The Shiretoko Peninsula, located on the island of Hokkaido in north-eastern Japan has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 2005 and is one of Japan’s most beautiful and untouched national parks.
The natural ecosystem in Shiretoko which is influenced by the winter drift ice, provides the perfect environment for a large variety of wildlife such as brown bears, deers, owls and foxes to survive all-year round. The ecosystem in Shiretoko is the perfect example of a natural food chain where phytoplankton are found at the bottom end and bears and foxes are found at the top.
There are only roads around three-quarters of the way up the peninsula so the tip of the peninsula can only be accessed by boat or a multi-day hike.
In August 2020, we spent around two weeks on the Shiretoko Peninsula. We had only planned to stay a few days but we loved it so much that we kept extending our stay! In this blog post we will share our top experiences from our time spent on the Shiretoko Peninsula.
Our Top Experiences On The Shiretoko Peninsula
1. Star Gazing
Since Shiretoko is so far north and away from big cities such as Tokyo and Sapporo, there is very little light pollution. This makes it the perfect place to enjoy star gazing if you are lucky enough to have a clear night.
We have done star gazing in many parts of Japan, but the stars we saw while in Shiretoko were definitely the best we have seen. The stars were so bright and clear and one night while star gazing, we saw 5 shooting stars within 10 minutes!
It might feel a little scary to stand outside knowing there could be bears nearby, but if you have the chance, definitely pluck up the courage to spend 5 minutes outside looking at the beautiful stars!
2. Nature Center in Utoro
To really appreciate why Shiretoko is so special, a visit to the free nature center in Utoro is a must. The nature center has colourful and informative displays in both English and Japanese and goes into great detail about the natural ecosystem in Shiretoko.
There is also a lot of information about each type of animal and fish that can be found in the area and it explains how they are all connected in one big food chain.
To be honest, we didn’t know much about natural ecosystems before visiting the nature center but from the 1 hour we spent there, we learnt so much and were able to enjoy Shiretoko on a much deeper level since we understood the importance of all the wildlife and nature.
3. Salmon Fishing
The Shiretoko Peninsula is known for its incredible salmon fishing. From around mid-August, the salmon season starts and keen fishermen flock to Shiretoko in the hope of catching some delicious wild salmon.
Utoro harbour is a really popular spot for salmon fishing and everyday at dusk there were over 100 people salmon fishing. It was actually easier than we expected to catch a salmon and we caught a few ourselves!
If you don’t have any fishing equipment, it’s possible to buy a cheap fishing rod and bait from any home center.
4. Hiking Mount Rausu
Hiking up Mount Rausu might not be everyone’s cup of tea and it does require a certain fitness level, but this was one of our best experiences during our two weeks in Shiretoko.
Shiretoko is known for having the highest bear density of any place in Japan, so it is vital to be prepared if you plan to do this hike. We both attached bear bells to our bags and also carried a bear spray with us while hiking. We started the hike at sunrise and made it up and down in around 7 hours.
There is a free unmanned campsite with food lockers near the top of Mount Rausu so if you would like to split the hike over two days then camping might be a nice option.
The reason we loved the Mount Rausu hike so much was because you can get an incredible view of the whole of the Shiretoko peninsula and nearby islands from the top. Since there are not many roads on the peninsula, it can be hard to appreciate the size of the peninsula and its vast untouched nature without having a birds-eye view.
There are also some longer multi-day hikes on the peninsula which include reaching the summit of some of the other peaks in Shiretoko. We met a man who spent 7 days on a multi-day hike in Shiretoko and he did encounter some bears but luckily didn’t have any problems!
We made a video about our hike up Mount Rausu, check it out below!
5. Free Outdoor Onsens
One of our favourite things to do while travelling in Japan is to visit free outdoor hot springs. On the Shiretoko peninsula, there are 4 free outdoor onsens which are all surrounded by nature and have lovely temperatures.
Kumanoyu Onsen – this is located near Rausu town and is within walking distance of the Rausu campsite. It’s a really popular onsen with locals and it was always very busy when we visited. There are no showers here so it is necessary to use a scoop and use onsen water to wash before entering the onsen. Men and women have separate onsens.
