Alpine hiking in Daisetsuzan - What to do in Hokkaido

On February 9th, 2021,

What to do in Hokkaido?

Are you planning a trip to Hokkaido and trying to find the the best things to do while you’re here? Great, you’re in the right place.

This article will cover everything you need to know to find the best activities in Hokkaido for your trip, plus share some local tips and experience to help you plan everything smoothly. So if you’re looking for the best things to do in Hokkaido for your trip, read on!

Konnichiwa! My name’s Ayaka Yoshikawa and I was proudly born and raised right here in Hokkaido, where I now have the privilege of sharing our unique environment and unforgettable outdoor experiences with visitors as a Hokkaido outdoor guide.

There’s something for everyone to do in Hokkaido

Hokkaido offers so many incredible experiences for any traveller no matter their interests.

What I love most of all about being a guide and trip planner at Adventure Hokkaido is helping visitors plan their own memorable trip, so today I am here to help you fill in your schedule with things to do when you visit Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island.

From foodies, outdoor lovers, those looking for a family adventure and to experienced backcountry powder hounds, there is plenty to do in Hokkaido for everyone.

Snowsports in Hokkaido

If you come to Hokkaido in winter, obviously you are going to want to experience that world-famous Hokkaido snow.

Luckily, winter lasts almost half of the year, so there are ample opportunities to get outside in that light ezo (the Japanese word for all things “Hokkaido”) pow.

Skiing & Snowboarding

Many people who come to Hokkaido come with the purpose of enjoying Hokkaido’s skiing and snowboarding, which is world-famous for its quality of snow and relaxed atmosphere.

Although you are guaranteed to have fun even at the local ski hills that can be found in most towns, there is nothing like taking a guided backcountry tour to find untouched snow waiting for you.

Hokkaido Skiing & Snowboarding Tips

  • The best skiing and snowboarding is in January and February, but the season starts as early as November and ends as late as Golden Week (early May) in some areas.
  • Remember to bring your waterproof outer layers. Snowfall is very consistent throughout winter, so just skiing in your parka is not advised.
  • Do not go into the backcountry unless you are experienced and have a guide. Hokkaido has many experienced backcountry guides who know the best runs and can keep you safe, so consider joining one of them to explore the Furano and Asahidake areas for a ski and snowboarding experience that you will never forget!
Snowshoeing on Mt Asahidake - What to do in Hokkaido
What to do in Hokkaido – Snowshoeing on Mt Asahidake

Snowshoeing & Ski Touring

For those looking for a slower-paced chance to take in the winter sights while exploring, snowshoeing and cross country skiing tours are a must.

Taking a morning walk through the snow is a good way to see unique views of Hokkaido — and are a great chance for photographers as well! Plus, snowshoeing is accessible for people of varying activity and skill levels, and is something a family of all ages can enjoy together.

Hokkaido Snowshoeing & Ski Touring Tips

  • The best time for snowshoeing is January through April
  • Dress in layers, as you move and warm up you can mix and match what you are wearing
  • Don’t forget the sunscreen! Light reflects off of snow and can give you sunburn, even in the winter
Adventure Hokkaido Guide Ayaka
Ayaka’s Favourite Hokkaido Winter Adventure
I love snowshoeing up Mount Asahidake, which is the tallest mountain in Hokkaido and an active volcano. It’s an amazing winter wonderland of snow and steaming fumaroles which we love sharing with guests.

 

Hot Springs in Hokkaido (Onsen)

When you think of Japan, many people conjure up images of monkeys in hot springs surrounded by snow. Although Hokkaido does not have monkeys, it does have a great number of onsens that range from easy to access to secretive and only known to locals. And of course you want to go to those secret spots! By getting off the beaten path and visiting onsens out in nature you can avoid the crowds and enjoy soaking in nature.

See below for the spots that I love to visit when I have the chance.

Hikers enjoying a Hokkaido back country onsen
What to do in Hokkaido – Hike to a natural open air onsen

Ayaka’s favourite Hokkaido Onsen

  • The Shikaribetsuko onsens are a string of hot springs in the woods that are only accessible by foot in the spring through autumn or snowshoe in the winter.  Visiting them is a good chance to try a wide variety of pools, as all of them are slightly different.
  • In Yoroushi there are two different opportunities – Karamatsu no Yu, which is a public outdoor onsen, and the nearby Yoroushi Onsen, where you can often see a shimafukuro – the Blakiston’s fish owl, a rare sight!
  • If you are in the Furano area be sure to drop by Fukiage onsen, which is a quick walk down a path to two connected outdoor pools. It gets quite hot, so going in the winter is especially fun!
  • Those planning on visiting Shiretoko Peninsula while in Hokkaido shouldn’t miss out on Kuma no Yu, an outdoor bath in Rausu. This hot spring has a private bathing area for women, so those who are shy can feel more comfortable going here.

