A highlight of any trip to Hokkaido, the spectacular and miraculously uninhabited Shiretoko National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the Shiretoko Peninsula, it's worlds away from modern Japan: brown bears hook salmon out of tumbling rivers; Blackiston's fish owls and Steller's sea eagles glide through the skies; and a steaming hot spring river tumbles to the sea at Kamuiwakka.
With the park's protected status came mass tourism. Efforts to preserve the area's natural beauty have resulted in strict rules, and limited shuttle-bus access to the last few kilometers of peninsula road—no longer close to Kamuiwakka—makes the experience more challenging. But it's worth the effort: the charming Ezo-shika deer stare at you with as much wonder as you do them. If you visit outside the summer crush—June and September are good times—Shiretoko is a remarkable, untouched pocket of wilderness in a heavily industrialized and technologically advanced nation.
Most tour buses
whisk you in and out in 24 hours—with an overnight stay in a resort, quick photo stops along the way, and maybe a boat tour. If you're traveling on your own, it's best to visit the popular destinations at noon or at the end of the day when buses are headed out. Shiretoko is lovely, but the weather, even in summer, is fickle. A Shiretoko stay (and hiking plans) can be marred by mists and rain.