30 Things to Do Around Hokkaido & Where to Stay
Boasting some of Asia’s best ski resorts, pristine national parks, both modern and historic cities and of course, some of the world’s best seafood, Hokkaido is one of Japan’s most captivating destinations. While it might take a little more effort and time to get there, it should be on every travellers list when planning their next trip to Japan. On this page you will find the following information:
Separated from Japan’s main island of Honshu by the Tsugaru Strait, Hokkaido is in every sense a destination unto itself. Hokkaido has long been populated by the indigenous Ainu people and brought under the administration of Japan in the late-19th century during the ‘Meiji Period’. Since that time important harbour cities including Otaru and Hakodate connected Hokkaido and Japan to traders from around the world while Sapporo developed quickly from a small settlement to its current position as Japan’s fifth largest city.
Best Places to Stay in Hokkaido
Hokkaido offers visitors plenty of accommodation options including high-end…
Hokkaido offers visitors plenty of reasons to visit starting with its long, cold winter in which its ski resorts enjoy some of the world’s deepest and best powder while the warmer seasons of spring, summer and autumn entice travellers back to explore its national parks, flower farms and idyllic rural landscapes. Of course, Hokkaido’s outstanding seafood and other food can be enjoyed all year round while its iconic dancing Red-Crowned Cranes can also be found throughout the year although perhaps best-enjoyed in winter. Before we jump into our recommendation of the best things to do when visiting Hokkaido, let’s start with the obvious question of:
WHERE IS HOKKAIDO?
Hokkaido is the second largest of Japan’s four main islands and largest prefecture in the country. Sitting at significant distance from Japan’s largest cities including Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka and Nagoya, Hokkaido is most easily accessed by flight to New Chitose Airport – around 1.5 hours from Tokyo – while the Shinkansen / ‘Bullet Train’ network now extends past Aomori along the Hokkaido Line to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station. Sapporo is the largest city on Hokkaido – and Japan’s fifth largest city – however any visitor heading to the island should prioritise getting outdoors. Boasting some of Asia’s best ski resorts and multiple national parks including Japan’s largest park, Daisetsuzan, and the World Heritage-listed Shiretoko, visitors to Hokkaido should make a point of getting out of the cities and towns and exploring one of the few corners of Japan with remote and wild landscapes.
BEST THINGS TO DO AROUND HOKKAIDO
As noted above, Hokkaido is Japan’s second largest island and a region of wild, open landscapes. Sitting to the north of Honshu, it is subject to a long, cold winter followed by short, pleasant summer. No matter when you’re visiting, a trip to Hokkaido is all about getting outdoors to enjoy its world-class ski resorts, national parks, rural landscapes and indigenous Ainu culture. Many visitors will however start their visit in Hokkaido’s largest city of Sapporo. Known for its food, drink and nightlife, Sapporo is well-worth exploring before heading into the wild:
1 / VISIT SAPPORO / all year round
Sapporo is the largest city in Hokkaido and fifth largest city in Japan. Though it is one of Japan’s youngest major cities, Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu settled in the area more than 15,000 year ago (a proud and distinct culture should be explored while in Hokkaido – see ‘11 / Upopoy National Ainu Museum’ below. As Hokkaido’s main city, Sapporo offers lots of reasons to visit including a thriving food and drinking scene, shopping, parks and events including the Sapporo Snow Festival – see below.
Sapporo boasts an impressive array of historic, Western-influenced buildings that reflect its rapid development from the Meiji Period onward when Japan had opened to the world. This includes the Sapporo Beer Museum. Opened in 1877, the former factory lays claim to being the birthplace of beer in Japan and today profiles the history of the brewery, paid tours and tastings. But of course, Hokkaido is best-known for its winter and Sapporo is best-known for its annual:
2 / SAPPORO SNOW FESTIVAL / February
First held in 1950 and now taking place each February, the Sapporo Snow Festival ranks as one the most popular winter events in Japan. Known as ‘さっぽろ雪まつり/ Sapporo Yuki Matsuri’ in Japanese, the festival last for one week, hosted at multiple sites in the city including the Odori, Susukino and Tsu Dome sites. The festival is most famous for its huge ice and snow sculptures, some measuring up to 15 metres in height and 25 metres across. You’ll find around a dozen large sculptures at the Odori site along with more than one hundred smaller ones. Similarly, the Susukino site has around one smaller statues while the Tsu Dome site has more sculptures and family-oriented activities as snow lies and snow rafting. The Odori and Susukino sites are illuminated until 22:00 daily. The Tsu Dome is accessible from 09:00 to 17:00.
