Bucket List: 15 Best Places to Visit in Hokkaido, Japan
Hokkaido is well-known amongst outdoor lovers because of the region’s harsh weather and unspoiled nature. The freezing temperatures of Hokkaido attract skiers, snowboarders, and hikers to experience the unspoiled and unrelenting wilderness of the region.
Hokkaido’s peak season is the winter season for a reason. It is a winter wonderland flurried by snow and flocked by skiers and snowboarders worldwide. Natural phenomena unique to Hokkaido also occur in the winter, including the “Sun Pillar”, where the sunlight appears in a pillar-like form, and the “Snow Roller”, where a thin layer of fresh snowfall gets lifted and starts rolling down a hill. Other natural phenomena include Diamond Dust, Distorted Sun, and Rainbow Clouds.
Take a Scenic Road Trip in Sapporo’s Idyllic Flower Fields
Hokkaido is a picturesque region to visit year-round, particularly Furano and Biei. During the summer and spring, visitors can rent a car in Furano or bring their own car to take a scenic road trip in the city of Furano and the small town of Biei. They have some of Hokkaido’s most charming hills of colorful flowers and fields of commercially produced lavenders and sunflowers. The idyllic pastures are a stark contrast when fields are covered in snow.
The practice of Sakura viewing, or hanami, started a thousand years ago. It is one of Japan’s oldest and most iconic symbols due to its nature of blooming altogether. A lot of Japanese locals go to Hokkaido because the Sakura season arrives later than on Honshu Island. This gives them a chance to see it when they miss it.
Matsumae Park is one of Japan’s Top 100 Cherry Blossom Viewing Spots because of the 10,000 cherry trees of 250 kinds found there. Other Sakura viewing spots are Fort Goryokaku, a public park with more than 1,600 cherry trees, Maruyama Park, Moerenuma Park, Hakodate Park, Asahiyama Park, and Nakajima Park. Consider taking a road trip along Shizunai Nijukken Road. It stretches for 7 kilometers and is lined with 3,000 cherry trees.
Takinoue Shibazakura Festival
Flowers have a significant role in Japanese culture. The country is home to some of the world’s largest flower fields and most beautiful spring flowers, like cherry blossoms, lavender, and shibazakura. One particular way of seeing these flowers is either visiting flower fields, such as in Furano and Biei, or attending flower festivals like the Shibazakura Festival.
Every year, Takinoue Park hosts the Takinoue Shibazakura Matsuri or the Shibazakura Festival. These pink moss phloxes resemble a cherry blossom, due to their color and five petals. Unlike cherry blossoms, however, these flowers last for at least a month. In the spring, the hillside of Takinoue Park is covered in shibazakura. The flowers occupy hectares of the park grounds and visitors can see the flowers for free.
Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa City has more than 800 animals of 150 species, from seals, polar bears, red pandas and cranes. This is a great place to visit for families with kids. In the winter, Asahiyama Zoo has penguin walks where the king penguins go on a parade. Visitors can also watch the seals swim on the specially constructed ‘Marine Way’ inside the zoo.
Trek Rebun Island – The Island of Alpine Flowers
Rebun Island is best visited in spring. The 300 different kinds of alpine flowers bloom in early spring. Visitors can trek the footpaths around the island to see the colorful alpine flowers, including plants that can only be found on Rebun Island like C. marcanthum Sw. var. rebunense, Leontopodium discolor and Primula farinosa subsp. modesta var. matsumurae.
Aoi Ike – The Blue Pond
The Aoi Ike, aptly known as the Blue Pond, was named after the rich blue color of the water. “Aoi” in Japanese means “blue” while “Ike” means “pond”.
Aoiike Pond is a man-made pond created as part of an erosion control system meant to prevent damage to Biei in case the nearby Mount Tokachidake erupts. The pond started as a dam to prevent mudflow from Tokachidake but started accumulating water from the Shirogane Onsen and Biei River through the years. The rich color of the pond is the reflection of sunlight on the colloidal mixture from the aluminum present in the waters of Shirogane Onsen and Biei River.
Ryusei Waterfall and Ginga Waterfalls
The twin waterfalls of Sounkyo Gorge are a great spot to see the shades of autumn foliage. These twin waterfalls are quite the opposite, with Ginga Falls in its gentle and delicate stream, and Ryusei Falls’ loud and powerful torrent. Ginga and Ryusei are from the same water source but divide over a cliff in separate formations.
Explore the Mystic Lakes
The Mystic Lakes in Hokkaido is known for its translucent waters and diverse wildlife. Lake Akan is the habitat of balls of green algae called marimo and where the natural phenomenon of frost flowers occurs. Frost flowers form when frost crystals on the lake bloom in flower-like formations. Lake Onneto’s main feature is the color of its surface. The color changes depending on the season, such as in autumn when the autumn leaves are reflected, or in winter when ice bubbles can be seen. Lake Mashu is Japan’s most translucent lake. Its clear waters are best admired on a clear summer day but can also be appreciated in the winter when the lake’s surface is half frozen and has a rich sapphire blue in color.
