Road-Trippin’ Hokkaido: 8 Best Spots You Must Visit on Your Self-Drive Itinerary

Road-Trippin’ Hokkaido: 8 Best Spots You Must Visit on Your Self-Drive Itinerary

Plan your route around Hokkaido’s magnificent natural wonders!

A trip to Hokkaido would be a dream come true for many. In case you’re wondering when’s a good time to visit Hokkaido, the answer is anytime! Now before you counter with a gushing description of the winter wonderland that Hokkaido turns into come December, we’ll take you through how Hokkaido can also be enjoyed during the non-winter months — and how to make a road trip of a lifetime out of it!

As Japan’s northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido experiences cooler temperatures than mainland Japan, which means that there’s nothing to stop you from experiencing all the colourful seasons and natural spectacles of Hokkaido. From vibrant flower fields to the clearest blue waters, there’s so much nature and wildlife to be admired in each season.

And one of the best ways to appreciate these natural spots is to rent a car and drive to these places. You’ll get the flexibility of travelling at your own pace, as well as the chance to uncover the less accessible areas of Hokkaido that hold wonders to be explored.

Planning an itinerary can be a real struggle when there are so many attractions for you to choose from, so we’ve decided to help by narrowing it down to eight of the best spots that you mustn’t miss out on when making a Hokkaido road trip!

Drive between rows of white birch trees at Tokachi Ranch

Image credit: huhuri

Ever dream about landing on the set of a Japanese drama? You can do exactly that by driving along this straight road where 567 majestic shirakaba (white birch) trees line up under a clear blue sky on an expansive green horizon, just outside the Tokachi Ranch. In the summer, the white birch trees branch upward to create a beautiful contrast of the lush green leaves against the blue sky and white clouds.

Take a road trip to Shirakaba Namiki, or White Birch Tree Avenue and witness the beauty of these uniform trees, which are frequently featured in films and dramas.

Address: Komaba-namiki, Otofuke, Hokkaido 080-0572, Japan

Wander through the wetlands of Kushiro Shitsugen National Park

Driving in the Kushiro region, you’ll find the 18,290-hectare Kushiro Shitsugen National Park, the largest wetland in Japan. This stretch of abundant wetland vegetation can be admired through a variety of ways.

Stretch your legs (mandatory on road trips!) as you stroll along the Onnenai boardwalk, taking in the views of nature here. You can also opt to canoe along the Kushiro River – which meanders through the marsh – or catch sweeping sights of the wetland scenery from various viewpoints available around the park.

The wetland is home to a large variety of flowers and wildlife. While you’re making your way around on the boardwalk, see if you can catch a few – such as the rarely sighted red-crowned crane – up close each season!

Address: Kushiro Wetland Observatory, 6-11, Hokuto, Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan


Spot whales and other rare marine life at Shiretoko Peninsula

Venture to the north-east region of Hokkaido and be rewarded by the next breathtaking spot: the Shiretoko Peninsula. Being a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, the peninsula brimming with untouched natural beauty is the natural habitat of many wild sea and land animals – providing you with ample opportunities to meet some of these creatures, especially between April and October!

Have a whale of a time when you sail on a cruise from Rausu port to spot some of the most amazing marine life. You’ll be accompanied by knowledgeable staff who’ll introduce you to the variety of dolphins, sperm whales, and orcas that live in the Rausu sea!

To have an animal encounter that’s smooth-sailing, it is advisable to book your tickets at the Shiretoko Nature Cruise office at least 30 minutes prior to departure.

Address: 27-1 Honcho, Rausu, Hokkaido 086-1833, Japan (Shiretoko Nature Cruise)

Operating hours: Cruise leaves twice a day at 9am and 1pm. Summer cruise operates from May to October.

Price: ¥8,000 for adults, ¥4,000 for child (ages 3 to 12)


Be wowed by the Ginga and Ryusei Waterfalls in Sounkyo

If you’re a fan of onsens, you’ll surely have plans to stop by Sounkyo as they have the best ryokans to stay in! But even if you’re not here for the onsens, you still ought to drive to this area to catch a glimpse of the magnificent Ginga and Ryusei Waterfalls.

Ginga Waterfall | Image credit: Japan National Tourism Organization

Ryusei Waterfall | Image credit: Japan National Tourism Organization

While the Ginga Waterfall cascades down elegantly, the Ryusei Waterfall gushes straight down into the Ishikari River. This is easily one of the most fulfilling breaks from driving you’ll ever have on a road trip – you can head to the viewing decks to soak in the ambience, or even take a walk down to the river for a closer view. If you’re visiting in autumn, the surrounding fall foliage is also a sight to behold.

Address: Sounkyo, Kamikawa, Hokkaido 078-1701, Japan


Check out natural wonders at Shirahige Waterfall and Shirogane Blue Pond

Image credit: Gilad Rom

When you drive down to the picturesque Biei – a gentle hilly landscape that virtually goes on forever – your spirits will definitely be rejuvenated by the beauty of this town!

You should first check out the Shirahige (“white beard”) Waterfall, a 20m-high waterfall tucked in a corner of the Shirogane Hot Springs. Observe how the clear water trickles down, before you take a short five-minute drive to the Shirogane Blue Pond.

