The Shirakami Sanchi mountain range borders two northern prefectures, Akita and Aomori, and encompasses Japan's largest virgin beech forest, one of Japan's first two UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites. This hiker's paradise covers more than 130,000 hectares with an equally impressive array of peaks, lakes, trails, gorges and valleys.
Prime destinations for many travelers to the area include the Juniko lakes, Anmon Falls and Dairakyo Gorge. Any of these will thrill outdoor lovers, as will Aoike, a pond whose palette of blues changes with the weather and the season.
You can get close to the Shirakami Sanchi area via train and bus, but renting a car after that is the best option.
From Hirosaki Station in Aomori Prefecture, the Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Center is an hour away by the Konan bus bound for Tsugaru-Toge. From Akita, a train will get you to the same station in about the same time.
You can get to a few other specific destinations such as the Juniko lakes and Anmon Falls using public transportation. Once you arrive, however, getting around the area generally means hiking unless you have a car.
The Shirakami area extends as far as you can see, and all of it is pristine forest filled with beautiful lakes, clean trails, raised walkways and ponds. What you'll hear are birds, wild animals and the sound of water and wind. Other people tend to be few and far between, which is what traveling in the outback is all about.
Many of the old-growth virgin beech trees in Shirakami Sanchi are more than 200 years old. Compared to ancient trees in other parts of the world, that may seem young. However, the size of these trees, with their thick green trunks and knotty limbs, is majestic.
Some of the locations you should focus on in Shirakami Sanchi are the Juniko (Twelve Lakes), the three falls that comprise Anmon Falls, and Aoike Pond. There are actually more than 33 lakes in the Juniko area.
There's also is a site called Nihon Canyon that offers a miniature version of the Grand Canyon in the U.S. The washed-out rock formations are captivating, and you can see them up close. You should also try to take one of the small networks of walking trails to scenic Dairakyo Gorge, especially if you're there in the fall.
Other than a few mountain climber's paths, the parts of Shirakami Sanchi designated a World Natural Heritage Site are still mostly unexplored. The areas outside of this core are somewhat more accessible. But it is still mostly hiking trails. Put on your hiking shoes and explore.
You can learn about the Shirakami Sanchi area at the Shirakami Mountains Visitor Center and also the Shirakami World Heritage Center. While videos and most information is in Japanese, you'll also find materials in English.