3 / NIGHTLIFE OF SUSUKINO / all year round
Located a short distance to the south of Sapporo Station – and most easily access from Susukino Station – Susukino is the main dining, shopping and entertainment precinct of the city. You’ll find a huge array of restaurants in the area serving Hokkaido’s famous seafood, ramen and ‘Genghis Khan’ lamb barbeque. There a multiple shopping streets and centres in Susukino, an area that hosts sculptures during the city’s celebrated Snow Festival. For travellers looking to enjoy Sapporo long into the night, you’ll find plenty of bars and other drinking venues.
4 / SEAFOOD OF HOKKAIDO / all year round
In a country that loves its seafood, no place is more renowned than Hokkaido. The cold waters surrounding the island support abundant sealife and produce what is regard as some of the world’s best seafood including ‘kani’ (crab), ‘ika’ (squid), ‘uni’ (sea urchin), ‘hotate’ (scallops) and many other indulgent treats. With countless restaurants across the country, you won’t have any trouble finding a place in which to dine including seafood markets as such Sapporo’s ‘Nijo’ Market and Hakodate’s morning market. ‘Donburi’ (rice bowl) topped with seaf0od is a great way to sample a wide selection of what’s on offer, with prices varying based on the quality and quantity of fish.
5 / HOKKAIDO ‘RAMEN’ / all year round
‘Ramen’ is another of Hokkaido’s most famous and popular dishes. Found throughout Japan with many cities and regions claiming local varieties, Sapporo is famous for its ‘miso’-based broths while other areas of Hokkaido are known for their salt-based broths. One of the most ubiquitous forms of food and restaurants in Japan, you will have no trouble finding ramen while in Sapporo and Hokkaido, with many restaurants staying open late into the night and early morning to offer much need replenishment to drinkers and those out late.
6 / OTARU / all year round
Otaru is a small harbour city most famous for its canal area of 19th and early-20th century warehouses and merchant buildings. Though the trade the once filled the warehouses has long since moved on to more modern ports, the beautifully-preserved canal area now houses restaurants, shops and museums that allow for an enjoyable day-trip from Sapporo – only 35 minutes by train. Once there, visitors can enjoy strolling the canal district along with Otaru’s popular Sakaimachi historic museum and shopping street. Otaru can be enjoyed all year round but is perhaps most enjoyable during the warmer months of the year, from May to October.
7 / NIKKA WHISKEY DISTILLERY / all year round
Established in Yoichi in 1934, the Nikka Whiskey Distillery is one of Japan’s most famous and today you can tour the distillery thanks to English and other foreign language audio guides, or guided tours conducted in Japanese. It takes around one hour to guide yourself through the distillery and museum before ending a tasting where you can sample and buy some of Nikka’s best. Nikka Whiskey Distillery is open all year round – although closed over the New Year period from Dec.25 to Jan.7 – from 09:00 to 16:00. The distillery is within walking distance of Yoichi Station, which is between 25 to 45 from Otaru Station and between 1.5 to 2 hours from Sapporo Station by train.
8 / VISIT A WINERY IN YOICHI / best: May to November
Hokkaido is one of Japan’s four most famous wine producing regions and for visitors headed there in spring to autumn, visiting one of the wineries of Yoichi makes for an easy and indulgent day-trip from Sapporo, Otaru or Niseko. Located on the coast, the Yoichi area is home to multiple wineries including Yoichi Winery, Niki Hills Winery, Domaine Ichi, Domaine Yui and more. While Japanese wine does not yet have the reputation of other wine producing countries, it has a heritage stretching back longer than you might imagine and with a couple of wineries recently winning international awards, it’s only a matter of time until the Japanese industry matures to the point of global recognition. As described above, Yoichi Station is 25 to 45 from Otaru Station, 45 minutes from Kutchan Station (the nearest station to Niseko) and 1.5 to 2 hours from Sapporo Station. The wineries are spread-out across the Yoichi area meaning that you’ll need to arrange a taxi from the station or rent a car and drive yourself. For more information Japan’s emerging wine market, see our ‘Japan Wine Guide: Regions & Essential Info’ page.
