Shiretoko Peninsula is one of Japan’s last untouched regions, with glittering alpine lakes, snow-capped mountains, and beautiful ocean views. Located on the northeast edge of Hokkaido, Shiretoko is ripe for outdoor activities like camping and even walking on drift ice floating down from Russia.
The name Shiretoko is derived from the indigenous Japanese Ainu term sir etok, which means “end of the world.” The region is still home to one of the largest Ainu populations who are considered Japan’s original people. Many sites on the peninsula are spiritually significant to them.
In 2005, UNESCO named Shiretoko Peninsula a World Heritage Site due to its abundance of wildlife and marine ecosystems. Although UNESCO sites often bring hordes of tourists, the peninsula is isolated enough that it remains relatively untarnished.
Outdoor activities in Shiretoko
Most of the peninsula is designated as Shiretoko National Park. The park is a pristine expanse of wilderness and so remote that there’s not even a road to connect you to the outermost edges of Shiretoko.
The most popular attractions at Shiretoko Peninsula will have you appreciating nature on both land and sea. You can walk on the Okhotsk Sea during the winter months on drift ice that flows down to Shiretoko from Russia. This unique experience is something you can’t do anywhere else in the world!
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A few different hiking routes that circle the scenic Shiretoko Five Lakes region may steer you face-to-face with deer, raccoon dogs, and red foxes. Between May and July, you may even stumble upon a brown bear so be careful!
Oshinkoshin Falls and Oronko Rock
Natural sights on Shiretoko include Oshinkoshin Falls and Oronko Rock, which are considered sacred by the Ainu.
Oshinkoshin means “beautifully forked waterfalls” in the Ainu language and is known for its two wide streams. Oronko Rock, or Oronkoiwa, named after the indigenous Oronko people, is a massive rock formation jutting out of the sand. Visitors who climb the 60-meter staircase on the rock’s side will be rewarded with a stunning view of the sunset at the end of the day.
Shiretoko Pass is another popular destination. It marks the highest point where the east coast connects to the peninsula’s west coast. The observation deck at the pass has incredible views of some of the nearby islands and the snowy peaks across the peninsula.
Accommodation in Shiretoko
The best places to stay in the Shiretoko Peninsula are its gateway towns, Rausu and Utoro. Rausu is located on the eastern coast, while Utoro can be found on the western coast.
These are fishing villages-turned-tourist hubs, which both have natural hot springs perfect for keeping warm or relaxing sore muscles. Utoro is also home to one of Japan’s Godzilla rocks. It makes sense that the Shiretoko Peninsula would be the big guy’s stomping grounds.
These are the last large villages where you can find amenities like hotels, restaurants, and visitor centers. Aside from a few lonesome lodges and cabins, north of these towns is mostly pure wilderness (perfect for camping!). Both towns are well-connected to other sections of the Shiretoko Peninsula via tourist shuttles and busses and offer sightseeing boating tours.