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10-Day Hokkaido Road Trip Itinerary: Exploring Northern Japan

Prepping for your year end holidays to Japan's Northern Island? Can't wait to feast on all that sashimi and Japanese food and soak in beautiful onsens? Want to experience the freedom of driving yourself from place to place? We've got you!


Buckle up, fellow explorers! We're about to embark on a 10-day journey through enchanting landscapes!


Hokkaido is a traveller's dream. Think of soaking in the onsen in winter, experiencing skiing or snowboarding in powder snow... (take me there right now!)


driving in hokkaido, japan road trip itinerary

How many days do I need to travel around Hokkaido?


It really depends which areas you'd want to cover and the season you'll be visiting. Typically if you're heading to Hokkaido in winter for the ski slopes, then you'd usually spend at least 3 days trying to learn how to ski or snowboard!


And then you'll need more days to explore the rest of the icy, wintery northern island.


But if you're just intending to visit Sapporo and the nearby cities like Otaru, check out our 5D4N Sapporo itinerary!


How do I get to Hokkaido, Japan?


Although there aren't as many direct flights into Sapporo New Chitose Airport as compared to popular Tokyo and Osaka, there are more flights during the winter ski/snowboard season. If you're in Singapore, Scoot flies directly from Singapore to Sapporo, and you can search for them on Skyscanner.


But if Hokkaido is on your list from Tokyo, you can always Shinkansen up north to the lovely city of Hakodate. Once you are in the island of Hokkaido, you can then rent a car for the road trip :)


What do I need for driving in Hokkaido, Japan?


We've covered quite extensively in this blog post about driving in Hokkaido, Japan. In summary, you'll need an International Driving Permit, purchase the ETC card, and consider getting the Hokkaido expressway pass (only for foreigners). Don't forget to ask for a GPS in English (or your preferred language) and to ensure you have 4G / 5G mobile data!


And I would also want to throw caution that driving in Winter in Hokkaido is not for the faint-hearted and beginner drivers. The roads can be really slippery in the smaller cities, and you'll need to ensure that you have a shovel and winter tires!


Hokkaido Road Trip Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Chitose Airport > Lake Shikotsu > Noboribetsu > Lake Toya


Our Hokkaido adventure began in Chitose, where the crisp and chilly northern air greets us as we step out of the airport. We started our car rental directly from the airport, kicking start our journey towards Lake Toya where we'll spend a night. Picking up the car was easy. All we had to do is to head over to the car rental companies on the bottom floor of the airport. You'll see many car rental car counters which are unmanned. But not to worry, once you've reserved your car online, all you have to do is to head over and call them. They will then promptly send a driver to bring you to the actual car rental company located just slightly outside of the airport.


We got a Toyota Roomy (a very quintessential Hokkaido cute car) from Toyota Rent-a-car, which costs about 8000 yen per day. It fits 2 pax comfortably with lots of room for luggage.


Chitose Outlet Mall RERA


Our first stop? It was for lunch and we decided to head to Chitose Outlet Mall RERA. It was a short 10 minutes drive from Toyota Rent-a-car. We arrived there slightly before noon and there weren't anyone at the outlet store. This is also a much smaller shopping outlet so you can actually shop in peace!


Lake Shikotsu


We had a simple lunch at the food court and then started towards our journey to our second stop of the trip - Lake Shikotsu.


The approximately 50mins drive to Lake Shikotsu unveils a picturesque landscape of rolling hills and forests. Once we've arrived, we were mesmerised by the clarity of the Lake Shikotsu waters. We took a leisurely stroll along the lake's shores, breathing in the fresh air, and absorbing the tranquility that surrounds this natural wonder.


Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, Japan

Unlike busy cities, there weren't as many tourists here, so it was a really tranquil and great second stop after arriving in Hokkaido! Before you leave, swing by the Shikotsuko Shrine and take a walk across the Yamasen Bridge Ruins. It's bright red so you won't miss it! For those who would like an aerial view, there's also a path up the hill after you've crossed the Yamasen Bridge.


