Things to Do in Hokkaido
Despite the harsh winters of Hokkaido, Lake Shikotsu—a crater lake formed some 40,000 years ago—never freezes. In fact, it’s the northernmost ice-free lake in the country and a popular recreation area for locals and visitors alike looking to go fishing, camping or boating.
Shikotsu Kohan, a small town on the eastern shore at the mouth of the Chitose River, offers hotels, boats and other activities for the lake. On the north shore, you’ll find an onsen with open-air, volcanically heated hot springs overlooking the body of water. And just south of Shikotsu Kohan is Koke no Domon (Moss Canyon), a unique natural site where a narrow rock canyon's walls are adorned with a lush blanket of more than 20 species of moss. Access to the canyon is restricted, but you can view it from an observation platform.
The hot-spring town of Jozankei is the perfect place to escape for a relaxing weekend soaking in the healing waters of myriad natural geothermal baths. This full-featured resort town just an hour outside of Sapporo has about 20 hotels, as well as a variety of restaurants and shops.
In the fall, Jozankei is also a popular base for foliage watchers looking to enjoy the scenery of the changing leaves. The onsens themselves are true volcanic hot springs laden with healing minerals, and during the winter, the nearby Toyohira River mixes with the spring waters, enveloping the town in inviting steam. As with most onsens in Japan, baths are divided into men’s and women’s sections, and bathing is done in the nude. The nearby Jozankei Dam and Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort are also popular attractions in the area.
More Things to Do in Hokkaido
The Chitose River in Hookaido flows from Lake Shikotsu before eventually joining the Ishikari River past the city of Ebetsu. For visitors to Sapporo, the Chitose River offers myriad opportunities for outdoor recreation amidst the natural beauty of the region. The gently flowing waters of the river are ideal for canoeing and kayaking, though you won’t find any rushing rapids. Sport fishing enthusiasts will find kokanee salmon, rainbow trout and whitespotted char in the waters of the river. Nature lovers looking to learn more about the ecology of the Chitose River can so just that at the Chitose Salmon Aquarium. This freshwater facility overlooking the river features native species, like salmon, in massive, lifelike tanks. On shore, paths and trails through the countryside along the banks of the river offer the perfect setting for horseback riding and cycling in summer, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling in winter.
For most visitors, the single most recognizable product from Sapporo is the local beer of the same name. This region was the birthplace of beer in Japan, and Sapporo beer is not only the most popular in the country, but also widely produced, distributed and enjoyed around the world.
Don’t miss a chance to visit the origin of this local brew at the Sapporo Beer Hokkaido Brewery, which offers free factory tours that include a beer tasting. The factory itself is outside of Sapporo, but once you’ve seen the factory and headed back to town, you can also stop at the Sapporo Beer Museum and the Sapporo Beer Garden to keep the tasting going.
As one of Sapporo’s most popular outdoor hot springs, Hoheikyo Onsen is an ideal place to relax in healing, naturally heated waters while enjoying the beautiful forest surroundings. Hoheikyo sits deep in a mountain canyon, and if you come during the winter time, you can soak in the volcanic hot springs surrounded by snowy peaks. During the summer, you can also spend time rafting and canoeing on the nearby Toyohira River. Hoheikyo Onsen has two separate baths, which are separated by gender and switch daily so both men and women can experience both baths. This is also one of the few outdoor hot springs in the area that allows alcohol in the bath, so you can sip a local beer as you soak. Also on-site is a popular Indian restaurant that is well known locally for authentic Indian curries and fresh nan bread.
Some of Sapporo’s rivers are known for their summer recreational opportunities. While the Barato River also offers canoeing, kayaking and paths for cycling along the banks, the best action happens in winter when the river freezes over and becomes an ideal spot for a popular Sapporo pastime, ice fishing.
Each winter, frigid temperatures transform parts of the Barato River into giant snowfields, where it’s possible to pitch a fishing tent, carve a hole in the ice, cast a line and reel in smelt. While locals might take their catch home with them, ice fishing tours offer visitors the chance to sample their catch cooked tempura-style in a wok of hot oil right in the tent.
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