Daisetsuzan National Park   大雪山国立公園

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Hiking to the summit of Mount Asahi

Hiking to the summit of Mount Asahi

Between earth and sky, the charms of Daisetsuzan National Park

Daisetsuzan National Park

The Daisetsuzan national park in winter

Daisetsuzan National Park in winter

The delicate cotton grass of Daisetsuzan Park

Cotton grass in Daisetsuzan Park

The alpine flowers dot the meadows of the plateaus of the park Daisetsuzan

Alpine flowers dot the meadows of the plateaus of Daisetsuzan

Mount Kuro in autumn

Mount Kuro in autumn

Mount Kuro

Mount Kuro

The flora of Daisetsuzan Park

The flora of Daisetsuzan Park

Drink an ice cold cocktail on Lake Shikaribetsu

Drink an ice cold cocktail on Lake Shikaribetsu

The Garden of the Gods

In the heart of Hokkaido, more than 220,000 hectares of untamed nature promises visitors a timeless, out of this world experience. This incredible place is called Daisetsuzan.

Daisetsuzan (or Taisetsuzan) Park is a jewel of invigorating nature, with dozens of volcanoes, numerous waterfalls and vast green expanses dotted with alpine flowers in the spring. The wild reputation of the island is a thing of the past and it is now far more accessible. With six national parks, it's a privileged destination for nature lovers, hiking and winter sports. Daisetsuzan Park has become the largest national park in Japan since it was founded in 1934. You can see the flora and fauna of the place, including the famous Blakiston fish owl, one of the largest owls in the world which can measure up to 72 cm (28 in). This owl is called "Kotan koro Kamui" by the Ainu (indigenous people of the island), and is considered the protective god of the territory. On the flora side, more than 250 varieties of alpine flowers grow in the meadows, creating a multitude of colors that resonate in the spring.

Due to its vast size, the park can be divided into three distinct areas.

The Omote Daisetsuzan area: the roof of Hokkaido

Access to Omote Daisetsuzan, the most northerly area, is made by the town of Asahikawa and the two nearby onsen: Sounkyo onsen and Asahidake. Here, there are many hiking trails. This area, which is very popular with visitors, contains no less than fifteen volcanic peaks, the highest of which is Mount Asahi at an altitude of 2,291 meters. Which is why it's nicknamed the "roof of Hokkaido". To discover the splendor of this place, here are some hiking ideas:

  • Trail 1: Mount Kuro

From Sounkyo Onsen, you can take the cable car and then the ski lifts to snack a little during the way up to the direction of the mountain. The climb can also be done on foot, which can take about 1.5-2.5 hours one way, depending on your ability. After a break and another hour of walking, you will arrive. While the clouds gently envelop you, the neighboring peaks and flowerbeds will welcome you to the summit of Mount Kuro, at an altitude of more than 2,000 meters. After taking in the awe-inspiring view, you can continue on your adventure and reach Mount Asahi, which is further south. In a little less than two hours you will arrive at the observatory of the Ohachidaira crater. Then, head for the cable car that will bring you closer to Mount Asahi. Allow more than a day to complete this incredible trek.

  • Trail 2: Mount Asahi

If your interest is in the roof of Hokkaido, save time by starting your hike from Asahidake onsen. After a swim in the lake, take the cable car from Sanroku station to Sugatami. Then, three hours of walking in the midst of fumaroles, the smell of sulfur, all on a rocky path await you to take you to the summit, over 2,200 meters above sea level.

These hiking trails are very popular in autumn, when the vegetation turns to a vibrant red. Indeed, Daisetsuzan Park is the first to greet the koyo, or red leaves, from mid-September.

  • Trail 3: The garden of the gods

Still in the Omote Daisetsuzan area, but farther south towards Mount Tomuraushi, a vast plateau is covered with thousands of flowers stretching as far as the eye can see. The Ainu have nicknamed this place "Kamuimintara" meaning "the garden of the gods". Judging by its bewitching beauty, there is no doubt that it was, at least for a time, a place of relaxation for the native gods. The expedition to Mount Tomuraushi requires you to spend a night outdoors. Be forewarned, shelters here are rarer than in the Japanese Alps. If you have a tent, please note that camping is allowed in certain areas. It's a good idea to check with the many tourist points before your adventure.

The area of Mount Tokachi: cascading water

Situated to the southwest, this zone is composed of a volcanic chain whose succession of deep ridges and canyons contrasts with the more nuanced relief of the north. From the adjacent plains, you will have a breathtaking view of these vertiginous mountains.

To the south, hiking trails are born near the town of Furano. Not far away, a series of waterfalls along the Nunobe River offers a fresh alternative to the mountainous landscape. From here, you can reach Mount Furano, inactive for a few years and accessible from Tokachidake onsen. Arriving at the summit, the plain of Genshigahara guarantees you a striking view: a vast wet area opens in front of you, punctuated by conifers and cotton grass, light and fragile, blowing in the wind. You can also climb Mount Tokachi at more than 2,000 meters of altitude. Its top is formed from volcanic lava and offers an unobstructed view of the whole chain.

The Higashi Daisetsu area: the ice village

To finish the trip, go further east to the Higashi Daisestu area. Accessible by national road 273 or by train from JR Obihiro or Shintoku station, this part of the park is particularly appreciated for Shikaribetsu and Nukabira lakes.

In the summer months, walking along Shikaribetsu lake is truly idyllic. Canoe trips or cruise ships are also possible.

In winter, the program changes and the frozen lake becomes the location of an original event: the Shikaribetsuko Kotan festival, which runs from January to March. The theme? An ephemeral snow and ice village on the lake! But there are no rudimentary igloos here - the buildings are genuine architectural works of art. From chapels with sculpted stained glass windows to a concert hall with icy benches, numerous activities are on offer to make your stay unforgettable. Not to mention the bar where your drinks are served in glasses of ice or the rotenburo, outdoor onsen, which will warm your body and your heart while you enjoy a splendid view of the surrounding nature.

Daisetsuzan Park is a treasure in the heart of Hokkaido, that should be explored for several days if you have the time. Every season has its own spectacular experiences. Be aware that the hiking trails are not difficult, but they can be long and tiring. And in winter it is always best to take precautions and check that all the trails are open and safe to hike. Beware also of the brown bears in the forests, in search of food. The sound of a bell attached to your bag will keep them at bay.

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