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Flowers, Beer & More: Hokkaido Summer Driving Itinerary (+ Bonus 6-Day Plan)

Flowers, Beer & More: Hokkaido Summer Driving Itinerary (+ Bonus 6-Day Plan)

Last updated: 11 May 2023

Hokkaido's northern location brings a refreshing and pleasant climate, even during the hottest summer months. People from other parts of Japan flock to Hokkaido during this season to escape the scorching heat, while local residents take full advantage of the relatively short summer to engage in exciting outdoor activities such as camping and rafting.

During this time, Hokkaido's valleys, rivers, and famous flower meadows come alive with vibrant colors, offering a strikingly different experience from the winter wonderland it is commonly associated with.

We have enlisted the help of Ching Yu, a Sapporo resident with over 10 years of experience, to recommend an unforgettable six-day self-drive tour for the summer, complete with camping, picnics, rafting, flower viewing, festivals, and everything that makes Hokkaido special. You'll soon realize that discovering fascinating sights, delicious food, and exciting adventures in this charming prefecture during the summer is easier than you might think!

Cover picture of Asahigaoka Park in Memanbetsu, Hokkaido courtesy of Ching Yu's Facebook fan group, "A Taiwanese Woman's Hokkaido Life"

Table of Contents
  1. Nature and good food in abundance: That's Hokkaido in summer for you!
  2. Summer Hokkaido tips from Ching Yu, author of "A Taiwanese Woman's Hokkaido Life"
  3. Lake, mountains, and meadows for days in this 6-day sample self-drive itinerary for Hokkaido summers
  4. You can never have enough of Hokkaido's summer!

Nature and good food in abundance: That's Hokkaido in summer for you!

Long-time Sapporo resident Ching Yu eagerly anticipates the arrival of summer in Hokkaido. As a lover of greenery and nature, every step taken outdoors during this time is delightful to experience, especially in the cool climate of the island.

And it helps that there are so many outdoor activities to try too, such as mountain climbing, golfing, cycling, and camping. Seasonal food is another highlight of summer in Hokkaido. This is the time for fresh seafood like sea urchins, squids, hanasaki crabs, shima prawns, and Sarufutsu scallops.

Not to be forgotten are the ground produce, including succulent corn, asparagus, and cantaloupes. Dairy farms will usually have fresh and creamy soft-serve ice cream, milk puffs, and handmade jam for sale in summer as well.

Summer Hokkaido tips from Ching Yu, author of "A Taiwanese Woman's Hokkaido Life"

1. Climate, Weather, and Clothing Suggestions - Beware the Differences!

"Hokkaido residents consider mid-June to be the start of summer, right after the Hokkaido Shrine Festival, and the season ends after the Obon Festival in mid-August," explains Ching Yu.

In Hokkaido, the average temperature during summer hovers around a cool 20°C (around 68°F). Even when summer is at its peak between July and August, the average temperature only rises to approximately 25°C (around 77°F).

Ching Yu adds that while this temperature might already be almost unbearable for locals, it is still considerably lower than in most other regions of Japan. As a result, Hokkaido has gained popularity as Japan's foremost summer retreat and a preferred tourist destination during warm weather.

However, here's an interesting fact you might not be aware of: Hokkaido experiences a significant temperature difference between day and night! Once the sun sets, the temperature dramatically drops, often plunging to around 10°C (about 50°F) even if it reached a scorching 30°C (about 86°F) during the hottest part of the day. This isn't just a mere exaggeration; it actually occurred in Sapporo recently.

Ching Yu emphasizes, "Simply opening the windows at night is enough to keep your room cool, which is why many Hokkaido houses don't have air-conditioning." Ching Yu also suggests carrying a jacket or coat when going out, just in case, and advises wearing a light, long-sleeved top while camping. It's also wise to allocate some budget for purchasing additional clothing if needed.

2. Enjoy a self-drive Hokkaido camping trip

Due to the ease of driving in Hokkaido during summer compared to winter, renting a car for your entire trip is highly recommended. This provides access to remote locations that may be challenging to reach using public transportation, granting you unparalleled flexibility and control over your itinerary. For nature enthusiasts like Ching Yu, having your own car opens up opportunities for camping in Hokkaido's breathtaking outdoors.

