This author is fascinated by Japan and loves sharing her observations about the country, from its regions to its food.
Powdery snow, untouched wilderness, rolling hills, clean air, blue skies, and good food are a few of the top things that endear the island of Hokkaido to Japanese and non-Japanese people alike.
Hokkaido is the biggest and northernmost prefecture in Japan, representing over 20% of the country’s land mass. With its sheer size—measuring about 83,457 square kilometers—Hokkaido draws in travelers from within Japan and around the globe. Nature, in its many wonderful forms, is the biggest draw of the island.
Hokkaido is big, charming, and has lots of lovely places, so it was quite difficult to come up with just a few must-visit places there. Still, below is a list of 10 places that tourists should not miss visiting when travelling in Hokkaido—Japan’s coldest and most exquisite island.
10 Must-See Places in Hokkaido
- Daisetsuzan National Park
- Shiretoko National Park
- Rishiri and Rebun
- Onuma Park
- Lake Toya
- Akan National Park
Continue scrolling for more details about each place! At the end of the page, you'll also find a section on what to eat while traveling the island.
1. Daisetsuzan National Park
At 10 times the size of the bustling Japanese city of Osaka, Daisetsuzan National Park is Hokkaido’s biggest protected park. Its grounds—which measure in at over 2,000 square kilometers—are a haven for nature-lovers and animals alike.
It has lush forests, mountains, and a well-preserved wilderness that has remained untouched by Japan’s modernization. It has about 16 peaks, each of which towers over 2,000 meters. Mountains in Hokkaido, including many of those in this national park, have striking shapes and are often capped with snow. Their slopes are homes to rare plants and animals. Hokkaido also has volcanoes, including a cluster of stratovolcanoes—volcanoes piled one on top of the other.
Hokkaido has many waterfalls hidden in forests and flowing down from rocks, including several in Daisetsuzan. As these waterfalls cascade, they form interesting shapes, like that of a staircase.
How could this park get any better? After a long day of exploring, hikers and adventure-seekers in Daisetzusan National Park will find soothing respite in the park’s stunning hot springs. Ahhh, bliss.
2. Shiretoko National Park
Shiretoko National Park is truly a wonder. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is so well-preserved, far from civilization, and exceedingly important for both its biodiversity and ecosystem, that it almost seems to be a frontier of the Earth.
This park is in one of the most isolated parts of Japan, accessible only by foot, boat, and several days of hiking. Because it is remote, it has become a home to large populations of bears, foxes, and deer. As with elsewhere in Hokkaido, these animals are not usually found in zoos, but rather in their natural surroundings in the mountains and protected national parks.
In wintertime, one can see drift ice all the way from the northern hemisphere gently passing by along the parks coasts.
3. Rishiri and Rebun
The two islands dotting the northern tip of Hokkaido are peaceful fishing villages with breathtaking sceneries. These islands are called Rishiri and Rebun, and they are a part of the Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park. There, visitors can go hiking, see wildflowers, and appreciate the slow-paced island life.
The striking dormant volcano Mt. Rishiri is found on Rishiri Island (Rishiri-to), while rolling slopes filled with alpine flowers can be found on Rebun Island (Rebun-to).
4. Onuma Park
Onuma Park—a relatively small park with a dormant volcano called Mt. Komagatake—is best appreciated via leisure walks or the use of bicycles. It is near the cities of Hakodate and Sapporo and makes a perfect weekend getaway for the many residents of Hokkaido.
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In the park, one can see lakes as well as peninsulas and tiny islands. Boating and canoeing are the preferred ways of exploring the park's lakes. While its bodies of water are stunning, it also has vast forests filled with birch and maple trees. In fact, Onuma Park is a designated quasi-national park locally known as Onuma Koen.
5. Lake Toya
Lake Toya, or Toyako, is part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park and is so scenic that it was chosen as the venue of the 2008 G8 Summit, a meeting of the leaders of the world’s most industrialized countries.
The lake itself is picturesque, but when combined with the nearby hot springs and the active volcano Mt. Usu, it becomes even more beautiful. In the park, visitors can go kayaking, fishing, trekking, and camping. They can also relax in the park’s several hot springs.
The island's bodies of water are transparent, allowing one to see through to the bottom and observe the animals swimming below the surface. In winter, ice usually forms and floats in lakes, marshes, and rivers.
Noboribetsu is a hot-spring resort town that is part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. Locals and many other Japanese people believe that the town’s 11 kinds of thermal waters are the most soothing and healing in the whole country.
Many of the hot springs in Noboribetsu are in the ryokan, Japanese-style inns appointed with traditional amenities and services.
7. Akan National Park
Akan National Park, one of the earliest designated national parks in Hokkaido, is famous for its three crystal-clear lakes. It was elected as a protected park in 1934.
The three famous lakes of Akan National Park are Lake Akan, Lake Kussharo, and Lake Mashu. Fog often hangs above the surface of these lakes, particularly Lake Mashu, giving them an air of mystery and tranquility.
The ski-resort town of Niseko has become world-famous for its powdery snow and vast areas for backcountry skiing and long, wide runs.
The ski areas in Niseko that have become popular among Japanese and foreigners include Hirafu, Higashiyama, Annupuri, Hanazono, Moiwa, and Weiss.
Asahikawa is the second largest city in Hokkaido and is well-known for its local zoo and scrumptious ramen, aptly named Asahikawa Ramen.
Asahiyama Zoo allows people to watch many kinds of animals up-close and enjoy certain attractions like the famous penguin walks during the winter season and the underwater flights of penguins placed in large glass tunnels.
Asahikawa Ramen, on the other hand, is a soy-sauce-based ramen that is quite sinful—very tasty, yet oily.
Furano is a town where rolling fields bloom with lovely lavender in the month of July. Its rural landscapes become spots for world-class skiing in the winter season.
What to Eat in Hokkaido
- Fresh seafood is found all over the island. Its cold waters support large populations of uni (sea urchin), ikura (salmon roe), ika (squid), and many more.
- Garden-fresh fruits and vegetables are commonly found on the island, thanks to the extensive farming made possible by its large area. Melons, potatoes, and corn are some of Hokkaido’s most popular crops.
- Milk and other dairy products from Hokkaido are more expensive than those from other prefectures in Japan, and for a good reason; in all of Japan, milk from Hokkaido is freshest, as it has a vast countryside that can support a large-scale dairy industry.
- Hokkaido’s ramen and beer are also very popular among locals and visitors to the island.
Hokkaido on the Map
© 2012 kerlynb