These lakes can be found in Akan-Mashu National Park where a lot of outdoor activities can be enjoyed. Visitors can trek and hike to the lakes, fish in Lake Akan, and snowshoe in Lake Mashu.
Hike the Hokkaido Wilderness and See the Mountain Summit Views
Hokkaido’s peaks are some of the best places to hike and see the panoramic summit views. Most of the national parks in Hokkaido have hiking trails that run through preserved and unspoiled nature. Some of the best parks to go on a hiking trip are Akan National Park, Onuma Quasi-National Park, Shiretoko National Park, Shikotsu-Toya National Park Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park, and Kushiro-shitsugen National Park. These national parks offer the summit views of Mount Asahi, Mount Hakodake, Mount Rausu, Mount Tokachi, and Mount Yotei.
Ski and Snowboard in Hokkaido’s Thick Powder Snow
Japan used to be a secret ski paradise, but the snowy wonderland is now accessible for everyone to experience. What makes Japan’s snow popular amongst skiers and snowboarders is the powder-soft snow on the mountains and the generous snowfall each year. It was described as “like drifting in clouds”.
Hokkaido is particularly popular for experienced backcountry and cross-country skiers. Perhaps the most popular in Hokkaido are Niseko United’s Niseko Village Ski Resort and Niseko Grand Hirafu Ski Resort, as well as Rusutsu Resort. The steep slope, advanced courses, and untouched snow attract a lot of visitors from around Japan and all over the world. The Furano Prince Snow Resorts and the Sapporo Teine Ski Resort are other resorts worth visiting in Hokkaido.
Hot Spring Resort Towns
Hokkaido has some of the best onsens in the country. Dai-ichi Takimotokan in Noboribetsu is a popular hotel known for its private onsen baths that are considered to be the best of their kind in Japan. Noboribetsu, above all, is Hokkaido’s more famous hot spring resort town.
Toyako Onsen is a stunning hot spring resort town located near Lake Toya. Toya Village-Run Hot Springs is specifically popular for the lovely views of the lake. Yunokawa Onsen is located near Hakodate Airport. Yunokawa Onsen is known as the prime onsen spot where visitors can get free foot baths and even watch free-range Japanese macaques dip in the hot springs.
Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival
Lake Shikotsu is known to be one of Japan’s cleanest calderas. Every year, artists create shrines and sculptures from the waters of Lake Shikotsu. These sculptures have an effervescent glow under the sunlight but at nighttime, multi-colored lights radiate through and illuminate the ice sculptures. Visitors can enjoy recreational activities like horseback riding, ice slides, ice skating and indulge in the local cuisine featured in the lines of food stalls.
Sounkyo Ice Fall Festival
The Sounkyo Ice Fall Festival celebrates the harsh winter Hokkaido is known for. The festival displays shrines, sculptures and tunnels made of ice where visitors can get an ice tubing and ice climbing experience. Because of the cold temperatures where the festival is held, tourists and visitors are reminded to keep themselves warm at all times.
Okhotsk Ryuhyo Museum
Okhotsk Ryuhyo Museum is a science museum in Abashiri. Part of the museum exhibit is a -15°C ice floe room where guests can experience the drift ice phenomenon of the Okhotsk Sea. There is an observation deck on the rooftop of the museum where tourists and visitors can get a panoramic view of the sea.
Take an Abashiri Drift Ice Sightseeing and Icebreaker Cruise
Tourists and visitors who visit Hokkaido in the winter can get the chance to see drift ice, a natural phenomenon in which the Okhotsk Sea is covered with gigantic sheets of floating ice. This phenomenon naturally occurs in seas located in cold regions, and Hokkaido is in the southernmost area of the Northern Hemisphere.
Drift ice occurs when fresh water from rivers enters the sea and lowers the salt concentration in the water. Various marine wildlife can be seen, including seals, Steller’s sea eagle, sea angels, Ezo red fox, and Yezo deer.
How to get there
Hokkaido has airports, railways, buses, rental cars, and subways that can be used as access points and ways to travel around the prefecture. The three main airports in Hokkaido are the New Chitose Airport (CTS) in Sapporo City, Hakodate Airport (HKD) in Hakodate City and Asahikawa Airport (AKJ) in Asahikawa City.
When driving around Hokkaido, visitors should keep an eye on wild animals dashing onto the roads without warning. To warn drivers, signage warnings can be spotted. Tourists and visitors can take the bus via the Hokkaido Chuo Bus and JR Hokkaido Bus, or the train via the Hokkaido Shinkansen Line.
Our Top Hotel Picks for Hokkaido
Hokkaido Travel and Tour Packages
Searching for the best hotels, resorts, and affordable flights in the nearby Cities? Check out our list of cheap Hokkaido hotels and resorts via Agoda, Booking, or you may also see available Airbnb properties in the city.