Ching Yu explains, "Hokkaido's campsites were not originally designed for campers but evolved into them due to the scenic and relaxing environment they offer. Honestly, I haven't encountered a campsite in Hokkaido that I wouldn't recommend, and I've been to over 20!" Most campsites in Hokkaido are situated near picturesque bodies of water such as Lake Toya, Lake Shikotsu, and Lake Shumarinai. The pristine air and vast open spaces act as soothing remedies for the busy urbanite. Interestingly, the pandemic has sparked a renewed interest in outdoor camping, leading to increased traffic at Hokkaido's campsites.

With this surge in popularity, many campsites in Hokkaido are thriving, and some have even introduced glamping pods for a more luxurious experience. Renting a camper van has also become easier for foreign visitors, with better support available in multiple languages.

So why not include this activity in your upcoming Hokkaido summer itinerary? Just be cautious - you might become addicted to the charm of camping in Hokkaido's remarkable landscapes!

3. Watch out for wild animals!

▲Ching Yu found a Sakhalin fox chewing on her shoes one morning when she woke up while on a Hokkaido camping trip! (Photo courtesy of courtesy of Ching Yu's Facebook fan group, "A Taiwanese Woman's Hokkaido Life")

Another unique aspect of Hokkaido is the high chance of encountering wild animals anywhere, anytime. Whether you're camping outdoors, taking a walk in a park, or running errands at the convenience store, you could unexpectedly come across bears, deer, or foxes.

If wildlife sightings matter to you, it's important to mentally prepare for your trip by researching information on animal encounters in the places you plan to visit. Always maintain a safe distance from these majestic creatures and remember to never feed them. Adhering to these local rules is crucial to protect yourself and preserve the natural beauty of the environment.

Ching Yu shared an interesting anecdote from one of her camping trips. One morning, she woke up to find her shoes, which she had left outside the tent, had mysteriously disappeared. She later discovered that a mischievous fox had snatched them away, leaving behind tooth marks as evidence.

Another incident took place during the Sapporo Beer Festival at Odori Park in July, where Ching Yu witnessed crows brazenly stealing entire corn cobs from unsuspecting visitors. In fact, such occurrences are quite common that warning signs are posted on pavements, cautioning people about potential crow attacks during the summer.

Take these warnings seriously and exercise caution throughout your journey.

4. Don't underestimate the mosquitoes!

"The mosquitoes in Hokkaido are quite aggressive," warns Ching Yu. "Any bite has the potential to swell to the extent that a doctor's visit may be needed!"

Yes, Hokkaido isn't immune to this infamous summer pest and its annoying bites, so if you'll be visiting in summer, take some time to plan out how you'll ward them off. Here's some helpful suggestions from Ching Yu that the locals swear by.

"Honestly, the locals seldom use mosquito repellents," she divulges. "What they do use are sprays made from Japanese mint, which is sort of a local remedy passed down by the Ainu natives. The scent of this handy herb naturally repels insects and doubles up as an essential oil."

The mint oil in Hokkaido is often mixed with other natural ingredients like eucalyptus, mentha, lemongrass, and tea plants, giving them a neutral fragrance that is not overpowering. No wonder they're so popular as souvenirs!

Lake, mountains, and meadows for days in this 6-day sample self-drive itinerary for Hokkaido summers

  • Day 1: Shin-Chitose Airport → (Rental car / Bus) → Lake Shikotsu (clear kayaking, cruise ship, Bifue Campground/Morappu Camping Site)
  • Day 2: (Self-drive / Taxi) → Lake Toya (Cruise ship, Toyako-Gurutto Chokoku Park, Silo Observation Deck, Toyako Long Run Fireworks Display, etc.)
  • Day 3: (Self-drive / Taxi) → Niseko (Mount Yotei, Grand Hirafu Gondola & mountain bed, rafting, hot springs, etc.)
  • Day 4: Checkout → Sapporo (check into a hotel) → Mount Moiwa (mountain climbing, night view)
  • Day 5: (Self-drive / Bus tour) Biei + Furano
  • Day 6: Checkout → Sapporo city sightseeing (Odori Park Sapporo Beer Festival, Clock Tower, Kitakaro) → (Rental car return) Shin-Chitose Airport

Do you notice how the 6-day sample itinerary is thoughtfully crafted to immerse you in the captivating and abundant nature of Hokkaido? You'll have the opportunity to visit renowned destinations and camping sites like Lake Shikotsu and Lake Toya, which are must-see attractions in the prefecture. Throughout your journey, you'll traverse lush forests, be mesmerized by breathtaking mountaintops, and indulge in the delights of Niseko Village—a sprawling nature-based resort that offers thrilling water sports and entertainment.

