Daisetsuzan (Taisetsuzan) National Park is at the center of Hokkaido and is the largest national park in Japan. At the center of the Daisetsu mountain range lies the highest mountain “Asahidake”, which is also the highest mountain in Hokkaido. The area of the park is 230,000ha and it is a national park that is rich in unspoiled natural beauty. Stretching from Mt.Torashiumu to the Tokachi Mountains, or the district including Mt.Nipesotsu and Mt.Upepesanke and the Shikaribetsu volcanic region to the Ishikarir Mountain Range, the area that is Daisetsuzan National Park is often called The Roof Of Hokkaido.
The mountains here are only 2,000m high, but as the area lies to the north, the environment is similar to mountains of 3,000m in height located on the main island of Japan. The extent of the mountains covers quite a large area. A big snow valley and snow field remains on the upper slopes even in summer, and rare alpine flora form a beautiful field of wildflowers that covers much of the mountain slopes. The lower slopes of the mountain range are populated by pine needle forests primarily Yezo Spruce (Picea jezoensis Carr.),and Saghalier Fir (Abies sachalinesis) varieties. Great forest views can thus be had anywhere in the park.
The park bursts with mountains, rivers, gorges, forests, flowers, waterfalls, animals and hiking trails. It also contains three volcanic mountain areas, including the highest in Hokkaido, Mt. Asahi. Asahikawa, the largest city in Northern Hokkaido, is located just to the west of Daisetsuzan National Park. Hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter are the most popular activities. The best place to explore the area from is Sounkyo Onsen, situated near Daisetsuzan’s most popular attraction, Sounkyo Gorge. The town isn’t anything spectacular, but it makes a great base for planning a hike or bike trip into the gorge, taking a cable-car ride up to one of the peaks, or just relaxing in one of the hot springs.
The park is famous for it’s majestic mountains covered with forests and wildflowers. There are also several nice hot springs (Sounkyo, Shirogane, Asahidake and Shikaribetsu). The park includes Mt. Asahi-dake, the highest mountain in Hokkaido. Daisetsuzan Mountain Range has many sheer cliffs and small, yet attractive hot springs near the base of the mountains. Mt. Asahidake is one of them. The long magnificent valley features many beautiful waterfalls and large plateaus with various alpine plants. Daisetsuzan Mountain Range can be accessed to Asahidake: 1hr 35 min by Asahikawa Denki Kido Bus from JR Asahikawa Station to Asahidake bus stop.
The winter environment is not unlike polar conditions and as a result, a unique habitat supporting wildlife peculiar to this area has evolved. Mouse Hare (Ochotona hyperbored yesoensis), which has survived from the ice age, alpine butterflies such as Yellow Apollo (Parnassius eversmanni daisetsuzana) and Dark Larva (Clossiana freijia sahidakeana), large mammals such as Brown bears (Ursus arctos yesoensis) and Shika deer (cervus nippon), and rare birds like Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) and Blakiston’s Fish Owl (Keputa blakistoni) can all be found in Daisetsuzan National Park. There are also 140 species of bird nearly 80% of Hokkaido’s bird species including the black woodpecker (a Natural Treasure of Japan), the Blakiston’s Fish Owl, and the Steller’s Sea Eagle and White-tailed Sea Eagle in winter. Because of the large number of rare animals and birds living in the Daisetsuzan mountains, the entire area, including the headwaters of the Tokachi River, has been designated a Special Nature Preservation Area and a Special Natural Treasure of Japan. Rich hot springs gush forth all along the base of the mountain range at Sounkyou, Yukomanbetsu, Tenninkyou, Nukabira, Shirogane, Shikaribetsu and Tomuraushi. Each hot spring resort provides a great location to see and immerse oneself in the beautiful scenery of Daisetsuzan National Park.
This Taisetsuzan (Daisetsuzan) Mountains chain of 2,000 m-high mountains offers stunning scenery. The Ainu have called it “Kamui-mintara” (playground of the gods) for its beauty. Mt. Asahidake (2,290 m), is the highest peak in Hokkaido. There is ropeway access from Asahidake Hot Springs to Sugatami Station at 1,600 m. From the station, a path leads to Sugatami Pond. The pond is surrounded by a primeval forest of Sakhalin spruce and Erman’s birch. Nearby is a marshland, the habitat of skunk cabbages. A smoldering volcano can be seen from the pond.
Mt. Kurodake (elev. 1,984m), near Sounkyo Gorge, also has ropeway access halfway to the top and a chairlift to a point seven-tenths of the way to the summit (1,700 m). Full equipment is needed to reach the top. At the seven-tenths point, you can see the words of Keigetsu Omachi: “If you wish to know the height of a mountain, climb Mt. Fuji. If you wish to know the scale of a mountain, climb the Taisetsuzan Mountains.”
