This post has been updated in May 2019
I’ve already written a lot of posts about Japan but there is so much more to share, Japan is just awesome! One of the coolest places in Japan (quite literally) is Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan.
Hokkaido is wild, untamed and the scenery is stunning. I felt very tiny compared to the massive volcanoes and the high walls of snow lining the roads (told you it was cool;-).
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Hokkaido self drive itinerary: a 10 day road trip
The purpose of this post is to share with you the complete route of our 10-day self drive road trip around Hokkaido. For each day I list the itinerary, our accommodation and the highlights of the day, you can find these in my Hokkaido road trip map below as well.
Road trip Hokkaido
When I was researching Hokkaido and our road trip itinerary, I discovered not much has been written about driving in Hokkaido.
If you would like to know more about renting a car and important things to know about driving on Hokkaido (the speed limit, the Hokkaido Expressway, getting an ETC card, etc.), check this post I wrote to provide the information I couldn’t find when planning my Hokkaido driving trip.
Summary of our Hokkaido road trip itinerary
- Day 1: Lake Shikotsu
- Day 2: Noboribetsu and Lake Tōya
- Day 3: driving South (to Hakodate)
- Day 4: Hakodate and around
- Day 5: Matsumae Castle and Onuma Park
- Day 6: driving North (to Furano)
- Day 7: Furano and around
- Day 8: Asahidake Onsen
- Day 9: Daisetzusan Park
- Day 10: Lake Akan
Our Hokkaido road trip: facts and figures
- I traveled Hokkaido with my husband; we started and ended our road trip at New Chitose Airport (Sapporo).
- Our Hokkaido driving itinerary was 10 days in total, we drove approximately 2000 kilometers (so ~200 km per day).
- For our road trip we decided to follow the sun, or at least go where the weather forecast said it would be the least rainy and/or cold. I have to say, the Japan weather forecast is extremely good! It was very accurate for our Hokkaido trip, something we definitely used to our advantage while traveling around this amazing island.
- With temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius at some point, we decided to change our plans and head south instead of north to Wakkanai and the islands of Rebun and Reshiri. Our entire itinerary was based upon the weather and turned out very different from the one I drew up before our trip. After all, travel is all about being flexible!
Things to know about a Hokkaido roadtrip
Is it safe to drive in Hokkaido?
In general, yes, it’s very safe to drive on Hokkaido. Roads are well maintained and people follow the traffic rules (except sometimes the speed limit, which can be frustratingly low on Hokkaido).
A Hokkaido road trip in Spring
We traveled Hokkaido at the end of April and start of May, my favorite things were:
- 4 seasons in 10 days (from snow and freezing nights to walking around in a t-shirt and relaxing in an onsen after a rainy and windy day).
- The cherry blossoms at Goryōkaku and Matsumae Castle (read more below).
- The fact that we were the only ones camping!
A Hokkaido road trip in Summer
During the summer months you can admire the famous flower and lavender fields on Hokkaido. Plus, you can hike the Shiretoko Traverse and lots of other trails (many are still closed during spring because of snow).
A Hokkaido road trip in Autumn
Hokkaido is a very popular spot during autumn because of the brightly colored forests with leaves in typical autumn colors. Check the Autumn Color Report on Japan Guide to plan the best time for your visit.
A Hokkaido road trip in Winter
If you plan to visit Hokkaido in winter, make sure you are very well prepared. It’s not easy to drive on Hokkaido in winter, it can even be dangerous unless you know what you are doing!
Read more about driving on Hokkaido and which season to visit Hokkaido in my Hokkaido driving tips post
Hokkaido itinerary day 1: Lake Shikotsu
Itinerary: New Chitose Airport – Nissan rental car outlet – Nature trail Lake Shikotsu – Shikotsukomorappu Camping Ground
Picking up our car: I love road trips! Love em, love em, love em! Freedom on wheels☺.
Nature trail Lake Shikotsu: I was blown away by the sheer beauty of Hokkaido, it’s so wild and untamed. I felt very tiny when I was hiking around Lake Shikotsu, admiring the impressive volcanoes Mount Eniwa and Mount Tarumae…
Where to stay at Lake Shikotsu ⇒ Campsite Morappu (1 night)
+ The view alone makes this campsite worth a visit!
– The fierce wind blowing over the lake was so cold… I didn’t sleep and almost froze during the night… We purchased thermal underwear and extra blankets the next day;-). Also, there was no shower. Though I later found out this is normal for Japanese campsites, instead, there are onsen!
