Shiretoko National Park On a Budget
While the park is open year round, the weather in the area tends to greatly affect the enjoyment of your trip due to harsh winters and heavy rain at the end of summer. There is a short period from May to early July that is considered the best time to visit due to slightly less rain and comfortable temperatures around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
SightsThe most popular, and easily accessible, attraction is the Shiretoko Five Lakes. The lakes are fairly close together making them easily walkable. The first lake, Ichi-ko, is found through an elevated wooden path and is free to tour. The other four lakes require a small fee and also require you to have an authorized tour guide taking you through the various trails.
Shiretoko is also home to one of Japan's natural wonders, the Kamuiwakka Falls. After a bumpy bus ride to the Ainu river's edge, you climb up the river to see the waterfalls pour into a free natural hot spring. As you will be climbing up slippery, algae covered rocks, sturdy sandals or running shoes that you don't mind getting wet are a necessity!
NeighborhoodsYou'll find the majority of restaurants and information centers located at the entrances of the park. There are two information centers: Rausu Visitor Center and the Five Lakes Information Center. There are few other areas in the park with such resources.
There are a few small towns located outside the park, one of which is Rausu, a small coastal town great for stopping to fuel up on food and water before heading into the park. Utoro is another small town located just outside of the park and is often used as transport hub for connecting tourists from the park to the main region of Hokkaido.
ActivitiesHiking is the most popular activity in the area and there are quite a few popular hiking spots. The Iwaobetsu Course is the least rugged and most popular option for a day trip and there's the Rausu Onsen Course if you want a more difficult long day hike. Other courses involve camping overnight a day or two in order to complete it. Shiretoko is known for their large bear population, though they are quite shy so common sense and maybe some bells worn on your belt are really all you need to stay safe.
For something more relaxing, take a ride on the Aurora Tourist Cruise which runs from April through October and takes you either to the Shiretoko Cape or to Mount Io. Or, after a day of hiking, head to Kuma no Yo outdoor onsen where there are free public baths to soak in.
Food and DiningFood options are limited in the park itself; the main restaurants are located in the Shiretoko Nature Center and in the Five Lakes Information Center. These areas are also great to stock up on snacks and water before heading out into the park.
TransportationIn Japan, trains are one of the fastest and lowest cost means of transportation. Getting a Japan Rail Pass can save you money if you plan to stay for several days or more. Regional and nation-wide passes are available, usually for the number of days of your choice.
Getting into the Park via public transportation can be a tricky task seeing as the buses run on limited schedules, even during the peak season, there's only six buses per day. You can take a car into the Park and park it at one of the few lots there before heading further into the Park.
Getting around Shiretoko is a little easier through public transport using the Sharibus which has three routes around the Park. The first route takes you to the Utoro Bus Terminal and includes a photo stop at Oshinkonshin Falls. Once at Utoro, you can walk your way through the park. The second is a four-hour trip that begins and ends in Utoro and takes you through the major attractions at the park. Then, there is the third route that runs nonstop from Utoro to Shari, making it a good option if you're staying further south in Hokkaido.
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