We visited some of the best parts of Japan in this 12-day Hokkaido itinerary, and want to inspire you to do the same!

Hokkaido Itinerary

The kind of views you can expect on this 12-day Hokkaido itinerary.

Make no mistake about it, Hokkaido is big. Very big. Distances are vast, the landscape wild and untamed and the weather can change at the drop of a hat. That’s what makes planning your Hokkaido itinerary so difficult.

This is easily one of the most beautiful places we have ever had the pleasure of visiting. It is also very likely that you will share this stunning scenery with very few people.

Hokkaido Travel Tips

If you’re trying to design your Hokkaido itinerary there are a few things you need to keep in mind first. These are some of our Hokkaido travel tips.

Check out my other guide on budget travel in Japan to help keep your costs down.

Getting Around Hokkaido

The best way to get around Hokkaido is by renting a car. You can check out our post on how to rent a car here. Hokkaido does offer a JR pass, but services to the major national parks are limited and even then you will still need to take a bus or taxi to get into the parks proper.

Some of the most stunning scenery we saw was when we were driving. Having you own set of wheels will make your experience infinitely more enjoyable and convenient. 

When To Visit Hokkaido

Hokkaido has 4 very distinct seasons and each of them have their merits. Spring brings blossoming flowers, summer brings bright sunny days, autumn gives us the changing of the leaves and winter dumps a few feet of snow all over the island.

We ended up doing our Hokkaido itinerary in autumn, which gave us beautiful colours and very few tourists. That being said it did bring some cold weather and occasional rain.

However depending on what your interests are you may prefer to travel in a different season.

Autumn Hokkaido Itinerary

Autumn colours in Hokkaido.

Our 12-Day Hokkaido Itinerary

This is the exact trip we did during our travels in Hokkaido, with a list of the places we visited, what we did and where we stayed.

Day 1 – Sapporo

We picked up our wheels and headed for Sapporo. This is a great opportunity to pick up some cold weather clothes if you haven’t got that many with you. Outside of summer it can get really cold, especially in Shiretoko and Akan. We brought some extra warm clothes and it was definitely a worthwhile investment.

Sapporo is a lovely city to wander around. The clock tower, the park off odori and the botanical gardens are a great way to spend an afternoon. In the evening we headed to the top of Mount Moiwa for a beautiful nighttime view over the city. The food is amazing, Hokkaido has the best sashimi in Japan according to the Japanese.

Where To Eat: Ramen Yokocho and any izakaya serving sashimi.

Where We Stayed: We stayed in an AirBnB in Sapporo. This place does have parking, it is important to check that the places you stay in Hokkaido, be it hotels, guesthouses or airbnb’s have parking as it is not always a guarantee. Click here to get $35 off your first AirBnB stay.

Day 2 – Sapporo to Asahikawa

This is where our Hokkaido Expressway Pass came into use. You save a few hours taking the highway to Furano. After getting off the highway it’s stunning scenery all the way to Furano. Be sure to check out Farm Tomita for a mind blowing display of colour.

They sell everything lavender, including a rather delicious lavender ice cream. It sounds awful, but like almost everything in Japan it was delicious.

From here you can take route 237 winding through the Japanese countryside to the quaint little town of Biei. From here you can head to the Blue Pond, a place that you will find on many Japanese postcards.

We elected not to do the above. Instead we attempted to get to the Asahidake cable car station for sunset. The weather had been really cloudy all day until around 3:00 so we decided to go for it.

Around 800m we were surprised with a snow storm. Within a few minutes the road was slippery and our windscreen wipers creaking under the weight of snow. Unsurprisingly we abandoned our plans and headed towards Asahikawa for the night.

Where To Eat: Farm Tomita is a good start for a lavender based snack. An advantage of the hotel is the amazing little izakaya over the road from the hotel serving great food for an even better price.

Where We Stayed: Trend Hotel Asahikawa – Nice hotel, but you can probably find something cheaper, we booked very late in the day.

Seafood Hokkaido Itinerary

Fresh sashimi, including the Hokkaido delicacy, frozen salmon.

Day 3 – Asahikawa to Utoro (Gateway to the Shiretoko National Park)

We had originally planned to spend the day exploring the Daisetsuzan National Park and then drive onto Shiretoko the next day, but the rain put pay to our plans. One advantage of this was it gave us extra time for later in the trip.

We took route E39 from Asahikawa, but be warned the area circling the northern end of the Daisetsuzan National Park will make you forget about the previous day.

This is a long drive, it probably took us between 4 and 5 hours with rest stops included. This and the previous days drive were where Hokkaido Express was invaluable. It saved us so much time by being able to use the highway.

Utoro is a tiny village at the edge of the Shiretoko National Park. As a result most restaurants stay open till around 8pm.

As a side note, the next town down from Utoro is Shari. Accommodation is usually a little cheaper here, but you a now an hour from the park as opposed to 15 minutes in Utoro.

