As Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido is known as the top destination for adventure and outdoor lovers in Japan. The island is famous for its volcanoes, expansive national parks, natural hot springs (otherwise known as onsen), and world-class winter ski resorts.
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While it is a very popular destination to visit in the winter, Hokkaido offers great adventures during the time of year.
You’ll find vast areas of wilderness filled with forests, blue caldera lakes, amazing wildlife and wildflowers, and bubbling natural hot springs. Hikers, cyclists, photographers, and nature enthusiasts will be completely at home here.
Whether exploring the islands’ national parks or visiting a traditional Ainu village to discover the deeply rooted culture of the Indigenous people, there are plenty of things to do in Hokkaido.
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We spent 3 weeks exploring Hokkaido on our recent visit to Japan. We drove all around the island, exploring its famous attractions, national parks and lesser-known destinations.
It quickly became one of our favourite experiences in the country. After finding the best places and must-see attractions, we decided to put together this 7-day Hokkaido itinerary to help other intrepid travellers make the most of their time in this region.
How to Get to Hokkaido
Before we get into the itinerary, let’s cover some logistics on how to visit Hokkaido.
Hokkaido’s main entry point is the New Chitose International Airport (CTS), located about an hour’s drive from downtown Sapporo city. Most flights coming into the airport are domestic, so you’ll likely connect in Tokyo if coming from another international destination.
An incredibly scenic option for visiting Hokkaido is to take the train from Tokyo. The rail journey takes about 7-8 hours to reach Sapporo Station from Tokyo.
The Hokkaido Shinkansen (bullet train) links Aomori on Japan’s main island of Honshu with Hakodate on Hokkaido via the Seikan Tunnel. Hakodate is the southernmost city on the island, and the journey via limited express train will take only about 4 hours.
In Hakodate, transfer to a local train to Sapporo or continue to other destinations within Hokkaido. If you plan to travel extensively within Japan, consider purchasing a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) before your trip. This pass can be purchased for 7, 14 and 21 days and allows unlimited travel on JR trains, including the Shinkansen.
How to Get Around Hokkaido
The incredibly wild and vast island of Hokkaido is best explored at your own pace. While it’s possible to use public transport, it’s not as well-connected as other regions of Japan.
Getting around by car is the best way to explore Hokkaido. Renting a car gives you the flexibility to move at your own pace and visit more remote areas.
You prebook your car rental HERE and pick up your car at one of the many rental agencies at the airport. Daily rates range from $50-100 per day, depending on the season and the type fo vehicle.
IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that in order to rent a car in Japan, you will need an international driver’s license. Not just a photo of one or an expired one, but a valid license that you can physically present at registration. If you don’t have an international license, be sure to get one from your local AAA or CAA office before departing for Japan.
By Public Transport
Most of the popular tourist destinations in Hokkaido can be reached by train. The JR Hokkaido Rail Pass services Sapporo, Otaru, Furano, Kushiro, and a few other destinations around the island. You can purchase 5,7, and 10-day passes to make hop on and off easier.
Our Suggested 7 Day Hokkaido Itinerary
While Hokkaido is a popular winter destination due to its world-class skiing and beautiful snowfields, this itinerary is primarily designed for the warmer months.
Here’s how to spend 7 days in Hokkaido
Day 1- CTS (New Chitose Airport) to Lake Akan
Distance: 270 km (167.8 miles)
Driving Time: 4.5 hours
Arrive at the airport, pick up your hire car, and make your way to Lake Akan. Located in Akan National Park, it is one of three crater lakes dating back over 150,000 years. The area is renowned for its beautiful landscapes, outdoor activities, and indigenous Ainu culture.
Stop at Unkai Terrace
On the way, stop at Unkai Terrace. Located about 2 hours from Sapporo, this is a famous observation spot from which you can view an incredible sea of clouds as they settle over the mountains and lakes. Located at over 1,000 meters (3,280 ft), the platform is easy to get to with a quick 13-minute gondola ride up from Hoshino Resorts Tomamu.
Tip: Don’t forget to carry some layers with you as the cool mountain air at the top is freezing, even in summer.