Aidomari Onsen – this onsen is located north of Rausu town on a rocky beach. Men and women have separate covered onsens and you can enjoy a beautiful view over the ocean and of nearby islands while relaxing in the onsen. The temperature was very hot but there is a tap where you can add cold water. There are no showers here but you can wash yourself with onsen water before entering.
Seishi Onsen – this onsen is located near Aidomari onsen, north of Rausu. It’s also located on a rocky beach but it’s small and mixed gender and also not covered so people driving past can see.
Sandan Onsen – this was our favourite onsen in Shiretoko since it was surrounded by beautiful nature and there were three pools to choose from. Each pool was a different temperature and it was the perfect place to relax after hiking since it’s located near the Mount Rausu trailhead.
6. Watch the sunset in Utoro
We managed to see a beautiful sunset at the Yūhidai Observatory in Utoro. If it’s a clear day, then this spot near the campground in Utoro is a great place to come to watch the sunset!
As we mentioned earlier in the blog post, there is a lot of wildlife on the Shiretoko peninsula due to the natural ecosystem. It’s not uncommon to encounter red foxes, deer and many birds while travelling around the peninsula.
There are also boat tours operating from Rausu and Utoto town where you can spot bears, dolphins and whales if you are lucky!
We came across three bears while driving and they were crossing the road. Check it out in the video below!
8. Kamuiwakka Hot Falls
These onsen waterfalls are located on the west side of the peninsular at the end of a gravel road. It’s definitely worth the journey though since there are many warm pools where you can relax and enjoy the lovely onsen water which has a high concentration of sulphur.
It’s better to take off your shoes at the entrance to the onsen waterfalls since it’s easier to walk while barefoot rather than wearing sandals. The water is lukewarm and much cooler than normal onsen water but it still feels nice to bathe in for a few minutes!
9. Shiretoko Pass
The Shiretoko pass located between the towns of Rausu and Utoro is a road which reaches 738m and has wonderful views of the Shiretoko peninsula and of Mount Rausu. It has the shortest opening season of any pass in Japan and the snow doesn’t melt until July.
It’s a really popular road with drivers and bikers and there is a viewpoint with a toilet located at the top of the pass where it’s possible to stop and take some photos of the spectacular view.
10. Shiretoko 5 Lakes
The Shiretoko 5 lakes is one of the more popular places in Shiretoko and is usually quite busy with tourists, however we still think it is worth a visit!
Five beautiful lakes with backdrops of the Shiretoko mountains are located on the western side of the Shiretoko peninsula. There is a free 1.6km (round trip) elevated boardwalk open year-round which gives access to one of the lakes and there is a paid trial (3km or 1.6km) open during the summer season which gives access to all five lakes.
The prices for the longer trail vary depending on which season you visit and everyone who does the longer trail is required to attend a lecture about bear encounters.
During the peak bear season in June and July, an experienced warden will hike together with a group on the trial.
11. Try Local Food
Since the Shiretoko Peninsula is surrounded by the sea, there is an abundance of delicious food on offer. We tried a few different local specialities which we will share below.
Rausu Sea Leaf: We purchased this from the roadside station in Rausu and ate it on top of udon noodles. It was really delicious and we would definitely recommend it.
Rausu Soba: We purchased some pre-packaged instant soba from the roadside station on Rausu and it came with a kombu dipping sauce. The sauce tasted amazing!
Kuro hamo-don: This is a famous dish we tried in the restaurant at the roadside station in Rausu. It is black pike conger eel on rice with a delicious sauce. It was one of the best dishes we ate in Hokkaido so definitely recommend you to try it!
Our Overall Verdict Of The Shiretoko Peninsula
We absolutely loved our time on the Shiretoko peninsula and since we were there for two weeks we probably drove down every road and visited every attraction!
We hope that by sharing our favourite experiences on the Shiretoko peninsula that it will help you plan your trip and you can enjoy the best of what Shiretoko has to offer.
It really is a different world away from other parts of Japan and we recommend everyone to visit at least once in their life!