Hokkaido home to Japan’s largest national park
With 2,267 square kilometers of stunning mountains, it is the largest national park of Japan. It boasts an incredible biodiversity, one of the highest in the country. Nature shows her matchless beauty and some of the wildest and roughest sceneries in Hokkaido. This and much more, is the Daisetsuzan National Park.
Offering an extensive trail network, you can choose any difficulty level and length for your hikes. One of the best options is to walk the long loop around Ohachi-daira crater and then stay overnight at the Kurodake Ishimuro Mountain Hut. Sleeping here will also give you the opportunity to really enjoy your hike without having to rush to be back before dark.
Your starting point is in Sounkyo Onsen town where you can get the ropeway up to the 7th station (1520m). From here the trail will get you to the summit of Mount Kurodake (1984m) in about one hour. The view you will have over the highland is amazing. The more you get close to the top the more the silhouette of far mountains comes to sight on the horizon. The hut is barely ten minutes away from the peak and it will be your base for the longer loop trail.
The refuge is very basic; the building has rocky walls and a wooden roof. Outside a couple of tables and benches will later be your "dining room with a view". In the small reception area you can check in, get your blanket and also rent a sleeping bag if you need one (¥1000). Before leaving it's always a good practice to tell the hut manager which path you are going to do. Somebody needs to know where to look for you in case of any emergency. The dormitory is a simple room with wide wooden bunk beds with no mattress so bring a foldable one if you need.
The trail goes straight south-west toward the Ohachi-daira crater. The highland is mostly rocky and dotted in green bushes and plants. The harsh conditions and the strong winds literally shaped the vegetation and countless tiny flowers grow in the zones less exposed to the elements. In early summer you will also likely find some snow remains covering large areas. The contrast with the shiny hues of the summer vegetation really adds a nice touch to the landscape. On the other side snow in this period can be tricky and dangerous to walk onto so be careful and watch your step.
After a gentle ascent you will finally reach the first lookout over the crater. It is breathtaking. With a diameter of 2 km, the caldera is huge. A puzzle of patterns covers the totality of the land like splashes of color in a painting. A river runs on the bottom drawing a sinuous line that goes all the way from one side to the opposite. The white clouds move fast against the blue sky completing the perfect picture.
The trail goes on mainly following the top ring of the crater. Along the way you will walk up and down to five peaks: Mt. Nakadake, Mt. Mamiyadake, Mt. Araidake, Mt. Matsudadake and Mt.Hokkaidake. By reaching so many different elevated points you will get views in every direction and you will so cover a very wide area of the park.
The last part of the hike gently descends into a less rocky area leading you to a river. The stream comes out directly from under a large bank of snow. In the end of a sunny day, the water level could possibly get too high for you to cross walking over the rocks. In this very likely case, just take off your shoes, roll up your trousers and go for a healthy walk into the freezing water. You will then find the hut just a few minutes after this last obstacle.
Once back to the base relax and enjoy your deserved dinner. Here smartphones have almost no reception, so put them away and fully immerse yourself in the astonishing beauty that surrounds you. If the weather is good and the sky clear, you cannot miss to go out after dark. When you will look up remember to breathe, if you manage. The sky is unbelievable. A sea of stars shines in the deep dark blue of the night and the Milky Way is clearly visible.
In the end, if you'll find the willpower to get up before sunrise (around 3.30 AM), I personally suggest to hike back toward mount Kurodake. The stunning view of the rising sun behind the mountains is totally worth it. The golden light flooding over the valley and clouds is truly wonderful and it's also the perfect end for a hike you won't easily forget.
The easiest way to access Sounkyo Onsen is to get a direct bus from Asahikawa Station (¥2,100 - 2 hours)
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