Hokkaido Onsen Travel Tips

  • Bring a towel and a change of clothes! For public outdoor onsen wearing a swimsuit is okay and recommended for the shy!
  • Many of these places require walking, so good walking shoes are an important part of your onsen travel kit
  • Most of these locations will be best accessed by car rather than public transportation

Read more about onsen in Hokkaido here

Hiking in Hokkaido

With Hokkaido’s staggering amount of nature and untouched beauty, coming in the late spring through autumn means one thing – hiking.

One of the things Hokkaido is most famous for is the Daisetsuzan mountain range. It is the largest national park in Japan and is known for its wildlife, brilliant autumn foliage, and is one of the first places to see snow every year. In the Daisetsuzan range there are a variety of hiking trails ranging in difficulty.

There are more simple routes like the Sugatami Walkway loop at Asahidake and the Nakadake Onsen, which are both practical for a morning trek and for those who are still beginners to hiking.

There are also more difficult routes such as the Daisetsuzan grand traverse- a multi-day 80 km (50 mile) round trip trek, which is only recommended for the more experienced.

For those more limited in time or wanting a more family-friendly hiking experience, Mount Moiwa inside Sapporo offers a beautiful and unique view of the city. Plus, it is accessible by bus, so those without a car are able to enjoy a hike.

Close by is Shioya-Maruyama in the historical city of Otaru, again only a train ride away. It also offers a quick hike that leads to a panoramic view of the city and bay area, and is well worth the trip to any travelers in the area.

Hikers in Daisetsuzan National Park - What to do in Hokkaido?
What to do in Hokkaido – Hiking in Daisetsuzan National Park

Hokkaido Hiking Tips

  • Because of the late snowmelt in Hokkaido, hiking is recommended for the summer and autumn months
  • Bring layers and a jumper. Although the bottom of the mountains may be hot, the peaks will often be chilly
  • Don’t forget your bear bells! Hiking in Hokkaido is a great chance to see a wild variety of wildlife, but always take precautions when hiking.
Adventure Hokkaido Guide Ayaka
Ayaka’s Hokkaido Hiking Tip
Joining a hiking tour is a great way to tap into local knowledge, let someone else do all the planning, enjoy the outdoors safely and have fun.

 

Adventure Sports in Hokkaido

For those looking for outdoor adventure in Hokkaido, the summer months are filled with various activities available for all experience levels.

Cycling in Hokkaido

Across its vast expanse there are multiple cycling roads crossing Hokkaido. I love the Chubetsu River cycling road connecting Asahikawa and Higashikawa for its scenic views and leisurely pace!

The Lake Abashiri-Lake Notoro path (also known as the Okhotsk cycling road) offers an adventure into the Okhotsk area, still relatively unexplored by visitors but known for its wilderness. And for those truly looking to get off the beaten path, Rishiri Island (accessible by ferry from Wakkanai) is criss-crossed with bike paths so you can explore the remote island.

When cycle touring, local knowledge of the best roads and routes is always really helpful, especially if you’re visiting somewhere you don’t know, don’t speak the language and aren’t bringing your bike with you. Hokkaido is a great place for cycling and when we started Adventure Hokkaido we knew we wanted to create some fantastic cycling tours and share them with visitors, it’s still a work in progress but you can see our Hokkaido cycling tours here.

Cyclist at a shrine gate amongst autumn leaves - What to do in Hokkaido
What to do in Hokkaido – take in the sights by bike

Rafting in Hokkaido

Although Niseko has made its name for its ski resorts and festive atmosphere, it also is quite famous in the summertime for its rafting. If you are looking for smaller tours and groups, however, Minami Furano and Sounkyo both offer rafting tours in more remote locations.

Rafting is definitely something to add into your travels around Hokkaido to give yourself a perspective not many people get to see and have some fun! If you’d like to mix some rafting into an active Hokkaido trip, take a look at our Around Daisetsuzan 6 day hiking tour, which includes rafting on the the Siisorapci River.

Sea Kayaking in Hokkaido

If you still want to paddle out but want a little more adventure, considering sea kayaking! Sea kayaking is popular around Rishiri Island, so if you take the ferry from Wakkanai to spend some time there, definitely make a point to paddle in the oceans.

Another option in the east is in Abashiri, where you can paddle from a lake out to the Okhotsk Sea, taking the same route that was used for travel by the indigenous peoples of the area.

