Highlights of Hokkaido in a week: one of the highlights of the 6 months!
We had a good feeling about Hokkaido before going there because a Japanese friend of Èric is from there and it's her favorite place in Japan, because it's not the first place people think about when visiting Japan and because it is known for many things related to food such as Ramen, running sushi, seafood, etc.
And this feeling was totally confirmed after a week in Hokkaido in Autumn. You can visit Hokkaido at any time of the year. But especially, winter and summer are peak seasons. In summer you can see beautiful Lavender fields similar to the south of France and in winter you can enjoy one of the best places of the world for skiing. It snows a lot in Hokkaido.
Even though Autumn is low season, Hokkaido has many woods and many different trees and animals so coming in Autumn is great to see beautiful foliage, do beautiful hikes, see beautiful and huge waterfalls, see volcanic places, enjoy public free onsen's (Japanese baths), as well as being able to spot many big deer, bears (Hokkaido is famous for the big brown bear, the little cousin of the Grizzly bears), eagles, Tanuki (rakoons), many foxes, opossums, chipmunks and many other birds!
This post is intended to be a summary of the highlights of Hokkaido but you can see dedicated posts to some of the things mentioned here for more details. Before going into the highlights, you can also find a summary of the drone views of Hokkaido in 4K here
Highlights of Hokkaido in a week
1. Observe beautiful wild animals in their natural habitat: explore both Daisetsuzan national park and Shiretoko national park!
Seeing a bear in its natural habitat is just amazing! Seeing 3 of them even more ^^ Hokkaido is home of 12000 bears so the chance of you encountering one is not so low, especially on the north. Of course it is dangerous to encounter one and you should take precautions but it is also an amazing experience. We saw them in the woods and in the rivers, searching for salmon. You can even see the salmon going up the river, which is also an experience on itself. Previously, we had only seen such things in documentaries.
Moreover, there are many many beautiful deer. So many that they actually can be 1 meter away from you and not be scared ^^ just scratching their horns against trees. We’ve never seen such a big wild animal from so close.
I mean, once we were bathing in a public Onsen in front of a lake and a deer just came 3 meters away from us looking at us while bathing!
2. Seeing beautiful volcanic formations
The volcanoes that formed the island of Sapporo are very big. So big that the mountain was already having snow in October at the very top. That means, the volcanoes were able to do huge amazing geological formations such as the ones below
3. Explore active volcanoes
Of course, with such volcanoes, you might expect that some of them are active and indeed they are super active. It reminded us of Rotorua in New Zealand but with a little bit more of smoke coming out of the mountain.
4. Be amazed by the beautiful foliage in autumn
We planned our trip in Japan to be able to follow the foliage starting in October in the north, where the foliage is already happening because of the cold weather, and going slowly more to the south, of course passing by Kyoto, where the foliage is so iconic. But in Hokkaido we found already very beautiful picturesque changes of colors on the leaves
5. Enjoy the amazing world-known Hokkaido's food
This was one of the biggest highlights of all because we love Japanese food but I think even if you don’t you will be amazed by the quality of the food here. We had the best Ramen and sushi we’ve ever tried before. You can see this post for more details.
6. Embark into hikes for beautiful waterfalls.
Hokkaido is home of some of the best waterfalls in Japan and you can see many of them very close to the roads. For some of them you will have to hike 30 minutes to 1 hour but it is worth it. Some of the waterfalls are in beautiful places with many trees around and others are really long waterfalls as you can see below
7. Explore the secret free Onsens of Hokkaido
Hokkaido is full of hot water and you can find so many free Onsens that are in the middle of the nature! They are extremely beautiful and free of charge. It reminded us of Iceland but even better. At least the locations were really in the middle of the woods, directly by the lake, etc. We found 4 of such free Onsens and below you can see some of the places. In the first Onsen, we were alone just the two of us enjoying water at more than 40ºC
The other breathtaking Onsen was directly in front of a sea and it was a great experience by sunset. We were only with a couple of other Japanese people that were relaxing at a water that felt like 42 or 43 ºC
You can even do your own Onsen by digging into the sand of the beach at the lake because the hot water is just underneath 0.5m of the ground level. You can also do that in New Zealand but honestly the water in Hokkaido is much warmer and it’s much easier to dig and find hot water than when we were in New Zealand!
8. Observe the beautiful lakes of Hokkaido such as the famous blue pond
Hokkaido’s most iconic lake is the blue pond. It was the only place in which we saw tourists, despite all of them being from Asia. In many of the places in Hokkaido we didn’t encounter any western travellers. The blue pond is so famous that is one of the typical backgrounds of Macintosh and it’s beautiful in any season, also in winter with the snow. The blue color is a very light blue and it contrasts a lot with the white and black of the trees.
The 5 lakes of Shiretoko are also beautiful with the water lilies. And it’s also a nice experience walking there since everyone is doing noises so that the bears don’t get close to the people during the walk. It’s typical to buy a bell that is making noises when you walk to warn the bears that you’re coming closer.
Another lake that is also great is the huge lake Mashu with a beautiful crater of Mount Mashu.
The lake Kussharo, in which you can enjoy the hot spring waters of Hokkaido that are directly 0.5m below the ground level of the lake
9. Find remote places with local artisans such as the famous Japanese pottery
As you might have read from before, we love doing pottery. And Japan is a paradise for such an art! There are masters that are trained for years before doing pottery pieces. And we met a couple of pottery makers that were very cute and did very nice pieces of pottery. They were very welcoming and very happy to see tourists. They even gave us a present of two mugs ^^ It was really cool to communicate with them in my broken Japanese learned from Duolingo and he was very happy that we could speak Japanese because he did not know any English word.
10. Explore Sapporo’s city gems
Sapporo is the 4th biggest city in Japan and it has many things to offer. It’s a paradise of fish, having a nice fish market and the possibility of ordering fish directly in the fish market itself:
Sapporo is also known for beer and the Sapporo beer factory is very beautiful and it is also worth it to see it at night where the people are having Sapporo beer and hotpot for dinner.
Moreover, Sapporo is also a paradise for shoppers. The shopping street is a covered street that is full of shops and playing machines and many people were addicted to these machines trying to get some teddy bears or some prizes by catching them with a hook. We tried it once and we had to try it 4 times because it was really quite addictive. At the end we won a prize 3 out of the 4 times even if the prize was very small, like chocolates or corn sticks.
You can also explore the center of Hokkaido if you want to take a look at many people walking on many lights in the evening. You will see businessmen that are leaving work at really late hours as well. And many many places to sing Karaoke haha
11. Sleep in hostels or Ryokans that have Onsens integrated and explore the Japanese traditional beds (futons)
Some of these hotels, such as the parkway hotel near Mashu’s lake, have the dinner and breakfast included. If that’s the case, you will get so much food that you won’t be able to eat it! They just don’t stop giving you more and more food. It was also one of the best places we have eaten in Hokkaido.
We would recommend visiting Hokkaido without any doubt! People are very nice, the places are traditional, the landscapes are astonishing and unique, the animals you can encounter are amazing, the food is one of the best we’ve ever eaten in our lives and it’s just a mixture of many of the countries that are famous to be some of the best destinations such as Iceland or New Zealand but some of the things are even better in our opinion, such as the hot waters, the active volcanoes, the possibility of seeing big animals from close by and I know I repeated myself… but the food!