Hot Springs & History 7 Day Self-Guided Tour

A nighttime view of Hakodate Bay. The sun is setting and reflecting off the water, along with the lights of ships and buildings. Mt. Hakodate is visible in the background.

With a perfect blend of urban excitement and off-the-beaten track exploration, this adventure takes you from the peaks of Hakodate to the dramatic landscapes of Shikotsu-Toya National Park, including vast caldera lakes and fuming craters.

Shikotsu-Toya National Park lies close to Sapporo and is home to a number of spectacular caldera lakes and steaming active volcanoes. The volcanoes concentrated in the region have of course given rise to several natural hot springs, meaning that it is popular among domestic Japanese visitors for its many resorts. But as well as the warm hot springs, it is also home to rich forests, fascinating geological hikes and incredible wildlife. 

The other focus of this tour is Hakodate, which to this day remains one of Hokkaido’s largest and most important cities. Even by Japanese standards, it has a rich, multinational history, inexorably linked with foreign commerce, trade, culture and diplomacy. Today, its seamless blending of new with old makes it a popular place to live and visit. You could spend hours exploring the town alone on foot, but for outdoor lovers there are plenty of light hikes and coastal walks to explore too!

Tour Highlights

Explore the natural wonders of a UNESCO Global Geopark

Discover the history of the Toya-Usu UNESCO Global Geopark, shaped by years of volcanic activity that continues to this very day.

Visit the Upopoy National Ainu Museum

The Upopoy National Ainu Museum was opened in 2020 as a facility to teach the public about the Ainu, Hokkaido's indigenous people.

Explore Noboribetsu's Hell Valley and Hot Springs

Explore a literal fire-and-brimstone landscape at Noboribetsu Onsen, strolling through an extinct volcanic crater. Afterwards, take a dip in a natural hot spring bath at your accommodation.

Explore two sides of Hakodate city

Hakodate's natural scenery is as beautiful and as worth exploring as its history and cityscapes.

Itinerary

Day 1

Day 1 - Arrive in Sapporo

Welcome to Sapporo, Hokkaido’s bustling capital! If you arrive with some time to spare, we recommend taking the opportunity to explore the city. 

We recommend that you take the subway to Maruyama-Koen for a day of urban exploration. After a short walk ( 1 km ) from the subway station you will reach Hokkaido-Jingu, the largest Shinto shrine in Hokkaido. 

Take in the serene atmosphere of the shrine before starting your hike of Mt. Maruyama ( 3.7 km ). The trail to the summit of Mt. Maruyama takes you through old-growth forests that coexist next to the urban sprawl of Hokkaido’s capital city. After your hike, take the subway back into town and check into your hotel. 

For dinner, our recommendation is to explore the Ramen Yokocho Alley in Susukino, Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade Street, or Noren Yokocho near Nijo Seafood Market. You will have countless options ranging from ramen stalls, sushi bars, izakaya bars and more!

Hike 4.7 km with 180 m climbing
Stay Hotel in Sapporo
Day 2

Day 2 - Travel to Lake Shikotsu & Explore Lake Shikotsu

This morning you'll take a local train to Chitose, where you will transfer to a bus bound for Lake Shikotsu , the crown-jewel of Shikotsu-Toya National Park. This stunning caldera lake is surrounded by active volcanoes and, as a result, is home to some fantastic hot springs. Upon arrival, you will drop off your luggage at your accommodation and enjoy lunch before an afternoon of hiking. For lunch, we highly recommend Shikotsu-ko Chippu (Kokanee Salmon), which was introduced into Lake Shikotsu over 100 years ago and has since become a local delicacy. There are a number of other lakeside restaurants offering ramen, curry and western food as well.