Where To Eat: Options are pretty limited in terms of choice, however there is a great ramen restaurant and a lovely izakaya about 10 minutes walk from the hotel. Staff inside recommended these places to us.

Where We Stayed: Iruka Hotel – Great little guesthouse with friend staff and a good breakfast

Shiretoko Hokkaido Itinerary

Shiretoko National Park from the ocean.

Day 4 – Shiretoko National Park

We checked out the Shiretoko Go-Ko (5 lakes). The long walk round is pretty amazing and you get to sit through a rather interesting safety video about how to avoid bears. The main thing to take away from the video is that if a bear attacks you there is nothing you can do, so best avoid them.

We then checked out the Fureppe Waterfalls, which offers some pretty incredible views. Later on in the day we enjoyed a free foot bath. The guesthouse staff can mark them on a map for you.

One thing to note about Shiretoko is that the wether can change very quickly. Most of out time there was cloudy, but no rain and a fair few of blue skies.

Where To Eat: Options are pretty limited in terms of choice, however there is a great ramen restaurant and a lovely izakaya about 10 minutes walk from the hotel. Staff inside recommended these places to us.

Where We Stayed: Iruka Hotel – Great little guesthouse with friend staff and a good breakfast. This guesthouse has a number of WOOFERs working there who can also offer great advice on what to do.

Fureppe Falls Shiretoko Hokkaido Itinerary

Fureppe Falls walk in Shiretoko National Park.

Day 5 – Shiretoko National Park

We spent the day on the eastern side of the peninsula around the port town of Rausu. To get there follow the road to the Shiretoko pass. The pass is absolutely stunning and is a must if you’re in the area. you get amazing views over the coast, and if you are lucky you will be able to see the summit of mount Rausu.

When you arrive in Rausu take a left and follow route 87 and check out some of the beach foot spas that run along the coast line. Its a surreal experience to dangle your feet into a foot spa whilst waves from the sea of Okohtsk crash onto the beach.

The Kamuiwakka Hot Falls back towards Utoro make a great place to stop off on your way back. Do be aware that this is an unsealed 10km road. As soon as dusk hits be on the look out for deer.

Where To Eat: Sashimi in Rausu. A tiny little restaurant south of the centre right on the coast gave us an incredible meal.

Where We Stayed: Iruka Hotel – Great little guesthouse with friend staff and a good breakfast

Sashimi Hokkaido Itinerary

Sashimi fresh from the ocean in Rausu, close to the Shiretoko National Park.

Day 6 – Shiretoko National Park to Akan National Park

We drove via Abishiri along the Okhotsk road which offers some spectacular coastal views. Abishiri has a really interesting prison museum where you can learn about Hokkaido’s history.

From we here headed on to our onsen hotel close to Teshikaga in the Akan National Park. We entered the park along route 102 which takes you through a pass that gives you incredible views of Lake Kussharo. Try and get there around sunset for the best views.

Lots of accommodation in the area offers breakfast and dinner. We decided not to do dinner to give us the chance to go out and explore the nearby towns. Here it is the same story as Shiretoko, restaurants close early, so try and avoid eating late.

The rooms at the hotel do not have showers or baths in the rooms. You wash in the onsens in the hotel. A word of warning, it can take a bit of practice to get the temperature right as the taps are extremely sensitive, but its a great way to start and finish your day.

Where To Eat: The nearest town is Teshikaga which has 2 restaurants and a bunch of convenience stores. Your choices are ramen or tempura. On the plus side, both are fantastic.

Where We Stayed: Hotel Parkway. Great little onsen hotel

Otaru Canal Hokkaido Itinerary

Otaru Canal in Otaru.

Day 7 – Mashu-Ko and Mashu-Dake

One of Hokkaido’s top hikes. Getting to the top of Mashu-Dake takes around 4-6 hours return. Bring plenty of water and warm clothes as the top of the mountain can be very cold.

A few minutes after getting to the the top we were treated to own private snow storm! You will need good shoes as the track can be slippery, and although it’s not a particularly challenging walk the last 400m are very narrow and steep so take care.

Also the car packing ticket you get at Mashu-Ko can also be used at Mt Io the next day or vice versa.

The hotel offers a great breakfast that comes complete with raw egg rice. You crack an egg into a little bowl whisk it and add some soy sauce before pouring it onto the warm rice. Delicious.

Where To Eat: The nearest town is Teshikaga which has 2 restaurants and a bunch of convenience stores. Your choices are ramen or tempura. On the plus side, both are fantastic.

Where We Stayed: Hotel Parkway. Great little onsen hotel

Mashu-Ko Dake Hike Hokkaido Itinerary

The beggining of the Mashu-Ko Dake hike in the Akan National Park

Day 8 – Mount Io, Kussharo-Ko and Akan-Ko

The scenery around Mount Io is to die for, but the smell is not pleasant, think Rotarua in New Zealand – lots of sulphur.

