Hokkaido is one of Japan's main islands, located in the northernmost of the country and it's known for its incredible landscape, skiing resorts, volcanoes and natural onsens. Enjoying a Hokkaido itinerary is one of the most popular things to do amongst the Japanese, given its varied seasons and picture-perfect caldera lakes, national parks and leafy trails. We put together a 15 day Hokkaido itinerary packed with natural wonders and amazing Japanese food.
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Hokkaido means Northern Sea Circuit. One glance at the shape of the island and you will see that it resembles a manta ray. Hokkaido is the last of Japan to see the cherry blossom festival and the first to get the snow. From its northernmost point, you can see Russia on a clear day. As with most of Japan, Hokkaido is known for its incredible landscape and delicious food. Although part of Japan, Hokkaido has a completely different vibe than the rest of the country.
It's more laidback, quiet and less populated. The main city in Hokkaido is called Sapporo, and its known for its winter festival where massive snow sculptures are erected in the centre of the city. Hokkaido is popular for its oysters and Japanese spider crabs. There are myriad food festivals happening year-round in Hokkaido, where travellers and locals alike come to enjoy fresh seafood.
We believe the best time to visit Hokkaido is in the Autumn. Mainly because of the koyo (autumn leaves). Being so naturally varied with forests and lakes, it's only fair to see Hokkaido as one of the most photogenic places in Japan. Hokkaido is quieter too, with fewer crowds, which makes it perfect for those interested in off the beaten path adventures. As with most of Japan, Hokkaido is not cheap, so prepare a reasonable budget for your trip. There are also many places which can only be reached by car, so we recommend renting a car.
Day 1 - 3: Visit Sapporo
There are so many cool things to do in Sapporo but one of the best is going around for the beautiful autumn leaves. Of course, if you visit during other seasons, rest assured there are plenty of fun festivals. As with most Japanese cities, it's pretty impossible to ever get bored.
Where to stay in Sapporo
There are several options for accommodation in Sapporo which, of course, will vary depending on your budget. When in Japan, we tend to stay in double rooms with private bathrooms. To keep the cost to a minimum, most of the time we go for business hotels. Business hotels are great because you always know what to expect from them. They are normally small and the beds are just about enough for two people but it's always quiet during the night and they are fully equipped with everything you can possibly need during your stay.
- Nakajima Park
- Hokkaido University Ginkgo Tree Avenue
- Day trip to Jozankei Onsen
- Mount Moiwa
- Maruyama Park
- Odori Park
- Sapporo Beer Museum
Day 4 Niseko
From day 4 onwards, you will need a car for your Hokkaido itinerary. Leave the city behind and prepare your camera for an array of epic things to do. Normally, the drive from Sapporo to Niseko could be done in less than 2 hours, but I've prepared a route which takes twice as long but is fully packed with incredible scenery. Like, best of Hokkaido type scenery.
Take the highway towards Otaru and continue driving up the coast. You can stop in Otaru for food or stop along the highway for some great Japanese food options. The first stop should be at Ogon Cape, an iconic cape with summit observatory. Then head to Shimamui Coast for its scenery lookout. Continue your drive on the Raiden National Highway towards Cape Kamui. There is a parking lot there so you can leave the car and head for the observation deck.
Time to make your way towards Niseko, but en route, you will be able to stop at every corner to enjoy incredible vistas. Check the Horikappuinari Shrine which en-route and stop in Kutchan for food. Once you get to Niseko, admire the gorgeous Mount Yōtei and the Fukidashi Park.
Where to stay in Niseko
Being a popular skiing resort, there are plenty of hotel options in Niseko. For those who rented a van for their Hokkaido itinerary, there are some campgrounds as well with toilets, showers and cooking facilities. If you want to spoil yourself, check out the Zaborin Onsen below, which is a 4-star luxury suite with private hot springs and beautiful views.
- Orgon Cape
- Shimamui Coast
- Cape Kamui
- Horikappuinari Shrine
- Mount Yōtei
- Fukidashi Park
Day 5 Noboribetsu
Day 5 on your Hokkaido itinerary will be packed with an incredible landscape, so make sure to have your electronics charged. The drive from Niseko to Noboribetsu is only one and a half hour long, but you will stop at Lake Tōya for most of the day. Lake Tōya is incredibly scenic, especially during autumn. You can take a boat towards the Nakajima Island and stroll around the Shikotsutoya National Park.
Alternatively, rent a bike and go around the lake or hike to the top of Mount Usu for spectacular views of the area.
Where to stay in Noboribetsu
We wanted to stay closer to Lake Tōya but didn't find great accommodation for a reasonable price. Instead, we decided to keep on driving towards Noboribetsu and stay in a business hotel there. This is a great option as there are plenty of foodie spots in Noboribetsu for the evening. There is also a shopping mall in the city and most hotels offer laundry services in case you need to freshen up your outfits.
- Lake Tōya
- Nakajima Island
- Shikotsutoya National Park
- Mount Usu
Day 6 - 8 Furano
Time to make your way to Furano, but before you get there, you'll make a few stops along the way. First, drive towards Noboribetsu Jigokudani (Hell Valley), visit the River Oyunuma and the Oyunuma Pond then check out the Noboribetsu Hot Spring. Have lunch at Fukuan Soba then go to Lake Kuttara for beautiful views.