There are several hotels at Lake Shikotsu like Shikotsu Daiichi Hotel Suizantei, featuring outdoor onsens. Some rooms even have private open-air baths so that you can unwind privately with your loved ones in the comfort of your rooms! What's really special here is that most travellers who travel via trains will stop and stay at Noboribetsu, so you can be assured of a relatively peaceful stay here!


Noboribetsu


For us, we're heading over to Noboribetsu! Nestled in the southwestern part of Hokkaido, Noboribetsu awaits with its captivating blend of natural hot springs and stunning landscapes. As soon as you arrive in this little town, you'll know for sure as the pungent Sulphur fills the air!


Begin your exploration by visiting Jigokudani, aptly named "Hell Valley" due to its volcanic terrain featuring steaming sulfur vents and dramatic landscapes reminiscent of an otherworldly realm. Take a leisurely stroll along the walking trails, marvel at the boiling hot springs, and witness the raw power of nature in this geothermal wonderland.


Jigokudani, Hell Valley in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido, Japan

Unlike Lake Shikotsu, Noboribetsu is a popular day trip destination for travellers who are based in Sapporo. But what's great is that most of them leave before evening arrives so you'll get to explore the rest of the city without crowds if you arrive after 3pm.


For a serene contrast to the volcanic landscapes, you could go on a little trek to visit Oyunuma Pond. Oyunuma Pond offers a tranquil setting surrounded by lush greenery and the gentle bubbling of hot spring waters. The picturesque scenery invites you to relax and soak in the soothing atmosphere, making it an ideal spot for a rejuvenating break after driving for several hours. Near the pond, you'll find the River Oyunuma Natural Footbath for a free onsen foot bath!


Don't forget to get onto the ropeway all the way to the Noboribetsu Bear Park - zoo with 70 unique Ezo brown bears! It is a must-visit because where else can you see a congregation of bears? As this is a popular attraction, grab your tickets in advance to skip the queues! The ticket includes the gondola or ropeway!


You can choose to spend the night at Noboribetsu ryokans and hotels if you would like to soak in onsens directly from the source!


Lake Toya


For us, because we booked a night at Lake View Toya Nonokaze, we carried on our drive to Lake Toya. We arrived in the evening, just before dinner. I cannot recommend this modern ryokan enough.


Somehow we managed to snag an awesome full board (dinner + breakfast) deal for just 36,000 yen! We think it was because we were there during the off-peak season (in November, just before the winter season). After the long drive and sight-seeing, we decided to "wash up" at the onsen for about 30 mins before we went for dinner, thus concluding our day. Read more about our stay at Lake View Toya Nonokaze.


Day 2: Lake Toya > Lake Onuma > Hakodate


Today's the day for the long drive to Hakodate! Before that, there are plenty more things to do in the Lake Toya region like riding at Lake Toya Ranch, hiking up Nishiyama Crater Walking trail, or going on the Uzusan Ropeway. Some people may choose to stay another night here!


For us, we only visited the nearby parks along Lake Toya and went to an ice cream shop!


Shikotsu Toya National Park Silo Observation Deck


After seeing Hokkaido's Mount Fuji, Mount Yotei, from ground-level, it is now time to see it from atop! Standing tall atop the Shikotsu Toya National Park Silo Observation Deck feels like a moment suspended in awe.


As I reached the observation deck, the expanse of nature's grandeur unfolded before my eyes—a breathtaking tapestry of Lake Toya's cerulean waters and the majestic silhouette of Mount Yotei painting the horizon. The gentle breeze whispered tales of the surrounding landscape, while the sprawling views below ignited a sense of wonder and reverence. From this vantage point, the beauty of Hokkaido's untouched wilderness is laid bare, a spectacle that captivates the soul and leaves an indelible mark on one's appreciation for nature's sublime artistry!