From here its a short drive to Kussharo where there are plenty of hiking options and a few hot water beaches on the shores of the lake. There is a great hike around the peninsula which gives some beautiful views.

Akan-Ko is approx 50km from Kussharo and is a little more developed for tourism than the other two lakes. The drive from Kussharo-Ko to Akan-Ko is particularly good, probably more interesting than Akan-Ko itself in our opinion.

Where To Eat: The nearest town is Teshikaga which has 2 restaurants and a bunch of convenience stores. Your choices are ramen or tempura. On the plus side, both are fantastic.

Akan-ko has a rather cool little foot spa cafe. Perfect after a long day of exploring.

Where We Stayed: Hotel Parkway. Great little onsen hotel

Lake Kussharo Hokkaido Itinerary

Looking over Lake Kussharo coming into the Akan National Park

Day 9 – Akan National Park to New Chitose via Kushiro Wetlands

This is a long drive, be under no illusions. We left just before 10 and headed straight for the bihoro pass which is a must. Possibly one of the best views we got in Hokkaido.

From here we drove to the Kushiro wetlands, which is ok but there isn’t a huge amount to do. However it does give you a break from driving and the scenery on the way is excellent.

From here we jumped on the Doto Expressway around 2pm thinking there would be a service station fairly soon after where we could grab some lunch as we were starving. Sadly we were wrong, finally coming across one around 4:30. We ended up staying in New Chitose as there was no affordable accommodation around Shikotsu-Ko.

Where To Eat: The area around the hostel is dotted with great eats. In particular some amazing izakayas and BBQ (yakinuku) restaurants.

Where We Stayed: Khaosan Family Hostel – Great little hostel. Booking directly with them seems to be cheaper than booking online.

Bihoro Pass Hokkaido Itinerary

Bihoro Pass in Akan National Park.

Day 10 – Shakotan Peninsula

Not listed in guidebooks or JapanGuide.com, this peninsula an hour and a half outside of Sapporo is an undiscovered gem. We only found out about it after doing a google search of “what to do in Otaru” and this came up on a TripAdvisor thread.

Probably the most stunning coast land we drove in Japan, with only a few others on the road. There are some lovely short walks around the peninsula that are well marked by roadsigns.

From the Shakotan Peninsula back to Chitose you pass through the lovely little town of Otaru. At night the canal and the surrounding buildings are lit up, so its a great place to go for a wander. Also check out the little alleyways close to the canal that around stuffed full of izakayas.

Where To Eat: The alleyways around the Otaru canal offer a huge variety of great food.

Where We Stayed: Khaosan Family Hostel – Great little hostel. Booking directly with them seems to be cheaper than booking online. You could stay in Otaru itself, but be warned it books up fast and can be pretty expensive.

Shakotan Peninsula Hokkaido Itinerary

Sunset on the Shakotan Peninsula

Day 11 – Noribetsu Onsen and Lake Toya

Noribetsu is probably the most famous onsen town in Japan and naturally it is a very popular with tourists. In fact this was probably the busiest place we visited during our time in Hokkaido, but we’d definitely recommend it.

There are plenty of great walks around hell valley and the on down to Ooyunuma and the Ooyunuma Foot Spa. A great place to dip your feet after a few steep hills. Very easy to get to from Sapporo or New Chitose.

Driving back from Noribetsu you an choose to check out Lake Toya or Lake Shikotsu.

Where To Eat: Eating in Noribetsu is pretty pricey, but just outside the town there are plenty of cheap restaurants.

Where We Stayed: Khaosan Family Hostel – Great little hostel. Booking directly with them seems to be cheaper than booking online.

Shiretoko Goko Hokkaido Itinerary

Shiretoko Goko – 5 Lakes, Shiretoko National Park.

Day 12 – Saying bye to our car and flying on to Hiroshima

We chose a great day to leave as southern Hokkaido was hit by a huge blizzard. We had planned to go and see Lake Shikotsu but the weather was awful. In fact the winds were so strong that trees were blown down blocking parts of the road that were already covered with snow and ice.

Sadly we only saw lake Shikotsu under a fair bit of snow, but it certainly seemed very pretty.

We rented with OTS. The car they gave us was a small modern hybrid which really saved on petrol. The service and packages they offer were comfortably the cheapest and they also have the Hokkaido Expressway Pass set up and installed for you.

Some other companies don’t offer this service and will send it to your hotel, which is pretty inconvenient.

Driving around Hokkaido is a once in lifetime experience. This truly is a place of outstanding natural beauty, culture and hospitality and must for any traveller. Our only regret is that our photos cannot truly convey how beautiful it really is.

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Richard Barnes

Richard Barnes is one of half of the British-Chinese couple that make up abearandapig.com, a blog focusing on travel, life as a local and an expat in the middle kingdom and Chinese social media.

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