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Best time to visit Hokkaido

Stunning blue pond in Hokkaido during autumn

Hokkaido is Japan's northernmost island, known for its superb and varied landscape. The best time to visit Hokkaido is dependent on the type of activity you wish to enjoy in the region. Winter sports are extremely popular in Hokkaido, and there's also the famed Sapporo Snow Festival. Summers in Hokkaido are mild and beautiful, perfect for hiking enthusiasts.

Hokkaido weather is different from the rest of Japan. While Hokkaido still has four distinctive seasons, they start and end at different times and months than the rest of the country. The most important thing to consider when deciding when to visit Hokkaido are the temperatures.

We spent 2 weeks in Hokkaido, and we saw first hand how important the weather is to a successful trip. In our experience, the best time to travel to Hokkaido is during summer when the weather is warm and dry, there are many outdoor festivals like the Sapporo Summer Festival and plenty of sunny days for hikes and road trips.

I will explain what to expect from the different seasons in Hokkaido, what are the temperatures like and how the Hokkaido weather can affect your trip. I will also give you tips for the best time to visit Hokkaido for all activities, and when to avoid visiting Hokkaido because of crowds or busy festivals.

Picture depicting Hokkaido during all four seasons: Hokkaido with cherry blossom, Hokkaido in the summer with field flowers, Hokkaido in autumn with colourful leaves, Hokkaido in winter with heavy snow

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Best time to visit Hokkaido

Visiting Hokkaido is one of the best things to do in Japan. It's a beautiful island with its own unique scenery and epic attractions. But remember that the best time to visit Japan might not be the same on Hokkaido as on Honshu, the main island in Japan.

Hokkaido enjoys four distinctive seasons. You can still see the beautiful cherry blossoms, but remember that sakura blooms much later in Hokkaido.

Summers are mild and comfortable, ideal for hiking in nature or for road trips. Unlike the rest of Japan, Hokkaido is not hit by the high humidity and daily rain during the rainy season experience on Honshu.

Autumns are gorgeous with those intense bright autumn leaves. Remember that September is typhoon season but unlike the rest of Japan, Hokkaido is least impacted. Although there might still be cancellations on the bullet train.

Winters are cold and white, with lots of snow. It's the best time to hit the ski resorts and visit the hot springs to escape the cold temperatures. Make sure to bring your best winter boots which are warm and waterproof.

Spring

Spring is such beautiful time to visit Hokkaido, when the spring flowers start to bloom and the trees turn pink and incredible, full of cherry blossoms. Unlike the rest of Japan, Spring in Hokkaido starts a little later, from late April. May is the best time to see the cherry blossom festival in Hokkaido.

The Spring weather is mild enough to get the ski resorts shut and ready for the estival season.

March is still cold with slopes full of snow. While the night temperatures hover around the -3°C, they do go up to around 7°C during daytime.

In April you can expect 11°C and 16°C in May. Hokkaido does receive quite a bit of rainfall during Spring ranging between 64mm and 74mm per month.

May is also the sunniest month of the whole year, making it perfect for outdoor activities under the sunny weather.

Best spring activities

  • Skiing - You can still ski until April. March is a great time to hit the slopes.
  • Snow shoeing - Until the weather gets mild enough, you can easily enjoy snow shoeing until early spring.
  • Sapporo Yosakoi Festival - a fantastic outdoor festival which takes place over several days in Spring
  • Sakura season - Fall in love with the cherry blossoms in May when cherry trees start to look incredible throughout Hokkaido

What to wear in Spring

It's still fairly cold during Spring, so you will want to dress in as many layers as possible. Make sure to have your thermals and a waterproof. Ideally, you will have a wind breaker, especially if you want to do some hiking. Your shoes should be waterproof as you can still expect showers. Go for wool sweaters for your layers.

Beautiful cherry blossoms in Spring in Hokkaido

Summer

Summers are mild and comfortable, with temperatures in the mid 20s°C. Summers are not hot, sticky and humid like the rest of Japan, but cooler and drier. The colder weather brings in people from all over the country who wish to escape the rainy season on Honshu. Summers are perfect for hikers and road trippers who want to see how gorgeous Hokkaido really is. Early June still has cherry blossoms and by mid-July the weather starts to turn warm and beautiful.

August is the hottest month in Hokkaido, when the temperatures peak between 23° and 26°C at this time. This is a wonderful time to visit Hokkaido, experience the local culture, eat great food and go to a national park. Although this is the warmest period of the year, it is also the wettest.

During Summer there is also the Sopporo summer festival which attracts over a million visitors. And for good reason as the festival is packed with food stalls selling local dishes, all sort of traditional events, lots of music and fireworks.

If you wish to visit Hokkaido's beaches, then summer is the time to do it as well. The sea temperature reaches its annual maximum of 22°C in August.

Outdoorsy people can see brown bears in the countryside, see the Sounkyo Gorge and go to the Daisetsuzan National Park, Hokkaido's largest national park. This is perfect for unspoilt views and well preserved wilderness right in the heart of the Hokkaido mountains.