Explore Lake Akan town (aka Akanko Onsen)
The onsen town of Lake Akan is a great base for exploring Akan-Mashu National Park. The town is small, with a handful of hotels and traditional inns on the shore of the caldera lake. Most lodgings offer on-site onsens where you can soak after a long day of exploration. There are a couple of restaurants in town, but many hotels also offer dinner service.
Visit Ainu Kotan
Ainu Kotan is the largest Ainu community on the island and is worth a visit. Walk around the streets, meet the artisans inside their workshops, and check out the local handicrafts for sale.
Eat Ainu Food at Poronno
Grab lunch at Poronno, a coffee shop serving traditional Ainu cuisine. Try their lunch set, and don’t miss the most delicious sweet potato pancakes for dessert.
Take a Boat Trip to See Marimo
In the afternoon or the following morning, take a boat trip to the lake to see the famous Marimo, a rare algae species in the shape of green spheres. The best way to get close to the algae is to join a lake cruise that visits the Marimo Exhibition and Observation Centre on Churui Island. The exhibition centre offers exhibits and displays with information about Marimo and some an opportunity to see these algae up close.
Stay at Forest of Akan Tsuruga Resort HANAYUUKA
This beautiful onsen hotel, surrounded by the natural forest on the southern shore of Lake Akan, is a great spot to stay in town. The public onsen (hot spring) bath water is piped directly from a natural hot spring source, making for a very special onsen experience.
The buffet restaurant also serves delicious local specialties made from produce sourced nearby. They offer a wide range of rooms, from standard double to Japanese-style superior rooms with lake views.
Day 2: Lake Akan to Shiretoko Peninsula
Distance: 80 km (50 miles)
Driving time: 1.5 hours
Today, you’ll head to Shiretoko Peninsula on the easternmost part of Hokkaido. It’s home to one of Japan’s most beautiful and untouched national parks.
Allow extra time to explore the other Akan-Mashu National Park crater lakes en route.
Considered one of the world’s clearest lakes, Lake Mashu is worth a stop. You can check out the lake from any of the three observation points on the rim of the caldera. On clear days, you’ll get incredible views of the lake. However, this area is known for a thick fog that settles on the water’s surface – it certainly did when we were visiting.
As Japan’s largest caldera lake, Lake Kussharo is a must-visit. If you have time, it’s a popular spot for water sports like kayaking and canoeing. Otherwise, take a walk along the 2.5 km nature trail, which crosses a sandbar and follows the shore of the peninsula.
Located between Mount Mashu and Mount Kussharo, Mount Io is the area’s most active stratovolcano. It is known for its frequent activity, where steam and volcanic gases are released from vents on the mountain.
Mount Io’s summit is not accessible due to potential hazards; we suggest following one of the well-marked hiking trails around the base of the mountain. These walks provide excellent views of the volcanic landscape, where you can observe steam vents and bubbling mud pools.
Stay at Hotel Kifu Club Shiretoko
Make Hotel Kifu Club in Utorohigashi on the Shiretoko Peninsula your home for a few nights. This family-run hotel is a perfect spot to stay while exploring Shiretoko. Located along the main street, the hotel offers a variety of accommodation options ranging from Japanese-style rooms to Western-style cabins.
There are private hot spring baths on-site and a beautiful outdoor deck area to soak up sunset views.
The onsite restaurant offers an amazing kaiseki tempura dinner, with Japanese dishes featuring locally caught seafood and fresh ingredients.
Day 3: Visit Rausu
Take a day trip over to Rausu, on the other side of the Shiretoko Peninsula. The large town is famous for its fishing industry and incredible wildlife sightings off the coast. For a 1 day trip, here’s how we recommend you spend your time:
Drive Down Shiretoko Pass
Follow the steep and windy drive from Utoro to Rausu via Shiretoko Pass. This is one of the best viewpoints on the peninsula, offering spectacular views of nearby Mount Rausu, Shiretoko’s highest mountain, as well as Kunashiri Island. It’s also a great spot to see fall foliage around October, but be mindful that the pass is closed in winter.
Join a Whale Watching Tour
Outside of the cold winter months, the waters surrounding the Shiretoko Peninsula are home to dolphins, minke and sperm whales, orcas and migratory sea birds. Whale tours depart from Rausu and run along the Nemuro Strait, known to have one of the highest populations of orcas in the world. Summer is the best time of year to enjoy whale-watching tours, but sightings are possible any time of the year.
