Home to Japan’s most pristine natural landscapes and abundance of wildlife, Shiretoko Peninsula is the country’s answer for off-the-beaten-track travel.
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Located on the far northeastern tip of Hokkaido, the peninsula juts out into the Sea of Okhotsk with a spectacularly wild contrast of mountains and coast.
The northern half of the peninsula is dominated by the Shiretoko National Park. It is one of six national parks on the island, full of breathtaking scenery, endangered species like brown bears, and various outdoor activities.
Virtually untouched by infrastructure and with strictly controlled traffic, the national park is brimming with a vibrant ecosystem and well-protected biodiversity. Since 2005, it’s been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its natural beauty and irreplaceable ecology.
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As one of the top attractions of Hokkaido, the Shiretoko Peninsula is a unique destination worth visiting for anyone looking to experience a completely wild side of Japan. We were lucky enough to spend a couple of days here during our recent visit to Japan, and it was, arguably, one of our top experiences!
From the best hiking trails to sightseeing boats, we share the best things to do on the Shiretoko Peninsula to help you plan your own trip to this remote region.
How to Get To/Around Shiretoko Peninsula
Shiretoko Peninsula is located in the far east of Hokkaido. The remote location of the peninsula means public transport is extremely limited, making it an ideal destination for a road.
The peninsula is located around 450 km (280 miles) from Sapporo or a 6-7 hour drive.
The main airport of Hokkaido is the New Chitose International Airport (CTS), located about an hour’s drive from downtown Sapporo. From there, you can either rent a car or use public transport to reach Shiretoko Peninsula.
If you prefer to travel by public transport, it’s still possible to reach Shiretoko by train/bus.
The closest railway station is JR Shiretoko Shari Station in the centre of Shari Town, about 40 kilometres southwest of Shiretoko National Park. Shiretoko Shari Station can be reached in 40 minutes from Abashiri (around 1000 yen) or in about 2.5 hours from Kushiro (around 3200 yen) by infrequent trains.
Shiretoko Shari Station is connected with Utoro by infrequent buses (around 1 hour and 1650 yen). During the main summer season, from April to October, some buses continue from Utoro via the Shiretoko Nature Center to the Shiretoko Five Lakes.
For budget travellers, overnight buses operate daily between Sapporo and Utoro. The one-way journey takes eight hours and costs around 8500 yen.
Best Time to Visit Shiretoko Peninsula
The beauty of Shiretoko Peninsula changes with the seasons.
Spring and Autumn are considered the best times for visiting the peninsula, with mild weather and colourful flora. However, you can still expect cooler temperatures than inland Hokkaido, so ensure you pack plenty of layers, rain gear, and sturdy footwear.
Summer offers warmer weather and coincides with peak bear activity time, so guides are required on some of the nature trails for safety.
Winter might seem like a cold and miserable time to explore the outdoors, but it’s easily the best time to witness the rare spectacle of floating sea ice. This is the best time for guided drift ice walks and cruises until early April, as well as snowshoeing and winter hiking.
Best Things to Do in Shiretoko Peninsula
Shiretoko Peninsula is a dream for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. There’s plenty to keep you busy for days, no matter the season, from hiking to whale watching tours. Here are the best things to do in Shiretoko Peninsula:
1. Hiking in Shiretoko National Park
Covering nearly 390 square km of rugged coastal landscape, Shiretoko National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its natural environment and diverse wildlife. From steep cliffs to waterfalls, it’s the highlight of the peninsula.
Exploring on foot is the best way to get up close and personal with nature, as the park lacks major infrastructure and roads. During the warmer months, hiking is a popular activity in the park. You can still explore in the winter but will need to do so in snowshoes.
The most famous hike is the Shiretoko Five Lakes trail, exploring five small lakes formed long ago by Mount Io volcano. You can follow the short boardwalk around Shiretoko Goko lakes, which are accessible to all, or the longer forest trail, where you might spot a brown bear in the summer months.
For another short walk, the 2 km trail to the Furepe-no-Taki Falls starts at the Shiretoko National Park Nature Centre. Or, for those up for a challenge, the Iwaobetsu Trail is a 12 km hike leading to the highest point of the Shiretoko Mountain Range, the top of Mt. Rausu.
2. Join a Bear-Watching Cruise to Spot Brown Bears
Known for its abundant brown bear population, a fantastic way of spotting them is on a Bear Watching Cruise. These tours operate from late April until late October by the Shiretoko Sightseeing Ship, MS Aurora.
They offer three different routes starting from Utoro, ranging from 1 to 3 hours, with the longest option making it all the way to the upper reaches of Cape Shiretoko. It offers the chance to see not only bears but also seals, many species of birds, and coastal waterfalls.
3. Drive Down Shiretoko Pass
Shiretoko Pass connects Utoro, on the western coast of the peninsula, with Rausu on the east coast of the peninsula. This 30 km (18.6 mi) scenic road is open from late April to early November, and closed due to snowfall in the winter.
