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Big in Japan: Hokkaido's best national parks
The island of Hokkaid? (???, literally North Sea Circuit) may have wonderful cities, gourmet foods and a rich sense of history.
However, the real charms of the island are most often found far away human crowds, usually in the absolute middle of nowhere.
Indeed, much of Hokkaid? consists of national park land, and - if you have enough time, the right kind of gear and a true spirit of adventure - you can access some truly wild nature and wide-open space.
In our continuing series on the wonders of Hokkaid?, today's post is a brief run down of the best national parks on the island.
Since we don't have enough room to list them all, you'll have to keep reading to see which ones made the cut...
Shikotsu-Tōya National Park Centered on two caldera lakes, and home to some of the island's most famous hot spring towns, this national park is Hokkaidō's premiere resort destination.
Tōyako Onsen was thrust firmly into the spotlight following its hosting of the 34th G8 Summit, though neighboring Noboribetsu Onsen claims the title of the island's most popular resort, boasting remote hot springs, rustic hotels and lots of steamy fun.
Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park One of the most remote corners of already remote Hokkaidō, this national park protects the islands of Rishiri-tō and Rebun-tō off of the coast of Wakkanai in the far north.
In the winter months, you'd have a better time visiting Siberia, though in the summertime, the islands erupt in a colorful explosion of wildflowers.
Daisetsuzan National Park The granddaddy of national parks, Japan's largest protected area is primarily comprised of rough and rugged mountainous terrain. Attracting walkers, hikers, climbers and alpinists alike, Daisetsuzan offers everything from the proverbial walk in the park to some seriously treacherous high-altitude traverses.
Akan National Park In the middle of this national park lies Lake Akan, which is home to a unique type of algae known in Japanese as marimo (Cladophora aegagropila). These green spheres live for hundreds of years, can grow to the size of a baseball, and are surprisingly cute.
Seriously - only in Japan could you find algae with a personality!
Shiretoko National Park On the eastern tip of Hokkaidō, this national park was referred to by the Ainu, Japan's northerly indigenous population, as the end of the world. Considering that Shiretoko has no sealed roads, impossibly remote hiking along towering sea cliffs, and frigid and frozen weather that changes by the minute, perhaps this description isn't entirely off the mark.
Oh yeah, and they're are bears - lots and lots of bears. Wear a bell unless you want to end up as human sushi. Seriously. We're not kidding!
Want to learn more about Hokkaidō? Sure you do!
Tune in all this month as Big in Japan heads north and blogs from the road.
** All images courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons Project **