Cold winters create opportunities for special Hokkaido tours that can only be had under such harsh conditions. Besides winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding, Hokkaido has many other winter attractions such as trekking, dog sledding, and smelt fishing.
We'll tell you more about Hokkaido tours offering great winter outdoor activities you can experience in winter in Hokkaido in this article. In addition to telling you about the tours, we will also tell you about what you should prepare for them for reference purposes when deciding where to go.
- Table of Contents
- 1. Hokkaido winter trekking tour - Explore the mossy corridor around the shores of Lake Shikotsu
- 2. Back-country Ski & Snowboard Tour in Niseko
- 3. Stroll along the Okhotsk coast buffeted by drifting ice
- 4. Dog sledding & riding on the snow in Sapporo City
- 5. One-day tour around Kushiro Marshland in winter
- 6. Lake Akan trekking & smelt fishing tour
- 7. Early morning tour to enjoy the icy world of Lake Mashu at sunrise
1. Hokkaido winter trekking tour - Explore the mossy corridor around the shores of Lake Shikotsu
Lake Shikotsu, about 40 minutes by car from New Chitose Airport, is the northernmost ice-free lake in Japan. Its high water quality gives it a clear blue color, which is called Lake Shikotsu Blue.
In the Shikotsu-Toya National Park area that surrounds the lake, you can enjoy the beauties of nature found in the rich virgin forest, and the mountains that surround the lake, such as Mt. Tarumae and Mt. Fuppushi.
After enjoying the view of Lake Shikotsu Blue amidst the snow and ice while walking in the Lake Shikotsu area in winter on the Lake Shikotsu Winter Trekking Tour, stop by Kaedezawa, the primeval forest at the foot of Mt. Fuppushi, on your way to the Moss Cave.
The lava that flowed out from the eruption of Mt. Tarumae in ancient times has been eroded by the water from streams creating a corridor-shaped valley. The steep cliffs are covered with moss, turning them green in summer. Although closed in winter, you can stroll between the towering cliffs in the white snowfields on guided tours.
You will need ski wear, warm clothing, winter shoes suitable for trekking, hats, and gloves for walking in the snow, and these can be rented free of charge (quantity and sizes are limited).
Period: November 1–March 31 daily
Tour time: About 3 hours 10 minutes
2. Back-country Ski & Snowboard Tour in Niseko
Niseko is a place loved by skiers and snowboarders worldwide for its many slopes famous for the quality of the snow. On this Hokkaido tour, you'll be able to set foot on the best powder virgin snow in backcountry areas, not ski slopes.
The numerous guides familiar with the slopes on the mountains of Niseko will select the places that day where the snow is best. You can rest assured that slopes will be chosen according to the level of skiing and snowboarding ability of each person.
Also offered are photography services in the backcountry area and advice on how to ski or snowboard if requested.
3. Stroll along the Okhotsk coast buffeted by drifting ice
In the northeastern part of Hokkaido, bordering the Sea of Okhotsk, when the severe winter season comes in late January, seasonal winds from off Sakhalin, Russia in the north, blow drift ice to the coast. Sandy beaches run along the coast of Abashiri, a city on the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk where there are few reefs.
This Hokkaido tour will take you on a walk along the coast of Abashiri in the early morning when drift ice hugs the shore. It will take you close enough so that you can hear the squeaking sound of large chunks of ice colliding with one another.
If you are lucky, you may even see various creatures that came with the drifting ice, such as the Clione, also known as "sea angels," and large eagles.
Period: January to March
Tour time: About 1 hour
4. Dog sledding & riding on the snow in Sapporo City
About an hour by bus from Sapporo Station, the mountainous Jozankei area is famous for its hot springs, but it is also an area of Sapporo that gets a lot of snow. In winter there are many ways you can enjoy the snow.
This tour offers three types of snow activities: dog sledding, snowmobiles, and snow banana boats. The dog sledding and snowmobile are exhilarating and thrilling rides that run through courses set up in the woods. Neither requires a license, and those who are new to the experience can rest assured that they will first be able to practice before going on the course.
Dog sledding experience is for 13-year-olds and older, snowmobile driving is for 15-year-olds and older, but the banana boat is OK for 5-year-olds and older. Two people can ride the snowmobile, such as a parent and child, so even families with children can enjoy it. It's a good idea to wear clothes that will protect you against the snow, such as ski wear.
5. One-day tour around Kushiro Marshland in winter
Kushiro Marsh is the most extensive moor in Japan, covering an area of 28,788 hectares. The Kushiro River and its tributaries flow through the marsh, offering a fantastic view in each of the four seasons: lush green colors in spring and summer, autumn when the trees are in colorful autumn foliage, and winter when it turns into a snowy field. It is also a habitat for precious animals and plants, including the Japanese crane.
This tour is an all-day experience enjoyed in the beautiful nature of the Kushiro Marshland you can tailor to your preference by choosing three of the four options offered: canoeing on the Kushiro River, snowshoeing through the marshland, or fishing for smelt.
Eastern Hokkaido is an area that does not get much snow. However, in the morning, when the temperature is low, you can see a phenomenon called "white frost," in which the water vapor rising from the river settles on trees and reeds and freezes.
To enjoy this glittering icy world, take strict precautions against the cold by wearing ski wear, winter shoes, hats, gloves, using body warmers and carrying hot drinks (be careful not to litter).
Travel time: About 6 hours
6. Lake Akan trekking & smelt fishing tour
About 1 hour and 10 minutes by bus from Kushiro Airport, Lake Akan is a place rich in nature where nationally protected species such as the Marimo, a rare type of algae, can be found.
It is a caldera lake created by ancient volcanic activity, and beautiful mountains such as Mt. Meakan and Mt. Oakan can be seen nearby. When the lakes freeze over in winter, they become popular places for activities on them.
This tour will take you trekking on Lake Akan and in the surrounding snow-covered forest in the morning. After lunch on an island in the middle of the lake, you can also cut a hole in the lake's ice and fish for smelt.
Be sure to wear clothes that will keep you warm in the cold because you will spend about 2 hours trekking and another 3 hours doing other things. It's also a good idea to have sunscreen to prevent sunburn and drinks to keep you hydrated.
We also recommend taking binoculars with you so you can further enjoy the many sights.
Tour time: About 5 hours
7. Early morning tour to enjoy the icy world of Lake Mashu at sunrise
Lake Mashu, located in the mountains about 1 hour and 30 minutes by car from Kushiro Airport, is a mysterious lake called "Kamuy-to" in the Ainu language, which means "Lake of the Gods." The caldera lake is surrounded by steep mountain walls, so you cannot descend to the surface of the lake, but the water, when viewed from above, is so transparent that it almost feels as though it will pull you in.
This tour departs in the early morning from Kawayu Onsen, a hot spring resort near Lake Mashu, and takes you to the top of Lake Mashu's outer ring from where you can see trees shrouded in frost and Lake Mashu.
On a clear day, the sun rising up across the lake creates a wonderful view, the trees bathed in pale pink light contrasting with the blue of the lake. The weather and temperature can change quite a bit, so your experienced guide will take you to places for the best views depending on that day's weather.
Tour time: About 1 hour 30 minutes
Text by: Minna no Kotobasha
* The information in this article is as of December 2020.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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