9 / SHAKOTAN PENINSULA / all year round
Accessible all times of year but at its most enjoyable in summer, the Shakotan Peninsula sits around 2 to 2.5 hours drive to the west of Sapporo – a 42km coastline of rugged yet beautiful views. Part of the Niseko-Shakotan-Otaru Kaigan Quasi-National Park, the sea around the peninsula is – somewhat surprisingly – the only designated marine park in Hokkaido. Kamui Miskaki (Cape Kamui) is a highlight of the area, providing panoramic views over pristine turquoise waters below, while another section of the peninsula known as the Shimamui Coast is another popular highlight. The Shakotan area also boasts a proud fishing heritage, most famous for its ‘uni’ (sea urchin) which can be enjoy fresh at the local restaurants and markets. To get the most out your time on the Shakotan Peninsula, renting a car and driving yourself will be the easiest and most cost-effective transport option.
10 / JOZANKEI ONSEN / all year round
Sitting around 30km to the southwest of central Sapporo, Jozankei Onsen is the nearest hot spring town to Hokkaido’s largest city. It offers multiple large hotels and guesthouses, each with their own in-house hot springs. Several ‘ryokan’ (guesthouses) also allow day visitors to use their in-house ‘onsen’ for between JPY500 to JPY2000. Especially popular in October due to the surrounding areas beautiful autumn leaves, make sure to book in advance should you wish to visit at that time of year. To get there, take Jotetsu Bus No. 7 or No.8 from Sapporo Station Bus Terminal – approximately 75 minutes / JPY790. Alternatively, driving yourself is a great option allowing you then to move onto to other destinations around Hokkaido.
11 / UPOPOY NATIONAL AINU MUSEUM / all year round
Heading to the south of Sapporo and within easy reach of New Chitose Airport and Noboribetsu Onsen, the Upopoy National Ainu Museum is one of Hokkaido’s most meaningful and worthwhile attractions. Ainu are the indigenous people of northern Japan, having long populated Hokkaido, the Kurile and Sakhalin Islands and areas of northern Honshu. Culturally-distinct from the majority ‘Yamato’ Japanese, the traditions of the Ainu people are promoted and preserved by the Upopoy National Ainu Museum in Shiraoi City – around 100km to the south of Sapporo. The museum comprises a large exhibition building with both permanent and special exhibitions profiling Ainu traditions, beliefs and lifestyle while the surrounding grounds include reconstructed homes and buildings used for craft workshops and dance and music performances, sitting alongside Lake Poroto.
The Museum is open daily from 09:00 to 18:00 (and until 20:00 on weekends, public holidays and in summer, and until 17:00 from November to March). Entry tickets must be booked in advance through the official website, at a cost of JPY1200 per person. To get there, limited express train services from Sapporo Station to Shiraoi Station take around 70 minutes or only 40 minutes from New Chitose Airport Station.
12 / NOBORIBETSU ONSEN / all year round
Only 30-minutes drive from Upopoy and around 2 hours drive from Sapporo, Noboribetsu Onsen is Hokkaido’s most famous hot spring town. Noboribetsu is best-known for its remarkable ‘Jigokudani’ or ‘Hell Valley’ – a dramatic expanse of volcanic steam vents and sulphurous water including Oyunuma, a strikingly beautiful but dangerous pond with a surface temperature of 50°C.
A river flows from Oyunuma into a forest, which can be followed and once the water has cooled a little, is an opportune to remove your shoes and pop your feet in the natural onsen flow. In terms of accommodation, Noboribetsu Onsen offers plenty of options most of which are large to mid-sized hotels. Hotels have their own in-house hot springs fed by eleven different water sources dotted through the town. A couple allow day-visitors to use their baths – charging between JPY700 to JPY2000 for entry – though most are reserved for the exclusive use of overnight guests.
Noboribetsu includes volcanic areas and your personal safety should be your first priority. The Japan Meteorological Agency provides real-time advice and warnings for the entire country. Prior to visiting these areas, we recommend checking the following website.
