Today I finally found some time to create a thread about Daisetsu-zan National Park, definitely the major Hokkaido destination for hiking, and Japan's largest National Park. I propose to make this thread a hub for everything that's related to the Park, whether it is for hiking, onsen soaking, sightseeing and so on. I'll start by describing a 2-day hike that runs between Kuro-dake and Asahi-dake. Of course, everyone can participate and present any places of interest in the Park.
The Daisetsu-zan National Park is the greatest park of Hokkaido and Japan. Located in the centre of the island, it also surrounds Hokkaido's highest mountains. You can enjoy some views of these mountains when approaching via Furano: if not mountainous, Hokkaido tends to be very flat. Furano's lavanda fields really contrast with the Daisetsu-zan mountains, and once you're on the plateau, you definetely feel very far from civilization.
Asahi-dake is an active volcano, and climbing it down (or up) is a truly unique experience as you can enjoy a wonderful smell of sulfur escaping from earth. The same gos for Tokachi-dake, at the southern tip of the Park.
Access to the Park
- By bus: From Sapporo - 札幌, you can take a bus from the Central Terminal. It will cost 2000 yens to go until Asahikawa - 旭川 (2 hours), where you have to commute for the buses going in the direction of Sounkyo - 層雲峡 and Kamikawa if you plan to reach Sounkyo (1900 yens, 50 minutes, 7 buses a day). If you plan to hike from Asahi-dake onsen, then you have to take the corresponding bus in Asahikawa. For an approach of Sounkyo from the Eastern part of Hokkaido, buses from Kitami - 北見 to Sapporo runs 3 to 4 times a day depending on the season (2500 yens). Again, check schedules at Sapporo Tourist Information Center in the station.
- By train: Another option is to take the train till Asahikawa and then commute on the bus, but train tends to be expensive compared to bus, and above all, it's not even faster.
- By plane: Asahikawa is the second largest city in Hokkaido, and is connected by plane to many major Japanese cities. There's even AirDo flights between Tokyo and Asahikawa
- As usual, a car will give you more liberty to explore the area. It is also possible to reach the park from the its South-East side, from Furano - 富良野 and even Obihiro - 帯広. There are beautiful hike opportunities that go around Tokachi-dake starting from Furano and Yamabe - 山部 for example.
Hike between Kuro-dake and Asahi-dake
On the way back from Asahi-dake onsen to Asahikawa, shuttle buses are not frequent, and the last one leaves early, around 4:00 pm. It means that if you are still at the summit of the Asahi-dake onsen ropeway at 2:00 pm and decide not to take the ropeway down, you should be prepared for running down the mountain if you want to get back to Asahikawa by the last bus... Or take the ropeway! You can also take your time and decide to stay overnight at the Asahi-dake onsen Youth Hostel or to camp in the vicinity of the resort, and take a bus the following day... Ropeway and chairlift fares at Sounkyô are around 800 yens and 300 yens for one-way ticket. The Asahi-dake onsen ropeway is more expensive: 1500 yens one-way. The shuttle bus going back to Asahikawa from Asahi-dake onsen is 1000 yens during summer season (June 15 to October 15) and free the rest of the year. But you can take it freely in summer time if you spend at least 2000 yens in goods, ropeway or accomodation in Asahi-dake onsen resort. Keep receipts.
This hike goes from Sounkyo onsen resort till Asahi-dake onsen. Actually, most people do this hike the opposite way. From both departure points, you can choose to take a lift which will reduce your hike time by at least 2 hours each side. If you plan to do it without taking any lift, be prepared for at least 9 hours of walk, with a very steep first and last 2 hours climb. To go up may be no problem on the morning, but a late going down after an exhausting hike can become dangerous. Your hanckles are undergoing gravity too!
To conclude, I would say that here more than in any other place in Hokkaido the weather can quickly turn to very bad, and if you plan to take the lift, a sunny day doesn't mean they'll run: wind can be strong here, and if by any chance ropeways are closed because of wind, believe it or not, but you have no business up there! Double-check the weather before to go, and bring warm clothes.
Food and Water
There aren't any conbini nor supermarket in Sounkyo, so you have to buy your food before arriving, let's say for example in Asahikawa while waiting for the second bus. Sounkyo is a popular onsen resort, which means the cheapest onigiri you'll find will be around 200 yens... And the only "food" available is at not-so-cheap restaurants. Bring enough water for a day and a half of serious mountain hike. You can fill your bottles at the restaurant just upstairs the ropeway access level at Sounkyo. Restrain yourself from drinking pound of melting water nor any kind of "savage water" you could find, even if you're enduring a shortage.