Price paid for a night: €12,80/$14.
Hokkaido itinerary day 2: Noboribetsu and Lake Tōya
Jigokudani (Hell Valley): volcanic activity is something that has fascinated me since I was a little girl. In fact, my first school project was about volcanos and got me an A:-).
The smell of sulfur, the crazy colors of the rocks and the steaming vents make Jigokudani a marvelous place where you feel (and smell) the incredible force of nature.
Oyunuma Pond: possibly my favorite place on Hokkaido! I had never seen a steaming lake before, it’s mesmerizing and couldn’t take my eyes of Oyunuma Pond for a long long time…
Lake Kuttara: a perfectly circular crater lake of the volcano Kuttara, containing the best quality water in Japan!
Lake Toya: another spectacular lake with an even more spectacular backdrop.
Where to stay at Lake Toya ⇒ Nakatoya Camping Ground (1 night)
+ We were the only ones at the campsite! It was so quiet and the starry night was magical… Also, with our newly purchased extra measures against the cold, sleeping in our tent was very comfortable!
– The onsen was closed (perhaps it had something to do with us being the only ones there;-).
Price paid for a night: €7,20/$8.
Hokkaido itinerary day 3: driving South (to Hakodate)
The kindness of Japanese people: while driving south to Hakodate I experienced firsthand that Japanese people are the kindest and most helpful people in the world. I had accidentally booked a wrong flight and needed to the call customer service.
A very friendly Japanese man generously loaned me his phone. And not only that, he bought us coffee and locally produced food as gifts as well! I was speechless…
Our first onsen experience: was amazing. Let me explain why… It had been raining heavily the entire day. And we had slightly underestimated how cold Hokkaido would be at the end of April. Therefore, the rain felt like wet snow and we didn’t feel like pitching our tent that night.
Thanks to my Tep Wireless I could book one of the last available hotel rooms in Hakodate which happened to have an onsen. Onsen = Japanese spa with a VERY hot bath… Utter bliss! Read more how to visit an onsen in Japan.
A word of advice: Golden Week is the busiest travel period of the year in Japan because it’s a public holiday, so book ahead when traveling during this period. My favorite sites to find accommodation are Agoda, Booking and Airbnb.
Where to stay in Hakodate ⇒ Hotel Yunokawa (1 night)
+ Basic hotel, nothing fancy but warm and clean. Nice and welcoming staff, though they only speak Japanese. The room was big with tatami mats on the floor and complementary tea. The onsen was pure bliss…
– Smoking is allowed in this hotel, therefore the rooms and halls smell of smoke. But if you open a window it’s not that bad.
Price paid for a night: €46/$50
Hokkaido itinerary day 4: Hakodate and around
Itinerary: Hotel Yunokawa – Goryōkaku Castle – Hakodate Village – Hakodate Mountain walking trails – park place in Fukishima
Goryōkaku Castle: we didn’t time our visit to coincide with the cherry blossom season, or sakura as it’s called in Japan. But it was icing on an already delicious cake (the cake being Japan;-). Walking below thousands of cherry trees dressed in pretty pinks and whites was like stepping into a fairy tale…
Hakodate Village: old brick houses and colonial villas. It was almost European!
Hakodate Mountain walking trails: on Hokkaido nature is never far away. And so it didn’t take us long to find a nice hiking trail leading to the top of Mount Hakodate.
Where to stay in Fukushima ⇒ we slept in our car at a park place (1 night)
+ I didn’t know this, but sleeping in your car is actually rather common in Japan! When we arrived at the Michi-no-Eki (road station) in Fukushima we were a bit apprehensive, we were not sure if it was allowed to stay the night. We decided to risk it and were very surprised to wake up the next morning to a packed parking lot!
There were fully equipped campervans (one even had a generator) and next to us was a Japanese man in a suit who slept in his sports car. There was a supermarket across the park place where we had coffee and breakfast. We even brushed our teeth in the shops’ little bathroom!
– Staying at a park place obviously offers limited facilities.
Price paid for a night: free!
Hokkaido itinerary day 5: Matsumae Castle and Onuma Park
Itinerary: park place in Fukishima – Matsumae Castle – Onuma Quasi National Park – Lake Toya Fireworks – Lake Toya park place
Matsumae Castle: visiting a Japanese castle during cherry blossom season with a perfect blue sky: it doesn’t get better than that!
Onuma Quasi-National Park: strolling around this nice little park with lovely bridges and stunning Mt. Komagatake in the backdrop. A perfect afternoon activity.