Eat Fresh Seafood
Rausu plays a leading role in Japan’s fishing industry, so fresh seafood is abundant in this small town. It’s most well-known for Pacific cod, but also crab, scallops, and salmon.
Take the opportunity to sample the freshest catch for lunch. Head to a local restaurant on the coast, such as Junnobanya for traditional delicacies or Isami Sushi for fresh sushi.
Go on a Hike from Rausu Visitor Centre
If you still have time in the afternoon, head to the Shiretoko Rausu Visitor Center, located near the base of Mount Rausu. It provides information on the eastern half of the Shiretoko National Park.
You can also access various hiking trails from there, including a trailhead to Mount Rausu (the Rausu Onsen Route), Lake Rausu and Kumagoe-no-Taki Falls. If you’re short on time, check out the geyser, which is located a short distance from the visitor center. It blasts every hour and can be fun to see.
Day 4: Explore Shiretoko National Park
Today, spend a full day exploring the western part of Shiretoko National Park.
Visit Five Lakes Boardwalk
Just 20 minutes northeast of the hotel, you’ll find the Shiretoko Five Lake Area, a set of five small lakes formed by the ancient eruption of nearby Mount Io and fed by underground springs.
The best way to explore the stunning area is by walking on the Shiretoko Five Lakes trail, which provides views of the surrounding landscapes and wildlife. You can follow the raised boardwalk trail, which leads from the parking lot to the first lake (it is suitable for the whole family and is wheelchair accessible) or opt for a longer hike through the forest.
In Summer and Fall, this area is known for frequent brown bear encounters. Depending on the season, hiring a guide to accompany you on the trail is mandatory.
Take Bear Watching Cruise
Shiretoko’s claim to fame is its wildlife, particularly brown bears. No Hokkaido trip is complete without joining a bear-watching cruise for a chance to spot bears in their native habitat.
Bear-watching tours operate from late April through until the end of October by the Shiretoko Sightseeing Ship, MS Aurora. They offer three routes starting from Utoro, ranging from 1 to 3 hours.
The longest route is the Secret Ground Shiretoko Route. This cruise goes all the way to the tip of the peninsula, offering a chance to see bears, seals and dramatic waterfalls. Bring binoculars, as the ship travels far from the coastline, making it harder to spot wildlife on shore.
Hike to Cape Puyuni and See Furepe Falls
A relatively easy way to get spectacular views and a chance for some wildlife spotting is to head to Shiretoko Nature Center. From here, follow a well-defined 2km nature trail to Furepe-no-Taki Falls. A wonderful observation deck at the end of the trail offers incredible views of the falls and a chance to spot wild deer and other animals.
For a sunset photo op, stop at the Cape Puyuni lookout point on your way back to Utoro. It’s the perfect spot to see the sun dip below the horizon and enjoy views of the coastline.
Day 5: Shiretoko to Daisetsuzan National Park
Distance: 290 km (180 miles)
Driving time: 5 hours
It’s a long drive from the Shiretoko area to the central part of the island. However, there is a lot to see along the way to break up the drive.
Stop at Mt. Kurodake Ropeway
Located outside Asahikawa, the Kurodake Ropeway offers a scenic ride up to Kurodake Mountain in Daisetsuzan National Park. The Kurodake Ropeway connects Sounkyo Onsen with an upper station halfway up to the summit.
The upper station offers an observation deck with views into the gorge below. It’s also the starting point for some hikes, with access to trails leading to Kurodake’s summit and nearby peaks.
Stay at Stay In Biei
Located outside of Asahikawa, Biei is a picturesque town surrounded by rolling hills and vast fields. As a nice base to explore Daisetsuzan, Stay In Biei offers a self-catering apartment. Located right in the heart of town, this apartment has a living area, kitchen, and a large bedroom – perfect for a couple!
Day 6: Daisetsuzan National Park & Furano and Biei Area
Biei is ideally located at the heart of Hokkaido’s best landscapes, including Daisetsuzan, Japan’s largest national park, home to Mt. Asahidake, the tallest mountain in Hokkaido, and the Furano-Biei area is famous for flower fields.
