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Enjoy Hokkaido's Winter Wonderland: 5 Recommended Bus Passes by Area

Enjoy Hokkaido's Winter Wonderland: 5 Recommended Bus Passes by Area

Date published: 24 January 2024

Discover the magic of Hokkaido's winter wonderland, from its powdery snow to breathtaking landscapes and lively snow festivals!

While renting a car may seem convenient for exploring Hokkaido, it can be risky in the winter, especially for those unaccustomed to snowy roads. For those unfamiliar with navigating snowy roads, we suggest a safer way to explore: by bus.

Our author, a Sapporo local with extensive winter travel experience, shares his insights on convenient bus passes, perfect for your Hokkaido winter adventure!

Table of Contents
  1. Getting Around Hokkaido in Winter
  2. Five Recommended Hokkaido Bus Passes to Make Sightseeing a Breeze!
  3. 1. One-Day Unlimited Ride Ticket (Sapporo / Otaru / Ebetsu)
  4. 2. Kamikuru Pass (Asahikawa / Furano / Biei / Sounkyo)
  5. 3. Kushiro/Nemuro/Rausu 4-7 Day Unlimited Passport
  6. 4. Visit Tokachi Pass (Obihiro / Lake Shikaribetsu)
  7. 5. Hakodate Bus One-Day Pass Campus (Hakodate)
  8. Flexibility is Key for a Hokkaido Winter Trip

Getting Around Hokkaido in Winter

Image: PIXTA
Image: PIXTA

There are several options when it comes to navigating Hokkaido in the winter. We recommend opting for the mode of transportation that best aligns with your travel goals and preferences.

  • Car: Driving is a convenient way to explore Hokkaido, especially where public transportation is limited. However, navigating snow-covered roads can be risky and lead to accidents. We recommend refraining from driving for those unaccustomed to snowy road conditions.
  • Train: Trains in Hokkaido offer wide coverage and are suited for winter conditions. Yet, due to increased heavy snowfalls, services may pause for snow removal. Additionally, the gap between stations and attractions often necessitates a bus or taxi for final connections.
  • Plane: Air travel in Hokkaido connects major cities efficiently, with New Chitose and Sapporo (Okadama) airports offering reliable, snow-free runways and minimal flight cancellations. However, arranging transport from the airport to your final destination is still needed.
  • Bus: Buses, particularly intercity ones linking Sapporo and major cities in Hokkaido, offer extensive routes with more stops than trains, ensuring a smooth journey to various destinations. Many buses also provide direct access to popular tourist spots. However, buses in some areas may operate on a more limited schedule or require advance reservations, so we recommend checking beforehand.

Five Recommended Hokkaido Bus Passes to Make Sightseeing a Breeze!

For a seamless sightseeing experience, we recommend using the bus when exploring Hokkaido in winter. A diverse range of unlimited passes is available, offering the freedom to roam at budget-friendly prices. In this article, our author introduces five regional passes, suitable for both local adventurers and foreign tourists alike.

1. One-Day Unlimited Ride Ticket (Sapporo / Otaru / Ebetsu)

Image: JR Hokkaido Bus
Image: JR Hokkaido Bus

The One-Day Unlimited Ride Pass allows unlimited travel on JR Hokkaido Bus routes within the Sapporo area for one day. The covered area encompasses tourist spots throughout Sapporo city. With fares starting from 210 yen for the shortest distance (Zone 1), the more you ride, the more you save. Additionally, you can use this pass to travel to Otaru Station via the route bus. (*Please note that highway buses are not included.)

Areas Covered:
JR Hokkaido Bus routes within the Sapporo area (including Ebetsu and Otaru City)

Fare:
Adults: 800 yen / Children: 400 yen

Buying Options for International Visitors:
Access online through your phone. Just follow the QR code on the site, create an account, and make your purchase hassle-free. (Available in English, Korean, and Chinese.)

Recommended 1-Day Winter Plan
  • Sapporo Station → Maruyama Park → Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium → Maruyama Park → Sapporo Station → Shin-Sapporo Bus Terminal → Historical Village of Hokkaido → Shin-Sapporo Bus Terminal → Sapporo Station

Must-See Attraction: Hokkaido Pioneer Village

(Photo: Sapporo Tourism Photo Library)
(Photo: Sapporo Tourism Photo Library)

Hokkaido Pioneer Village is an open-air museum that relocates or reproduces 52 buildings from various parts of Hokkaido, constructed from the Meiji period to the early Showa period, across approximately 54 hectares.

