Yoshino-Kumano National Park1/4
Photo: Beibaoke1/Dreamstime
Snow Monkey - Nagano 2/4
Photo: Fezbot2000/Unsplash
Sanin Kaigan National Park3/4
Photo: Kaedeenari/Dreamstime
Shiretoko National Park4/4
Photo: Yamaoyaji/Shutterstock

The best national parks in Japan

See the real Japan in the peaceful rolling hills of Hokkaido, a Nagano nature reserve dotted with volcanoes, and more

By Kaila Imada
Advertising

Explored Tokyo? Visited all the shrines and temples in Kyoto? If you’re looking to escape the concrete jungle, head for one of Japan’s 34 expansive national parks, each with their own distinctive charm. Whether you’re a fan of snowy mountainscapes or prefer views of tropical beaches, the country’s lush nature reserves have got you covered.

So skip the cities and add a few of these scenic parks to your travel plans. From northern Hokkaido all the way down to sunny Okinawa, here are the best national parks in Japan.

RECOMMENDED: Discover the most beautiful places in Japan

Park yourself here

Shiretoko National Park
Shiretoko National Park
Photo: Yamaoyaji/Shutterstock

Shiretoko National Park

Where is it?
On the Shiretoko Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido, this national park is as remote as they come. While there are roads leading through approximately 75 percent of the peninsula, much of this untouched land can only be seen by boat or by trekking your way through on foot.

Why go?
The national park lies along the Sea of Okhotsk, which means you’ll be able to see drift ice from Russia’s Amur River passing through its waters. The drift ice is best witnessed between January and April. During the winter, ice walking tours are a popular activity and you can even book a drift ice cruise.

Accommodation
The town of Utoro, home to a number of hotels and onsen resorts, is your best bet for staying in the area.

Access
The closest station to Shiretoko National Park is the JR Shiretoko Shari Station from which a number of buses can be taken up to Utoro. If you’re flying into Hokkaido, Memanbetsu Airport is the closest, with direct flights from Tokyo, Osaka and even Sapporo. From there, the park is a roughly 100km drive.

Sanriku Fukko National Park
Sanriku Fukko National Park
Photo: Kaedeenari/Dreamstime

Sanriku Fukko National Park

Where is it?
This national park runs along the coastline of Japan’s northern Aomori prefecture, then stretches south through Iwate and Miyagi prefectures.  

Why go?
Sanriku Fukko National Park is the combination of several parks that were brought together in effort to help revitalise the Tohoku region after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. Keep an eye out for the unique rock formations and jagged cliffs overlooking the sea. 

Accommodation
Camping is the best way to get the most out of your visit, and there are a number of great campgrounds dotted throughout the park. There are also plenty of hotels and ryokan throughout all three prefectures.

Access
Since the park is so large and expands over three separate prefectures, there are several stations nearby. One of the fastest routes from Tokyo is by taking the Tohoku Shinkansen up to Ichinoseki Station, then switching to the JR Ofunato Line for an 85-minute ride to Kesennuma Station in Miyagi prefecture, which is close to the park and the coast. Check out the other train routes here.

Advertising
Nikko National Park
Nikko National Park
Photo: Sean Pavone

Nikko National Park

Where is it?
Nikko National Park is in the heart of Kanto’s lush, mountainous region located in Tochigi prefecture just north of Tokyo.

Why go?
Nikko is a delight for those hoping to catch a glimpse of majestic shrines surrounded by untouched nature and colourful leaves come autumn. The area around Lake Chuzenji and the Ryuzu Falls is particularly stunning for autumn foliage and the park is also home to a number of natural onsen hot springs if you’re looking for a nice warm soak. 

Accommodation
There are half a dozen onsen areas in the park offering accommodation for travellers including Kinugawa Onsen, Yumoto Onsen, Chuzenji Onsen, Itamuro Onsen, Siobara Onsen and Shin-Kashi Onsen.

Access
From Tokyo, you can get to Nikko in under two hours by taking the Tohoku Shinkansen up to Utsunomiya Station and changing to the JR Nikko Line to Nikko Station. From there, local buses are available to get you around the area.

Sanin Kaigan National Park
Sanin Kaigan National Park
Photo: Kaedeenari/Dreamstime

Sanin Kaigan National Park

Where is it?
Just north of Osaka and Kyoto, this national park stretches over 75km of coastline and is home to some of the best coastal scenery in all of Japan. The nature reserve encompasses three prefectures, including Kyoto, Hyogo and Tottori.

Why go?
One of the highlights is the expansive Tottori Sand Dunes, the largest group of dunes in Japan. The area has also been listed as a Unesco Global Geopark, thanks to its unique landscape and the rock formations found along the coastline.