13 / LAKE TOYA INC. TOYAKO ONSEN / all year round
Lake Toya is a large volcanic caldera lake within Shikotsu-Toya National Park – an area known for its seasonal beauty, hiking trails, fishing, camping and hot springs. Mount Usu sits to the immediate south of the lake. Having erupted four times in the past one hundred years, most recently in 2000, Mount Usu can be accessed using the Usuzan Ropeway while Showa Shinzan and Usuzan West Craters are all accessible along winding hiking trails. Toya Station is the nearest train station to the lake, from where the hot spring area of Toyako Onsen can be accessed by public bus within 20 minutes (or notably longer given the size of the lake and the specific point you want to reach). The area offers multiple luxury hotels along the shore of the lake, all of which have in-house hot springs. Boat cruises operate from this area of the lake with Toya’s most popular attractions and activities all within easy reach.
Mount Usu is an active volcano and your personal safety should be your first priority. The Japan Meteorological Agency provides real-time advice and warnings for the entire country. Prior to visiting Usu, we recommend checking the following website.
14 / HAKODATE / all year round
The city of Hakodate sits near the southern tip of Hokkaido and is effectively the entry and exit point for anyone travelling to the island using the Shinkansen network. The Hokkaido line runs as far as Shin-Hakodate Hokuto Station, from where it’s only 15 minutes by train into central Hakodate. One of the first Japanese cities to open to international trade during the Meiji Restoration, Hakodate has long been an important harbour city and trade hub – a heritage reflected by the former foreign merchant district of Motomachi and its Western, Russian and Chinese-style architecture, and the striking Goryokaku – see below for details. Like Sapporo, Hakodate is also famous for its ‘ramen’ which is known for its light salty taste and often served with kelp or seafood in addition to chicken or pork. Hakodate’s ‘Asaichi’ or ‘Morning Market’ operates every day of the year from 05:00 to 12:00 (or from 06:00 in winter) and is an ideal place to enjoy a morning ramen or try some more of Hokkaido’s outstanding seafood.
15 / GORYOKAKU PARK / all year round
Constructed in the final years of the Edo Period (1603-1868), Hakodate’s Fort Goryokaku designed as a defence against the threat posed by European powers, Russia and the United States. Though it never fulfilled that role, it was the site of the last battle of the Boshin War (1868-1869) in which the imperialist forces of the Meiji government defeated the last of the Tokugawa shogunate’s forces. The expansive complex was converted to a public park in 1910 and now boasts more than one thousand cherry blossoms tree, making spring an especially beautiful time of year to visit. The park can be accessed at anytime of year and free of charge.
16 / SKI & SNOWBOARD NISEKO / December to April
Hokkaido lays claim to some of Asia’s best skiing and snowboarding and some of the world’s best and deepest powder. Niseko United is the most popular and famous resort in Hokkaido, and rates among Japan’s best. Located around 100km / 2 hours drive to the west of Sapporo, Niseko is comprised of four connected resorts – Hanazono, Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village and Annupuri – covered by an all-mountain pass, with a fifth area – Niseko Moiwa Ski Resort – accessible via sidecountry. Niseko is without doubt Japan’s most international and high-end ski resort, attracting visitors from all over the world. Large by Japanese standards, it offers 325 hectares of terrain, fantastic powder (and huge amounts of it), and some of Japan’s best accommodation, nightlife and plenty of facilities targeted solely and foreign visitors.
17 / SKI & SNOWBOARD RUSUTSU / December to April
Located 40-minutes to the east of Niseko, Rusutsu is often rated Hokkaido’s best ski resort. Spread across three small mountains – they really are small, each under 1000 metres – Rusutsu is a low-lying resort but one that receives a huge amount of snow each year, which thanks to its inland location is dry and light. Many people will tell you it’s blessed with Japan’s best powder and added to that, Rusutsu is Hokkaido’s largest standalone resort with around 236 hectares of terrain – with lots more accessible off-piste. A resort in every sense of the word, Rusutsu attracts even more visitors outside of winter with an outdoor amusement park – only operating in summer – and multiple large hotels catering well to foreign visitors, families and high-end market.