Activities preserving the leisure culture and traditional skills of that era are also conducted. Horse-drawn sleigh rides are available during weekends and holidays from mid-December to March, as well as during the Sapporo Snow Festival period.

2. Kamikuru Pass (Asahikawa / Furano / Biei / Sounkyo)

Image: Asahikawa Electric Orbit
Image: Asahikawa Electric Orbit

The Kamikuru Pass offers unlimited bus rides across the Kamikawa region, including Furano, Biei, Asahikawa, and more. Available as one to three day passes, this option covers a wide area including Asahikawa City, Nayoro, and Sounkyo, as well as the popular Furano and Biei.

Compared to the standard fare, the value is evident: it’s 650 yen from Asahikawa Station to Asahiyama Zoo, 2,140 yen from Asahikawa Station to Sounkyo, 900 yen from Asahikawa Station to Furano Station, and 790 yen from Furano Station to Asahikawa Airport (all prices are one-way fares).

This cost-effectiveness makes the Kamikuru Pass highly recommended for visitors keen on exploring beloved attractions like the Asahiyama Zoo and the Furano area.

Areas Covered:
Asahikawa, Furano, Biei, Nayoro. Sounkyo

Fares:
Three ticket options available:
1-Day Ticket:
Adults: 3,000 yen / Children: 1,500 yen

2-Day Ticket:
Adults: 4,000 yen / Children: 2,000 yen

3-Day Ticket:
Adults: 5,000 yen / Children: 2,500 yen

Buying Options for International Visitors:
Must download app for access. Website available in English, with user-friendly diagrams for easy navigation.

Recommended 3-Day Winter Plan
  • Day 1: Asahikawa Station → Asahiyama Zoo → Asahikawa Ramen Village → Asahikawa Station → 5.7 Alley Furarito → Overnight stay in Asahikawa City
  • Day 2: Asahikawa Station → Sounkyo → Sounkyo Ice Fall Festival (January 27 - March 17, 2024)
  • Day 3: Sounkyo → Transfer at Asahikawa Station → View Tokachi Mountains from window → Furano Station (Furano Marche) → Asahikawa Airport

Must-See Attraction: Asahiyama Zoo

Photo: Masakazu Yoshida
Photo: Masakazu Yoshida

At the Asahiyama Zoo, visitors can enjoy fascinating behavioral exhibits that showcase the natural abilities and behaviors of various animals. During the winter months, creatures like polar bears, seals, and penguins display heightened activity, offering an exciting opportunity to observe them in their natural element!

3. Kushiro/Nemuro/Rausu 4-7 Day Unlimited Passport

Image: Akan Bus
Image: Akan Bus

This unlimited pass offers unlimited rides on Kushiro Bus, Nemuro Kotsu, and Akan Bus within the Kushiro-Nemuro-Nakashibetsu-Rausu area. Valid for 4-7 days, it allows for extended exploration, allowing you to enjoy each area at your leisure.

For those following our recommended itinerary, regular fares would amount to 4,940 yen from Kushiro to Rausu, 2,430 yen from Rausu to Nakashibetsu, 3,460 yen from Nakashibetsu to Nemuro, 2,290 yen from Nemuro to Kushiro, and 950 yen from Kushiro Station Bus Terminal to Kushiro Airport, totaling 14,070 yen.

This pass is ideal for travelers keen on exploring not only the Kushiro area but Nemuro and the Okhotsk region as well, which is famous for its iconic drift ice.

Areas Covered:
Kushiro - Nemuro - Nakashibetsu - Rausu area

Fare:
Adults: 9,000 yen / Children: 4,500 yen

Buying Options for International Visitors:
Purchase tickets at Akan Bus Station Information Center (2-min. walk from Kushiro Station) or Akan Bus Kushiro Airport Information Center. Also available online (account log-in required, Japanese only).