The Daisetsuzan mountains span a vast area. In the center is Ohachidaira Caldera, a 2km (1.25 mile) wide hole caused by land collapsing after a volcanic eruption. The caldera is surrounded by Mt. Hokuchindake (2,244m or 7632 feet), Mt. Hakuundake (2,229.5m or 7315 feet), Mt. Kurodake (1,984m or 6509 feet) and Mt. Asahidake, Hokkaido’s highest mountain at 2,291m or 7516 feet. To the south is the Takanegahara highland and around 50km (31 miles) of mountains around 2000m (6500 feet) high, including Mt. Chubetsudake (1,962.6m or 6439 feet), Mt. Kaundake (1,954.3 or 6412 feet), Mt. Tomuraushi (2,141m or 7024 feet), Mt. Bieidake (2,052.3m or 6733 feet) and Mt. Tokachidake (2,077m or 6814 feet).
Figure: Mt Asahidake in Daisetsuzan National Park
In the east of the park are the Ishikari mountains, non-volcanic mountains formed by the Hidaka paleozoic strata, and Lake Shibetsu, the park’s only natural lake. This vast natural paradise became Japan’s largest national park in 1934. The park is around 23 hectares (57 acres) roughly the same size as the whole of Kanagawa Prefecture. The mountains are often referred to simply as the “Daisetsuzan Mountain Range” or “Daisetsuzan mountains”, but people also distinguish the main areas of the park by referring to the Kita Daisetsu mountains (Mt. Niseikaushuppesan, Mt. Hirayama, Mt. Muridake etc.), the Omote Daisetsu Mountains (Mt. Asahidake and the other mountains around the caldera and nearby mountains such as Mt. Tomuraushi), the Higashi Daisetsu Mountains (the Ishikari Mountain Range, Mt. Nipesotsuzan, Mt. Upepesankesan, Lake Shibetsu etc.) and the Tokachi Mountain Range Mt. Oputateshikesan, Mt. Tokachidake, Mt. Furanodake etc.)
Figure: Mt. Akadake in Taisetsuzan (Daisetu-Zan) Mountains
In summer, the park is covered with Japan’s biggest patches of alpine flowers. Daisetsuzan National Park is home to over 360 species of alpine flowers and other alpine plants. The vast park is also home to a suitably diverse range of fauna. 90% of Hokkaido’s land animal species can be found here, including brown bears, Yezo deer, Yezo red foxes, Yezo chipmunks and sables.
Figure: Mt. Kurodake in Taisetsuzan (Daisetu-Zan) Mountains
This is the largest hot spring area in Daisetsuzan, and a popular base for hikers and climbers. Rows of modern hotels and inns line the sparkling Ishikari River in this area. The Sounkyo Youth Hostel is located about 10 minutes by foot from the bus station, on top of a hill above the city. The local hangout is a restaurant simply named Yama.
This grand twenty-four kilometer gorge is one of the most awesome sights in Daisetsuzan. Waterfalls careen off 150-meter cliffs creating a scenic backdrop to the fiery autumn colors. Obako and Kobako cliffs are home to two of these falls. The best way to explore this area is by bicycle. I you don’t have your own; you can rent one at the bus terminal for about Y1500 per day. The trip only takes about 2 ½ hours, but you are rewarded with rock walls rising almost perpendicular out of the gorge and spectacular views around each curve.
In Ainu, hako (or bako) means “where rock walls hem you in from both sides.” O-bako and Ko-bako stretch along an old national highway that is now closed to traffic. From Sounkyo Hot Springs, one finds Ko-bako and then O-bako after passing Ryusei (shooting star) Falls and Ginga (milky way) Falls. Rocks jointed in columns stand like huge folding screens. It is especially beautiful in mid-September, when autumnal hues are at their loveliest.
The gorge contains lots of waterfalls, of which the Ryusei-no-taki Falls (shooting star falls) and Ginga-no-taki Falls (Milky Way falls) are especially worth seeing. At both of these waterfalls, the water falls directly over the cliff, giving them a sense of great power. The Obako and Kobako rock formations are said to be the most beautiful places in the gorge. Obako features wide rock faces that resemble ‘byobu’ (folding screens), while Kobako has many fantastic crags. You can rent bicycles there. Access to Sounkyo Gorge is 1hr 50 min by Dohoku bus from JR Asahikawa Station to Sounkyo bus stop.
Teninkyo Gorge and Teninkyo Onsen
In the center of this gorge lies the peaceful Teninkyo hot springs, surrounded by forest, large, steep cliffs and various waterfalls. Access to Teninkyo Gorge and Teninkyo Onsen is 1hr 5 min by Asahikawa Denki Kido bus from JR Asahikawa Station to Teninkyo bus stop.
Many large-scale resorts are being developed on this 1,239-meter mountain, with several large hotel facilities golf courses, swimming pools, tennis courts, a wildlife sanctuary and trails for exploring the natural beauty of the surrounding forests. Access to Tomamu Resort is 15 minutes from JR Shimukappu Station to JR Tomamu Station.
The Ishikari River flowing to the west of Asahikawa created this beautiful valley. Kamui Kotan is an Ainu word meaning “a place where God lives.”
STAY: Sounkyoonsen, Takaharaonsen, Asahidakeonsen, Shiroganeonsen and Tokachidakeonsen Hot Spring Resorts.
TOILET: At Mt Kurodake Rock Tomb.
PARKING: Several parking areas (charge applies for some).
NOTE: Restrictions on fires, as this is a national park.