18 / SKI & SNOWBOARD KIRORO / December to April
Best Hokkaido Ski Resorts: Niseko, Rusutsu, Kiroro, Furano & Tomamu
Boasting a very long season and some of the best snow in the world, the res…
Located 60-minutes to the north-east of Niseko, Kiroro Ski Resort or ‘Kiroro Snow World’ is spread across two mountains and four ski areas that enjoy some of the deepest snow in Hokkaido. It is a medium-sized resort with good infrastructure and a number of high-end hotels. The resort offers some fantastic sidecountry and backcountry, lots of kids activities and family-oriented services, and good accommodation options making it an excellent all-rounder with lots of powder.
19 / SKI & SNOWBOARD FURANO / December to April
Lying around 115km / 2 hours to the east of Sapporo, putting it more than 200km / 4 hours from the hugely popular Niseko, Furano Ski Resort is many people’s favourite resort in Hokkaido. Sitting further inland than Niseko, Rusutsu and Kiroro and being at low altitude, Furano doesn’t receive as much snow however still boasts a very healthy season average of 9 metres, and being located away for the coast, the snow is typically dry powder allowing for fantastic skiing and snowboarding. With a decent amount of terrain and long runs, Furano offers something for everyone including excellent side and backcountry. Less-developed than resorts such as Niseko, Furano retains a local character without the high-end developments of Niseko and at which the focus is what happens on the slopes and in the trees.
20 / SKI & SNOWBOARD TOMAMU / December to April
Lying around 1.5 hours to the south-east of Furano Ski Resort, Tomamu is a medium-sized resort with excellent snow and facilities well-suited to families. Operated by the Hoshino Resorts group, Tomamu is a ‘resort’ in every sense of the word. Large hotel towers including high-end restaurants and indoor 50 metre wave pool reflect the fact that Tomamu isn’t just about the snow, and is an all-year-round resort catering to a high-end crowd. This will appeal to some while turn others off but shouldn’t distract from the fact that Hoshino Resorts Tomamu is another Hokkaido resort blessed with amazing powder and is worth checking-out.
21 / NISEKO IN GREEN SEASON / June to October
25 Things to Do Around Niseko & Where to Stay
Most famous for its winter, Niseko is the most popular and international sk…
The warmer seasons of spring, summer and autumn offer just as many reasons to visit Niseko as winter, with the area’s fantastic hotels and restaurants complemented by plenty of green season activities. Many of Niseko’s gondola operate from July to September allowing visitors to ascend Mount Niseko-Annupuri, opening-up hiking trails and mountain-biking. Rafting is available on Shiribetsu River while horse-riding and golf are always popular past-times. Canyoning, zip-lining and tree-trekking are all on offer well-suited to families looking for lots of fun while in Hokkaido. All of Niseko’s high-end and luxury hotels operate all-year-round offering visitors an enticing mix of adventure, relaxation and indulgence.
22 / HIKING ON MOUNT YOTEI / best: July to October
Anyone visiting Niseko will certainly notice the conical shape of Mount Yotei rising above the landscape below. Called ‘Yotei-zan’ in Japanese, the mountain is in fact a free-standing volcano reaching 1898 metres in height. Four trails lead to the summit – Hirafu/Kutchan Trail, Kyogoku Trail, Kimobetsu Trail and Makkari trail – with Kimobetsu being the fastest but hardest way up and Makkari being the easiest. The walk ranges from 7 to 9 hours (round-trip) depending on the trail you hike and your level of fitness. While the hike is suitable for anyone of reasonable fitness, make sure to wear appropriate footwear and clothing for hot temperatures including a hat, and carry plenty of water and some food. July and August are particularly beautiful times of year to hike up Yotei as alpine flowers bloom. If you’re interested in the hike, just talk to your accommodation about the trail options, how to get there, and check the weather forecast before you go.
Mount Yotei is an active volcano and your personal safety should be your first priority. The Japan Meteorological Agency provides real-time advice and warnings for the entire country. Prior to visiting Yotei, we recommend checking the following website.
23 / FLOWER FIELDS OF FURANO / best: June to August
While well-known for its fantastic skiing and snowboarding in winter, Furano is even more famous for its beautiful lavender fields of summer. There are multiple farms and places around Furano to walk amongst the flowers – including the Furano Lavender Fields, Naka-Furano Flower Park, Farm Tomida, Lavender East and others – with most easily accessible from Lavender-Farm Station and Naka-Furano Station. Lavender typically begins to bloom in late-June and will be at its peak from mid-July to early-August. Other flowers including blossoms, poppies, lilies and sunflowers also bloom from June until September.
