for a night-sky photography class.
6. Akan Mashu National Park
The Akan Mashu National Park is located on Hokkaidō island and can be divided into two distinct areas — Akan in the southwest and Mashu in the northeast. Akan is a large caldera which was formed by volcanic eruptions over thousands of years. It is home to Mount Meakan which is an active volcano with three different hiking routes to the summit. Mashu features the largest caldera lake in Japan — Lake Kussaro. It has warm water even in the winter thanks to the volcanic activity in the area and is particularly popular for canoeing. It’s also home to several species of migratory birds in the winter, including whooper swans. The most active volcano in the Mashu region is Mount Io which regularly emits clouds of steam and sulphur, creating a spectacular sight.
7. Oze National Park
One of the youngest national parks in Japan is Oze National Park which is located in the Tohoku region. It features the Ozegahara Marsh, vast meadows, beautiful waterfalls, and several mountains. It is a popular place for hikers, with numerous trails with varying degrees of difficulty. The wetlands can be explored via wooden boardwalks, allowing you to get close to nature. With such a diverse landscape, Oze National Park is the perfect place for wildlife to flourish, with several species endemic to this unique area. Some of the animals that you may see include Japanese stoats, Japanese serows, and Asiatic black bears.
8. Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park
Another beautiful national park in Japan is Kirishima-Kinkowan which is located in Kyūshū. Kirishima-Kinkowan is known for its many active volcanoes, including the smouldering Mount Sakurajima. It also features ancient shrines, sandy beaches, crater lakes, and the famous Ibusuki sand baths. Due to the volcanic activity, the national park has several distinct areas, each with their own diverse ecosystem. There’s a variety of things to do in Kirishima-Kinkowan, including hiking, guided walks, mountain biking, and camping. There are several campsites within the park as well as cabins located at the Ebino Highland Camp Village.
9. Shiretoko National Park
If you’re looking for a place to explore the wilderness then Shiretoko National Park is the place to be. It is located in the northeastern region of the Hokkaidō island and is one of the most remote areas of the country. Shiretoko is famous for its large population of brown bears as well as its volcanic mountains. It also features dramatic cliffs which drop down to the Sea of Okhotsk where animals such as whales and seals can be spotted amongst the ice. Shiretoko National Park is UNESCO World Heritage site due to its vast, unspoiled landscape. There’s plenty of activities available in the park too, such as snowshoeing, hiking, and birdwatching.
10. Nikkō National Park
The Nikkō National Park is located in the Kantō region and was established in 1934. It is one of Japan’s most popular national parks due to the many temples and shrines that can be found in it. It is also known for its stunning volcanic scenery, crashing waterfalls, and dense forests. Nikkō National Park is home to a wide variety of animals, such as the Japanese macaque, Japanese deer, and Asiatic black bears. Activities available in the park include hiking, snowshoeing, rock climbing, and mountain biking. There’s also several campsites available for overnight stays.
11. Aso Kujū National Park
The Aso Kujū National Park was established in 1934 and named after Mount Aso which is the largest active volcano in the country. Also home to the Kuju mountain range, the Aso Kuju national park has stunning volcanic peaks, crater lakes, and hot springs. As well as the mountainous region, there are also thick forests and rolling grasslands. The unique diversity of the national park allows for a wide range of plants and animals to flourish, including rare and endangered animals such as the Shijimi large blue butterfly.
12. Chūbu-Sangaku National Park
Finally, we have the Chūbu-Sangaku National Park which features the Hida Mountains — also known as the Northern Alps. Here you can explore the breathtaking mountain scenery and take the stunning nature trails right up to the summits. Chūbu-Sangaku also features stunning gorges, waterfalls, and river valleys. Given the high altitude of the park, snow remains in many areas all year round. There’s a wide variety of activities available in the park, including snowshoeing, hiking, and mountain biking.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © KazT/Shutterstock.com
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