Additionally, the one-day tour to Biei and Furano will take you to enchanting flower spots that will surpass your imagination. And don't forget about the Sapporo Beer Festival, an exhilarating cultural event exclusively held during the summer. We're incredibly excited to share this itinerary with you, and we hope you're equally enthusiastic to embark on this adventure!

Day 1: Shin-Chitose Airport → (Rental car / Bus) → Lake Shikotsu (clear kayaking, cruise ship, Bifue Campground/Morappu Camping Site)

Start your first day in Hokkaido by renting a car at one of the car rental shops near Shin-Chitose Airport and driving for about an hour to Lake Shikotsu after that. By the way, if you intend to camp here or at Lake Toya and other camping grounds, consider renting a camper van instead or renting a car from a shop that also rents out camping equipment.

If you've decided not to do your own driving, you can go to Lake Shikotsu by taking a bus from Shin-Chitose Airport as well. However, do check the bus schedule beforehand as there are only a few buses that depart from the airport to Lake Shikotsu each day.

Photo: PIXTA
Photo: PIXTA

As the northernmost ice-free lake of Japan, Lake Shikotsu has the clearest lake waters in all of Japan. The lakeside path stretches for about 13 kilometers (about eight miles) and visitors are welcome to have picnics, go cycling, or do some clear kayaking during summer.

Watching the lake's magnificent scenery unfold before and under you as you paddle around on the transparent board will be an experience of a lifetime. This is an interesting activity that both adults and children can enjoy together!

For those wanting to conserve their energy for other things, there's always the cruise ship. Whatever you decide to do, taking in this quaint and charming lake from these different angles will help you to see why it's beloved by so many in Japan and around the world.

Lake Shikotsu's Bifue Campground (Photo courtesy of Ching Yu's Instagram "A Taiwanese Woman's Hokkaido Life")

"The water of Lake Shikotsu is pure and clear," states Ching Yu. "There are also fewer visitors here compared to the more popular Lake Toya. This is a plus point for travelers trying to find a piece of paradise in nature without having to deal with crowds. In the morning, you can head out in a dugout canoe for some peace and quiet, look for a nearby restaurant to enjoy some local cuisine for lunch, then relax in Tsuruga Mizunouta, a spa resort and try your luck at getting one of their limited edition Mount Tarumae cream puffs. Only 700 puffs are available each day!"

▲ A chance to catch a fantastic sunset at one of Hokkaido's lakeside campsites in summer - Photo courtesy of Ching Yu's Instagram "A Taiwanese Woman's Hokkaido Life"

There are two popular campsites in Lake Shikotsu - Bifue Campground and Morappu Camping Site. Reservation is not required and you can set up your tent in any available lot on the premises on a first-come-first-served basis. That's why the lots are often fully taken up by 12 noon every summer.

Ching Yu adds, "Some of the more popular campsites in Hokkaido have long queues of budding campers waiting for a lot from as early as 8 a.m., even before opening hours. If that doesn't convince you how popular camping is in Hokkaido, I don't know what will!"

It's Not Always About Camping! Other Amazing Lake Shikotsu Accommodations to Try

Day 2: (Self-drive / Taxi) → Lake Toya (Cruise ship, Toyakoguruttochokoku Park, Silo Observation Deck, Toyako Long Run Fireworks Display, etc.)

▲WE Hotel Toya (Photo courtesy of Ching Yu's Instagram "A Taiwanese Woman's Hokkaido Life")

The main place of interest you'll be visiting on day two is Lake Toya - the 9th largest lake in Japan. It goes without saying that the lake's lush landscape and nature are its main draw.

