Lakes & Volcanoes 8 Day Self-Guided Tour

A view of Lake Toya from up high. Most of the lake is visible. Nakajima Island is visible in the middle of the lake. It is a bright, sunny day.

Discover hidden natural beauty just hours from Sapporo City. Visit the hot spring towns of Jozankei, Lake Toya and Noboribetsu and get up close and personal with the lakes, mountains and volcanoes of Shikotsu–Toya National Park.

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. For us, however, it is not the resorts that we are interested in but the amazing landscape that makes this national park perfect for adventure travel. As well as the warm hot springs, it is also home to rich forests, fascinating geological hikes and incredible wildlife. In summer, mountain trails allow the adventurous to experience the unique sight of fiery volcanoes and pure blue caldera lakes.

Tour Highlights

Refresh Yourself at Jozankei Onsen

You'll never believe that this onsen is part of Sapporo City! Enjoy the town's beautiful natural landscapes and warming hot springs.

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 the Untouched Beauty of a Lake Island

You'll have the chance to take a walk in Nakajima Island at the centre of Lake Toya. Unlike the lakeshore, this island has been left almost completely undeveloped by humans, leaving a natural paradise waiting to be explored.

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.

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 Jozankei Onsen & Hike in Jozankei

After enjoying breakfast at the hotel, you'll wave goodbye to the big city and hop on a bus bound for Jozankei Onsen in the morning. 

Jozankei gets its name from Jozan, a monk who heard rumours of a hot spring in the mountains that had the power to heal sick and injured deer. He hiked from the coast of Otaru into the mountains with the help of the local Ainu until he stumbled across the hot springs that would become Jozankei Onsen. Over 150 years later, Jozankei has become a popular resort for Sapporo locals and tourists alike, as it offers the charm and calm of a secluded mountain town without leaving the Sapporo city limits! The town also lies within the boundaries of Shikotsu-Toya National Park.

This afternoon, we recommend a hike up Mt. Asahi . While hiking you can leave your luggage at the hotel. “Mt Asahi” translates to 'Sunrise Mountain', its name coming from the fact that it is the first mountain the sun hits in the morning. The start of the trail passes by Iwato Park, home to wildlife like squirrels and woodpeckers – you’ll really start to feel like you’re in a national park! 

The hike is just over 2.5 hours (round-trip) and has some steep inclines up through lush forests. However, the trail is very narrow and can be slippery when wet or covered in fallen leaves – watch your step and be careful. If you are not confident about the narrow path, it is always better to head back than to push on and risk getting stuck.

After your hike, re-energise yourself with one of the many foot baths ( ashiyu in Japanese) in town. The town is also home to a number of statues of the Kappa, a supernatural creature appearing in Japanese folklore. While legends of the Kappa can be found throughout Japan, the legend of a Kappa living in the waters of Jozankei came about in the last century, making it a bit of an oddity that doesn't seem out of place. 

Tonight, enjoy the healing hot springs and relaxing dinner at your lodging.

Hike 4.2 km with 420 m climbing
Stay Ryokan at Jozankei Onsen
Day 3

Day 3 - Transfer to Lake Toya & Hike the Konpira Trail

After you enjoy breakfast at your hotel, you’ll board a bus bound for Toyoura and get off at Toyako Onsen (Lake Toya Onsen). Lake Toya is a stunning crater lake protected both as a National Park and a UNESCO Global Geopark. 

After you arrive, leave your luggage at your accommodation and drop by 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. As fascinating as the museum is, try not to spend too long there as you have some hikes to look forward to today, too! (We recommend leaving the museum no later than 2pm.)

After visiting the museum, you’ll  head out to enjoy two back-to-back hiking trails around active, volcanic ground which will both give you an insight into the destructive power of Mt. Usu’s 2000 eruption, which you will have learned about at the museum earlier today. The first is the Konpira route ( 4.8 km loop), which takes you up past public housing that was damaged by the eruption, and along a highway now buried in volcanic mud. You can also take a peek into Mt. Usu’s volcanic crater for yourself. This route then follows on to the start of the Nishiyama route, which takes you past human sites damaged by the force and heat of the blast. 

You’ll witness roads torn apart by tectonic forces, a landscape pock-marked by new craters and abandoned and submerged vehicles and buildings left behind as residents fled the scene. Both routes together take around 3hrs 30mins to complete.