Lake Toya Fireworks: from the start of Golden Week until October there is a firework show every evening. No tickets needed, you can freely enjoy the show from the boulevard. Being 1 day too early on our previous stop at Lake Toya, we were happy to catch this great show on our way back North.
Where to stay in Toyako Onsen ⇒ we slept in our car at a parking lot (1 night)
+ The park place was in the center of the village Toyako, but still very quiet (we were there very early in the season). Clean toilet building with warm water.
– Again, limited facilities means no shower.
Price paid for a night: free!
Hokkaido itinerary day 6: driving North
Itinerary:Lake Toya park place – Log Yukari Guesthouse
Road tripping: with the risk of repeating myself to often: road trips are the best! I love driving around an unknown country, looking out the window of my car and admiring all there is to see…
Furano Maze Soba Tempura: my absolute favorite dish in the whole world… Food in Japan is delicious on the whole but this dish is my #1.
Blissful bubbles: peeling of my thermal underwear after wearing it for 3 days straight to soak and bubble away at the luxurious spa at the New Furano Prince Hotel. Nope, no picture… You can find one on the website of hotel.
Where to stay in Furano ⇒ Log Yukari Guesthouse (2 nights)
+ I absolutely loved this place! The accommodation is basic, down to earth and located in the middle of the woods! Also, the owners are so welcoming and friendly, they gave us great advice about sightseeing around Furano.
Excellent facilities: fully equipped kitchen, free laundry, fast WiFi, discount on the luxurious spa at the New Furano Prince Hotel and free breakfast.
– Nothing! I could say it’s difficult to reach by public transport but the backpackers we met at the guesthouse were all picked up from the train station by the incredible owners of the place (we had our own car).
Price paid for a night: €24/$26.
Hokkaido itinerary day 7: Furano and around
Cheese factory: the first stop of the day was the cheese factory where we watched an informative movie (even though it was in Japanese and so were the subtitles?). We ate wine infused cheese and black brie, very interesting tastes. And of course we had to look up Dutch ‘Goudse Kaas’ on the World Of Cheese.
Wine factory: next up was the wine factory (I had no idea wine is produced in Japan!). It was fun to take a look in the wine cellar and search for the wine bottles produced in the year we were born.
Sunny weather: the weather was amazing during our time in Furano, it was even warm enough to walk around in a t-shirt! We went for an easy 5-km walk near the wine factory and spotted a fox in the fields!
Farm Tomita: the most famous lavender farm in Japan. I didn’t know this before coming to Japan, but lavender is kind of a thing here. Apparently there is a special train station which is only in use during lavender season.
Seeing the already beautiful views from Farm Tomita, I can understand why this place is such a tourist hotspot (for Japanese people). We bought a lavender ice-cream which tasted strangely good even though it reminder me of toilet freshener.
Rollercoaster Road: a fun to drive 4km long road with hill after hill after hill. Thought it would have been even more fun to drive if one were allowed to drive faster than 50km an hour…
Blue Pond: a beautiful but odd place with vividly blue glacier water and a lot of dead trees. Pretty but strange.
Driving through Furano valley: the views of the mountains on both sides of the valley were beautiful and we were extremely lucky with the weather!
Glass Forest: the last stop on our self-drive customized sightseeing tour around Furano was the Glass Forest. This glass is unique and made using a very special technique which creates tiny cracks in the glass that take 3-5 years to mature! It’s very beautiful but also very expensive!
Enjoy the good life: we ate maze soba again because it was so delicious. And then we hung out in the spa of the New Furano Prince Hotel, again… Travel is great!
Hokkaido itinerary day 8: Asahidake Onsen
Itinerary: Log Yukari Guesthouse – Asahidake Onsen – Sōunkyō 7-11 park place
Hiking in the snow at Asahidake Onsen: the drive to Asahidake Onsen alone is reason enough to go there! The higher up the mountain we got, the higher the walls of snow lining the road became…
We therefore assumed hiking would be out of the question, but when we paid a visit to the tourist information center the friendly guy manning the station told us about a cross-country trail that was accessible for walking! Awesome! The temperature was around 16 degrees Celsius and was a bit surreal to hike in a t-shirt through a very snowy landscape. An unusual experience for sure, with gorgeous views along the way.