This afternoon, we recommend that you spend some time walking along the lakeshore. The Visitor Centre is a great place to learn about the history, flora and fauna around the lake. From the visitor centre, there is a pleasant footpath that follows the lakeside and crosses over the oldest train bridge in Hokkaido, the Yamasentetsu Bridge , which was once part of a railway line made to deliver cargo between the city of Tomakomai and Lake Shikotsu. The hike continues to Yacho-no-Mori, a small forest that hosts many native tree species and birdlife. The trail loops around and back to the visitor centre. The visitor centre also makes a great place to seek shelter on rainy days if you need to wait for a shower to pass!

After your walk, you'll return to your inn to check in and enjoy dinner. In the evening, wind down with a soak in the hot springs at your accommodation.

Walk 1.8 km with 83 m climbing
Stay Hotel at Lake Shikotsu
Day 3

Day 3 - Travel to Shiraoi & Visit Upopoy National Ainu Museum

After breakfast at your hotel, you’ll say sayonara to Lake Shikotsu and board the bus back to Chitose. From Chitose, you’ll continue onwards via train to the seaside town of Shiraoi.

Shiraoi is a coastal town home to a number of prominent Ainu sites as well as the Upopoy National Ainu Museum, dedicated to preserving Ainu heritage and culture. Here you’ll be able to learn about the indigenous people who lived in Hokkaido long before it became a part of modern Japan. 

The museum is also home to three different restaurants, where you can enjoy Japanese meals with Ainu influence, as well as some more traditional Ainu options. The museum is a short walk from the station and offers coin lockers on site to store your luggage while you explore the museum. 

After an afternoon at the museum, return to your accommodation to check in and consider trying Shiraoi-Gyu, a delicious wagyu beef and local speciality.

Stay Hostel in Shiraoi
Day 4

Day 4 - Travel to Noboribetsu Onsen & Hiking in Noboribetsu “Hell Valley”

After breakfast, you’ll board a local train to Noboribetsu Station and transfer to a bus bound for Noboribetsu Onsen, home to Noboribetsu Hell Valley . Here, the remains of a volcanic crater await. Upon arrival, drop off your luggage at your inn and enjoy lunch at one of the many restaurants nearby. 

After lunch, you'll take off on a 3.2 km walk through the Noboribetsu Hell Valley. A wooden walkway is built atop the crater, allowing you to walk through the sulphuric landscape and take in the otherworldly atmosphere. From the Hell Valley, you'll hike north towards Oyunuma , a lake formed above a volcanic crater that spews out sulphuric gas. The bottom of the lake is as hot as 130℃ , with blue-grey water on the surface reaching highs of 50℃ . The waters of Oyunuma flow out into the Oyunuma River, which form a natural ashiyu (foot bath) where you can soak your feet in the flowing river. In the evening, return to your hotel for dinner and relax in the famous hot spring waters of Noboribetsu.

Hike 3.2 km with 148 m climbing
Stay Ryokan at Noboribetsu Onsen
Day 5

Day 5 - Travel to Lake Toya & Hike the Meiji Shinzan Trail

This morning you will board the bus back to Noboribetsu Station to catch a train bound for Toya Station. From Toya Station, you'll transfer to a local bus to reach the famous Lake Toya .

After dropping off your luggage at your accommodation, you’ll hike the Meiji Shinzan Trail, which starts near the lakeside. This trail will take you up and around the volcanic crater on Mt. Yosomi ( 252 m ), also known as “Meiji Shinzan”. Meiji Shinzan means “new Meiji mountain” in Japanese, on account of the fact that its recent eruption was in 1910, during Japan’s Meiji Era.

Despite the relatively recent eruption, the crater on Mt. Yosomi is now covered in vegetation, creating quite a beautiful sight. The Mt. Yosomi eruption was also responsible for creating the hot springs that feed Lake Toya’s resort today – so you’re witnessing the “birthplace” of the Lake Toya hot spring resort! 

Note that quite a lot of the trail is stone-paved, and the stones can be slippery when wet. Make sure you have hiking footwear for this trail! 

If the weather is not suitable for a hike, we recommend checking out the Lake Toya Visitor Centre. Here, you can learn all about Lake Toya’s volcanic past, including a recent, powerful eruption that took place in 2000. The museum also educates about the local flora and fauna. 