Note: The trails for both routes close at 4pm in October. October visitors should choose only the Konpira route.

Tonight, appreciate the less-explosive side of volcanic forces as you relax calmly in a hot spring and experience traditional Japanese hospitality at Lake Toya Onsen!

Hike 8.6 km with 170 m climbing
Stay Hotel at Lake Toya
Day 4

Day 4 - Hike on Nakajima Island, Lake Toya

This morning you’ll catch a ferry to the island of Nakajima for a day of open-ended exploration. Other than the well maintained trails, museum and dock, Nakajima is untouched by humans, making it an oasis for wildlife… except for Hokkaido’s brown bears, which do not live on the island! Phew!

The ferry to Nakajima takes roughly 25 minutes and once on Nakajima you are free to explore the many trails on the island. Please note that the trail gate closes at 4pm and the last entry time is 2:30pm, so make sure you give yourself ample time to complete the hike today. The longest trail is the 8.2 km loop hike around the island which takes roughly 3 hours and passes through the beautiful Daiheigen, where you may have the chance to see Mt. Yotei in the distance on a clear day. 

The museum on the island is home to a plethora of information about its history as well as a small cafe with light meal options that makes for a great place to pass the time until the next ferry. If you’d like a more in-depth and personal experience, the option of exploring Nakajima with a local guide is available for an additional fee.

After taking the ferry back to the mainland, 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 8.2 km with 367 m climbing
Stay Hotel at Lake Toya
Day 5

Day 5 - Travel to Noboribetsu & Hike the Hell Valley

This morning you will say goodbye to Lake Toya and board a bus bound for Toya Station. From there you will transfer to an express train to Noboribetsu Station. Once you reach Noboribetsu Station, we suggest stretching your legs and enjoying a spot of lunch before you transfer to another local bus for Noboribetsu Onsen.

After you arrive, drop off your luggage at your hotel and take off for 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 °C , with blue-grey water on the surface reaching highs of 50 °C . 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.

After your hike, 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 6

Day 6 - Travel to Shiraoi & Visit the Upopoy National Ainu Museum

This morning you will take a local bus back to Noboribetsu and take an express train to 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. In the evening you will take another express train as well as a bus to reach Lake Shikotsu, a stunning caldera lake surrounded by active volcanoes.

Stay Hotel at Lake Shikotsu
Day 7

Day 7 - Hike Mt Monbetsu & Travel to Sapporo

This morning you will hike Mt. Monbetsu , an 866 m peak that borders Lake Shikotsu. The trail follows a maintenance road on a gentle incline all the way to the summit, where you’ll be greeted by a panoramic view of Lake Shikotsu and its surrounding volcanoes - Mt. Eniwa and Mt. Tarumae. 

After a morning of hiking, take the afternoon to enjoy all that the lakeside has to offer. Restore your energy with a contemporary western meal or try Shikotsu-ko Chippu (Kokanee Salmon), which was introduced into Lake Shikotsu over 100 years ago and has since become a local delicacy. In the evening, you’ll say sayonara to Lake Shikotsu and board the bus back to Chitose. From there your journey comes to a close as you board one final train to Sapporo Station.

Once again, dinner is at your leisure tonight to allow you to experience the best of Hokkaido’s cuisine.

Hike 10 km with 635 m climbing
Stay Hotel in Sapporo
Day 8

Day 8 - Depart Sapporo

Congratulations for completing this self-guided tour of Hokkaido! Our tour arrangements end with breakfast at the hotel. 

If you have an extra day to spare in Sapporo, you can visit the Sapporo Beer Museum , the Botanic Garden (admission ¥420), or the Hokkaido University Museum located on the Hokkaido University Campus.

But, if you want to squeeze in one last hike, consider the trek up to Mt. Moiwa , home to a wonderful view of Sapporo. Starting your hike from the beautiful Asahiyama Memorial Park , you'll hike along secluded trails ( 3.1 km ) to reach the summit of Mt. Moiwa, where you'll be greeted by a lookout deck where you can look out over the whole city. There are dining options available at the ropeway station for you to enjoy lunch with a view before taking the ropeway back town to the city below, and a bus back into central Sapporo.

Please check that you have nothing left behind in Hokkaido before departing. Itterasshai!

Hike 3.6 km with 400 m climbing

Dates & Prices

Pick your departure dates

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From ¥259,000pp

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).