Where to stay at Sōunkyō ⇒ we slept in our car at a parking lot (1 night)
+ We asked the staff of the 7-11 if we could park for the night and they so kindly made an exception for us. Japanese people really are the nicest! Parking next to the 7-11 meant we could literally crawl out of bed to get our morning coffee. Also, as apparently all supermarkets in Japan do, there was a toilet in the store and a little sink to brush our teeth.
– No shower (we may have been a little smelly in Japan;-).
Price paid for a night: free!
Hokkaido itinerary day 9: the road trip continues through Daisetzusan Park
Itinerary: Sōunkyō 7-11 park place – Ryusei-no-taki and Ginga-no-taki waterfalls – Taisetsu Dam in Daisetzusan Park – Lake Akan park place
Ryusei-no-taki and Ginga-no-taki waterfalls: I love waterfalls, they are mesmerizing, how can there be such an endless amount of water coming down from those steep cliffs…
To get the best view we hiked to the top of the trail across the waterfalls, from this spot you can take a picture of both waterfalls in one shot. Be sure to take a bear bell on the hike and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. We didn’t see a bear but we did spot a couple of deer strolling through the forest.
Road through Daisetzusan National Park: even with the dreary weather we were having it was a delight to drive this road. We continued driving because with rain pouring down there wasn’t much else we could do and end up at Lake Akan.
In Akan town we chilled out in a little café, Pan de Pan, until the rain cleared up. With an almost completely clear sky we went for a short walk by the beautiful lake and strolled through the Ainu village. In the shopping street of Akan village all sorts of arts and crafts products and countless marimo items are being sold. Marimo is what Lake Akan is all about after all!
You may wonder what the #$%^ is a marimo?
Marimo are green spheres of algae and very kawaii (because fluffy). How much of a thing is Kawaii in Japan? Let me quote the Lonely Planet: Marimo became endangered after being designated a national treasure. Suddenly everyone in Japan needed to have one.
Anyway, these green spheres of algae grow in lake Akan and the people living in the village sure know how to use that fact to their advantage, there are marimo-themed items everywhere you look.
Where to stay at Akanko Onsen ⇒ we slept in our car at a parking lot (1 night)
+ The lady selling the parking tickets didn’t mind if we stayed the night. The parking place happened to be across from 7-11, so getting coffee and breakfast was easy again, as was cleaning up (slightly) in the morning.
– I’m nit-picking here, but the ground wasn’t level. Not ideal when you sleep in your car.
Price paid for a night: €3,20/$4.
Hokkaido itinerary day 10: Lake Akan and saying goodbye to Hokkaido
Itinerary: Lake Akan park place – Lake Akan nature walk – Eco Museum – Lake Onetto – Drop-off point Nissan via ToCoo – Hotel Areaone Chitose
Lake Akan nature walk: On our last day on Hokkaido we were definitely in luck (again): the sun was shining! We went for a short hike over the nature trail next to the Eco Visitor Center. It was a brief hike but offered great views of the lake. And of course we passed some mud pools, signs of volcanic activity are never far away on Hokkaido.
Eco Museum: in the Akan Eco museum we checked out some particularly fluffy marimo (see the picture above) and learned more about the formation of these strange phenomena.
Hike around Lake Onetto: Lake Onetto is a gorgeous lake with a bright blue color and two volcanoes looming over it, such an impressive sight. We went for a hike around the lake, but the trail was still partially snowed under!
I imagine in summer it’s a nice and easy stroll, but being so early in season it was quite a challenge for us not to sink into the snow deeper than our knees! It was a lot of fun and a great way to say goodbye to beautiful Hokkaido.
Where to stay in Sapporo ⇒ Hotel Areaone Chitose (1 night)
+ We had an early flight from New Chitose Airport, this hotel was close to the airport and offered a free shuttle service. It was a nice place to stay, the room was small but after sleeping in our car for a couple of nights it actually felt big to us;-). Soaking in the steaming onsen was great, as was feeling clean again after 2 days without a shower.
– The sauna was out of service which was a bit of a bummer.
Price paid for a night: €48/$53.
The end of our road trip in Hokkaido
Making a road trip around Hokkaido was amazing, despite the cold. Hokkaido truly is an amazing island: wide, wild, countless mountains and volcanoes, lots of wildlife, pretty lakes, nice people and delicious food.
10 days in Hokkaido was not nearlt enough! Who knows, maybe I’ll have the opportunity to come back once more to this untamed island… Not many people include a (road trip) on Hokkaido in their Japan itinerary, but I thoroughly recommend you do!
Feel free to ask any questions you may have about a trip to Hokkaido, I’m more than happy to answer them☺.