Image credit: johnlsl

You’ll be thoroughly amazed when you arrive at the pond! The cooling sight of the blue-tinted water will astound and refresh you, especially when you map its source back to the waterfall you just visited on the way here.

Resulting from a mixture of the water crashing from the falls with that from Biei River below, the gorgeous blue hues of the water alter slightly depending on the weather and season, but you can count on being charmed by this tranquil spot, no matter when you choose to visit it.

Address: Shirogane, Biei, Hokkaido 071-0235, Japan


Stroll along the flower fields in Biei & Furano

The flower fields of Biei and Furano are a definite must-see, especially if you’re lucky enough to be around when most flowers are in full bloom from late June to mid-August! The highly recommended Shikisai-no-Oka (roughly translates to ‘panoramic flower gardens’) in Biei is literally a work of art with the landscape as its canvas.

Image credit: Drive Hokkaido

The different species of flowers make up layer after layer of colourful lines, rolling down the hills of Biei and forming the quintessential floral scenery of Hokkaido that’s well known around the world. You can take in the entire landscape by hitching a ride on the Shikisai-no-Oka Norokko, the tractor bus that will bring you around the 15-hectare park, or even renting a buggy or cart to drive yourself around!

Address: Shinsei Dai 3, Biei, Hokkaido 071-0473, Japan

Operating hours: 8.30am–6pm daily (subject to seasonal changes)


Image credit: James.Kirk

Take a 20-minute drive down and you’ll arrive at the world-famous Farm Tomita in Furano!

The massive lavender fields here have been cultivated since 1958. You’ll have the best experience when the lavenders are in full bloom from mid to late July, but there are many other seasonal flowers here for you to appreciate so you’ll be assured of a gorgeous sight. You can find details about the flowering and best viewing periods on Farm Tomita’s website.

Don’t forget to taste the lavender soft-serve ice cream before you leave for the road!

Address: Kisen Kita 15-go, Nakafurano, Hokkaido 071-0704, Japan

Operating hours: 8.30am–6pm daily (subject to seasonal changes)


Journey through the blue waters at Cape Kamui, Shakotan Peninsula

You might think you would’ve had your fill of colours, but you’ll change your mind when you take a day trip to Shakotan on the west side of Hokkaido. A 2.5h drive from Sapporo, the location was dubbed “Shakotan Blue” due to the distinctive clear blue waters of the sea which stretch on farther than the eye can see.

Take in the Shakotan Blue by hiking through the winding Charenka Path all the way to the tip of Cape Kamui, or explore where even your feet (or car) can’t take you by going out to sea on a kayak. Sea kayaking at Shakotan not only allows you to paddle along the beautiful coastline of Japan, you can venture into the blue caves here too!

Address: Shakotan, Hokkaido, Japan


Go on scenic drives along the long roads of Hokkaido

The wonders of Hokkaido know no limits, as even the island’s roads become captivating sights of their own right. You don’t need to have a destination in mind when the journey is a fulfilling experience in itself!

Roller Coaster Road

Image credit: Drive Hokkaido

Roller coaster enthusiasts would love driving on the alternating inclines and declines of the 2.5km-long Roller Coaster Road in Kamifurano, a town between Furano and Biei.

Address: Nishi 11 Sen Kita, Kamifurano, Hokkaido 071-0511, Japan


Mikuni Pass

Let the fall foliage enchant you as you drive along the Mikuni Pass, where you can also experience the highest altitude of 1,139m on Hokkaido’s national highway, parting the dense tree cover that it is built above.

Driving along the pass, you’ll be treated to seemingly endless scenery outside your window, even catching a glimpse of the Daisetsuzan mountain range in the distance! There’s also a cafe here – take a break and enjoy a warm cup of hand-drip coffee at Mikunitoge Cafe before continuing on with your drive.

Address: Kamishihoro, Hokkaido, Japan


Road to Heaven

Drive down the 27km-long Road to Heaven in Shari town – named for how the road appears to lead up into Heaven – guaranteeing you an unmatched panoramic view of the Hokkaido skyline that is immensely popular among tourists.

Address: Shari, Hokkaido, 099-4122, Japan

Ororon Line

Image credit: Drive Hokkaido

Wind your windows down and feel the sea breeze on your face as you drive on the Ororon Line, a 380km-long road runs parallel to the coastline of the Sea of Japan. Extending from Otaru to Wakkanai, there are also many picturesque stops along the way.

Address: Ororon Line, Hokkaido, Japan

Besides its amazing long roads, bountiful flower fields, and diverse wildlife, you’ll encounter many more incredible experiences when you go road-tripping in Hokkaido. So all that’s left to do now is to grab your passport and international driver’s license, and hop on a flight to Hokkaido for the best road trip of your life!

To find out more about scenic spots in Hokkaido, visit the Hokkaido Tourism Organization’s website or Facebook page.

Brought to you by Hokkaido Tourism Organization.

About Author

Sharifah Nur Afiqah
Sharifah Nur Afiqah

Always going from one extreme to the next, Sharifah’s constantly agonising over what to order off the menu, yet she tends to jump head-first into the major things, on the basis of intuition. Catch her at her loudest when she’s on a roller-coaster, cable car, or any other thrill-inducing contraption.