There is a campsite around 500 meters after the bus stop in Sounkyo, in the direction of Kitami. It's free and offers sanitary facilities. If you prefer to sleep inside, Sounkyo Youth Hostel is for you. Fares start at 2940 yens per night and per person. There are also quite a lot of hotels around the ropeway, but these are the kind of expensive ones... In the mountain, there are free campsites near Kuro-dake and not far from Asahi-dake. These sites are actually mountain huts where you can sleep in if you don't have camping gears. However, you should be aware that it can get very crowded at peak seasons, and thus prepare consequently your hike so as to arrive early enough in the afternoon or late evening to find a place to sleep. Of course, you cannot "book" beforehand. In Asahi-dake there is a Youth Hostel for less than 3000 yens a night, and it's close to the ropeway for Asahi-dake. You should book well in advance during peak season.
From Sounkyo you have several possibilities to hike these mountains following the track to Asahi-dake. You can for example camp at Sounkyo and take the earliest ropeway (6:00 am) and then the earliest lift so as to arrive on the top of Kuro-dake around 7:30 am. Another possibility is to take a ropeway late in the afternoon, or to climb Kuro-dake from Sounkyo (3 hours up to Kuro-dake), and to sleep at the mountain hut or to camp in its proximity. Watever are your plans, the idea is too avoid by any mean hiking by night. It is impossible to complete the whole hike without relying on ropeway during daytime. If you do so, you'll have to spend one night in mountain hut (or camp nearby).
Here is the chairlift after the ropeway. Once arrived, it's a 40 minutes climb to the top of Kuro-dake.
Rocky and exhausting, so is the way up to Kuro-dake. Moreover, the first half of it is not so interesting regarding landscape. Actually, one of the most pleasant thing in this hike is the brutal scenery contrast you'll enjoy when reaching the top of Kuro-dake.
Once Kuro-dake's summit is finally reache, you can enjoy freezing strong winds, magnificient sceneries you wouldn't expect to see, the quietness of Nature... There is such sudden changes in landscape that you'll feel very far from Sounkyô...
This is the mountain hut, with its campsite nearby. The staff is friendly, you can ask for advice, check maps, check weather forecast... Toilets facilities are also available. If you plan to stay here for the night, it should be wise to set up your tent before the night, as it rapidly turns dark and cold.
Until here, there were only one track to follow: up to Kuro-dake. But once at the campsite, several tracks are available. You basically have two options to go to Asahi-dake: one path goes on the right, not especially easy but a bit less exposed to the winds ; the other path goes on the left, in the direction of Hokkai-dake, more windy, but also more scenic. This is also the path you have to follow from the Kuro-dake campsite if you want to go further in the Daisetsu-zan National Park.
These two paths eventually meet slightly before Asahi-dake. Taking the left path, it first goes quite smooth. It should be a little bit more muddy close to these snow layers. Don't drink the water melting from it! Going up to Hokkai-dake, and if you had an early departure from Kuro-dake, you should be able enjoy the sunrise on the plateau. Slightly after Hokkai-dake, you'll arrive to a junction. Two choices: if you want to go for a multi-day adventure through the most remote parts of the Park, if you want to share your breakfasts with bears, if you are trained enough and well equipped for 5 days (including food and water), then go on the left. If not, go on the right to Asahi-dake.
Up and down on scree. Asahi-dake is getting closer. Land becomes more and more volcanic... From any place on this ridge, you can enjoy great views on the Park. This balloon-shaped volcano is Asahi-dake. From here it doesn't seem so steep to climb, but it actually is one of the steepest climb you can enjoy on Hokkaido. The path is just going straight on the top, that may explain why... Spare your breathes and if you need a snack, this is the perfect time for onigiri! The climb can turn to be vertiginous. Don't twist an hanckle by being too soft while checking for stability of what lies under your feet.
The top of Asahi-dake: 2290 meters. This is the highest place of Hokkaido, and from here, a sunrise must be unforgettable...
Going down to Asahi-dake onsen ropeway, you will certainly see:
1 - people climbing up Asahi-dake from this side, and probably going on afterwards till Kuro-dake, just the opposite of what you just did ;
2 - sulfur smelling clouds: it escapes from the ground. More than a volcano, Asahi-dake is an ACTIVE one ;
3 - infinite views of the park, from deep forests to moutainous green ridges...
From Asahi-dake, it's a 45 minutes going down till the ropeway. And another 1h30 down to Asahi-dake onsen if you decide not to take it.
You can now enjoy a nice onsen time in Asahi-dake resort spa before to take the bus back to Asahikawa...