Recommended 4-Day Winter Plan
  • Day 1: Kushiro Station Bus Terminal → Get off at Akan Bus Rausu Office → Shiretoko Nature Tour (drift ice & bird watching) → Overnight stay in Rausu
  • Day 2: Akan Bus Rausu Office → Transfer at Nakashibetsu Terminal → Transfer at Nemuro Station Bus Terminal → Get off at Cape Nosappu (Japan's easternmost point) → Overnight stay in Nemuro
  • Day 3: Nemuro Station Bus Terminal → Get off at Kushiro → Sightseeing in Kushiro (Kushiro Japanese Market, Nusamai Bridge) → Overnight in Kushiro
  • Day 4: Kushiro Station Bus Terminal → Kushiro City Red-crowned Crane Nature Park → Kushiro Station

Must-See Attraction: Kushiro City Red-crowned Crane Natural Park

Image: PIXTA
Image: PIXTA

Located a short 10-minute drive from Tancho Kushiro Airport, Kushiro City Tancho Nature Park is a haven for the world's rarest red-crowned cranes. Home to about 10 of these majestic cranes, which are designated as Special Natural Monuments of Japan, the park offers visitors the opportunity to observe them in a near-natural environment all year round. Renowned for their striking beauty, these cranes have also been adopted as the logo of Japan Airlines, and present a captivating sight within the park.

4. Visit Tokachi Pass (Obihiro / Lake Shikaribetsu)

Image: Hokkaido Takushoku Bus
Image: Hokkaido Takushoku Bus

The Visit Tokachi Pass allows unlimited rides on the Hokkaido Taku Bus and Tokachi Bus. This convenient pass allows you to fully enjoy the attractions of Tokachi, including the Banei Racetrack, Tokachigawa Onsen, Lake Shikaribetsu, Nukabira Genenkyo, and the former Kofuku Station and Aikoku Station. It also covers the Obihiro Airport Connecting Bus.

Compared to the regular round-trip fare between Obihiro and Shikaribetsu Onsen (3,840 yen), the one-day Visit Tokachi Pass is priced at 2,000 yen, making it an excellent deal!

The pass also includes a Tokachi-Mura 200 yen gift certificate, a Banei goods exchange coupon, and tickets to the Kanda Nissho Memorial Museum of Art, making it highly recommended for travelers seeking to fully immerse themselves in the rich Tokachi area.

Areas Covered:
All routes within Tokachi Region serviced by Hokkaido Takushoku Bus & Tokachi Bus, including Obihiro Airport connecting buses.

Fares:
1-Day Pass: Adults: 2,000 yen / Children (elementary school): 1,000 yen

2-Day Pass: Adults: 3,000 yen / Children (elementary school): 2,000 yen

Visit Tokachi Pass (Tokachi Mura)
One-day Pass:
Adults: 2,180 yen / Children: 1,180 yen

Two-day pass:
Adults: 3,180 yen / Children: 1,680 yen
*Includes Tokachi Mura 200 yen gift certificate and Banei goods ticket

Visit Tokachi Pass (Kanda Nissho Memorial Museum of Art):
One-day pass:
Adults 2,470 yen / Children: 1,150 yen

Two-day pass:
Adults 3,470 yen / Children: 1,650 yen
*Includes ticket for Kanda Nissho Memorial Museum of Art (Note: Children’s tickets are valid for elementary school age)

Buying Options for International Visitors:
Residents of Tokachi Regional Promotion Bureau not eligible for ticket sales. Please present your ID when purchasing at Obihiro Station Bus Terminal’s Obikuru Window, the Tokachi Airport Information Center, or online at the Tokachike website.

One- and Two-Day Tickets also available from the link below.

Recommended 2-Day Winter Plan
  • Day 1: Obihiro Station Bus Terminal → Shirakaba Namiki-mae (Tokachi Ranch) → Lake Shikaribetsu (Shikaribetsu Igloo Village) → Obihiro Station Bus Terminal → Keibajo-mae (Banei Tokachi) → Obihiro Station Bus Terminal → Overnight stay in Obihiro
  • Day 2: Obihiro Station Bus Terminal → Tokachi Nature Center (Snow Rafting Experience) → Kofuku Station (former Hiroo Line station building) → Obihiro Station Bus Terminal

Must-See Attraction! Banei Tokachi

Photo: Masakazu Yoshida
Photo: Masakazu Yoshida

Banei Horse Racing, where massive horses pull sleds weighing nearly a ton, was once a popular event across Hokkaido. But nowadays, Obihiro stands as the last remaining venue for this spectacle. Witnessing these mighty horses kick up dust and conquer obstacles is truly an awe-inspiring sight!

The race kicks off with a fanfare, beginning with smaller obstacles before a straight stretch, followed by a second larger obstacle before they charge toward the finish line. Banei Horse Racing offers a unique thrill distinct from traditional derbies.