Lake Hill Farm


Lake Hill Farm is a must-stop on your way in or out of the Lake Toya region. It is situated close to Hotel Cocoa Resort. This cosy cafe has two sides. A take-out ice cream shop on the left and a little cafe selling pastries, desserts and coffee on the right. As we needed coffee before our long drive, we decided to stop by the cafe. When the weather's warmer, you'll even get to see animals roaming around the farm!


Ukimido Park near Lake Toya, Hokkaido, Japan


Ukimido Park


Ukimido park is a must-see when you are in the Lake Toya region. This lakeside haven offers a peaceful retreat where travellers can immerse themselves in nature's splendor while admiring the iconic Ukimido Pavilion gracefully perched above the water. This place offers a great photospot without much tourists as you can only get here if you are on a self-drive trip!


Surrounded by lush greenery and the calming presence of Lake Toya's waters, the pavilion serves as a symbol of tranquility, inviting contemplation and moments of serene reflection. Visitors often find solace in the park's serene ambiance, strolling along the pathways, taking in panoramic views of the lake and mountains, and embracing the harmony between nature and architectural beauty that defines Ukimido Park.


Lake Onuma on Road Trip to Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan

Lake Onuma


Then it was the long drive till our next stop at Lake Onuma. Ah, as if we haven't had enough lakes, Lake Onuma is where nature paints its finest masterpiece. Picture this: the evening mist dancing atop the calm waters, the silhouette of Mount Komagatake gracing the horizon, and the gentle rustle of leaves as you stroll along the winding trails.


I remember my visit vividly—the air crisp with a hint of pine, the vibrant colors of autumn reflecting off the lake's surface. The serenity of the marshlands envelops you, inviting you to pause and absorb the beauty of this hidden gem. This was a refreshing stop after over 3 hours of driving.


If you have the time, and if the weather permits, you could rent a bike or rent a boat to explore the lake, allowing you to discover every nook and cranny of this serene landscape.


And that concludes our last stop of the day. We then went to our hotel in Hakodate and had Lucky Pierot!


Where to stay in Hakodate?


When considering where to stay in Hakodate, a wide array of accommodations caters to diverse budgets and preferences. Among the favored options lies the Hakodate Bay area, a highly recommended district. An excellent choice within this locale is La Vista Hakodate Bay, a mid-range hotel that boasts breathtaking vistas encompassing the harbor and the city skyline. Notably advantageous, its central location places guests amidst an exceptional culinary landscape, ensuring convenient access to an array of delectable dining options.


We actually stayed in an Airbnb which I won't be writing about because I don't recommend it. The thing about Airbnbs in Japan is... I don't really recommend it. They tend to be a bit older than the photographs so I would advise you to stick to hotels!


Day 3: Hakodate City


I won't go too much into this section because I wrote about all the things you could do in Hakodate, Hokkaido here. What I'd suggest is to wake up early for the morning market, and then have a little walk around this very walkable city. Your car isn't much of a help here as parking prices can chalk up fast!


Walk from the bay area where you'll find the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse to the historic Motomachi District, then head to the Hachi-man Zaki Slope.


The only place you'll need your car to get to will be the Goryokaku Fort and Goryokaku Tower.


Day 4: Hakodate > Niseko


Hakodate probably requires more days but if skiing is on your Hokkaido to-do list, then make your way to Niseko, the city of powdered snow.


Embarking on the road journey from Hakodate to Niseko unveils a captivating transition from coastal charm to mountainous allure. Exiting Hakodate, the drive unveils scenic coastal routes with panoramic vistas of the sea that gradually evolve into rolling hills and verdant landscapes.


As the road winds inland, you'll be greeted by the majestic peaks of the Niseko region, signalling the approach to this renowned mountain paradise. The approximately three-hour drive leads through picturesque countryside, offering glimpses of rural life and charming villages along the way, creating a scenic tapestry that transforms as you venture closer to Niseko.