Sea Kayaking of the Hokkaido Coast - What to do in Hokkaido
What to do in Hokkaido – Sea Kayaking off Rishiri Island

Canoeing in Hokkaido

For a more sedate water adventure consider canoeing! Lake Kussharo in the east offers a chance of canoeing to geothermal vents. Another option for those staying in the southern areas of Hokkaido is a trip to Lake Shikotsu, the deepest lake in Hokkaido.

Despite its depth it has great clarity and a brilliant green color. Both are caldera lakes, and due to the volcanic activity in the area don’t miss out on a dip in the local onsens!

Getting to the best canoeing spots and organizing all your gear can be a bit tricky, especially if you don’t speak Japanese. Often the easiest way to include an activity like canoeing in your Hokkaido trip is to join an organized tour, like our Japan Far East 7 Day Hiking tour, which includes canoeing in Kushiro Shitsugen National Park.

Wildlife in Hokkaido

Hokkaido is home to diverse wildlife, and some of the animals that live here are not seen in many other places on earth.

The island is home to the ezo brown bear, momonga (the Japanese dwarf flying squirrel), the ezo red fox, and the red squirrel. You can even see chipmunks and the ezo naki usagi- the rare and elusive pika!

Besides these Hokkaido is a bird-watcher’s paradise, where there are often sightings of the Stellar sea eagle and the Blakinston’s fish owl in addition to a whole other host of flying friends.

Incredibly, most of these animals can be seen in Shiretoko, the eastern peninsula of Hokkaido. Most of the peninsula is a protected national park, and year-round sightings of different animals is possible. Incredibly, even whale-watching tours are popular here and you can catch a boat to see various marine mammals, including sperm whales, orcas, and even dolphins.

Ezo Naki Usagi, the Pika, Hokkaido alpine rabbit
What to do in Hokkaido – spot rare wildlife like the Northern pika (Photo ©Hideki Konuma)

Ayaka’s Hokkaido Wildlife Spotting Tips

  • Plan ahead! If you want to spot a certain animal be sure to check the time of year it is most active. Avoid coming in winter if you want to see a bear, because they will be hibernating!
  • Remember to respect wildlife. Please do not feed or attempt to interact with or touch wild animals.
  • Ask locals for the best locations and times to see specific animals. Go with a local guide.
Adventure Hokkaido Guide Ayaka
Ayaka’s Favourite Hokkaido Wildlife Tour
Our Japan’s Far East Hiking Tour includes some incredible wildlife experiences from ezo brown bear on the coast to whale watching, it’s out of this world!

 

Food in Hokkaido

Due to its large size and temperate summers, Hokkaido is known for its food and agriculture. It is said that the warm temperatures of summer followed by the cold winters makes the food that is grown here extra delicious. The rice, melons, corn, pumpkins, potatoes… I could keep going on, but Hokkaido produce is famous for a reason!

Besides this, as Hokkaido is located so far north the seas around the island are colder, which leads to an abundance of cold-water fish. You must try the crab, sea urchin, and scallops! Rishiri & Rebun islands are legendary for their sea urchin, while the northern Okhotsk area is known for its crab and sea shellfish.

Because of Hokkaido’s size, there is a lot of dairy farming as well- something that is not possible on the much-smaller mainland. As a result, the ice cream and cheese are rather famous! Even at local convenience stores you can pick up cheese that is made in Hokkaido, and all of it is delicious! Plus, you can even see where some of it is made in Furano at the cheese factory!

If you’re a seafood lover and the idea hiking and exploring during the day and enjoying the freshest local seafood cooked by locals at night sounds like your kind of trip, then you’ll love our Japan Far North 8 day hiking tour. We visit the most Northern part of Japan, including Rishiri & Rebun Islands, surrounded by the ocean and its bounty.

Fresh sushi meal being prepared in Hokkaido
What to do in Hokkaido – Enjoy fresh local seafood (Photo ©Yukinori Otsuka)

Ayaka’s Hokkaido Food Tips

  • Seasonality plays a large role in the foods that are offered at many Japanese restaurants. Come in autumn for produce, winter for seafood, and year round for dairy!
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things!

 

Wildflowers in Hokkaido

Though the summers of Hokkaido are known for the lavender fields of Biei and Furano, you can’t forget the rarer sights of alpine flowers that can be seen throughout the taller mountains of Hokkaido.

Although they aren’t as flashy as the humongous fields of lavender they are delicate and unique, and a special sight to behold. Best visible in the early summer, at Rebun Island is one such place they can be seen. To visit Rebun Island you can take a ferry from Wakkanai, then rent a car or travel by bus once on the island.