Accommodation
Depending on which area of the park you want to be close to, there are a number of towns and cities with places to stay. Kinosaki Onsen is ideal for those looking for a traditional ryokan experience, while the cities of Toyooka or Takeno are also convenient options.

Access
Iwami and Toyooka, the closest major stations, are roughly at either end of the park. Both are easily accessible via shinkansen or limited express from Tokyo, Shin-Osaka and Kyoto stations. See the park website for suggested routes.

Advertising
Joshinetsu Kogen National Park
Joshinetsu Kogen National Park
Photo: Atosan/Dreamstime

Joshinetsu Kogen National Park

Where is it?
This mountainous national park on Japan’s main island spans Gunma, Nagano and Niigata prefectures and includes several dormant and active volcanoes. 

Why go?
Come winter, the area is a popular destination for winter sports. It’s also home to the Jigokudani Monkey Park, where you’ll often find wild macaque monkeys bathing away in outdoor onsen. The resort town of Karuizawa is also inside the national park and is a popular spot for cycling and golf in summer or skiing and ice skating in winter. Plus, there’s plenty to see while just strolling through the town.

Accommodation
A number of onsen towns with local ryokan can be found around the park, including Shima Onsen and Yujyuku Onsen. Karuizawa also offers a range of accommodation options, and there are campgrounds throughout the park, too.

Access
Depending on where you want to explore, the park is easily accessible with minimal train transfers. Buses from Nagano Station will take you into the park, while Echigo-Yuzawa Station is right beside the park in the mountains, close to the ski resorts in Niigata.

Yoshino-Kumano National Park
Yoshino-Kumano National Park
Photo: Beibaoke1/Dreamstime

Yoshino-Kumano National Park

Where is it?
Located in the Kansai region, this national park encompasses Mie, Nara, and Wakayama prefectures. 

Why go?
Since this park covers such a large area, you’ll find a range of scenery from towering mountains to beachside oases. Highlights include the grandiose Kumano-Nachi Taisha Shrine with Nachino-Otaki Falls in the background, the pink hues of Mt Yoshino during cherry blossom season and World Heritage Site Kumano Hongu Spa Village.

Accommodation
The coast of Wakayama is home to a range of beachside resort towns filled with hotels, while Nara is a great place to stay if you’re looking to visit Mt Yoshino.

Access
From Nagoya Station, take the limited express to Shingu and change to the Kinokuni Line for Ukui Station, the closest spot to the Kumano-Nachi Taisha Shrine. Wakayama and Nara stations are also good starting points to see the southern and northern parts of the park, respectively.

Advertising
Yakushima National Park
Yakushima National Park
Photo: Sara Winter/Dreamstime

Yakushima National Park

Where is it?
Located in Kagoshima prefecture, this national park covers some of the Osumi Islands including the entire island of Kuchinoerabujima and nearly half of Yakushima itself.

Why go?
Yakushima is probably the most revered island in the park and is home to some of the country's oldest trees. In particular, the ancient Jomonsugi cedar tree is estimated to be between 2,000 and 7,200 years old. Hiking the mountainous island is a popular activity, along with seeing the native loggerhead turtles, which lay their eggs from May to July along the beach.

Accommodation
You’ll find Yakushima's two main ferry ports in the villages of Miyanoura and Anbou, plus plenty of accommodation options.

Access
Yakushima Airport has direct flights from Kagoshima, Itami and Fukuoka. If you’re travelling by ferry, the Kagoshima Hon-ko Port can take you to the Miyanoura or Anbou ports in 2 to 3 hours.

Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park
Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park
Photo: Komang Arjana/Dreamstime

Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park

Where is it?
This tropical national park is located in the southern archipelago of Okinawa prefecture. It includes five of the Yaeyama Islands: Ishigaki, Iriomote, Taketomi, Kohama and Kuro.

Why go?
If you’re looking for the ultimate beach getaway, the islands of the Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park are the place to go. You’ll find the famous star-shaped sand on some of the beaches and snorkelling in the coral reefs is a must. Iriomote is known for its lush jungles, and is a good spot for hiking or river kayaking. The small island of Taketomi is home to an ancient Ryukyu village and is best explored on foot or by bike.

Accommodation
Ferries from the largest island, Ishigaki, can take you to all the surrounding ones, so it’s best to stay there if you plan to see as much of the park as possible. There are also some accommodation options on Iriomote and Taketomi if you’d rather go more remote.

Access
Direct flights to Ishigaki are available from Naha on the island of Okinawa and other major airports around Japan. Daily ferry rides are available and can easily take you from Ishigaki to Iriomote in just 35 to 40 minutes.

Explore more of Japan

Advertising
Recommended

    You may also like

      Advertising