You can also drop by the park nearby to admire the modern artpieces in the background of untouched greenery, cycle around the lake while enjoying the fresh air and gentle breeze, take the Usuzan Ropeway up the mountain to see famous Showa-Shinzan lava dome and Lake Toya together, or admire the sparkling waters of Lake Toya from the Silo Observation Deck.

A helicopter ride is simply a rental away at the observation deck for those feeling adventurous enough. This is a day of rest and relaxation, so go at your own pace!

North of Lake Toya is the tourist center of Toyako Onsen. This area contains hot spring hotels, Japanese lodges, and campsites, making it a suitable stayover point for travelers of all styles.

Every summer, the Lake Toya Long Run Fireworks Festival is held in this very same hot spring area between late April to October. During this period, guests in hotels located next to Lake Toya will get to enjoy the dazzling sight of flamboyant fireworks lighting up the night sky. For a closer view of this exciting event, book a seat on a cruise ship that goes around the lake!

Lake Toya Long Run Fireworks Festival (Photo: PIXTA)
Lake Toya Long Run Fireworks Festival (Photo: PIXTA)

Enjoy a Great View of the Fireworks From These Recommended Lake Toya Lodgings

Day 3: (Self-drive / Taxi) → Niseko (Mount Yotei, Grand Hirafu Gondola & mountain bed, rafting, hot springs, etc.)

▲Grand Hirafu Sky Resort's mountaintop summer observation deck #NISEKO SIESTA (Photo courtesy of Ching Yu's Instagram "A Taiwanese Woman's Hokkaido Life")

Most people associate Niseko with winter because of its world-famous powder snow. However, you should know that Niseko is every bit as fun in summer time as well! Those snowcapped mountains that are often featured on tourist brochures now teem with greenery and life as farmland such as the potato fields and sunflower farms at the foot of Mount Yotei start producing in abundance, filling the landscape with bright colors. The rice paddies are especially striking at evening time when the still water reflects Mount Yotei whilst covered in a warm, orange glow.

Even though the Niseko Annupuri International Ski Area is, as its name suggests, designed for winter sports, its gondolas continue to run during summer so as to give visitors the opportunity to take in a panoramic view of Niseko's amazing landscape from atop Mount Yotei.

Grand Hirafu resort even has a unique observation deck called #NISEKO SIESTA where you can lounge in one of the outdoor sofa beds installed on its premises in order to bask in Niseko's delightful sunlight and enjoy its pleasant breeze.

▲Embracing Mount Yotei from a bird's eye view! (Photo courtesy of Ching Yu's Instagram "A Taiwanese Woman's Hokkaido Life")

"Annupuri has a great hiking trail to try out in summer," Ching Yu says. "It takes about 3.5 hours for a round trip and your reward for making it to the top is a breathtaking view of Kutchan and the Niseko area below, with Mount Yotei in the background. It's all yours at the end of the trail!"

River rafting is another popular activity in the Rusutsu area near Niseko. You may also find something interesting to do in the forest amusement area here, and foodies will love the numerous cheese factories in the area, especially since production is usually in full steam during summer and workshops are available for those wanting to learn more about the process. How does going for an exciting raft session before heading to farmland to cool down with some fresh ice cream sound?

Niseko Hanazono Resort's Mountain Lights (Photo courtesy of Ching Yu's Instagram "A Taiwanese Woman's Hokkaido Life")

Niseko Hanazono Resort's gondola is open during summer as well to give visitors a quick and convenient way to reach the mountaintop. At night, the resort's art installation known as Mountain Lights will turn on, transforming the resort area into a fantasy dreamland with special illuminations that resemble both flower petals and jellyfish. Yet another intriguing and unique Hokkaido attraction for you to explore!

Mystical Panoramic Views at These Niseko Accommodations Await!

Day 4: Checkout → Sapporo (check into a hotel) → Mount Moiwa (mountain climbing, night view)

Sapporo's Starbucks and a Hokkaido-only frappuccino flavor (Photo courtesy of Ching Yu's Instagram "A Taiwanese Woman's Hokkaido Life")

On day four, set off for Sapporo City, where you'll find a lot more places of interest packed closely to each other than in the other regions you've visited so far. This means you can return your rental car to the shop first if you like.