24 / EXPLORE BIEI / best: June to October
Within easy reach of Furano, Biei is a small rural town also known for the beauty of its flower fields and rural vistas. Two well-known roads, the ‘Patchwork Road’ and ‘Panorama Road’, allow visitors to explore the area by bicycle or car. As the name of those roads imply, Biei offers a mixed landscape of flower fields, farms and rural vistas that make it popular with professional photographers, television and film producers. The area is readily accessible via Biei Station, outside of which stores have bicycles including e-bicycles for rent.
25 / DAISETSUZAN NATIONAL PARK / all year round
Located in central Hokkaido, Daisetsuzan is Japan’s largest national park. At 226,764 hectares, the park is around the same size as Kanagawa Prefecture and includes three volcanic mountain groups with 16 peaks over 2,000 metres including Mount Asashidake – see below for details. Though the average elevation is around 2,000 metres, Hokkaido’s higher latitude means the overall environment is similar to 3,000 metre alpine areas found on the main island of Honshu.
Daisetsuzan experiences heaving snow and extremely cold temperatures in winter while from spring to autumn, it offers some of Japan’s best hiking, hundreds of species of alpine plants and wildlife including Hokkaido Brown Bears, Yezo Shika Deer and adorable Japanese Pika. The national park includes multiple hot spring areas including Asahidake Onsen, Kogen Onsen, Sounkyo Onsen, Tokachidake Onsen and Tenninkyo Onsen meaning you’ll have no trouble finding accommodation when visiting. Daisetsuzan experiences a long winter, typically from October to June, with the short spring, summer and autumn occurring from mid to late-June until the beginning of October. September is an especially popular time of year to visit thanks to the parks beautiful autumn colours, followed by Japan’s earliest snow in October.
Daisetsuzan National Park is comprised of multiple active volcanoes and your personal safety should be your first priority. The Japan Meteorological Agency provides real-time advice and warnings for the entire country. Prior to visiting Daisetsuzan, we recommend checking the following website.
26 / MOUNT ASAHIDAKE INC. ASAHIDAKE ONSEN / all year round
Part of the wider Daisetsuzan National Park, Asashidake is Hokkaido’s tallest mountain, standing 2,290 metres in height. The upper reaches of the mountain are readily accessible thanks to the Asahidake Ropeway operating from Asahidake Onsen – a small hot spring town consisting of a number of large hotels and around a dozen lodges. Riding the ropeway to the top station puts you within 2 hours hike of the mountain summit, with the official hiking season running from late-June until September. From October until May, the mountain is subject to heavy snow meaning that if you wish to hike you will need specialist alpine gear. Operating times for the ropeway vary by season but typically is open from 06:00 to 18:00 during summer and 09:00 to 16:00 during winter, departing every 15 to 20 minutes (closed from mid-November until early-December). The price also varies by season – JPY3200 from June to October and JPY2200 from December to May.
Mount Asahidake is an active volcano and your personal safety should be your first priority. The Japan Meteorological Agency provides real-time advice and warnings for the entire country. Prior to visiting Asahidake, we recommend checking the following website.
27 / RED-CROWNED CRANES / all year round
Hokkaido’s famous Red-Crowned Cranes, or ‘Tancho’ in Japanese, are for many visitors a must-see when visiting the island. The large cranes are up to 1.6 metres in height with wingspans of 2.5 metres; known for their dancing displays, they attract photographers from all over the world. They can be spotted at various locations across Hokkaido including Kushiro Marshland, part of the wider Kushiro Shitsugen National Park. The birds are there all year round but flock in their largest numbers during winter, when watching their elaborate dancing on the snow makes for a truly remarkable sight. While there is public transport running to and from the area, it is most easily accessed by renting a car and driving yourself – between 4 to 5 hours drive from Sapporo and 3.5 to 4.5 hours from New Chitose Airport.