After returning from your hike, the rest of the day is yours to enjoy to your liking. Enjoy a walk along the lakeside or unwind at a cafe before heading back to your hotel for dinner and a soak in the natural hot springs.

Hike 4.8 km with 249 m climbing
Stay Hotel at Lake Toya
Day 6

Day 6 - Travel to Hakodate & Hike Mt. Hakodate

This morning you’ll wave goodbye to Shikotsu-Toya National Park as you board a train bound for Hakodate, one of Hokkaido’s oldest cities. As one of the first international port towns after Japan's long period of isolation, Hakodate is home to historic embassies and churches from around the world. It has become a haven for food enthusiasts and architecture lovers. You’ll have ample time today and tomorrow to take in everything the city has to offer.

In the afternoon, you’ll take the city tram to the end of the line at Yachigashira Station , a roughly 15 minute walk from Cape Tachimachi , where you'll be greeted by a panorama of the Tsugaru Strait, the small stretch of ocean that separates Honshu from Hokkaido. On a clear day you'll be able to see Aomori Prefecture across the bay. 

After enjoying the view, head to the nearby trailhead for Mt. Hakodate for a climb up to the top where you'll have some free time to explore the fortress ruins near the summit. A nice option is to head over to the viewing platform as the sun starts to set, but do keep in mind that the popular sight can attract some very large crowds! Mt. Hakodate is home to some fine dining options at the summit, but there’s no shortage of restaurants to choose from after you take the ropeway back down to the city.

Hike 8.3 km with 462 m climbing
Stay Hotel in Hakodate
Day 7

Day 7 - Depart Hakodate

Congratulations on completing this self-guided tour of Hokkaido! Our tour arrangements end with breakfast this morning, after which you'll be free to enjoy the city at your own pace, visiting the places that interest you the most. 

Consider an early lunch at the renowned Hakodate Morning Market , or perhaps Hakodate Jiyuichiba for a slightly quieter and more local atmosphere. Both have a wonderful selection of fresh seafood so why not enjoy a bowl of kaisen-don (sashimi-topped rice bowl) for an early lunch? Alternatively, drop into one of Hakodate’s many trendy bakeries and enjoy a morning picnic in Goryokaku , an old, star-shaped fortress that today is a popular park in the centre of Hakodate. There are plenty of places to sit around the park under the shade of the many cherry trees. At the centre of the park, there is also the historic Hakodate Magistrate’s Office, an administrative building that opened at the end of Japan’s period of feudal isolation and served as one of Japan’s very first diplomatic posts.

Make sure that you have left nothing behind in Hokkaido before heading to the airport. Itterasshai!

Dates & Prices

Pick your departure dates

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From ¥198,000pp

Travel Style

Going self-guided also means being your own boss– you have complete control over the day’s schedule, from what to eat to how long to spend at a destination. This tour is therefore perfect for independent travellers who love the flexibility that comes with travelling alone. It also makes a great self-guided extension to any of our more involved guided tours! 

You will travel by public transport on this tour. Hokkaido is a fairly vast land with most residents relying on cars and much of the infrastructure has been built with this in mind. While this means that more intensive trailheads are a little out of reach of public transport, there are still a number of very accessible, leisurely day and loop hikes that can be reached by train, bus or taxi. Our self-guided tours showcase the very best of these smaller routes. 

Being your own boss does of course mean that you must take responsibility for yourself to a certain degree. This includes making sure you have enough funds on you to pay for public transport and meals, getting yourself from A to B in a timely manner, keeping on top of train and bus timetables and looking after your own luggage. A luggage transfer service is not included in this tour, so you will need to carry it with you when travelling. Between hikes, we recommend that you leave your luggage either with your accommodation front desk or at coin lockers in stations. You can also use Yamato’s amazing luggage-forwarding service to send larger, more bulky luggage ahead to other destinations (though note that this is not a same-day service– please allow up to 72 hours for your luggage to arrive).