The drive towards Furano will take another 3 hours. Furano is also a ski resort so it gets pretty popular during winter. You should stay for a couple of nights in Furano and take day trips to various attractions.
Visit the Lavender farm, Popura farm and Farm Tomita for a beautiful flowery spectacle. The highlight of the trip is definitely the Shirogane Blue Pond in Biei.
Did you know: one of the mac desktop pictures was taken at the Shirogane Blue Pond?
Take one of the day trips to Sugatami and hike the volcano. There are plenty of trails available which offer incredible scenic views. Do make sure to check the weather and dress properly before venturing up on the mountain. Visit the Hagoromono Falls and the foot onsen located en route down towards the Chubetsu Lake.
Where to stay in Furano
There are so many options in Furano and the prices seemed more reasonable than other places in Hokkaido. If you don't mind taking day trips with your car from Furano, then we recommend staying right in the centre, where you can also have restaurant and eateries in the evening. If you want something a little more expensive and traditional, you can drive up to Asahidake and stay in one of the onsen hotels.
- Noboribetsu Jigokudani (Hell Valley)
- River Oyunuma
- Oyunuma Pon
- Noboribetsu Hot Spring
- Lake Kuttara
- Lavender farm
- Popura farm
- Farm Tomita
- Shirogane Blue Pond
- Hagoromono Falls
Day 9 - 10 Asahikawa
Asahikawa is located just one hour away from Furano, but it's much closer to Daisetsuzan National Park which can be accessed via cable car in Sounkyo. We didn't find any good accommodation in Sounkyo when we looked, but it's worth checking for your dates. Although staying in Asahikawa is great and much cheaper, you might want to position yourself in Sounkyo for convenience.
Visit the Sounkyo Gorge, then head up to the Daisetsuzan National Park for amazing trail options. Visit the Ginga Waterfall and Ginsendai if you have time. If you have a drone, it's worth going to the Taisetsu Lake to capture some amazing picture from above.
Where to stay in Asahikawa
As long as your accommodation is close to the highway, you are pretty great anywhere in the city. The beauty of staying in Asahikawa is that you have the city facilities and you are just 1-2 hours drive away from the attractions points. The hikes are outstanding so make sure you plan accordingly to descent when it's still light. If you decide to stay in Sounkyo, be prepared to spend a little more money than in the city, as you will be much closer to nature, but you will very likely find a hotel with an onsen
- Daisetsuzan National Park
- Sounkyo Gorge
- Ginga Waterfall
Day 11 - 13 Lake Kussharo
Lake Kussharo is so well positioned, you can take several day trips to nearby scenic attractions. We think staying at Lake Kussharo is best, because of the hotel prices and general accommodation options. Lake Kussharo is known for its hot springs and... are you ready? At Lake Kussharo in Sunayu, you can dig your own onsen. I mean, how cool is that? The lake is freezing cold, but if you dig in the sand, the water gets hotter and hotter.
Take a day trip to Lake Notoro to see the red coral grass. Please remember to check if the grass is still in season as it usually starts drying out at the end of September. Visit Lake Nashu, Shari, the Shiretoko Bear County and the national park and take the melody road towards Nemuro.
Nemuro is great for its crab sushi if you love seafood. You can visit the beautiful Cape Nosappu, the Kiritappu Wetlands and the Farm Designs for cheesecake. If you have time, visit the red-crowned crane nature park, the Akkeshi Oyster festival or the Washo seafood market in Kushiro.
Where to stay in Lake Kussharo
Because you'll be doing quite a lot of day trips, you can stay close to the highway. There are several decent hotels located around the lake especially in the Eastern and Southern part.
There aren't many budget hotels in the area, but you can definitely find mid-range hotels. Most of them are onsen hotels, given the natural hot springs in the area.
- Lake Kussharo
- Sunayu Onsen
- Lake Notoro
- Lake Nashu
- Shiretoko Bear County
- The melody road
- Cape Nosappu
- Kiritappu Wetlands
- Red-crowned crane nature park
- Akkeshi Oyster festival
- Washo seafood market
Day 14 Obihiro
Time to start making your way back to Sapporo. As the drive is quite long from Lake Kussharo, it's best to stop along the way in the small town of Obihiro. Along the way, you should visit Lake Akan and the Onneto Lake. Close to Onneto Lake there is a small hiking path which takes you to an observation deck. There are several mountain peaks if you fancy a more intensive hike.
En-route, stop to see the Kamiashoro Shrine, the Nakaashoro Shrine and the Satomigaoka Park. In Obihiro, there are several shrines, restaurants and parks to keep you entertained for the evening.
Where to stay in Obihiro
There are several hotel chains in Obihiro, so you won't be lacking any accommodation. You can position yourself 1-2 km away from the centre and simply walk around Obihiro for food and drinks. Most hotels offer parking for your car which makes it easier to simply ditch your car and allow yourself to enjoy a more relaxed afternoon.
Day 15 Sapporo
You made it back to Sapporo! Whoohoo, you just completed your awesome Hokkaido itinerary. Now it's time to head back home and start editing those incredible pictures of Japan. Hokkaido remains a quiet gem, less explored than other parts of the country. This makes it a unique place for nature and quiet lovers, in search of outdoors activities.
Did we miss something? Would you like to add an extra point to our Hokkaido itinerary? Let us know in the comments section below.