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Travel Hokkaido by Train! Complete Guide to Rail Passes and Seasonal Sightseeing Trains

Travel Hokkaido by Train! Complete Guide to Rail Passes and Seasonal Sightseeing Trains

Date published: 28 September 2019
Last updated: 11 October 2019

Hokkaido is a popular tourist area not only for Japanese but also for foreign visitors as well. Hokkaido’s area accounts for roughly 22% of Japan, and has many sightseeing spots such as Sapporo, Otaru, Hakodate, Furano, Biei, Shiretoko.

Traveling by train is a safe and efficient way in Hokkaido. Here, we introduce the discount tickets and seasonal sightseeing trains recommended for foreign visitors to Japan to go around on JR Hokkaido!

JR Hokkaido Rail Pass: A bargain ticket to travel around Hokkaido by JR

JR Hokkaido Rail Pass: A bargain ticket to travel around Hokkaido by JR

The Hokkaido Rail Pass is recommended for foreign travelers who want to travel by train in Hokkaido. You can use it for limited express trains and rapid trains with a reserved seat* on all the JR Hokkaido lines (except the Hokkaido Shinkansen), and also you can use it for some JR buses inside of Sapporo City. Moreover, “JR Rent-A-Car” customers can get up to 30% off using this ticket. With the “Hokkaido Rail Pass”, you can get various benefits. If you just go back and forth between Hakodate and Sapporo within a 3-day ticket from “Hokkaido Rail Pass”, you’ll already save 1160 yen.

*You must reserve your seat on the official website, “JR-EAST Train Reservation”: https://www.eki-net.com/pc/jreast-shinkansen-reservation/English/wb/common/Menu/Menu.aspx or at the JR ticket counter (Midori-no-madoguchi) or JR Travel Service Centre (Twinkle Plaza) in the major JR Hokkaido stations.

■3-days Pass: 16,500 yen for an adult, 8,250 yen for a child
Flexible 4-days Pass: 22,000 yen for an adult, 11,000 for a child
5-days Pass: 22,000 yen for an adult, 11,000 yen for a child
7-days Pass: 24,000 yen for an adult, 12,000 yen for a child
*Children between 6 and 12 years old
■Selling period
All year around

The magnificent Kushiro Shitsugen Wetlands view from the observation car! (Seasonal limited train)
No. 1. Kushiro Shitsugen Wetland Trolley Train, “Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko Train”

The magnificent Kushiro Shitsugen Wetlands view from the observation car! (Seasonal limited train)
No. 1. Kushiro Shitsugen Wetland Trolley Train, “Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko Train”

Kushiro Shitsugen Norroko Train”, starts running from early summer to autumn through the Kushiro Shitsugen Wetland allowing to appreciate its majestic natural scenery. It takes about 50 minutes to go between Kushiro and Touro, and when the sightseeing spots approach, it gets slowly and starts guiding. From the second to fourth cars are all reserved seats and have large windows and wooden benches whereas in the first car all seat are non-reserved. The floor of the trolley is designed with footprints of bears, deer, foxes and various other animals that live in Hokkaido. Both adults and children can enjoy the trip by the trolley.

■Fare: Between Kushiro and Touro is 540 yen for a basic fare. Extra 520 yen to book a seat.
■Service term: From the early June to the early October
■Reservation & Purchase methods: On the JR-EAST Train Reservation website, travel agencies or at the JR ticket counter or JR Travel Service Centre in the major JR Hokkaido stations
*The tickets will be selling one month before at 10am to the first departure of the train and booking must be made at least 3 days before to the departure date of your train.
*The basic fare and seat booking fare are included in the “Hokkaido Rail Pass”

Feel the wind within the lavender fields! Seasonal Railway 
No. 2. Furano/Biei Norokko Train

Feel the wind within the lavender fields! Seasonal Railway 
No. 2. Furano/Biei Norokko Train

In the "Furano/Biei Norokko Train" you can enjoy the magnificent scenery from the train running at 30 km / hour. The seats are two-passenger wooden benches on one side so that you can see the beautiful scenery well, and when the weather is fine, you can open the windows completely to further enjoy the scenery. From Asahikawa Station, the railway stops at Biei Station, Bibaushi Station, Kamifurano Station, a temporary-opened station "Lavender Field" Station, Nakafurano Station, and Furano Station. Besides that, if you download the GPS Voice Guide app called "SkyDesk Media Trek" to your mobile phone or tablet, you can listen to the guide announcement in eight sightseeing spots near the lavender field in Furano and the Fairytale Hill in Biei.
4 languages: Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean are available in the app.

