Key information: Hokkaido Walking
- Japan's northern main island is an extraordinary mix of grasslands, mountains both forested and bare; and raw, cone-perfect volcanoes. And lakes and hot springs. The drama (and often sheer emptiness) of its landscapes cannot be exaggerated.
- There is a huge selection of remarkable walks in Hokkaido, from demanding mountain climbs and long treks to meanders through gorgeous but gentler scenery.
- Walkopedia rating84
- Natural interest18
- Human interest2
- Negative points0
- Total rating84
- Length: Your choice
- Maximum Altitude: 2,300m
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
This walk description page is at an early stage of development, and will be expanded over time. Your comments on this walk, your experiences and tips, and your photos are very welcome.
Japan's northern main island, and its second largest, is an extraordinary mix of grasslands, mountains both forested and bare; and raw, cone-perfect volcanoes. And lakes and hot springs. The drama (and often sheer emptiness) of its landscapes cannot be exaggerated.
A joy of Hokkaido is its flora and fauna, as Walk Japan say:
"Alpine flowers peculiar not just to Hokkaido but some so rare that they are found only on one mountain. In all there are about 500 different alpine flowers blooming through the summer season. A huge range of vegetation, in three main belt (deciduous, coniferous and alpine) reflecting the varied climate of this diverse island. Go in July for the best of the flowers.
Wildlife is in an abundance that many other countries today would find hard to compare to. Foxes, deer, eagles and many different aquatic birds are some of the animals we are likely to see. And seals, dolphins and endless sea birds on the coast.
Hokkaido was only settled by the Japanese in the 19th Century and there is little of the history commonly associated with Japan. Not that this matters as Hokkaido more than makes up for its lack of cultural monuments with the grand scale and beauty of its scenery and quality of its food."
Hokkaido is underpopulated, so has huge empty spaces for walking. With mountains up to 2,100m, there is plenty of challenge.
There is a huge selection of remarkable walks in Hokkaido, from demanding mountain climbs and long treks to meanders through gorgeous but gentler scenery. Here are some of them:
- Daisetsu-zan NP: vast and gorgeous and Japan's largest wilderness: a huge variety of landscape includes some of Hokkaido's highest peaks, as well as other volcanoes, high empty mountains, plateaux, virgin forests, lakes and wetlands. A multitude of walking options, including a 5 day Grand Traverse of the area, one of Japan's greatest walks, so a great place to base yourself. Mts Tokachi-dake in the south and Asahi-dake in the north are exciting day walks up active volcanoes. Kuro-dake (1,984m) and Hokkai-dake (2,147m) sit on the edge of a huge crater and make for a splendid day long walk. The Sounkyo Hidden Gorge is a fine clamber through a dramatic, narrow canyon with fine rock formations.
- Shikotsu Toya NP: near Sapporo. Sub-divides into areas by Lake Shikotsu in its huge collapsed volcanic caldera and Lake Toya. Magnificent volcanoes to climb with huge views and lake view forest walks. Eniwa-dake (1,319m) is a fine volcano with great views into the crater and all around (on a good day!). Steepish roped sections. 5 hrs or so. Also consider the forested volcanoes, Tarumaesan (1,041m) and Fuppushi-dake (1,102m). Fine views from their summits. See Walking Stories account.
- Ludicrously conical volcanoes, such as Meakan-dake and Yotei-zan. Yoten-zan is a tough 10km, (around 9hr) slog up this perfect volcano, around the crater and back down. Meaken-dake is a relatively easy 8km (4-5 hr) circuit of classic volcanic scenery.
- Shiretoko Peninsula in the far east, has a central spine of volcanoes, where you can make a fine 2 day traverse. It is one of Japan's most unspoilt areas. There is much interaction of marine and terrestrial ecosystems, influenced by the formation of seasonal ice in the lowest latitude of the northern hemisphere. The site is globally important for threatened seabirds and migratory birds, a number of salmonid species, for marine animals and for endemic species.
- A 6-7hr day hike around the green Niseko mountains in the west. Superb views, including of Yotei-zan volcano.
- The 2 day traverse of Soranuma-dake to Sapporo-dake, two major peaks near Sapporo. Great views, lakes, stay in huts.
- A demanding 2 day circuit taking in 1,727m Ashibetsu-dake in the centre of the island. Great variety and a thrilling if gut-wrenching high ridge.
- A 2 day high circuit taking in Porishiri-dake (2,052m) in the south. A magnificent ridge walk: huge views, dramatic cirques. Demanding but inspiring.
Hokkaido is mild from late Spring to early Autumn, making for pleasant walking conditions. But check the forecast before setting off: the weather is always unpredictable. Superb autumn colours. You can also walk here in Winter, when it is deep-feeze cold and snowily but often brightly magnificent.
Our friends and partners Walk Japan offer two different expeditions which between them cover a huge variety of what Hokkaido has to offer:
Their Hokkaido Hike explores Daisetsu-zan National Park, passing through remote verdant forests, across wetlands, up spectacular volcanoes, past steaming vents and onto high plateaux. Panoramic views, which stretch for tens of kilometres across this beautiful land, are a reward when reaching the high peaks. Closer to is the flora and fauna special to Hokkaido.
The tour begins at Lake Akan before journeying to central Hokkaido and the Daisetsu-zan NP, the largest and perhaps most beautiful in Japan. Spend the next five days exploring the Park and hike some of Hokkaido's highest mountains, including Mt. Asahi-dake and Mt. Tokachidake. The final few days are spent in the Lake Shikotsu area for hikes to the nearby volcanoes and finally soothing baths in natural hot spring overlooking the lake.
The distances walked and heights ascended are relatively (but not excessively) challenging. Maximum height is 2,290 metres.
