If you have only a couple days to spare to visit one of Hokkaido's national parks, head to Shikotsu-Toya National Park, the closest to Sapporo and the first national park you'll reach if you enter Hokkaido via train to Hakodate. This 987-sq.-km (381-sq.-mile) national park encompasses lakes, volcanoes, and the famous hot-spring resort of Noboribetsu Onsen, home to 800 people.

Famous for the variety of its hot-water springs ever since the first public bathhouse opened here in 1858, Noboribetsu Spa is one of Japan's best-known spa resorts and is the most popular of Hokkaido's many spa towns. It boasts 11 different types of hot water, each with a different mineral content, and gushes 10,000 tons a day. With temperatures ranging between 113°F (45°C) and 197°F (92°C), the waters contain all kinds of minerals, including sulfur, salt, iron, and gypsum, and are thought to help relieve such disorders as high blood pressure, poor blood circulation, rheumatism, arthritis, eczema, and even constipation.

Also known for its seasonal beauty, Noboribetsu is an impressive sight in spring, when 2,000 cherry trees lining the road into the onsen are in full bloom. In autumn, thousands of Japanese maples burst into flame. In the nearby village of Shiraoi on Lake Poroto, a museum and village commemorate the native Ainu and their culture.