Nikko National Park: The Complete Guide

Nikko National Park View

 

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Nikko National Park

Address
Yumoto, Nikko, Tochigi 321-1662, Japan

Full of centuries-old shrines, temples and areas of outstanding natural beauty, it’s difficult to know where to begin when it comes to Japan's majestic Nikko National Park. The Japanese town of Nikko can be found within the park, making this a particularly unique destination in terms of accommodation, shopping, and restaurant options.

While the trails here are suited to casual and intermediate hikers, the mountains themselves offer some extra challenge. Oku-Nikko, which translates to deep Nikko, is where the terrain becomes rugged and mountainous with a great number of waterfalls. Due to this landscape, Nikko National Park is a hot spot for hot springs and there are dozens of hot spring resorts to choose from.

While you can take a day trip from Tokyo to Nikko National Park, to fully enjoy its offerings you will ideally need two to three days. Here's everything you need to know when visiting Nikko.

Things To Do

Aside from hiking, seeing the Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples of Nikko National Park is a must. Tōshõ-gū, one of the highlights of Nikko, is the final resting place of the first Tokugawa shogun and is a complex of ornate shrines, art, and gates. Of all the gates, the Yõmei-mon, with over five hundred carvings, is the most impressive and is listed as a Japanese National Treasure.

Nikko is a fantastic area for trying local food. Vegan Buddhist temple cuisine, often served in a multi-course spread of small seasonal dishes which are expertly and naturally seasoned, is a great place to start. Don’t miss Yuzawa-ya teahouse which has been serving since 1804 and has an exquisite selection of tea and homemade, traditional desserts. Another great spot is Gyoshintei, which features a beautiful traditional interior and views of its Japanese garden.

If you're traveling by car, you can check out one of Nikko’s most iconic routes: the Iroha-zaka Winding Road, which features soaring views of the mountains and forty-eight hairpin turns to navigate as you take in the surrounding landscapes. The road also leads to the Ackechi-daira Plateau, giving you a perfect opportunity to get out and enjoy the views.

Best Hikes & Trails 


Senjō-ga-har Plains
: Perfect for casual hikers, this predominantly flat hike across boardwalks takes you from Ryùzu-no-taki Falls—one of the park's most beautiful waterfalls—through the marshy plains, flowers, and long grass of Nikko. 

The trek ends at Yumoto Onsen hot spring town, where you can relax and soak. This is Nikko's most popular hike and its busiest, especially during the fall season when the marshes dry into red and gold hues. It's also the perfect hike for those taking a day trip to Nikko as it only takes around two and a half hours to complete.


Odashirogahara Plateau Nature Trail
: This two-hour trail can either be done by itself or combined with the Senjō-ga-har Plains walk for a longer route. Also across boardwalks, you can enjoy mountain views and more local flora and fauna.


Nantai-san
: One of three mountains in Nikko National Park and one of Japan’s one hundred most famous mountains, this trail is popular due to its incredible views of the park and Lake Chūzenji-ko from its summit. 

This hike is considered intermediate as it’s steep and rocky so can easily exhaust you if you’re not used to it—make sure to bring plenty of drinks and snacks to keep you going. Along the route, you’ll pass through torii gates marking your climb and also see the Okumiya shrine, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, dedicated to the mountain near the summit. This hike takes around six and a half hours total, so it would be more suited for those who are able to stay overnight in Nikko.


Lake Chuzenji
: Formed by the eruption of Mount Nantai around 20,000 years ago, this is one of Japan’s highest natural lakes and can be enjoyed either from a viewing platform via the Akechi-daira Ropeway or by hiking the trail around the lake, which takes just over five hours. 


Lake Yunoko
: Ideal for those who are short on time, this casual one hour hike takes you around the circumference of Lake Yunoko and features primaeval forest, seasonal flora, and native wildlife. Hot springs are plentiful in this area—it even has its own resort town.


Takino’o Kodoō
: This relaxing half-day trail is ideal for anyone looking for a quieter, more spiritual hike through cedar trees and by the Daiya river. Translating to "Takino’o Old Path," this hike is paved in stone, passes several small shrines and temples, and leads to the Kanama-ga-fuchi Abyss, lined with a supposedly uncountable number of Buddhist Jizō statues.

Where to Camp

If you’d like to camp in Nikko National Park then you will need to use one of the designated campsites. There are a number of auto campsites where you can park up and pitch your tent with some basic facilities available. The park's main campsite, however, is Shobugahama.

Shobugahama Camping Site: By far the most popular and scenic of Nikko's campsites, this site on the edge of Lake Chuzenjiko is surrounded by stunning mountain ranges. Bathing and cooking facilities are available and basic snacks and drinks are sold at the shop, which also offers WiFi. Other activities available here include kayaking and fishing.

Where to Stay

Nikko has no shortage of accommodation options, from budget hostels to five-star hotels and Japanese ryokan. The best areas to stay in include Nikko Town, Chuzenjiko Onsen, Yumoto Onsen, and Kinugawa Onsen, all of which have ample facilities and no shortage of things to do.

If you’re short on time then staying in Nikko Town is ideal, as you can reach the main tourist sites and the train station easily. If you want to spend time rejuvenating in natural surroundings with easy access to hiking trails, one of the onsen towns will be the best choice. Some of our top lodging recommendations include:

Nikko Hoshino Yado: In Nikko Town and a stone’s throw from the famous Nikko Toshogu Shrine, this mid-range Japanese inn also features an on-site onsen.

Hotel Shikisai: A traditional yet luxury ryokan inn in Chuzenjiko Onsen surrounded by thick forest and waterfalls. Private hot spring baths are available as well as fine dining experiences.

Okunikko Park Lodge Miyama: A lodge with outstanding mountain views and easy access to the slopes at Yumoto Ski Resort, Japanese breakfast and dinner are served and there is access to a hot spring bath.

How to Get There

Most easily reached by train, the Shinkansen bullet train goes directly from Tokyo Station to Nikko Station in around an hour and a half.

Once there, it’s easy to get around the park via public transport and regular buses that run between the train station and the park. You can pick up a Nikko All Area pass from the tourist information centre, which covers all bus travel to and from and within the park.

The tourist bus will take you around the major sites, but many people also choose to rent a car. There are small car parks near most of the popular sites and car rental shops can be found near Nikko Station.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The shrines become very busy in the afternoon, especially Toshogu Shrine, so leave early and visit these areas first if you’d like to take pictures.
  • Make sure to take some cash out when you arrive at the train station to use around the park.
  • Rain can be sudden in Nikko, so pack a light rain jacket whatever the season.
  • Within a few minutes walk of the train station, you will find the Nikko Tourist Information Center which will provide you with free hiking brochures and other useful information.
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Nikko National Park: The Complete Guide