It takes about two hours to drive from Niseko to Shin-Chitose Airport, and after returning the car, you can easily catch a train or highway bus back to Sapporo from there.

If you've been relying on public transportation so far, simply take a highway bus directly from Niseko to Sapporo. There's also the option of keeping the car if you'll fallen in love with having your own personal transport, of course! Just remember that it takes about two hours and 20 minutes to drive from Niseko to Sapporo.

Once you've checked into your chosen hotel in Sapporo and left your luggage there, it's time to start seeing what Sapporo has to offer. Focus on the main attractions found in and around Sapporo Station, Odori Park, and Susukino, because the plan for the afternoon is to hike up Mount Moiwa. Grab some lunch after checking in, wander around for a bit, rest up, recharge, and get ready for the next leg of your journey.

Stay in these Sapporo accommodations convenient for self-guided travelers!

▲ Observation deck on top of Mount Moiwa (Photo courtesy of Ching Yu's Instagram "A Taiwanese Woman's Hokkaido Life")

Local residents of Sapporo regularly visit Mount Moiwa for nature hikes since the mountain is located very near the city. It's only about a half an hour ride from the city center to the Ropeway Iriguchi Station via Sapporo Streetcar.

The observatory deck on the mountaintop is one of the rare places where you can see all of Sapporo City's streets at once, with bonus glimpses of Ishikari Bay and Ishikara Plain. The view is especially spectacular on days with a clear sky.

Ching Yu says, "My fellow Sapporo residents and I love hiking up Mount Moiwa during summertime. It only takes about 1.5 hours to get to the top. This gives us time to have a little picnic and enjoy the scene at leisure before coming down. It also helps that the trail is an easy climb, even for those who seldom exercise!"

Photo: PIXTA
Photo: PIXTA

Mount Moiwa is not just a great site to visit in the day. Consider coming to see what it has to offer at night as well. After all, there must be a reason why it's been chosen as one of Japan's top three night views!

When the city lights come on at night and you glance down at the landscape from atop the mountain, the illuminations look like sparkling gems in a sea of darkness. Getting down the mountain after admiring the scene is quite convenient with the ropeway as well. Just note that the difference in temperature between day and night here is quite drastic. Remember to wear more layers at night!

  • Mt. Moiwa
    • Address Moiwayama, Minami-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido, 005-0041
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Ropeway iriguchi Station (Sapporo Streetcar Yamahana Line)
    • Phone Number 011-561-8177

Day 5: (Self-drive / Bus tour) Biei + Furano

The plan for Day 5 is to visit the must-see areas of Biei and Furano, which are renowned during the summer in Hokkaido.

There are numerous attractions in this region, such as Farm Tomita, known for its lavender fields from July to August, the Furano Municipal Lavender Garden in Nakafurano Town, Shikisai-no-oka (Four Seasons Hill) in Biei, the Patchwork Road, the Seven Star Tree, Shirogane Blue Pond, and many more. These attractions are so abundant that you won't be able to explore them all in one go!

I would also like to remind everyone that the beautiful landscapes of Biei and Furano are diligently maintained by local farmers. Whether it's the flower fields or the trees, they are mostly planted on private land.

When taking photos, please remember to follow the rules and avoid trespassing or damaging the hard work of the locals. Let's be respectful and responsible tourists, so that we can collectively preserve the everlasting beauty of these scenic spots.

Furano's Farm Tomita (Photo: PIXTA)
Furano's Farm Tomita (Photo: PIXTA)
Biei's Shirogane Blue Pond in summer (Photo: PIXTA)
Biei's Shirogane Blue Pond in summer (Photo: PIXTA)

It takes about two hours to get to Biei and Furano by car. If you think it's too much of a hassle to plan your own schedule and drive around looking for these large farms on your own, then we highly recommend making a reservation for a one-day bus tour that sets off from Sapporo.

These tours bring you to a good selection of scenic sights and the best part is someone else will be driving you around and planning your next step! The local driver and guide will also be able to provide interesting information about attractions that you may not have known previously.

