Hokkaido, originally home to the Ainu people, has many remote areas. A car rental can easily facilitate visiting these special places. There are also many hot springs throughout the island such as Noboribetsu Onsen, trendy ski resorts, and national parks. Being the northern-most region of Japan the weather in Hokkaido can be more variable, and colder than the rest of the archipelago. Special care should be taken when driving, particularly in the winter months as very little salt or sand is used on roads.
Shikotsu-Toya National Park
Begin your tour of national parks here at one of the most popular. Not far from Sapporo this park has several gorgeous lakes and volcanoes. It is also home to two canyons several hundred meters long, blanketed in thick moss. These canyons also have no entrance fee.
Daisetsuzan National Park
Head east and you can find Daisetsuzan National Park situated right in the center of the main island. This is Japan’s largest national park. There are no train stops anywhere in the park so a car rental in Hokkaido is an excellent option for getting here. Daisetsuzan approximately translates to “great snowy mountains,” so plan for snowy conditions from October to June. In some places patches of snow remain year round! Those looking for a challenging hike should considering stopping by.
Akan and Shiretoko National Parks
Continuing your road trip in Hokkaido heading east there are two more parks. The first is Akan, featuring mysterious lakes. Then situated on an eastern peninsula arrive at Shiretoko park. Besides having more beautiful lakes and hot springs, this park is home to Japan’s largest bear population. Most hikers wear tiny bells to warn of their location. But don’t worry: Bears usually shy away from any human contact.
By far Hokkaido’s largest city, Sapporo is also its capital. As one of Japan’s newest cities it boasts a well thought out layout and wide boulevards. Here you can try many of the famous local dishes like miso ramen and, of course, sushi. For seafood lovers Hairy Crab is a special treat. If you are visiting in the winter be sure to check out the city’s Snow Festival as well as its famous ski resorts.
This city makes a good base for exploring the nearby Taisetsu-zan mountain range. Those who don’t want to venture out to the mountains can enjoy the famous Asahiyama Zoo. Another option is to visit the Otokoyama Sake Brewing Museum which features 340 years of brewing tradition portrayed on Japanese block prints.
The largest city in southern Hokkaido, Hakodate was the capital of the short-lived Republic of Ezo. On clear days you can experience stunning views on Mount Hakodate and Goryōkaku Tower. While here be sure to try some of Hakodate’s famous dishes featuring squid.