Races are typically held on Saturdays, Sundays, and Monday holidays. Please refer to the website for the latest schedule.

5. Hakodate Bus One-Day Pass Campus (Hakodate)

Image: Hakodate City Official Tourism Site
Image: Hakodate City Official Tourism Site

This ticket grants unlimited rides for a day on Hakodate Bus routes within the specified city limits of Hakodate, including the Mt. Hakodate Climbing Bus, the Motomachi - Bay Area Circle Bus, and the Goryokaku Tower - Trappistine Shuttle Bus.

With the regular one-way fare to the top of Mt. Hakodate from Hakodate Station priced at 500 yen, opting for this ticket offers significant savings, especially for round trips.

Visitors also have the option to purchase a 24-hour ticket (Adults: 1,400 yen / Children: 700 yen), providing unlimited rides for 24 hours from the time of purchase.

This one comes highly recommended for those looking to indulge in all kinds of sightseeing opportunities in the enchanting winter city of Hakodate.

Area Covered:
Hakodate City

Fares:
Adults: 800 yen / Children: 400 yen

Buying Options for International Visitors:
For digital version, use smartphone or tablet to access the Dohna! website and purchase by credit card. Japanese only. For more information, inquire at the information centers located at Hakodate Station and other areas.

The Highly-Recommended Hakodate Special Ticket 2023!

This comprehensive ticket package includes a Norimono Ticket, redeemable for a one-day Hakodate Tram or Hakodate Bus pass, along with 11 "Point Tickets” valid at various tourist facilities, restaurants, and souvenir shops throughout Hakodate.

Covered attractions include the Mt. Hakodate Ropeway, Goryokaku Tower, Hakodate Magistrate's Office, and many others, making it an exceptional value.

With access to all major tourist spots, this ticket is an ideal choice for those seeking a comprehensive, well-rounded exploration of Hakodate City.

Areas Covered:
Hakodate City

Fare:
3,200 yen

Buying Options for International Visitors:
Available through link below.

Recommended 1-Day Winter Plan
  • Hakodate Station → Hakodate Morning Market → Kanamori Red Brick Warehouse → BAY Hakodate → Motomachi → Hakodate Station → Goryokaku Park Entrance → Trappistine Abbey → Hakodate Station → Mount Hakodate Summit → City Hotel

Must-See Attraction: Mount Hakodate Observatory

Photo: KLOOK
Photo: KLOOK

Mount Hakodate is a stunning natural wonder towering at 334 meters high with a circumference of 9 km. It offers a breathtaking panoramic view of Hakodate's city center, earning it a prestigious three-star rating in the Michelin Green Guide.

The bus journey to the summit weaves through narrow paths, evoking a sense of excitement as visitors ascend the mountain along the edges of the cliffs. Once atop the summit, the night view, lovingly nicknamed the "million dollar view,” captivates spectators with its unparalleled beauty.

However, do note that the summit can be very cold, so it's important to ensure you are dressed warmly before venturing to the top.

Flexibility is Key for a Hokkaido Winter Trip

Photo: Hakodate Minami Hokkaido Travel Guide
Photo: Hakodate Minami Hokkaido Travel Guide

Winter in Hokkaido means frigid temperatures, with daily lows frequently dropping below freezing. Additionally, snowfall can disrupt or even halt transportation services, so it’s crucial to include ample time and flexibility when planning your trip. Be sure to consider alternative options and have a plan B in place just in case you're unable to reach your intended destination.

*Information in article as of January 2024. Please see official websites for the latest updates and information.

English translation by: Krys Suzuki

Written by:

Masakazu Yoshida

Masakazu Yoshida

After a career in the private sector and public service in Hokkaido, Masakazu became a freelance writer in April 2016, establishing his own private agency, Bule Orca, in January 2017. He mainly specializes in travel, leisure, food and beverage, vehicles, experiences, and interviews in general. Currently, he interviews, writes, and photographs for web and print media such as Hokkaido Likers, introducing niche stores and spots in Hokkaido and other parts of Japan. Recently, he produced a guest house in Kamoenai Village, Hokkaido, called "Ryouri no Yado Tsukinakiso," where he conveys the charms of winter and the deliciousness of cuisine. Website: https://kitayukibiyori42.webnode.jp/. X/Twitter: @bule_orca. Instagram: @buleorca.

*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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