Hokkaido, Japan is a nature lover's paradise. Located on the northernmost island of Japan, it is the largest prefecture in the country. Their extensive number of national parks are often compared to those found in Europe due to the similar flora and fauna found throughout, along with many faux German cottages located throughout the parks. Hokkaido is only a hundred or so years old, compared to other thousands-year-old prefectures in Japan, so much of the architecture and cities are modern and westernized.
Being so far north, Hokkaido experiences quite a bit of snow in the winter and is overall much cooler than other areas of Japan. The most popular times to visit are between May and August due to the dry and cool sunny days.
Hokkaido is home to seven national parks, each one with their own hiking trails and stunning views. The Akan National Park is famous for their mysterious lakes, while the Onuma Quasi National Park has a peaceful lake near the Hakodate. Head to Shiretoko National Park on the eastern peninsula where you can view bears roaming the wilderness and bathing in the hot waterfalls. Plus, Shinetoko was recently named a World Heritage Site, so you can truly enjoy the inhibited beauty.
The Daisetsuzan National Park is the largest of the parks and located in the center of Hokkaido. It is known for being the best park for extreme hikers due to the intense landscape. One of the most popular parks is the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, primarily due to their picturesque volcanic hot springs and mossy canyons. Finally, the Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park is made up of two islands: Rishiri-to Island consists of a single volcano while Rebun-to Island is known for their waterfalls and wildflowers.
As a whole, Hokkaido is divided into four circuits: Central, Eastern, Northern, and Southern. The capital city of Sapporo is located in the Central Circuit and is home to the tourist office and the majority of food and accommodation options. The Eastern Circuit is the largest and most remote, the Northern Circuit is known for Furano, a popular ski resort, and the Southern Circuit is where you'll find the Onuma Quasi National Park.
The major activity in Hokkaido is hiking; there is no shortage of trails that range from beginner to extreme, all of which provide some of the most beautiful scenery in Japan. Each national park has a number of activities of their own; take a boat cruise at the Shiretoko National Park or go canoeing near the Kushiro river at Akan National Park. Hot springs are also a popular activity throughout Hokkaido, you'll find they vary from being open to the public to secluded resorts.
If you're there in the winter, head to Sapporo, home to Mt. Teine which was featured in the 1972 Winter Olympics. Here, you'll find a range of both beginner and experienced slopes. Sapporo also hosts an annual Snow Festival in early February which is famous for their ice sculpture competition which attracts artists from around the world.
Food and Dining
Hokkaido is well known for their seafood options, especially their uni -sea urchin-and hairy crab dishes. Head to Ramen Yokocho, an alley east of the Susukino Station in Sapporo that's home to dozens of ramen shops with some unique flavors like crab ramen and scallop ramen.
Hokkaido is also the largest producer of dairy products in Japan, which results in some very unique combinations with their food. Specifically, their bata-kon ramen, a Hokkaido special that is made with a thick corn and butter broth.
Hokkaido also has some of the best options for sake, a must try is Asahikawa's Otokoyama. Sapporo is also famous for their Sapporo Beer, available in every bar in the area. At Mugishutei, you'll find over 300 bottled beer options and over 50 types of tequila. For more nightlife options, head to Susukino located south of center Sapporo, which has plenty of nightlife options ranging from pubs to clubs.
Hokkaido is very spread out and therefore it is easiest to get around by car. Having a car makes it far easier to travel throughout the cities and take you the various national parks. Due to the snowy and icy roads in the winter, only drivers experienced with these conditions should drive. If you're visiting during the winter and unfamiliar with driving in these conditions, there are other options.
Trains connect larger cities, with some lines taking you to within walking distance of national park entrances. During summer, cycling is a popular option, especially for cycling throughout town then taking a ride through one of the national parks. Finally, Experience Japan tour company provides single and multi-day tours to various areas and parks throughout Hokkaido, making it a great option for those opting out of driving.