On the other hand, if you want to have more flexibility in shifting your schedule around and exploring Furano and Biei on your own time, feel free to use this one-day self-drive sample itinerary and relevant details below as a reference!

Day 6: Checkout → Sapporo City sightseeing (Odori Park Sapporo Beer Festival, Clock Tower, Kitakaro) → (Rental car return) Shin-Chitose Airport

Sapporo Summer Festival (Photo: PIXTA)
Sapporo Summer Festival (Photo: PIXTA)

On the last day in Hokkaido, why not head to Sapporo Odori Park and experience the summer entertainment of Sapporo locals?

Sapporo Odori Park is located around the Odori Station area of the Sapporo Municipal Subway, covering a vast area from Nishi 1-chome to 12-chome. It's just a 5-minute walk from Sapporo Station or Tanukikoji Shopping Street.

Every year from July to August, Sapporo holds the Sapporo Summer Festival where Sapporo Odori Park becomes the venue for the month-long Sapporo Odori Beer Garden.

From 5-chome to 12-chome, various breweries such as Suntory, Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo Beer, and food stalls set up shop. During the daytime, you can enjoy refreshing beer with grilled corn, seafood skewers, and other delicious Hokkaido cuisine. It's one of the most exciting and lively events in Sapporo during the summer season!

"You have to visit this park in summer!" exclaims Ching Yu. "The whole place becomes a food paradise and the crowds are a sight to behold! As I've mentioned before, Hokkaido summers are short and so locals really cherish this opportunity to drink with each other out in the open. You may even see extra large beer towers or an entire beer barrel being served from time to time. The beer flows like water in these parts in summer and the excitement is infectious. You have to feel it to believe it!"

The site of Odori Park's beer festival (Photo: PIXTA)
The site of Odori Park's beer festival (Photo: PIXTA)

What better place can you go for fresh beer directly from the factory? The astounding variety of brands and makers available here also means you can do a comparison and find the beer that suits your palate the most. What's more, with so many food booths located at just a stone's throw away, it's trivially easy to get a flavorful side dish that will enhance your beer enjoyment. Grilled corn is extremely popular among visitors, so why not start with that?

Hokkaido grilled corn, extremely popular among visitors (Photo: PIXTA)
Hokkaido grilled corn, extremely popular among visitors (Photo: PIXTA)

If you have some extra time after exploring the beer festival, you can also visit nearby Sapporo Clock Tower, Sapporo TV Tower, Hokkaido Government Office, Hokkaido's popular souvenir brand "Kitakaro", and other must-visit attractions. They are all within a 5 to 10-minute walk, so make the most of every minute to continue your adventure!

Alas, this brings you to the end of your action-packed week of touring Hokkaido, and it's time to make your way to Shin-Chitose Airport to return home. Going to the airport by the JR Lines will take about 40 minutes. If you've held on to your rental car until the very last day, simply drive it back to the airport and return it to the office you rented it from. The car journey will take about an hour.

Shin-Chitose Airport has a few interesting shops you can poke around in as well, so there's no harm in getting here earlier than planned to spend an hour or two shopping. And since you're here early, you won't have to be afraid of missing your flight!

You can never have enough of Hokkaido's summer!

▲Wear long sleeves while hiking in the forest during summer to ward off insects and the cold! (Photo courtesy of Ching Yu's Instagram "A Taiwanese Woman's Hokkaido Life")

Now that you've been to Lake Shikotsu, Lake Toya, seen Niseko full of greenery, enjoyed Hokkaido's classic flower farms, and experienced Sapporo's vibrant summer beer festival, you're fully recharged and ready for whatever comes next!

However, do not for a moment assume you've seen all that Hokkaido has to offer in summer! We've yet to mention Otaru's fresh seafood rice bowls, Shakotan's azure blue ocean, Rishiri kombu, soft and tasty sea urchin flesh, and many other things! You can totally see why Ching Yu continues to be passionate about the island even after living here for more than 10 years.

Are you convinced yet that summer is as good a time as any to step over to Hokkaido? Then make plans to visit during this charming season and see Hokkaido for more than its winter wonders today!

Translation by: Huimin Pan

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*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
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*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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