Their East Hokkaido Walk explores the beautiful and gentle, seemingly empty lowlands of Hokkaido's eastern extremity. Wend your way from Kishiro on the shores of the Pacific Ocean; through great expanses of rolling meadows; wetland nature reserves where birds of myriad species breed in their tens of thousands; to landscapes formed by volcanoes, some quiet for many an age and others still dramatically active; to the Shiretoko Peninsula, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Japan's last great wildernesses; and to the Sea of Okhotsk coast. Open landscapes and abundant wildlife.
Visit small fishing towns and tiny settlements gathered around onsen thermal hot springs, and walk through remote farmsteads.
The distances walked each day are moderate, between 6-19 kilometres, on trails over terrain that is mostly flat or gently undulating. There are a couple of relatively steep climbs but these are short in duration and always taken at an easy pace.
You can also walk here in winter, when it is deep-feeze cold and snowily but often brightly magnificent. It is for adventurers, but always with warmth, comfort and delicious food at the end of a day. See Walk Japan's ideas.
See Walk Japan's website for further details and photos.
This can be tough walking in remote mountains, with uncertain weather. Come fully prepared. Beware bears in some areas, check out the position.
A section in Lonely Planet's Trekking in Japan gives good practicalities. And a chapter in the charming Trekking in Japan: an Adventurer's Guide to the Mountain Trails by Paul Hunt.
This page is at an early stage of development. Please help us by recommending your best walks/making suggestions and sending photos! Thank you!
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk (support us: find these and many more using our Amazon search box)
Hiking in Japan– Lonely Planet – excellent practicalities.
Hiking in Japan – An Adventurer’s Guide to the Mountain Trails – Paul Hunt – for a more literary take.
Other books (support us: find these and many more using our Amazon search box)
Japan– Lonely Planet
Hyakumeizan! Japan’s 100 Mountain Challengeby Craig McLachlan and Travis Taiaroa – account of their record-setting climb of Japan’s 100 Famous Peaks.
A History of Japan- Conrad Totman. Maybe because it was so isolated, but Japanese history seems to be periods of stability interspersed with centuries of factional fighting between incomprehensible cliques, with little reference to events in the outside world – but producing sublime art and artefacts…
Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence– Andrew Juniper. Fascinating subject and insights into Japanese aesthetics and their influence by Zen Buddhism, occasionally irritatingly written.
In Praise of Shadows– Janichiro Tanizaki, written in the 1920s. Very idiosyncratic but fascinating insights.
Bending Adversity – Japan and the Art of Survival– David Pilling, much admired overview of modern Japan
The Narrow Road to Oku– Matsuo Basko. The great haikuer’s classic account of his travels in C17 Japan
Looking for the Lost (Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan) - by Alan Booth - “The best travel writer in Japan”(Ian Buruma)
The Roads to Sata (A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan) – by Alan Booth -“The best travel writer in Japan”(Ian Buruma)
The Wages of Guilt– Ian Buruma
Japan by Rail – Ramsey Zarifeh. Excellent practicalities and some great ideas for places less travelled.
National Parks sell good walking maps (in Japanese) to their parks.
There are a lot of good maps available for most walking areas. But most (all) are in Japanese, which doesn’t render them useless to the foreigner, but a bit harder to use.
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Hokkaido is deep-freeze cold in winter (and a major ski destination as a result), but mild from late Spring to early Autumn, making for pleasant walking conditions. But check the forecast before setting off: the weather is always unpredictable. Superb autumn colours.
As above. (And come prepared for unpredictable mountain weather at any time of the year.)
Fly in to Chitose (Sapporo) or ferry. Slow trains and good bus.
Those on organised expeditions will be transported from/to arranged start/departure points.
Rail travel is excellent but not cheap – although it is reasonable with a Japan Rail pass, which must be bought overseas. Booking seats is also advisable.
The bus network is good, reliable and reasonable value – although it can be hard to get about if you don’t have some Japanese.
See Walk Summary above.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
· Mountain weather: rain, cold and wind are possible at any time of year and the weather can change rapidly. Heavy snow in winter. Some of the steep rock can get very slippery when wet. Come prepared.
· Heat and strong sun in summer. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
· Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
· Echnococcus tapeworms: boil all water.
· Bears are a real potential problem in some areas: come prepared to deal with an encounter. Locals carry bells and this is a good idea, to avoid surprising a bear. Take all appropriate precautions.
· Northern Fox are scavengers. Keep all possessions in your tent.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, and does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can do these walks independently.
Some people (foreigners) form or join organised/supported expeditions. A knowledgeable guide would add a heap of interest. Choosing a suitable guide or company is of course vital.
Expedition organizers include:
Walk Japan – real experts. They do two contrasting expeditions, as described at Walk Summary above.
Check TripAdvisor for some reviews of this walk and walk organisers which may prove helpful.
PLEASE HELP Walkopediaby recommending any reputable tour organizers that you know of – local or otherwise.
Hotels and lodges, few ryokams (traditional inns).
The guidebooks have a selection of possible accommodation. There are various accommodation websites.
See what the commentary on the dreaded Tripadvisor is on possible places to stay – although do take their reviews with a pinch of salt, as they can be “interested”.
A good range of hotels can be found on the unimaginatively named but effective Hotels.com.
Other information and tips
Make sure you have lots of cash when away from the cities – machines can be hard to find.
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
· http://www.japan-guide.com is excellent for general travel information.
· https://en.visit-hokkaido.jp is great for an overview of the area and has ideas for things to do throughout the year.
· www.wikipedia.org. Has starter information
· Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.
· Have a look at the dreaded TripAdvisor – you should get current views on this walk and area.
Other things to do in the area
Japan, being largely mountainous, has a huge variety of great walks. There is likely to be a good walk within range wherever you may be.
Endless cultural fascination, and a lot of other fun and interest.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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