Niseko


Niseko, nestled in the heart of Hokkaido's mountainous terrain, is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts and winter sports aficionados. Renowned globally for its pristine powder snow, Niseko is a haven for skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts, offering an unparalleled winter sports experience. Beyond winter, the area boasts a tranquil and picturesque setting, attracting visitors year-round with its stunning natural beauty. The quaint town exudes a relaxed vibe, inviting travelers to immerse themselves in its inviting atmosphere and explore its diverse offerings, from soothing onsens (hot springs) to hiking trails that showcase the region's scenic splendor.


I must add that even though we only had 1 day here - because we couldn't ski, most families and travellers would choose to base here for 2 - 3 days just to enjoy the winter sports. We highly recommend this as well!


In Niseko, accommodations cater to various preferences, from luxurious resorts to cozy ryokans, ensuring a comfortable and memorable stay amidst the region's natural splendor. One prominent option is the Hilton Niseko Village, a deluxe resort offering ski-in/ski-out access and magnificent views of Mount Yotei. If not for the fact that when we were there, the snow wasn't thick enough for snowing, I would have written a glorious review of this resort.


For a more traditional experience, the Zaborin Ryokan stands as a serene oasis amidst the snow-covered landscape. This luxury ryokan offers a harmonious blend of Japanese aesthetics and contemporary comforts, featuring elegant rooms with private open-air hot spring baths (onsen) and exquisite kaiseki cuisine crafted from local seasonal ingredients. The tranquil setting and personalized hospitality at Zaborin Ryokan create an intimate and authentic retreat for guests seeking a cultural immersion in Niseko.


Day 5: Niseko > Otaru


There's just something magical about Otaru that keeps us going back again and again even though honestly there's not that many attractions. I've already been there three times, and that probably says alot!


Lake Otaru in winter, Hokkaido, Japan

Otaru, a charming port city on Hokkaido's western coast, beckons visitors with its nostalgic atmosphere and picturesque canal-lined streets. Stepping into Otaru feels like stepping back in time; its beautifully preserved merchant buildings and stone warehouses evoke a bygone era when the city was a thriving trade hub.


Otaru can be completed as a day trip from Sapporo, but we really enjoy the peaceful and laid-back vibe of this city that we decided to stay here along the canal no less!


We stayed at Hotel Nord Otaru which overlooks the canal. Especially at night, it is a beautiful scene. Staying at Otaru will allow you to visit the attractions outside the city, like Cape Kamui and the Blue Caves.


Day 6: Otaru > Furano


Then we skipped Sapporo and headed to the little city of Furano. Beyond Lavender fields, there's still much more to do in Furano. We decided to base here for a night as it gets us closer to Asahikawa, where there's a lot more to do!


Shiroi Koibito Theme Park


Along the way, you may wish to stop by the Shiroi Koibito Theme Park. In winter, the park is really beautiful! Entrance to the outdoors park is free, but you'll need a ticket to enter the factory.


Enjoy Kodamaya Soba


We'd recommend making a pit stop at Kodamaya Soba for lunch. Kodamaya crafts their soba noodles with great care, resulting in a perfect blend of flavors and textures. Prices are also affordable, and even though we heard that this place gets crowded (evident from the many parking lots right outside the restaurant), we were fortunate to visit it at 3pm which gave us a peaceful late lunch.


Where to stay in Furano?


We stayed right opposite the Furano train station at Furano Natulux Hotel. With tastefully designed rooms, a hotel guests-only onsen, and exceptional service, you can look forward to enjoying a relaxing stay.


Other options we've considered included Shin Furano Prince Hotel. This would have been our top choice should the ski slopes opened. And if you want an authentic Japanese experience, then Ryokan Sansui is your go to.


