Shiretoko is the ultimate natural sanctuary of Hokkaido, with wonderful wilderness you won't be pressed to find in any other place in Japan. This Park is one of the most well preserved in Japan and most of its pristine nature has remained untouched by man for many decades. It also has Japan's largest bear population and bumping into bear is often heard of.
How to get to Shiretoko:
- by plane: closest airport is Nakashibetsu Airport, with frequent ANA or JAL flight from various cities in Japan.
- by road: access on the Sea of Okhotsk side is possible from Shari. On the Pacific Coast you can follow the beautiful coastline from Nemuro or Kushiro and enjoy the views on the Kuril Islands. If you don't have your own car, here is a tip from Sapporo: take the night bus to Abashiri, and then a local scenic train to Shari. From Shari you can reach Utoro on the Sea of Okhotsk side by bus. If you come from Kushiro, then rely on the Akan Bus
Rausu and Utoro are also connected by the only concrete road of the whole Park.
When to go?
Shiretoko is best enjoyed in summer, and if you're hiking, please note that snow can be persistent on the tracks until July 15th!
September/October can also be a good time for viewing of autumn leaves.
Activities in Shiretoko
Hiking is the best way to enjoy Shiretoko wonderful natural environment. The trails are few though as the entire upper half of the peninsula is inaccessible, so forget about going till the Shiretoko-misaki Cape (you could go by following the shore from Rausu, but this hike has been known as very dangerous and we don't recommend it).
There is only one trail going along the peninsula from the saddle down Rausu-dake. You can hike to this saddle both from the Sea of Okhotsk side (Iwaubestu onsen), and the Pacific side (Kuma-no-yu onsen).
If you go hiking in Shiretoko remember the best time of year is the two summer months of July and August. Snow can fall as early as September on the peninsula and it never completely disappear in some places anyway, especially the inner part around Io-zan and the ridge leading to it from Rausu-dake.
This shot was taken July 18th 2005 on the trail leading to Rausu-dake from Rausu :
You will find basic campsites on the trail, as well as lockers where you can stock your provisions AND your garbage. To keep it in the tent is at your own risk and is strongly not recommended if you don't want to be awaken by bears. There is no mountain hut in Shiretoko.
- Sunset on the Sea of Okhotsk from the trail leading to Io-zan after a long day hiking, or while soaking your bones in Utoro's rotenburo
- The road linking Utoro, on the western coast, with Rausu, on the eastern one, offers a magnificent journey through the peninsula and the Shiretoko Pass, at 740 meters above the sea. From that pass, zou will get a great view on the highest mountain from Shiretoko, Mount Rausu (1661 meters). From the same spot you can see both coasts of the peninsula, as well as the territories occupied by Russia.
Note that due to heavy snow, that road is closed from the beginning of November to the end of April. Those pictures were taken during Golden Week, the first week of May! You can see that the road, which was just opened, is still surrounded by lots of snow!
- Disputed Northern Territories from the top of Rausu-dake. You can also enjoy it in the sleepy fisher village town of Rausu (Kunashiri Observation Platform 国後展望台)
- Shiretoko go ko (Shiretoko five lakes, 知床五湖): easy short walks around picturesques lakes and pristine nature. Check with the Tourist Information Center as the promenade is often closed due to bear presence.
- Shiretoko-misaki (Cape Shiretoko): you can embark on a 2-hour boat trip along the peninsula up to Cape Shiretoko. Nice views of waterfall dropping down steep cliffs into the Sea of Okhotsk.
- Kamuiwakka no taki: a true nature wonder, you can enjoy here a volcanically warmed water. You must go with your shoes, or rent monk shoes (400 yens), to get in. The water is at pH 4, and its chemical composition can be dangerous for your eyes or your hair, so don't put your head in the water! You will also have to wash your wet clothes afterwards, in order to prevent them from an acid attack.
This onsen is closed from late autumn to middle of spring, specifically from the 7 November to the 28 May.
- Kuma-no-yu: a very nice onsen on the Rausu side of the peninsula. It is absolutely free and only a wooden wall separates men and women (men are actually "outside" of this wall, almost in full view of the road - technically, this unsheltered bath is a mixed one, but women rarely join, as they have their own bath behind fences). Soaking into the hot spring while gazing at the stars of a summer sky is a must.
Check this link Secret Onsen - Kuma no Yu
for more details on that onsen.
I will complete with pictures, hiking maps, kanji names, internet links later.
- Some information on the Hokkaido roads closed in winter. In fact, there are much less roads closed than in Aomori-ken, for example...