Take the Asahidake Ropeway and Hike to the Summit
The Asahidake Ropeway offers cable car trips from Asahidake Onsen up to Sugatami Station, from which you can hike the rest of the way to the summit.
The ropeway’s upper station sits at 1600 meters (5,250 ft) above sea level, amongst an alpine landscape filled with wildflowers in summer. If you have time, you can continue for 2 hours to the summit of Asahidake. Asahidake is the first place in Japan to see snow each year, and its summit provides fantastic views over the area.
The area is beautiful and worth a visit any time of the year!
Visit a Flower Farm
Head south of Biei to Furano, which is most famous for its flower fields filled with lavender, poppies, sunflowers, and tulips, which bloom during the summer months.
From early May to early October, visit the Shikisai-no-oka Panoramic Flower Gardens or one of the many flower farms featuring sweeping fields of flowers in bloom. Be prepared for a large crowd in peak summer, when the flowers are at their best.
Visit Shirogane Blue Pond
Located in Biei town, Shirogane Blue Pond is another popular attraction in the area. This picturesque Instagram-famous lake is known for its bluish-white colour and attracts busloads of visitors to its shores on a daily basis. If you want those Insta-perfect shots, get to the Blue Pond early to beat the crowds.
Day 7: Visit Sapporo
Distance: 165 km (102.5 miles)
Driving time: 2.5 hours
Your Hokkaido itinerary finishes in Sapporo, the capital of the region. As the prefecture’s capital, Sapporo is the economic hub and cultural center and is the perfect spot to end your 7 day itinerary.
Explore the downtown area of Sapporo, which is filled with art galleries, restaurants, and breweries. Sapporo is best known for its namesake beer, and along with a world-class culinary scene. It’s a top foodie destination with lots of great restaurants to explore.
Visit Odori Park
Located in the heart of the city and just across from the Sapporo Clock Tower, the iconic Odori Park stretches for 12 blocks. It’s easily the most famous attraction in the city, and is home to Japan’s largest snow festival, as well as the Sapporo TV Tower.
Sapporo TV Tower
This famous TV tower was built in 1957 and stands 147 meters (482 ft) high in the heart of Odari Park. However, its biggest draw card for visitors is the observation deck offering panoramic views of the city.
General admission is around 1000 yen. It’s a popular nighttime activity so you can see the city covered in twinkling lights.
Sapporo Beer Museum
To uncover the story behind the city’s famous beer, head to the Beer Museum in central Sapporo. Admission is free for the exhibitions in the former factory detailing the history of Sapporo Beer. Beer tastings have an extra charge.
Next door, you’ll find the Sapporo Beer Garden, which serves up draft beers and all-you-can-eat barbecues inside a beautiful contemporary space.
Have more time?
The truth is that 7 days in Hokkaido is not enough to explore all the beautiful destinations and attractions in this region. So, plan to stay for longer and add a visit to any of these areas.
Kushiro National Park
Located in eastern Hokkaido, this is Japan’s largest wetland habitat and home to the last endangered Japanese Cranes. Approximately 1,000 Japanese cranes can be found in the marshes around Kushiro.
Lake Toya and Mt Usu
Part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Lake Toya is a stunning caldera lake filled with islands and natural hot baths.
The region is also home to the active volcano Mount Usu. The Usuzan Ropeway offers a cable car ride to the summit of Mount Usu, where there is an observation deck and path around the volcano rim.
There is also a popular rim trail at Mount Usu, known as the Usu-zan Ropeway Rim Trail, which provides stunning panoramic views of the volcanic landscape.
Located in southern Hokkaido, Kuromatsunai is one of the most charming towns on the island and is surrounded by a beech forest known as the Utasai Forest Park. Rent a bike to explore the beech forest, local farms, and the town in a day.
Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park
On the northwestern tip of Hokkaido, Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park is a spectacular collection of volcanic mountains, islands, and alpine wildflowers. Hiking is the best way to explore the park, with several trails through fields and wildflowers, plus a more strenuous option to the summit of Mount Rishiri.
While this might be a famous winter destination, in summer, you can enjoy mountain biking and hiking. You can hike Mt. Annupuri, go river rafting, kayaking, or canyoning.
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