An Adventurer’s Guide to Hokkaido - Outdoors Magic

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An Adventurer’s Guide to Hokkaido

Looking for an adventurous getaway this year? This Japanese island, where there’s something for outdoor enthusiasts all year round, should be right at the top of your list of considerations

Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture of Japan, is an island filled with the potential for adventure. All across the land, you’ll find sprawling national parks, glittering great lakes, and picture-perfect powdery peaks which will light a fire under any ski or snowboarder worth their salt. In the southwest of the island lays Hokkaido’s capital, the city of Sapporo, a vibrant, pulsing, modern metropolis with a thriving nightlife and an even better food scene. There’s no dilemma of choosing between a comfortable, cultural city holiday and a quaint, small-town skiing or trekking trip here. Thanks to the unique position of Sapporo, you can have both!

Photo: iStock

The downtown entertainment district is a stone’s throw from the bottom of the slopes. An array of fine dining options is just a hair’s breadth from the hiking trails and natural hot springs. Hokkaido has embraced this dynamic and furnished both its hills and valleys with night-and-day opportunities for an unforgettable experience. Head to Sapporo in the Autumn or Winter, Ski through the day and hop between clubs the same night or spend the afternoon touring a fantastical biscuit factory before embarking on the unique thrill of flood-lit late-night snowboarding.


On the other hand, visit in Spring or Summer and immerse yourself Sapporo’s rich landscape of contemporary art; galleries are great, but the art parks dotted around the city are truly outstanding and unique. We’d recommend visiting the Hill of the Buddha for a serene, spiritual, surprisingly cutting-edge architectural experience.

Photo: Hokkaido Love!

The sunny seasons also provide opportunities for unique water activities, canoeing and rafting along the gentle rivers which wind out from the city centre, and train rides as short as 20 minutes can transport you to any number of stunning hiking trails and hill walks. If you love the outdoors, exploring the rest of Hokkaido during the green season is a fantastic option. Plan a long-distance walk or even canoe through the serene, meandering rivers of Kushiro-shitsugen National Park. Or, enter the hidden world of sea kayaking in the Utoro side of the Shiretoko Peninsula; paddle through mysterious, untouched coves and marvel at the noble, striking 200-meter-tall rocky cliffs. Rain or shine, sun or snow, the possibilities for adventure are endless, we’d recommend to anyone who enjoys the outdoors to read on, learn what the island has to offer, and then, convinced beyond all argument, immediately visit Sapporo.

How Will You Get There?

Hokkaido is home to many national parks which are individually worthy of at least a week of exploring and enjoying. For this reason, the island has 13 airports – 9 of which have direct flights from Tokyo, around 90 minutes – each strategically placed to allow easy access to the many wonders of the prefecture. Hokkaido’s international hub is the New Chitose airport, situated just outside of Sapporo and easily reached through Finnair’s direct route from Helsinki. Flying from Europe to Japan can take a full 24 hours, but this new route from Finnair can reduce the journey to as few as 8! Once you’re in New Chitose airport, either connect your flight to an airport near your national park of choice, or jump on the Airport Rapid Service which will shoot you over to Sapporo in just 37 minutes. This convenient shuttle only costs 1,150 yen (£7.34), or you can purchase a Japan Travel Pass if you’re planning on jetting around the city’s public transport. There are also a range of highly affordable bus routes into the city centre, and the drive is under an hour if you’d prefer to rent a car.

What to See and Do in Hokkaido

Whether it’s taking it easy in town or taking on something high adrenaline at higher altitudes, there are endless options for you within the region. Here are the places we recommend heading to.

Teine Ski Resort

Photo: Skiing Hokkaido

It’s only fitting to start with Sapporo’s most well-loved venue for winter sports. You’ll find gondolas headed up the enormous Mount Teine after a mere 40-minute drive from the city centre. The resort can also be easily accessed by train or bus. Teine offers a generously large and varied set of runs suitable for ski and snowboarders of every skill level. The Resort is split into two zones, Highland and Olympia, which contain advanced and beginner trails respectively. Two historic runs were used for ski events during the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics and they’re still in operation, so you can follow the trails of the world’s best skiers.

Kokusai Ski Resort

Photo: Miki Yoshihito / Wikimedia Commons

If you’re aiming for a beginner-friendly, casual ski holiday, Sapporo Kokusai is an ideal spot. Comparatively smaller than most resorts in this area, Kokusai still has a lot to offer for groups and families, including their own private lesson service, several dining options and luxurious hot bathing facilities. This area also receives a huge amount of snowfall, which is perfect for ski or snowboarders at any level; there is nothing more exciting than exploring in fresh deep powder.

