Hokkaido's epic winters and ridiculously abundant snowfall have been attracting skiers from all over the world for years. But did you know during the summer it transforms from a winter wonderland into a tranquil countryside surrounded by lush green hills with pleeenty of sunshine? A haven for travelers in search of adventure, relaxation, nature and delicious food!
I've heard there are more foxes than people during summer in Hokkaido -it kind of reminds me another place I fell in love with a few years ago.
We've spent pretty much all winter in Hokkaido, from Sapporo to Kokusai, and always talked about exploring Japan's wild Northern Island in Summer. We finally went for a 4 days trip last July. Ohhh, wow. If you dream about an escape in the countryside with fresh air, outdoors and excellent Japanese food, you're in for a treat...
Ready for a short Summer Road Trip in Hokkaido? Follow me on my Hokkaido road trip itinerary...
Our [short] summer road trip in hokkaido
Matsu house, our dream home in the country side
Hokkaido is a very popular destination in summer -yes, EVEN without the powder. The region is very popular with Japanese tourists, so plan in advance and book your accommodation at least three weeks before if you want to have the choice. We didn't, so we booked a room in the only room left, in Lodge Romulus. Which happened to be an excellent thing, as we met Anna, who fell in love with the region years ago and now lives there (she works for the lodge), and got upgraded to Matsu House, a stunning wooden house with floor to ceiling windows and a beautiful, beauuutiful forest view.
A place that feels like home. Waking up in there is unreal, it's our dream home! With even foxes running in the forest while we're having tea on the sundeck... It broke my heart to leave this place -and I'm currently still dreaming about coming back!
Day 1. mountains, edamames & bintangs
It's strange to see this landscape all green when we are used to see it covered with a deep layer of snow. Even better to explore it! The climb to the top of Shiribetsu Dake takes about 2 hours and offer gorgeous views over Rusutsu, the ski fields and, from the top, the spectacular Mount Yotei. I have to admit it's very frustrating to climb down -we couldn't help but think: give me some powder and a snowboard, pleaase! Don't forget to bring some water as it gets quite steep at some point -and a snack for a break with a view!
After the hike, you can drive up to Rusutsu Gondola to admire the view and the paragliders flying. To finish the day, if you fancy some good food and a friendly atmosphere, head to Goofy's Warung, a Bali inspired restaurant on the road, just after Rusutsu Amusement Park. The owner is a local skier who loves Indonesia and makes an original Japanese-Indonesian fusion cuisine.
Day 2. thrilling Rollercoaster with a view & café
Finally, we can see the colors of these rollercoasters! So far it was all white white white. This amusement park is actually very colorful, and set in the most wonderful decor. And not only it offers spectacular views, but also increeedible thrills. I literally lost my voice after a day in the coasters -but it was worth it! If you can, go on weekdays, it makes such a big difference. When the park is empty, you pretty much have the attractions for yourself.
You can then finish the day in Zakka Café, a Route 66 themed arty café on the road from Rusutsu to Niseko.
Day 3. Strawberries, volcanoes and homemade Ice Creams
Start the day like a countryman in Saeki Farm, and pick up your strawberries directly in the fields! I used to do that in France when I was a kid, so it reminds me some good old memories... Naturally, the fruits are delicious, as usual in Japan. When you come from Rusutsu, the farm is in the village just before Lake Toya. You will see signs on the side of the road.
Continue on the scenic road around Lake Toya, and after Sobetsu, you will see signs showing a volcano. We didn't plan to stop there but just went to see, out of curiosity, and we actually discovered the most incredible place!
Mount Usu is a high active volcano which has erupted many times in the past 100 years, with the most recent eruption in the year 2000. In Kazan Mura, the Usuzan Gondola will take you close to the volcano's summit. The observation deck offers panoramic views of Lake Toya and Showa Shinzan, another volcanic dome. Then you can walk to a second observation deck to get a view of the ocean and Mt Usu's largest crater. From there, there is a fantastic hike to do around Mt Usu's crater. It's basically going up and down with hundreds of stairs, so it naturally repel most tourists, and leave you alone on the splendid track. Keep in mind that you need to take the gondola to get down to the village, so don't start your hike too late.
A trip around Lake Toya isn't complete without a stop in Lake Hill Farm. Try to stop by early, so they might still have their famous strawberry sorbet. If not, all the flavors we tried were increeedible (oooh blueberry!). Yes, it was so delicious and beautiful we came back three times. In 4 days.
Lake Hill Farm is the most poetic place! It's covered with thousands of flowers, a breathtaking view on the region's volcanoes and mountains and on the garden, there's a paddock full of dozens and dozens of dwarf rabbits, and a cute goat in a niche. This place is a true wonderland! A perfect stop for a sunset ice cream. There are all homemade, and apparently... all delicious. I have to say, writing this post is torture, I would kill to be teleported there right now!
Day 4. peaceful Lake, sushis treat and whale watching
The road around Lake Toya is perfect for a bike tour -flat and lovely. Rent your bicycle in Sobetsu and enjoy the ride, then head to Date for a well-deserved/delicious sushi lunch at Hokuhokutei. It wasn't easy to find the place but once we got there, we weren't disappointed. Anna advised us this address. The sushis were incredible.
In the afternoon, continue down to Muroran and Noboribetsu to go dolphin and whale watching. Uchiura Bay is known as a natural habitat of sea mammals and wild birds which come there every summer. The chance to see dolphins is estimated as 90%, while seeing whales is less than 30%. You've just got to be lucky and enjoy the ride... Then you can finish your Hokkaido trip in Niseko, with a draft Asahi and some yakitoris in A-bu-cha 2nd, a really cool restaurant down the Grand Hirafu gondola. Kampai!
Hokkaido holds many treasures, and the island is really huge. There are hundreds of other road trip options, such as the region around Furano or even, further away, Shiretoko peninsula. More than enough to make me dream about the next road trip...