Another option for those feeling like a trip is the “Hana no Hyaku-Meizan”, a collection of 100 mountains that are famous for their flowers. Included among these are Mt. Furano and Mt Tarumae, and both are well worth a trip up.

Alpine flowers with the Daisetsuzan Mountains in the background - What to do in Hokkaido
What to do in Hokkaido – See the alpine wildflowers

Ayaka’s Hokkaido Wildflower Viewing Tips

  • Consider hiring a local guide that can show you the best places to find the wildflowers you are looking for.
  • Don’t forget your camera!

 

Arts & Culture in Hokkaido

The culture of Hokkaido is unique – settled relatively late by the Japanese, the culture of the indigenous Ainu people is still felt around the island.

Hokkaido’s Ainu Culture

In 2020 the Upopoi National Ainu Museum and Park was opened in Shiraoi, and already it has quickly become very famous. Its goal is to spread understanding of Ainu history and culture throughout Japan and the world, and is worth the visit out to Shiraoi.

However, my personal favorite Ainu experience is the Kawamura Kaneto Ainu Memorial Hall in Asahikawa. A privately owned museum in the middle of Asahikawa city, the culture of the Ainu people is kept alive throughout the exhibits and owners, as well as the recreation of a traditional Ainu home.

If you don’t have that much time, a great way to combine a day out climbing one of Hokkaido’s most popular day peaks an discovering the Ainu culture is our Asahikawa Ainu Museum & Arashiyama 1 Day Hiking Tour.

Summer Festivals in Hokkaido

If you’ve ever seen pictures of a Japanese summer festival you’ll be the first to admit they look pretty exciting!

Hokkaido has many summer festivals, both big and small, held in communities all over the prefecture in July and August. The traditional ones are hosted by local Shinto Shrines, in these festivals you will see people carrying a portable shrine on their shoulders and marching the streets. In the evening we grab food from the stalls, dance Bon in circle, and enjoy watching fireworks.

For visitors, the easiest one to see will be Sapporo Summer Festival held over a month from mid-July to mid-August. Join the locals in the beer garden in Odori Park right in central Sapporo to get in the festive mood.

Summer street festival in Hokkaido - What to do in Hokkaido
What to do in Hokkaido – See the summer festivals (Photo ©Yukinori Otsuka)

Hokkaido Photography

Although still relatively unknown, Hokkaido is home to a number of professional photographers. This includes Hiroku Inoue, the first Japanese person to ever win a National Geographic Photographer of the Year Award.

With a local guide from Sapporo you too can try to capture the beauty of Hokkaido year-round. I promise Hokkaido will always give you new things to shoot! Talk to us if you’d like to travel with a expert Hokkaido photography guide, we know just the guy!

Snow & Ice Festivals in Hokkaido

Usually coinciding with the famous Sapporo Snow Festival and continuing throughout the month of February, there are a myriad of ice and snow festivals all over Hokkaido during its coldest month.

You can keep away from the crowds and still have a special experience by venturing out of Sapporo and into the surrounding areas to see more of the snow festivals that the island has to offer.

The Lake Shikaribetsu Ice Village can’t be missed – the town creates igloo lodges, bars, onsens and special events, all on top of the frozen lake. Besides this, the ice sculpture festival at Lake Shikotsu and Sounkyo’s frozen waterfall festival are a must-visit. Sounkyo’s festival even has fireworks at night, and I try to make it there yearly to take in the festival and get in some skiing along with it at Mt Kurodake!

Lake Shikaribetsu Ice Village - What to do in Hokkaido
What to do in Hokkaido – Visit the ice village in Lake Shikaribetsu

Ayaka’s Hokkaido Ice Festival Tips

  • Although many festivals occur in February, some begin as early as January and last through March. Look around to see what is happening!
  • Go after dark too! The illuminations are truly beautiful
  • Obviously, dress warm- Hokkaido is bitterly cold in the months these festivals occur!
  • Warm up with hot drinks like cocoa, hot wine, and warm amazake (low-alcohol fermented rice drink)

 

There’s so much to do in Hokkaido!

Hokkaido offers a large range of activities that will appeal to any traveller or family.

Depending on the time of year there are a lot of things to do, see, and eat, and by choosing a time to travel that suits your interests you can have your own personal ultimate Hokkaido experience.

At Adventure Hokkaido our dream is to share all the best experiences Hokkaido can offer in a safe and easy way for visitors to enjoy. That’s why we’ve put together our Hokkaido Hiking, Cycling & Nature tours, which are jam packed with the best activities and experiences in Hokkaido, the same ones we’ve been enjoying here since we were kids!

Thank you for reading, I hope you found this article useful. We can’t wait to see you here and if you have any questions about our tours please feel free to get in touch.

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