28 / AKAN-MASHU NATIONAL PARK / all year round
Located to the north of Kushiro Marshland, Akan-Mashu is another of Hokkaido’s fantastic national parks – best-known for its three impressive lakes. Lake Akan, Lake Mashu and Lake Kussharo are known for the clarity of their water. Lake Mashu is the most renowned for the three, with some people claiming it to be the clearest large lake in the world. Hiking trails allow visitors to walk between observation points and the summit of Mount Mashudake however to not provide access to the shore of the lake. Nearby Lake Kussharo is the largest of the three, a popular destination for fishing, hiking and kayaking; while the more distant Lake Akan is famous for its bright green ‘marimo’ algae balls that can grow to the size of footballs. Accommodation is dotted throughout the park, which can be reached in between 5 to 6 hours from Sapporo.
Akan-Mashu National Park includes volcanic areas and your personal safety should be your first priority. The Japan Meteorological Agency provides real-time advice and warnings for the entire country. Prior to visiting Akan-Mashu, we recommend checking the following website.
29 / SHIRETOKO NATIONAL PARK / all year round
Shiretoko is yet another of Hokkaido’s beautiful and ecologically important national parks, as reflected by its World Heritage status. Occupying the majority of the north-eastern peninsula of the island – the name ‘Shiretoko’ is derived from an Ainu word meaning ‘End of the Earth’ – much of the park is only accessible on-foot or by boat. A dramatic and precipitous coastal landscape, Shiretoko is home to a significant amount of wildlife including 36 land and 22 marine species of mammal – including Hokkaido Brown Bears, Yezo Shika Deer, Steller’s Sea Lions, Sperm Whales and Killer Whales – along with at least 285 species of birds such as Steller’s Sea Eagle and White-tailed Sea Eagles.
From April to October, sightseeing boats operate tours from Utoro on the northwest side of the peninsula, allowing visitors to witness the rugged beauty of the coastline and wildlife. Tours range from 1.5 to 4 hours / JPY3300 to JPY8800. Uturo also boasts the most accommodation nearby the national park – a 6 to 7 hour drive from Sapporo.
30 / ABASHIRI & THE OKHOTSK ICE FLOW / best: February
Located to the west of Shiretoko National Park, the small coastal city of Abashiri is best-known as the launching point from where visitors can experience the ‘Abashiri Drift Ice’ or ‘Okhotsk Ice Flow’. Drift ice is experienced along the entire length of Hokkaido’s northern Okhotsk coast but at its thickest around Abashiri. Occurring from mid-January to as late as mid-April, the ice is typically at its most impressive in February. Sightseeing boats operate Abashiri Port allowing visitors to experience the thick offshore ice. Cruises typically take around one hour and cost around JPY3500.
BEST PLACES TO STAY AROUND HOKKAIDO
As Japan’s second largest island and largest prefecture, there’s no shortage of accommodation in Hokkaido. Our ‘Best Places to Stay in Hokkaido’ page includes our recommendation of the best areas to stay and links to accommodation listings.
BEST SKI RESORTS IN HOKKAIDO
Blessed with the longest seasons in Japan and huge annual snowfall, the ski resorts of Hokkaido rank among the best in Asia and enjoy some of the best powder in the world. The combined resorts of Niseko United are the largest and most popular ski fields in Hokkaido, while nearby Rusutsu and Kiroro attract plenty of fans in their own right. Rounding things-out, Furano and Tomamu lie further inland and receive slightly less snow but that bit of extra distance from the coast only means the powder is even drier, with some people claiming these resorts enjoy the best powder in the world. Our ‘Best Hokkaido Ski Resorts’ page has you covered for everything you need to know about each – a great place to start when planning your next winter adventure in Hokkaido.
GETTING TO & AROUND HOKKAIDO
Sitting by itself to the north of Japan’s main island of Honshu, flying to the island will be the fastest option when travelling there from starting points including Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka. Alternatively, the Hokkaido Shinkansen line runs as far as Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station, allowing you to travel by train. Our ‘Getting To & Around Hokkaido’ page has everything you need to know about how to get there and how to get around once you arrive.
PLAN YOUR VISIT TO JAPAN
Despite Hokkaido’s distance from Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, you’ll have no trouble getting there thanks for flights and Shinkansen / ‘Bullet Train’ network. Our ‘Plan Your Visit’ page has everything you need to know about visiting Japan – from tips on the best time to travel, times to avoid, entering and exiting the country, money matters, staying connected, accommodation, staying safe and healthy and plenty more to ensure that you get the most out of your time here.