Explore Downtown

Sapporo is Japan’s youngest major city, officially founded in the late 1800s. Constructed with the advantage of modern design philosophy, the new Hokkaido capital expanded out from Odori Park in a well-organised grid, resulting in a city which is extremely easy to navigate. Improvised exploration is therefore a safe and exciting option at any time, even at the height of snowy Winter – Sapporo has heated pavements! Take an unimpeded stroll through Susukino (the entertainment district) and unwind after a ski day with a warming bowl of ramen. We’d recommend heading to the original ramen alley and following your nose. Just around the corner is Flair Bar Es, beloved by locals and tourists alike, head here for cocktails, thrilling bar tricks and a stunning view of downtown.

Sapporo’s most sought-after dish is called Genghis Kahn. This is lamb grilled over hot coals, served with a selection of grilled vegetables and a spicy dipping sauce. There are dozens of delicious spots for Genghis Kahn; our pick would be the Sapporo Genghis Khan Main Store in the downtown area of Hokkaido’s business district, just a 5-minute walk from the Susukino Subway station. Why there? Because the locals are never wrong, and this place is a well-loved hotspot with only one item on the menu. Take a seat at the counter and load up your own personal ripping hot grill plate with fresh veg and hand-cut lamb. Cook to your desired doneness and eat right away! First time visitors can try a selection of fresh raw cuts, and you are more than welcome to ask for more of your favourite – or just more of everything! A single dish is only 900 yen (£5.81)

Lake Kussharo, Akan National Park

Photo: Hokkaido Love!

Situated in the eastern part of Hokkaido is the Akan National Park, one of the oldest and most varied parks in the island. Covering over 900km, you’ll want to stay for longer than a day trip, so we’d recommend flying to either Memanbetsu Airport or Kushiro Airport and setting up camp. Both airports are a mere 45 minutes from New Chitose, and around an hour’s drive to the border of Akan Park. As you explore the volcanic peaks and hot springs of this park, we’d recommend seeking out Lake Kussharo, a popular spot for summer swimming, sailing and canoeing. Being a caldera lake (a volcanic crater) gives Kussharo a naturally heated beach, and several surrounding hot springs which can be enjoyed for free. We’d recommend the Kotan Open Air Bath, which is separated from the vast lake only by a short stone wall, allowing you to gaze across the surface, see the reflections of the encircling mountains, and watch the sunset strike gold and burnt orange beams across the rippling waves.

Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park

Photo: Hokkaido Love!

Head to the north of Hokkaido to visit the mystical Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park. Featuring flat watery planes and mossy great mountains, adventurers with a love of kayaking, canoeing, and sailing will want to fly straight to Wakkanai airport, which is an hour from New Chitose and has direct flights from Tokyo. This coastal city enjoys dynamic weather in the winter months, and offers a ferry service to the mountain islands of Rishiri and Rebun. Journey to the very northernmost tip of Hokkaido, find the Sarobetsu Plain, home to rare and exquisite plantlife such as Ezo-kanzo and bog cranberry in full bloom. You can’t bring a car this far, nor will a boat fit; true adventurers will explore the Sarobetsu wilderness on kayak. Keep the water activities flowing and hop on the next ferry beautiful islands of Rebun and Reshiri. Paddle across the crystal water and circle these natural marvels, see how they shift and change as you encounter their north and south faces. As a bonus, try sinking a jig (a lure that doubles as a weight) and catch some fresh yellowtail for dinner – this new trend is gaining a lot of traction as it has all the benefits of fishing, but doesn’t require sitting on a dry bank for hours.

Niseko Annupuri International Ski Area

Finally, Niseko. The ultimate ski destination outside of Sapporo, with unmatched levels of powder snow and a sprawling selection of off-piste and backcountry routes, this area is heaven for advanced winter sports enthusiasts. Enjoy the relatively easy pistes at the front, or head to one of many side gates to enjoy some intermediate tree routes, or grab a local guide and head down the back of Mt. Annupuri for some wild backcountry shredding. We recommend a guide for both safety and invaluable knowledge of all the best spots, though you can learn a lot yourself from the snow activities guide. Glide through the immense powder and you may end up at Goshiki Onsen, one of many luxury hot springs in Niseko. Relax in the natural baths enriched with rock minerals, or skip town and head into Hirafu village for a prime selection of fine dining and authentic bars – we recommend a smoked cocktail from Toshiro’s Bar.

If any items on our list have piqued your interest, then don’t hesitate to learn more about what Hokkaido has to offer at HOKKAIDOLOVE!

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