■Fare: Furano ~ Lavender field 230 yen, Furano ~ Biei 640 yen,
Furano ~ Asahikawa 1,070 yen. Extra 520 yen will be added for a reserved seat.
*You can take a non-reserved seat with Furano/Biei Ticket.
■Service term: From the early June to the early September
■Reservation & Purchase methods: On the JR-EAST Train Reservation website, travel agencies or at the JR ticket counter or JR Travel Service Centre in the major JR Hokkaido stations.
*The ticket will be available to purchase from one month before to the first departure of your train. Since it gets really crowded in the weekends, especially in July, it is recommended to purchase the ticket as soon as it is out.
*The basic fare and seat booking fare are included in the “Hokkaido Rail Pass”

A direct seasonal train From Sapporo to Furano/Biei areas
No. 3. Furano Lavender Express

A direct seasonal train From Sapporo to Furano/Biei areas 
No. 3. Furano Lavender Express

The Limited Express “Furano Lavender Express" runs between Sapporo and Furano directly in approximately two hours. It makes two round trips a day mainly in summer, which is the best time for lavender. This train is a high decker with skylights allowing to fully appreciate the scenery. On the way to your destination, you can enjoy the magnificent views of Hokkaido like Mihara Ohashi Bridge in Ebetsu and the rural landscapes of Sorachi.

■Fare: Furano/Biei Free Ticket 6,500 yen for an adult, 3,250 for a child.
*This ticket includes the trip back and forth from Sapporo to Furano/Biei areas, and all-you-can-ride trains for free the Takigawa, Asahikawa, Ikutora and Furano areas.
*Selling term: From the late April to late October
■Service term: From the early June to late October
■Reservation & Purchase methods: On the JR-EAST Train Reservation website, travel agencies or at the JR ticket counter or JR Travel Service Centre in the major JR Hokkaido stations.
*The ticket will be available to purchase from one month before to the first departure of your train. Since it gets really crowded in the weekends, especially in July, it is recommended to purchase the ticket as soon as it is out.
*The basic fare and seat booking fare are included in the “Hokkaido Rail Pass”

A train of winter wonderland! Seasonal railway
No.4 “SL Winter Wetland Train”

A train of winter wonderland! Seasonal railway
No.4 “SL Winter Wetland Train”

The “SL Winter Wetland Train” runs from Kushiro Station to Shibecha Station from January to February. You can see the beautiful winter wonderland from the observation car. The interior of the train is equipped with imposing varnished walls and potbelly stoves, and it is one of the best things to be able to go sightseeing while preparing on the net of the stove and eating dried squids (called “Surume" in Japanese), sold at the cabin catering.

■Fare: 1,070 yen and extra 820 yen will be added for seat reservation.
■Service term: From the late January to late February
■Reservation & Purchase methods: On the JR-EAST Train Reservation website, travel agencies or at the JR ticket counter or JR Travel Service Centre in the major JR Hokkaido stations.
*The ticket will be available to purchase from one month before to the first departure of your train.

Winter edition! Drift ices in the Sea of Okhotsk, seasonal railway
No. 5. Ryuhyo Monogatari Train

Winter edition! Drift ices in the Sea of Okhotsk, seasonal railway
No. 5. Ryuhyo Monogatari Train

The “Ryuhyo Monogatari Train”, runs between Abashiri and Shiretoko-Shari along the Sea of Okhotsk. You can see the Sea of Okhotsk covered with drift ice from the window. In the train bound for Shiretoko-Shari, you can enjoy the view of the Sea of Okhotsk and Shiretoko mountain range from the observation deck while the train stops at Kitahama Station for about 10 minutes. In addition, you can buy souvenirs at Michi-no-Eki “Hanayaka Koshimizu” while the train bound for Abashiri stops at Hama-Koshimizu Station on the way for about 20 minutes. Its blue body was inspired by the Sea of Okhotsk and the sky of Hokkaido, and clione (‘sea angels’) are drawn on its seat covers.

■Fare: 840 yen
■Service term: From the late January to late February
■Reservation & Purchase methods: On the JR-EAST Train Reservation website, travel agencies or at the JR ticket counter or JR Travel Service Centre in the major JR Hokkaido stations.
*The ticket will be available to purchase from one month before to the first departure of your train.

Direct trip between Sapporo and Hakodate via Niseko
No. 6. Express Niseko

Direct trip between Sapporo and Hakodate via Niseko
No. 6. Express Niseko

You’ll have a great time seeing the scenery of Mt. Yotei and Niseko Annupuri in Hakodate with the “Express Niseko”. It runs between Sapporo and Hakodate and stops at Otaru, Kutchan, Niseko, Oshamanbe Stations and so on. Normally, you need to transfer in Otaru Station between Sapporo and Niseko, but this express leads you to Niseko directly. If you’re lucky, local characters will welcome you at Yoichi Station or Oshamanbe Station. The local special products like yogurt and cookies are must-buy souvenirs.

■Fare:
Between Sapporo and Hakodate 5,400 for a basic fare and extra 2,900 yen will be added for seat reservation.
■Service term: In early September
■Reservation & Purchase methods: On the JR-EAST Train Reservation website, travel agencies or at the JR ticket counter or the JR Travel Service Centre in the major JR Hokkaido stations.
*The ticket will be available to purchase from one month before to the first departure of your train. Since it runs only for particular days in September, it is better to purchase it as soon as it is out.
*The basic fare and seat booking fare are included in the “Hokkaido Rail Pass”

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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