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Towada-Hachimantai National Park, spreading 862 sq. km (333 sq. miles) through north-central Tohoku and shared by three prefectures, is blessed with mountain ranges, lakes, streams, and hot-spring spas. It's perfect for the outdoor enthusiast, offering hiking in summer and skiing in winter. Most easily accessible from Tokyo is Lake Tazawa at the southern end of the park, with its nearby ski lifts, hot-springs, and biking and hiking opportunities. Far to the north, and a good choice if you're heading onward to Hokkaido, are the pristine Lake Towada and delightful Oirase Stream with its riverbank hiking trail.

Unfortunately, bus service through the national park is either infrequent or nonexistent. There's a bus, for example, that travels from Lake Towada south to Tazawako Station, but not vice versa. The easiest way to get around is by rental car.

Lake Tazawa (Tazawako) has the distinction of being the deepest lake in Japan, 423m (1,387 ft.) deep. Crystal clear, the caldera offers swimming as well as cycling along its rim. Nearby are several ski resorts, as well as the Nyuto Onsen rustic hot-spring spas at the base of Mount Nyuto, which make good bases for exploring the area. Mount Komagatake is a popular destination for trekkers.

Located at the northern end of Towada-Hachimantai National Park on the border between Aomori and Akita prefectures, Lake Towada (Towadako in Japanese) is considered one of the park's top scenic gems. It's certainly one of Japan's least spoiled lakes, with only two small villages on its perimeter and encircled by wooded cliffs and mountains. Best, however, is Oirase Stream, the only river flowing out of Lake Towada. A shaded mountain stream that courses over boulders and down waterfalls, it is flanked by a hiking trail offering one of the prettiest walks in Tohoku. In autumn, leaves of gold and red render the scenery truly spectacular.