Thanks to its quiet open roads and limited public transport, one of the best ways to explore Hokkaido is on a road trip by car or motorbike. The ideal time is from spring to autumn, when the landscape is bathed in the colors of the seasons. Driving in winter is only advisable if you’ve experience with driving on snow and ice. Given the size of the prefecture, at least four days is recommended.
For an easy itinerary, start at the beautiful Shikotsu-Toya National Park where you can explore the two crater lakes of Shikotsu and Toya. Enjoy the natural beauty of this mountainous landscape and spend the night at the onsen resorts of Toyako Onsen and Noboribetsu.
Then head north towards the coast for the stunning Shakotan Peninsula which is famous for its rugged scenery. Most visitors flock here for the tasty sea urchins that are abundant during the summer months. Not far is Otaru, a historic shipping town famous for its canal and Western-style buildings.
Drop by the famous Nikka Whisky Distillery in Yoichi before ending your trip in Sapporo, where you can enjoy the city’s bustling nightlife and famous cuisine.
To appreciate Hokkaido’s stunning natural beauty, head towards Furano where you can see its famous carpet of lavenders in full bloom in summer at various fields, including Farm Tomita. The flower season is from June to September, when poppies, lilies, sunflowers, and cosmos create a kaleidoscope of colours when in bloom.
Head east to Tokachigawa Onsen, a moor spring heated by ancient peats. Unlike hot springs of volcanic origin, this unique moor spring’s amber water has a slimy texture and is sought-after for its moisture retention.
Drive towards Akan National Park, and visit the three lakes: Akan is famous for marimo (rare algae balls), Mashu is known for its clear lake and constant fog, and at Kussharo you can try the various hot spring sites, including Sunayu where you can mix hot spring with cold lake water. Various campsites, popular with campervans and motorcyclists, line the lake’s shores. Alternatively, head to Shiretoko National Park on the Shiretoko Peninsula, where you can visit the famous five lakes, or go for a cruise along the rugged shoreline.
On the way back to Sapporo, you can stop by Sounkyo, a scenic, narrow gorge flanked by soaring forested cliffs. There is a hot spring village and beautiful waterfalls to explore. Another popular site is the Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa, which is known for its unique glass viewing domes. You should not miss Takinoue (north of Asahikawa) when driving in May or June, when shibazakura (moss phloxes) literally carpet the entire landscape in pink.
Driving is a great way to get to remote destinations like Wakkanai in the far north (from where you access the beautiful islands of Rishiri and Rebun) and Kushiro in the southeast, which is famous for its endangered Japanese Cranes and best visited from November to March. Both places take about 5 hours to reach, and you can stop along the way at many parks, towns, and onsen resorts along the way.
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