Based on temperatures, available activities, and number of sunny days, summer is the best time to visit Hokkaido. In fact, most Japanese people go to Hokkaido during the summer holidays to enjoy the flower fields, the outdoor activities and the comfortable warm months.

Best summer activities

  • Hiking - Summers are great for exploring the best national parks in Hokkaido. Expect gorgeous flowers, superb scenery and pristine landscapes.
  • Road trip - We love summers in Hokkaido and that's the best time for a great road trip around the island. The roads are clean, the sun is shinning and you can explore more locations with ease.
  • Summer sports - Try fly fishing, kayaking and paddleboarding.
  • See the Hokkaido beaches - There are some great locations for a nice dip on the pristine Hokkaido beaches. Go to Ranshima Beach or Shiretoko Beach.

What to wear in Summer

Summers are warm and forgiving but we still encourage you to grab those layers. Wear shorts and thin tshirts but evenings get cooler so you'll want a light shirt or jacket. Summers come with rain so make sure to have some thin waterproofs and a comfortable pair of walking boots.

Summer field flowers in Hokkaido

Autumn

Autumn in Japan starts late September when the temperatures start to drop to as low as 14°C. The autumn season brings those gorgeous bright colours when the leaves start to turn to a variety of yellow, orange and red hues. Also known as the koyo festival the colourful autumn leaves are sometimes even more iconic than the sakura season.

The landscape in Hokkaido becomes charming, and it's a photographer's dream. Visitors can still enjoy mild temperatures during the day but note that September is the wettest month by far with an average rainfall of 171mm.

September is also known as the typhoon season, although Hokkaido is rarely affected by it. The beginning of October is still a great time for outdoor adventures and perfect for the fall foliage. Generally speaking, October is one of the most beautiful times in Hokkaido. By November, the temperatures drop to 5°C. Night-time lows of just 1°C in November means you need to prepare with a hot jacket, waterproofs and warm shoes.

Best autumn activities

  • Koyo festival - See the colourful autumn leaves in Hokkaido. The whole island becomes dreamy and beautiful.
  • Waterfall viewing - A popular autumn activity is hiking to various waterfalls and seeing them surrounded by colourful leaves.
  • Hot Springs - As the weather starts to cool, it's the best time to hit the onsen in the evening after a long day exploring the mountains

What to wear in Autumn

You will want to bring your merino thermals, some sweaters, and good warm jackets. During the day you will very likely only wear your thermals with one layer on top, but in the evening, the temperatures plummet, and you'll want to reach for that warm down jacket. Warm waterproofs in November are a must. For November, a scarf and gloves need to be in the suitcase too.

Stunning blue pond in Hokkaido during autumn

Winter

The winter season in Hokkaido starts in December and the average temperature is -4°C - 0°C. Hokkaido is the best place for winter sports as the island gets perfect powder. Skiiers from all over the world go to Hokkaido for the winter season. While winter in Japan tends to be considered low season, on Hokkaido is actually a high season with lots more incoming tourists.

January bring even cooler temperatures with sub zero temperatures as standard. In Northern Hokkaido you can enjoy 11m of snowfalls. The winter months also get the least amount of sunshine with December having just 2 hours of sunshine per day.

Winters are perfect for natural hot springs holidays. Picture yourself in a stunning resort with mountain views and natural hot onsens.

Mid December tends to be an expensive time to visit Hokkaido as the island gets ready for the winter festivities. However, cities and towns put up winter illuminations making the whole island look like a winter wonderland.

For the famed Sapporo Snow and Ice Festival, make sure to visit in early February. It takes place over seven days in Odori Park.

Best winter activities

  • Sapporo Festival - It attracts so many people from all over the world who to see the most incredible ice sculptures, some as large as a house.
  • Skiing and snowboarding - Hokkaido has some of the best ski resorts in the country, which is why many professional skiiers come here to enjoy up to 11 metres of powder snow.
  • Eat crabs - Winter is an excellent time to eat king crabs in Hokkaido, one of the best Japanese food you ought to try.

What to wear in Winter

Winters are very cold with temperatures in the minus. You will need several warm layers including thermals, mid layers and warm down parkas. Snow boots are also a must. Invest in a good quality pair of boots that can keep your feet warm and dry. Scarves, gloves and even ski masks are perfect for Hokkaido in winter.

Beautiful winter landscape in Hokkaido

Summary

Hokkaido is the perfect destination in Japan for those who enjoy either outdoor activities or love winter sports. Hokkaido does not get overly hot and humid, not even during summer. Many locals come to Hokkaido over the summer to escape the sticky weather on Honshu.

Spring and Autumn are fantastic times to visit Hokkaido if you wish to see the sakura festival or the colourful autumn leaves.

Summer is the best time to travel to Hokkaido for national parks, outdoor hikes, road trips and festivals.

Winter is the best season for a winter wonderland experience or to come and experience the best ski resorts in Japan.

High season in Hokkaido is during summer and winter. High season brings international tourists but also many Japanese tourists from Okinawa and Honshu who want to enjoy summer hikes and winter sports.

Low season in Hokkaido is Spring and Autumn, although do keep in mind that May and October are very crowded months for the sakura and koyo festivities.

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