Shikotsu-Tōya National Park (支笏洞爺国立公園 Shikotsu-tōya-kokuritsukōen) is a national park (983 km²) in the central part of the island of Hokkaido, Japan. There are many lakes and active volcanoes in the park. Showa-Shin-zan, Usa-zan, and Tarumae-zan are the more well known among the active volcanoes. These volcanoes are also responsible for some popular onsens.
Surrounded by hills, the dominant feature is Mount Fuppushidake (風不死岳), an Ainu name cleverly written in kanji as "Wind-never-dies Peak". The main town is
- Shikotsu Kohan (支笏湖畔) - is a small village on the eastern side of the lake. There is a small tourist information office here, near the bus station.
- Toyako Onsen - is a small Onsen town on the shore of Lake Toya, There is an excellent Visitor's Centre about 100m from the bus station. All sorts of interesting information can be found there regarding the history of the area and explanation of volcanic activity, etc. There is also a separate volcano exhibition in the centre which costs ¥600 to enter. During main season, there are nightly fireworks along the Lake Toya promenade.
Flora and fauna
Pier on Lake Shikotsu, on a rainy autumn day
Lake Toya on placid autumn day
Sapporo's New Chitose Airport (CTS) is quite close to Shikotsu and there are direct buses to Shikotsu Kohan (55 minutes, ¥920), as well as from Hokkaido's capital Sapporo and the major port Tomakomai. There are also buses connecting Toyako Kohan to Sapporo (¥2700, 2.5h).
Toya Station is located along the main Hakodate-Sapporo line, but it's another 20 minutes by bus from there to Toyako Onsen. The bus seems to be timed to train arrivals, so get right on as you get off the train, and have some small change for the fare. A taxi ride to Toyako Onsen costs about ¥2200.
No fees required. Permits not generally required.
As in much of Hokkaido, buses are infrequent, so your own wheels or hitchhiking are the best ways to get around. From the Toyako Onsen bus terminal, there are bus connections to places such as JR Toya station and Usu-zan, but take note of the schedule for your return trip as there may be several hours between buses. Buy bus tickets at the bus terminal's counter if getting on there; otherwise, draw a ticket when getting on and pay when getting off the bus. Motorized boats are, thankfully, not allowed on the lake. Sightseeing boats departing from Toyako Onsen offer cruises around the lake, as well as the island in the middle of the lake, which has some tourist attractions.
Alongside Toya-ko in Autumn
- Lake Shikotsu. A caldera lake surrounded by active volcanoes and an unreal mossy gorge, 44 kilometers in diameter, Lake Shikotsu is famed for the clarity of its water. edit
- Lake Toya, (Next to Mt. Usu.). Right next to Mt. Usu, one of Japan's most active volcanoes; you can see what happened to buildings, cars, roads, etc when a volcano erupts A near-circular lake 10 kilometers in diameter, Lake Toya is famed for the clarity of its water, and it never freezes in winter thanks to the geothermal activity of the region. Along with nearby Lake Shikotsu, it forms a part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. This is a caldera lake, the remains of a very large volcanic eruption that has hollowed out ground, where the water is highly mineral rich. edit
- Moss Canyon (苔の洞門 Koke no dōmon). On the south side of the lake, these are in fact two canyons, both several hundred meters long, densely carpeted with thick, green moss. Free entry and well worth a visit. edit
- Mt. Usu (有珠山 Usuzan). This 737m peak is the most active of the lot, with 4 major eruptions in the last 100 years. The latest in 2000 showered much of the neighboring town of Toyako Onsen with ash and debris. The mountain has quieted down now, and there are trails leading to newly created craters on the west side of the mountain. The most notable is Nishiyama Crater Trail (西山火口散策路), where you can see what happens to buildings, cars, roads, etc when a volcano erupts. You can see a former public hot bathing house half-inundated with mud, a block of public housing whose first floor is completely buried on one side, and a part of a former bridge which was pushed by the mud some 300 metres from its original position. Just as you start this walk, there is a small hut with a man inside giving away maps of hiking in the Toyoko region in various languages including English. For some reason, the Visitor's Centre does not have this extremely useful brochure. edit
- Mt. Usu crater hike. It is also possible to hike around the southern half of the main crater if one takes the cable car on the east side to the rim. The cable car station can be reached by bus from Toyako Onsen. It’s a nice hike of maybe two hours, with good views of the crater and lots of steam coming out of the ground. edit
- Shōwashinzan (昭和新山). This mountain, literally "Showa New Mountain", popped out in a local farmer's field in December 1943 and, two years later, had reached a height of 402 meters. It is located right next to the cable car valley station on the east side of Mt. Usu. edit
- In season, you can rent swan boats for paddling out on the lake Shikotse, there are also boats for rent on lake Toya.
- Fishing is popular.
Being a volcanic lake, there are a number of hot springs in the vicinity. Both hot springs below also offer lodging. Noboribetsu is located here, and is one of most famous hot spring resort on Hokkaido, and Toyako Onsen is, as the name suggests, also packed with Onsens.
- Itō Onsen (いとう温泉), ☎ +81 0123 25-2620, . 10AM-4PM. Located on the northern side of the lake, 3 km west from the main road towards Sapporo. Notably primarily for a pleasant outdoor rotenburo with great views of the lake; it's a little strange to stand by the lakeshore completely naked, but hey, you're just a flyspeck if seen from the other side. ¥700. edit
- Kyūkamura Shikotsu Onsen (休暇村支笏湖温泉), . A somewhat clinical hot spring resort not far from Shikotsu Kohan. ¥700. edit
- Hot Spring Hotel Marukoma (丸駒), Shikotsuko Poropinai 7, Chitose (A few kilometers SW of Itō Onsen, at the end of the side road.), ☎ +81 0123 25-2341, . This is a lakeside hotel and onsen. There are indoor and outdoor baths, and also saunas. Bath ¥1000. edit
Shikotsu Kohan and Toyako Onsen has the usual array of Japanese restaurants. There are some basic stalls near the Morappu Camping grounds as well.
- Morappu Camping (モーラップキャンプ場). A basic lakeside campsite popular with fishermen, with toilets, rental equipment and some food stalls nearby. ¥500 per person. edit
- Hotel Grand Toya (ホテルグランドトーヤ), 049-5721 Hokkaido, Lake Toya, Toyako Onsen 144 (Walk towards the lake from Toyako Onsen bus terminal; you should see the hotel on the left.), ☎ 0142-75-2288, . While Toyako Onsen is full of pricey resort hotels, this is one highly recommended mid-range option. The interior may be slightly dated, but this just adds to the relaxing ambience. Rooms are Japanese-style, and breakfast and dinner can be ordered and are served privately. Both meals are excellent, but the dinner is huge and not too cheap. Last but not least, there is a spacious onsen (warm, hot & cool pools, sauna, and an outdoor pool) free for you to use. edit
You're in bear country. Don't feed the bears. Make noise and they'll avoid you if possible, they are usually more afraid of you.