Stop off on the side of the road for incredible views of Lake Rausu, Mount Rausu, and the rugged landscape of the Shiretoko Mountain Range.
4. Explore Rausu Town
The small fishing village of Rausu on the peninsula’s east coast is worth exploring. Grab lunch at one of the restaurants and check out the shops selling a variety of local produce, such as dried fish, kelp, and other unique items.
Rausu is also where whale-watching tours and other cruises depart to explore the marine ecosystem.
5. Join a Whale Watching Tour
In the summer months, the open sea around Shiretoko is teeming with marine mammals. Once the drift ice melts, species such as sperm whales, minke whales and killer whales populate the Nemuro Strait, looking for food sources.
The best way to see the whales is on a whale-watching tour from Rausu town. It’s known as one of the rare places on earth where you can observe sperm whales up close.
6. Go on a Drift Ice Cruise
If you are visiting the Shiretoko area in winter, swap the whale-watching tours for a Winter Drift Ice Cruise to see the ocean covered in ice floes.
Departing from Rausu, the Aruran III heads out onto the Okhotsk Sea up the northeast coast where you’ll have a chance to see a variety of seals and seabirds on the floating ice.
The late winter months are the best time to see rare bird species, such as the Blakiston’s fish owl, Steller’s sea eagle, and white-tailed sea eagles. In early spring, you’ll also be able to see different seals, such as the spotted seal and ribbon seal and even rare Steller sea lions.
7. Visit Oshinkoshin Falls
Oshinkoshin Falls stands around 80m (262.5 ft) tall and is often considered one of Japan’s best waterfalls. Located on the peninsula’s west coast, just south of Utoro, this waterfall is known locally as “Sobi no Taki”, meaning twin beauties, as the stream is visibly split into two.
You can take the stairs to the top viewing platform, where you’re just a few meters back from the water. There’s a free car park, public toilets and a souvenir shop located at the bottom.
8. See Oronko Rock and Godzilla Rock
Utoro is the largest town on the west side of the peninsula. Home to some natural landmarks, this picturesque fishing village is where people base themselves while exploring the Shiretoko National Park.
Oronko Rock is impossible to miss, rising 60 meters (197 ft) above sea level beside the harbour. A small path and stairs lead to the top for spectacular views of the village and coast.
You can also visit Godzilla Rock, a picturesque rock island formation around the tip of Cape Utoro.
9. Soak in the Hot Springs
Shiretoko Peninsula is home to several natural hot spring areas. For a completely raw experience, head to Kamuiwakka Hot Falls, about 24 km (15 mi) north of Utoro town. From the parking lot, it requires a scramble up the river to reach the first waterfalls with warm pools at their base perfect for soaking your feet.
It’s also common to spot brown bears and sika deer around the area, so be on the lookout as you walk. The falls are closed from November until as late as June due to snowfall.
Where to Eat: Best Restaurants in Shiretoko Peninsula
There are a number of restaurants in the town of Utoro, many are opened for lunch and dinner, with breakfast usually available at your hotel.
Namishibuki: Located just outside of Utoro on the west coast, this highly-rated ramen restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. The highlight on the menu is Shio ramen, a clear chicken broth soup filled with vegetables and meat.
Chiba Store 三代目 千葉商店: Located in Utoro town, this small local restaurant is underrated for traditional Japanese food. Try the karaage (fried chicken), venison croquettes, or seafood bowl.
Kitachan: Another small, nondescript place, this restaurant is located back from the harbour in Utoro. Open for dinner only, it is known for its meat dishes such as ribs, loin, offal, and sausages.
Shiokaze: Right next door to Kitachan, this bright and friendly restaurant has good value set meals that will fill you up, or order any of the fresh seafood dishes that come straight from the harbour.
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Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Shiretoko Peninsula
Most people base themselves in Utoro, where you’ll find a range of good quality hotels and lodging.
Hotel Kifu Club Shiretoko: We stayed at this great little family-owned hotel set across from the coast on the main road in Utoro. The hotel offers a mixture of traditional Japanese and more modern Western-style rooms with sea views. Plus, you can enjoy a private onsite onsen and a wonderful tempura kaiseki meal at the restaurant.
Kitakobushi Shiretoko Hotel and Resort: Certainly one of the more comfortable options in town, this hot spring resort offers a range of stunning suites featuring wood fires, open-air baths, and sea-view balconies. There’s an onsite sauna, onsen, and a live restaurant cooking fresh ingredients from the area.
The Bottom Line
Showcasing some of Japan’s only truly wild places left, the Shiretoko Peninsula is an underrated destination on Hokkaido Island.
It’s worth taking some time to explore either on foot or by boat, as you spot a brown bear in the wild, whales off the eastern coast in summer, or drift ice in the cold winter.
In our opinion, any Japan travel itinerary should include a trip to Shiretoko National Park.