Get out of the city and get back to nature with a trip to Hokkaido’s two oldest national parks: Akan National Park and Daisetsuzan National Park. A roughly five-and-a-half-hour (328-kilometre) drive from Sapporo, Akan’s volcanoes, crystal-clear lakes, native fauna and picturesque walking trails make it well worth a weekend getaway. Likewise, don’t miss the vast, unspoiled wilderness of Daisetsuzan, especially in autumn, when the colours of the leaves are at their most vibrant.
Hiring a car is your best bet for getting to – and getting around – 905-square-kilometre Akan National Park, which received its national park status in 1934. Once you get there, it’s a haven of outdoor pursuits. As for the must-see list, start with its three major caldera, or crater lakes – Lake Akan, Lake Mashu and Lake Kussharo. Around Lake Akan, set off on a bushwalk, keeping your eyes peeled for the resident ezo deer, Hokkaido squirrels and ezo red foxes. Lake Akan is also boasts another unique resident, the marimo: perfectly shaped balls of a rare species of algae exclusive to this region. You can hop on a sightseeing boat from the resort town of Akankohan for a one-hour cruise of the lake that also stops at the Marimo Exhibition Centre so you can see these crazy critters up close. In addition, Lake Akan is great for mountain climbing, fishing, canoeing (check out the great views of the volcano from the water) and, in winter, skiing and snowboarding.
Also don’t miss Iozan, ‘the Sulfur Mountain’, near the hot-spring town of Kawayu Onset. Here, you can again get a close-up look at this active volcano’s steaming sulphurous vents. For a unique lunch, you’ll likely find eggs – cooked by the natural heat of the mountain – for sale by the vents. After a day of exploration, relax and recharge in one of the park’s natural hot springs. Lakeside resorts Akankohan Onsen and Kawayu both boast healing, acidic waters, and other hot springs dot the national park as well. Most are happy to accommodate both daytrippers and overnight guests.
If you can’t get enough of Japan’s national parks, continue on to Daisetsuzan National Park. At 226,000 hectares, it’s Hokkaido’s largest national park in addition to being one of its oldest. Those who love the changing of the leaves in autumn should plan a hike from Ginsendai, one of the first places in Japan for this to happen every year. For something a bit more adventurous, why not climb Hokkaido’s highest mountain, Mount Asahidake?