Day 7: Furano > Asahikawa


Biei Blue Pond between Furano and Asahikawa

This is the day you can visit Biei Blue Pond and Shirahige Falls near the city of Biei. Most people typically do it as a day trip from Asahikawa and we're doing it the opposite here. This was one of the highlights of the trip (okay, maybe I'm saying it too many times since so much of Hokkaido was so amazing!)


After these two attractions which require quite a bit of drive, you can then enjoy the rest of your day in Asahikawa. We've written quite a bit about exploring Asahikawa, so we won't go too much here.


There are numerous accommodations options in Asahikawa because it is the second-largest city in Hokkaido. We personally stayed in TKD House in Asahikawa and really enjoyed the space it offers. The entire apartment fits a family of four, includes a dining room, 2 toilets, 1 bathroom, and even has a sauna!


Day 8: Asahikawa


Of all the attractions within this city, we highly recommend heading to the zoo. Yes the zoo!


Asahiyama Zoo


Asahiyama Zoo stands as a premier attraction in Asahikawa, drawing animal enthusiasts with its exceptional exhibits. The zoo offers an extraordinary chance to get close to various animals, notably penguins, with the added treat of witnessing the captivating penguin parade during winter visits. Although open throughout the year, the zoo particularly dazzles in winter, boasting heightened animal activity against the snowy backdrop.


Penguins in Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, Japan

Our visit to Asahiyama Zoo was truly delightful; we relished the opportunity to observe the animals intimately. The zoo's spacious layout caters well to families, providing an enjoyable experience for both adults and children. With its manageable size, exploring all the exhibits can easily be accomplished within half a day—a convenient option, especially for families planning around their little ones' nap times.


Day 9: Asahikawa > Sapporo


And so we saved the best and largest city in Hokkaido for the last! There's plenty to do in Sapporo and this deserves 2 days.


We've also been to Sapporo multiple times such that we came up with a list of 22 and counting actually, things to do in Sapporo.


We've also experienced different hotels in Sapporo including APA Hotel Sapporo Susukino Ekimae which had an amazing location with an affordable price tag. If you would like to treat yourself, a notable choice is the Sapporo Grand Hotel. It is a luxurious landmark in the city center known for its elegant rooms, impeccable service, and proximity to attractions like Odori Park and Sapporo Clock Tower.


For those seeking modern comfort and convenience, ANA Crowne Plaza Sapporo stands out with its contemporary amenities, stylish rooms, and easy access to the lively Susukino district and the Sapporo Beer Museum.


Additionally, for travelers seeking a more budget-friendly stay without compromising on quality, Hotel Mystays Sapporo Nakajima Park offers comfortable rooms, excellent facilities, and a tranquil setting near Nakajima Park, providing a relaxing retreat amidst the city's hustle and bustle.


These accommodations represent a snippet of the diverse lodging options available in Sapporo, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable stay in this vibrant city.

Day 10: Sapporo > Chitose


The journey from Sapporo to Chitose, while a travel route, also offers an array of attractions and experiences along the way, making it more than just a transit between destinations. En route, a stop at Jozankei Onsen presents a serene interlude, boasting natural hot springs set amidst stunning mountain landscapes. Visitors can indulge in a relaxing soak while soaking in the tranquility before continuing their journey. Another must-visit spot is the Chitose Salmon Aquarium, located near New Chitose Airport. Here, travelers can learn about the lifecycle of Hokkaido's iconic salmon, explore interactive exhibits, and witness the mesmerizing sight of salmon swimming upstream through an underwater viewing area.


Shopaholics should not miss Mitsui Outlet Park Sapporo-Kitahiroshima for some factory outlet shopping!


Concluding the 10-day Hokkaido Road Trip

All good things come to an end, sadly. And 10 days is definitely not enough to cover the entire Hokkaido island as most of you will likely pick and choose some of these cities to stay longer in.


I hope that this blogpost at least give you a glimpse into what Hokkaido has to offer! And next up, I'll be sharing my Kyushu Island Road Trip! Subscribe and stay tuned!

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